Wait a minute! Didn’t he say, “I will absolutely get rid of Obamacare,” during his campaign? Yes, he did. But now that’s changed. Here’s the link to the story. (Or you can watch the entire interview on “60 Minutes” this Sunday evening at 7 PM, on CBS stations).
This is exactly the kind of thing I predicted, right after he was elected.
So how did I know that? I knew it because I was somehow able to keep thinking clearly, rather than feel panic or despair. I reflected on how political campaigns really work; candidates say what they think will get them elected, then compromise on most of it once they get in office because that’s the only way to get anything done. In that way, Donald Trump is no different.
The difference is, Donald Trump brought art of the campaign to a new level by applying his experience in reality TV. Reality TV operates on a few basic principles:
1. The more outrageous the premise and the action are, the bigger the audience.
2. Overwhelm viewers with a flood of drama and raw emotion; logic and facts are useless.
3. Attention spans are short. What you say one minute won’t matter the next.
If you do all this, the press will come to you, you won’t have to go them. The press wants to sell as many newspapers as possible, without breaking a sweat. You make their job is easy; they can just print what you say and they don’t have to waste any time doing research. You can even repeatedly insult the press itself and it won’t matter! Meanwhile, traditional marketing plans, on-the-ground organization, and paid advertising are all unnecessary; they're a waste of time and money. Oh, and one more thing: Be relentless! Repeat some things over and over as long as the crowd keeps reacting. Whatever you do, keep making new controversy and new headlines.
The problem now is that a lot of people took all this seriously. And not just the people who voted for him. Many people who voted against him did also. It was very tempting. He said some pretty horrible things. But it was all a carefully contrived plan, a staged act. Mr. Trump may appear stupid, but don’t be fooled. Most of the time, he knows exactly what he is doing.
So, now I see a bunch of people on the left who are in tears, angry, despondent, etc., and a bunch of people on the right who think bigotry is now in fashion more than ever. And that’s a problem. We need to be calm, aware, and ready to roll up our sleeves to tackle whatever comes next.
So, what do we do about this? I don't have all the answers, of course, but here are some ideas:
1. If you took the bait during the campaign, it’s time to let go of it, as much as you can. If you're too upset to do that right now, give yourself a little time. If you have to cry, scream, pound on pillows, or the like, then go right ahead. Perhaps a friend can help support you, through the process. Yes, it was wrong for him to run a campaign like that and say those things. But we can't go back and change that now.
2. Assume as little as possible and keep paying close attention. Nobody really knows exactly what will happen next; almost everything is now in play. There are a lot more surprises to come.
3. Stand firm against bigotry, but don’t get trapped into hating the bigot. They got dazzled by the campaign ‘show’ just as you did. They might need a way to save face, believe it or not.
4. Remember that most Trump voters felt helpless in the face of the bureaucracy in Washington and the big money interests (sounds a bit similar to Bernie Sanders message, right?). Many Trump supporters just ignored his bigoted remarks because they saw him as the only alternative who could really shake things up in Washington, especially when Hillary Clinton was seen as the only alternative. Their response to her? No way! She won't really change anything.
5. Be ready to ask and listen. If you can do this, you will help all your friends, wherever they fall on the political spectrum. Fighting is not our game and will just prolong the pain, so do as little fighting as you can. Staying resentful and bitter won’t help much, either. Our game has to be based on curiosity, understanding, and love. If you think someone disagrees with you, active listening, without rebuttal, will probably do the most good. Be like a good reporter and concentrate on getting their story, rather than a debate captain who is trying to win something. After all, there is very likely to be a real person inside there somewhere, and you might be surprised to find that you both have at least something in common. You can build from there.
The act of listening and connecting is probably the most powerful thing we can do. The more people can calm down and think clearly, the less likely some outrageous policy will get passed in Washington. That's because more people are likely to be onto them and their game. Our most powerful tool to implement change is a change in attitudes here on the ground.
Ok, this probably won’t be easy. Democracy is not designed to be easy! For some of us, perhaps the best advice is: Don’t try this at home!’ Get with others who know how to keep a level head in the face of upset. Check out classes or information about resolving disputes and making connections, such as from the Public Conversations Project or the Center for Nonviolent Communication.