Saturday, April 16, 2016

Which Came First, the Trump or the Hate?

One of the essential questions that has arisen during this election season is: Has the presidential race generated the hatred we see expressed, or is it just exposing hatred that was already there?

It seems the popular answer is that the hate was already there, just waiting to be tapped by Donald Trump.

I don’t think it’s that simple. Clearly, Trump’s supporters had an inchoate feeling of disgruntlement about their lot in life, but it didn’t have to take the form it has under his encouragement. I think there’s an interaction between the two.

The simplistic, “common sense” idea that Trump’s voters already had these clearly formed opinions doesn’t fit with the experiences of people who’ve talked to these types of citizens (as Chris Hayes did in 2004), or with research into anger management, which seems like a good analogy.

In the case of anger, it’s pretty common to think that letting it out is a good thing. Cathartic, right? But research shows that not to be the case. Letting your anger out just makes you more angry. Keeping it in is better for you (and everyone else) in the short and long run.

So having a person like Donald Trump who shapes the anger of some citizens doesn’t mean they were always angry in that particular way. They’re angry about something, but Trump’s fingerprints are all over the form it takes.

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