Monday, January 09, 2017

Can Trump be trolled?

A thought experiment. If we imagine that Trump really is a paradigmatic classical demagogue or tyrant, we are forced to ask, how was the classical tyrant controlled or at least influenced by his subjects to act in their interests? (Actually, one of my grad school classmates wrote his dissertation on this very question, but it has yet to be published and I don't know what his conclusion was, so we will have to carry on here without his wisdom.)

In ancient Greek, the word for tyrant does not exactly imply Very Mean Ruler Who Exploits His Subjects, so there are good and bad tyrants. All tyrants rule without law, but not all tyrants rule in their own interest and against that of their subjects. Another difference: good tyrants, like Pisistratus in the Constitution of Athens, are open to frank advice. Bad tyrants, like Herodotus' Croesus prior to his near-death epiphany, love flattery and reject good advice if it's not wrapped in praise for them.

Twitter amply informs us that Trump hates criticism but adores flattery. He retweets almost anything that praises him, even if it's from white supremacists, a point which I can believe goes entirely unnoticed by him. So far, the anti-Trump media has tried to discredit him by criticizing him, but has only succeeding in cementing the opposition of those who already opposed him, not in re-directing his own behavior. But what if it changed courses a bit?

Let's start with the ACA. Let's say we don't want him to repeal the ACA (which is not to say we do or don't, this is just a thought experiment). Instead of publishing a million articles about how good subsidized health insurance is for a whole catalogue of poor, sick people who did not vote for Trump, why not create a ploy like the following: a social media post by an attractive young-ish woman, late 20s-mid 30s, explaining that she was a yuge Trump supporter (with photographic evidence) during the campaign. She is a stay-at-home mom to three little kids (photos) married to a man who worked in manufacturing but was laid off and now works only part-time so can't get health insurance through his job. A month ago, she was diagnosed with a serious but also usually treatable form of cancer, and they had to buy health insurance through a state exchange. Without the ACA, she will not be able to continue cancer treatment (b/c of her pre-existing condition, private insurance will be either unavailable or unaffordable). She is not asking Trump to keep the ACA b/c she agrees that government-run health care is wrong. But she is asking him to help her somehow, because she really believes in him and him alone, so that she can get her cancer treatment, and so her three children can grow up with a mother (photo, tears).

Now let's imagine this woman's post goes viral (with a little help), and becomes a national news story. Trump keeps up with national news stories. Trump likes attractive women, and people who like him, and good photo-ops. Does he respond? He can do it the way he did Carrier, which is essentially like Pisistratus' "tax-free farm," a one-off show of his extravagant mercy that is simultaneously a show of lawlessness, by personally paying for her treatment while continuing to support Congress's repeal of the ACA. But that sets a precedent too - what if all his ailing supporters start appealing to him for medical expenses? He'd have to become a one-man replacement for the entire ACA. So maybe he pushes for some exceptions to the repeal, a "we're gonna keep the good parts and name them after me" kind of thing. That would still be a win for his opponents. Or, of course, he could just throw our Trump-supporting dying young mother under the bus while America watches, but would he?

This strategy could easily be applied to other instances when subjects might wish to direct their tyrant to their own ends through his. Do you think it would work?


Alex said...

I just vomited in my mouth a little bit thinking of Trump wanting to help the attractive young mother, while not caring if people who are not attractive, and not prone to Trump as Daddy-savior illusions, die in the street.

Did you read CF's article in The Atlantic about how Trump is essentially a cruel person at his core? I am not sure that his quest for flattery and grandeur translate into sympathy for individuals.

Miss Self-Important said...

The purpose isn't to generate sympathy, at least not from Trump. The sympathy would come from the public, which is driven by it to amplify the woman's appeal. But he doesn't help our ailing mother because he personally wants to or feels sympathy for her. He helps b/c she praises him, and he advanced himself through promises to personally help people like her. She puts him on the spot. This is a trolling effort, not an Earnest Political Statement. The whole problem is that earnest political statements are tiresome and do not work.

Andrew Stevens said...

That Trump is a would-be classical tyrant, I regard as so obvious that it's not even worth discussing. I am nonetheless not terribly worried about him, since he's also a blithering incompetent. He has continually failed at everything in his life except celebrity. What was astonishing is his sole ability - the ability to draw attention to himself (the core skill of any celebrity) - was enough to get him elected President.

I don't know how much it matters, if at all, whether Trump is a genuinely cruel man or not. I have no doubts about the good intentions of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, but both were, partisanship aside, unquestionably failures. Meanwhile, Bill Clinton is a self-absorbed narcissist who has probably never given any genuine thought to another person in his life (though he can very convincingly fake it). I strongly believe Clinton should have been removed from office, but I can't deny he was a very effective caretaker President.

Miss Self-Important said...

I'm not interested in whether Trump is personally cruel or not either. Personal cruelty doesn't make tyrants more effective, and too much impulsiveness can ruin them (eg, Pisistratus' sons). The purpose of this thought experiment is to circumvent most of Trump's unreliable personality (outside of his apparently reliable vanity) and see if certain kinds of media manipulation can be effective against it.

Alex said...

If it did work, it would be hard to control in any coherent way, since the promises he made were incoherent. The dying mother putting Trump on the spot seems like it would be as effective as the former coal miner asking Trump to re-open his particular mine, an (attractive!) family asking him to deport their neighbors, or a group of concerned citizens asking him to shut down a scary mosque in their neighborhood. He personally promised a lot of things that the "anti-Trump" media does not want him to follow through on.

Miss Self-Important said...

Yeah, that's the question - would this sort of direct appeal be effective? Is he susceptible to this kind of manipulation? I don't propose to totally control him, only that trolling him this way might be more effective than writing endless op-eds about what a bad man he is. In my scenario, there are several possible outcomes - he helps the woman but does not relent on repealing the ACA, he urges the preservation of some parts of the ACA (say, the rule against denial for pre-existing conditions), he does nothing and looks bad to his followers. The Carrier example has already shown his willingness to personally intervene, extralegally, in an individual situation in order to appear to keep a campaign promise. So would it be possible for his opponents to create Carrier-type situations for him that would result in his acting in their interests rather than his own?

Withywindle said...

Game theory: could it be done more than once?

Miss Self-Important said...

Well, insulting him seems to get a response every time, so maybe lavish praise with a couple strings attached would too.