Steve's Blog

What Not to "Do About" Trump's Fans

Author: Stephen J. Turnbull
Organization: Faculty of Engineering, Information, and Systems at the University of Tsukuba
Contact: Stephen J. Turnbull <>
Date: 2016/11/23
Copyright: 2016, Stephen J. Turnbull

What Not to "Do About" Trump's Fans

So, after recommending George Lakoff's excellent analysis of Donald Trump (written after Trump won the Republican nomination; his followups are also excellent), I now have to write a note of dissent to the first couple of paragraphs of his recent screed entitled A Minority President.

Most of that post is excellent. But the epithets he proposes in those first paragraphs are trolls. They're quite artistic as trolls go, containing truth as far as they go, and being quite true from my point of view. But they aren't healing, because they are also obviously false from a different point of view -- the point of view that Trump fans will take, and many other Trump voters are likely to take.

First, to call Trump a minority President is true no matter how you look at it, with the single exception of the vote of the Electoral College. But I don't know if there has ever been a non-minority President. Certainly not in recent memory. Probably no President has ever won a majority of the population, the eligible voters, or the registered voters. Most recent Presidents have been elected with a minority of the valid votes cast, and not a few with a minority of the valid votes cast for candidates who received any Electoral College votes. So what's the big deal?

To me, it is a big deal, because I suspect he's the first elected President who will take his Oath of Office with a higher disapproval rating than his approval rating. That's the concept of "minority President" that I think matters. But that is going to underwhelm his supporters for two reasons. For one, it's "systems thinking", and most of them prefer "direct causation" (see Lakoff's analysis, "Direct vs. Systemic Causation", for descriptions of these concepts). And the other is that his supporters are going to see the epithet as sour grapes, and reject it on the basis of that ad hominem argument, not on its merits.

The fact is that elections are a "game" with specific rules, and as far as I know he won according to those rules. In fact, I thought those rules were to the great advantage of Hillary Clinton, because her organization was much better managed than his. That would allow her to concentrate her greater financial and organizational resources in "swing states". But his demagogic strategy turned out to be better, more than enough to overcome her resources. Especially with a grandstanding FBI Director (but that's within the rules, too, unless Trump bribed him, which I don't think he did). That's not fair, maybe, but it was square with the rules. According to that viewpoint, we don't know that Trump is a minority President (if the rules said he had to get a plurality of the popular vote, he would have used a different strategy and plausibly could have got that plurality).

And since Trump did win according to the rules, he is anything but a Loser, which is Lakeoff's second epithet.

The third epithet, Betrayer of Trust (introduced quite late in the post), is even easier to dispose of. Donald Trump isn't even President yet; if something he plans to do is wrong, he can always change his mind by Inauguration Day. Having done nothing (yet), he has committed no betrayals. Of course that's a bit sophistical, given his provisional appointments and his positions on a blind trust to manage his assets, among other things. But even with a couple of years of history behind him, with everything going as Lakoff predicts (A Minority President, "What a Strict Father Cannot Be"), it's easy to imagine denial and another disaster for "Truth, Justice, and the American Way" as we know it. All Trump has to do is say that a coalition of Democrats and "elite corporatist Republican free-traders" have undermined his programs, and he probably gets off the hook, and he might even get an increased majority in the off-year elections.

So, no, I don't think these epithets are a good way to encourage improved policy or economic and social conditions in a Trump Administration. That said, Lakoff's main point is right:

The American majority must create an online citizen communication network — or multiple networks — to spread its positive American values and truths as antidotes to those small towns with in-group nurturance as the Trump swamp swamps them!

I hope that my blog can be a positive contribution to that goal.

P.S. I prefer multiple, though interlocking, networks.

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Stephen J. Turnbull