Trump l’oeil: How Trump fools the eyes of the people

They love the fire, the way he fights, the way he beats up the press. 

And they love how he tells you what he would do, how he’s willing to go in a new direction with different ideas instead of just going with the flow.

This is a mere sampling of what several Trump supporters in South Carolina told a US News reporter during the February primary this year.

"None of us feel it's an act. That's who he is”, said a female voter.

The reality of Trump’s show is that his acts continue to pull one and all under his circus tent.  But is this showman turned politician channeling the politician turned showman?  Believe it or not, before P.T. Barnum was foisting hoaxes on believing crowds, he was not only a Connecticut state legislator, but a Republican to boot. 

"I am a showman by profession...and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me”.  Like Trump, he made no bones about his singular purpose of enriching himself.

You can hardly blame Trump supporters for falling for his act when there are plenty of seasoned pundits and politicians who themselves continue to succumb.

History is replete with proverbial suckers born every minute.

Like Mussolini’s followers.  The Italian fascist dictator was full of obsequious charm and hypnotic tricks.  He was a calculating manipulator who powerfully outwitted anyone who got in the way of his narcissistic ventures.

As the quintessential psychopath, Mussolini was masterful at reading others -- their body language, their emotions, their needs and their weaknesses -- in order to lull them into his web of deception and take advantage of them, never feeling a neuron’s remorse.

Psychopaths are simply incapable of feeling true empathy.  How else can one falsely seduce and abuse his fellow man without feeling the burden of a guilty conscience?  

Seasoned critics -- the media and press alike -- brush Trump off as a simple-minded and vulgar gasbag.  But Trump is much more enigmatic than the vacuous headline-grabbing banter that ensues -- wasting precious ink and airtime -- each time he opens his mouth. 

But they will never figure him out or crack his code of conduct so long as they continue to rely on the wrong combination called political science -- the great oxymoron.

Never before has a presidential election been so desperately in need of the scientific prism of psychology. 

Psychopathy can be understood on a continuum, a sliding scale, if you will, which allows for an analysis of the condition’s variety and severity of traits, as opposed to the binary conclusion “he has it or not”.

Trump displays many of the classic traits of a psychopath -- manipulativeness, callousness, deceitfulness, hostility, risk-taking, and impulsivity. Obviously he doesn’t kill others.  Not literally anyway.  He’s cocky, overly confident, self-possessed, and he displays the false empathy required to masterfully read and shape his audience.

In this way he is similar to the most powerful and influential world leaders.

Like Mussolini, the leader he loves to Tweet.  Many of Mussolini’s comrades and admirers attested that there was no one who better understood how to interpret the spirit of the proletariat.

 “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep”, Trump tweeted Mussolini recently. And live like a lion he does.  Where other candidates consult with their team before taking a position, Trump aggressively and impulsively shoots from the hip.  Sure, many of his shots hit innocent bystanders -- like the women he would like to see punished when he outlaws abortions -- but this is an easy fix for Trump who unapologetically changes his position on a whim. 

Trump personifies Mussolini’s approach to leadership, too, Tweeting “Let us have a dagger between our teeth, a bomb in our hands, and an infinite scorn in our hearts.”  It’s no wonder that other countries -- even our Western allies -- fear an America under his fighting fist. 

Psychopaths use their charm to seduce and control vulnerable people who desperately need someone to believe in and to rescue them.  Like Trump, Mussolini’s rise was also predicated on his claim to champion the cause of the common folk.  Many Trump supporters are working two or three jobs, feeling socially disenfranchised and, until Trump came on the scene, felt totally hopeless about their future. 

“I love the poorly educated”, was not a mere campaign cry.

They both capitalize on discontent, creating a monster to be destroyed.  “China is killing us on trade… “ and  “They are taking our jobs….I will bring jobs back from China”

“We will ban all Muslims from entering the US.  And “...we will build a wall and Mexico will pay for it.”

A chilling pugilistic parallel with Mussolini:  “When dealing with such a race as Slavic -- inferior and barbaric -- we must not pursue the carrot, but the stick policy”. 

Trump said he would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than water-boarding” terror suspects and won’t rule out using nuclear weapons against ISIS.  And, during the Wisconsin primary, he declared he will prevent Mexicans living in the US from sending cash home until the government pays for the wall.

With bluster, a psychopath can make people feel safe.  Like Mussolini’s, Trump’s big persona -- the odious and arrogant scowl, the commanding body language, the belligerent carnival cries -- creates a false sense of trust that he will have the guts and ability to do exactly what needs to be done.

“I will pay your legal bills…. I will bring back jobs from China and Mexico”.

Trump is dead clever at exploiting his enemies’ weaknesses, using the knowledge to dismember them. This is not just a crass bully hurling insults on the playground.   No, no, it’s much more strategic than that.  Trump’s tactics reveal that he likely has received extensive training in the use of indirect hypnotic suggestion.    

Instead of using a stopwatch to put you into a trance, he uses imagery and language to insert emotions, ideas, and associations into your subconscious mind. To devastating effect.  He anchors that unflattering word or image to his opponents and it kills their campaign.  It works because it plays on our brain’s overwhelming preference for simple, powerful visual metaphors:

Lyin’ Ted.  “Liddle” Marco.  Low-energy Jeb.  Crooked Hillary.  And tell me you didn’t imagine a begging Romney on his knees before Trump?

Dilbert’s creator Scott Adams calls these Trump’s “linguistic kill shots.”

So here is a kill shot for Trump:  Dictator Donald.

Another one of Dictator Donald’s tricks is to never say more than necessary and to speak in vague terms. Pundits criticize his lack of specificity, but it is no accident. Trump knows that when it comes to the decision-making of the masses, confidence counts and facts and details don’t matter.  The more you say, the more room you give your opponents to point out your weakness and to challenge you.  When he belligerently blathers on, he’s paid a price like having John Oliver parody his growing numbers for the wall as a “Jack and the Beanstalk” budget.

Dictator Donald also uses indirect hypnotic suggestions to lull you into believing him.  Watch how often he says the word “win” during a speech.  When we hear it enough times, our subconscious minds begin to automatically associate the word with him. 

Subconscious, simple, but profoundly effective.

Trump:  We are going to win!

The Press:  How are you going to win?

Trump:  Trust me, we are going to win and keep on winning.  We are going to win so much you’ll be sick of winning.

Is Trump a winner?  Of course he is, in the fooled eyes of his believers.

Several years ago the judge who tried Ted Bundy’s case on appeal told one of us the story of Ted’s calling card. 

With each victim he would bite their butt so hard it left a permanent mark of his grossly distinctive double row of teeth.   To Ted it was another visible symbol, apart from the killings, of a power and charm so almighty it snared his victims into falling for his calculated false promises. 

Ironically, this is what ultimately convicted him.

Mussolini ruled constitutionally for only three years when in 1925 he abandoned his deceptive “campaign” and, with his minions convinced, turned Italy into a one-party dictatorship. 

 “Democracy, he said, is beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy. You in America will see that some day”. 

It seems Dictator Donald knew that day would come and even seeing eye-to-eye with another belief of his Italian hero that “people are of tired of (the) liberty that democracy brings”.

“One of the things I’m going to do if I win is open up our libel laws so when they write negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money”. 

It’s a chilling thought that Dictator Donald is well on his way to becoming president.  If he’s elected, many fear he may well topple our democracy.  Many others fear what he will do if he is not elected. Perhaps, like Ted, his own tricks will do him in. 

But one thing for certain, Trump will be sure to bite us all in the butt.

Marilia Duffles worked in the Reagan and Bush I administrations, is a former scientist and now a contributor to The Economist, The Financial Times and the American Spectator.