The Outrage Cycle

8 mins read
Photo by Marco Albuquerque on Unsplash

This morning, Trump Tweeted this:

“Attack immigrants” didn’t work. He knew he’d better come up with something.

Wait . . . a movie . . .Wag the Dog! (For Trump, a manufactured crisis works better than a real one)

It’s what I’ve called the Outrage Cycle. It’s a simple, effective formula. Trump says something outrageous and provocative designed to excite his base and rile his critics. Each time he does this, he accomplishes four things . . .

  • He keeps his base excited
  • He enrages his critics
  • He batters democratic institutions, and
  • He fulfills his campaign promise to “protect” his followers from their “enemies”

To make this even more effective, he includes in the outrageous statement lies and nonsense, like including the fact that he’s going to “shoot down” gunboats.

Including lies and nonsense keeps his critics busy spending time unraveling the nonsense, pointing out the mistakes, and disproving the lies.

It keeps them busy, and it keeps them spinning, which wears them out. Win-win.

Wearing out the opposition causes them to give up. Keeping them spinning keeps also them in the moment. It’s what Timothy Snyder calls the Politics of Eternity. You forget that the future can be different. You feel powerless to break out of the cycle.

Because Trump is dangerous and doesn’t care if people die, this creates a genuine dilemma. If you get outraged you feed the beast: The more outraged you are, the more euphoric his base feels because they’re socking it to the libs. It’s a self-fulfilling cycle.

If you don’t get outraged, you are “normalizing” what he does. He wins if you react. He wins if you don’t react. See how effective it is? I think the solution is to do just what I’m doing: Talk about his tactics. Make people aware that the playbook is effective.

Confession: I have never listened to a Covid-19 Trump press briefing. I have thereby greatly enhanced the quality of my life. I’ve probably also added a few years to its length.

The only times in the past 4 years when I have literally ignored the news for more than a full week at a time was when I volunteered in a detention center in Texas offering legal assistance to asylum seekers. I felt no guilt in tuning out the crazy because I knew I was pushing back in a tangible way. Also I was literally too busy working with my clients to follow the news. I have writing deadlines now, which keeps me close to the computer, but I also do volunteer voter protection legal work.

The Cult Leader Creates Euphoria and Rage

Because millions of Americans prefer a cult of leadership to a rule of law government. For people who prefer rule of law, it’s inconceivable that anyone would prefer a government where the word of one man (in a leadership cult, the leader always seems to be a man) is law.

In the words of the authors of How Democracies Die, democracy is slow, grinding work.

You have to compromise. You don’t always get your own way. All those checks and balances mean that things happen slowly. With an autocrat, though, there is no need to compromise.

“Purists” or people who don’t want to compromise, and people who want results Right This Minute, reject democracy. They prefer what Max Weber calls Charismatic Leader, or what today we’d call a demagogue.

It’s so much simpler! Whatever the Leaders says is true. Whatever the Leader says will happen, happens. Because there are none of those annoying checks and balances to slow things down. Political psychologists talk about the Authoritarian Personality, or disposition.

Karen Stenner, author of the Authoritarian Dynamic, says that people with authoritarian dispositions have an aversion to complexity.

They like things simple. It occurred to me recently that this is why they come up with conspiracy theories the Deep State or globalism conspiracies.

The complexity of International relations scares and overwhelms them. The complexity of our government scares them. So they come up with theories to explain what they can’t understand and frights them.

So they come up with globalist conspiracy theories and believe that a secretive and powerful elite cabal is conspiring to rule the entire world through an authoritarian world government. Science is also too complex. All those numbers and formulas!

It’s much easier (and safer and more comforting) to believe whatever the Leader says, particularly when he says There Is Nothing To Worry About. He’s telling them that the Democrats want them to stay home because Democrats are control freaks and want to take their liberty.

Trump evokes strong emotions in everyone.

In his critics, he evokes outrage. In his supporters, he evokes euphoria: Trump is the strongman doing battle with their enemies! He is fighting for them! He isn’t afraid to bend rules to get what he wants!

They believe him because they want to believe him.

Before Pearl Harbor, we had a sizable group who wanted to side with the Nazis. This was taken in 1937 in New Jersey:

Nearly 1,000 uniformed men wearing swastika arm bands and carrying Nazi banners parade past a reviewing stand in New Jersey on July 18, 1937. The New Jersey division of the German-American Bund opened its 100-acre camp at Sussex Hills. Dr. Salvatore Caridi of Union City, spokesman for a group of Italian-American Fascists attending as guests, addressed the bund members as “Nazi Friends.” (AP Photo)

After Pearl Harbor they lost some influence, but they were still around and still causing trouble. Down deep, they still preferred a demagogue.

If there’s any doubt that lots of Republicans prefer cult of leadership, this Pew Poll tells us that 52% of those polled who are Republican or lean believe elected officials should NOT criticize Trump’s respond to COVID-19.

With a pandemic the problem is that the holdouts endanger all of us. The most frustrating part is that they endanger our medical professionals and first responders.

We have to get through this by taking care of ourselves and families, and reaching out to vulnerable members of the community who won’t get through this without assistance, and vote in November like your life depends on it.

Originally posted on Musing About Law, Books, and Politics.
Re-posted with permission.

DemCast is an advocacy-based 501(c)4 nonprofit. We have made the decision to build a media site free of outside influence. There are no ads. We do not get paid for clicks. If you appreciate our content, please consider a small monthly donation.

Teri has written novels, short stories, nonfiction for both young readers and adults, and lots of legal briefs. She is currently working on a book on disinformation to be published by Macmillan Publishers. Her political commentary has appeared on the NBC Think Blog and Her articles and essays have appeared in publications as diverse as Education Week, Slate Magazine, and Scope Magazine. Her short fiction has appeared in the American Literary View, The Iowa Review, and others. For twelve years she maintained a private appellate law practice limited to representing indigents on appeal from adverse rulings. She believes with the ACLU that when the rights of society's most vulnerable members are denied, everybody's rights are imperiled. She also believe with John Updike that the purpose of literature is to expand our sympathies. Teri lives with her family on the beautiful central coast in California.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Previous Story

Small Business Owners Decry Flaws In Paycheck Protection Program Pushed By Senator Collins That Deny Access To Mom-And-Pop Shops While Big Corporations Get Millions

Next Story

The Forward Five – Friday, 4/24/20

Latest from Op-Ed

%d bloggers like this: