Like the rest of America, I have been trying to figure out why Donald Trump, a political laughingstock for decades, is suddenly a serious presidential candidate. Why are so many Americans backing Trump, a man with no political skills or experience, for the nation’s top job?
To understand the Trump phenomenon, It helps to to understand how we get our information. We rarely get our information unfiltered. Most of it is sorted, spun, packaged and sold to us for the benefit of the seller. We are rarely told what’s going on by anyone but the news media, and the news media views events as newsworthy based on factors often unrelated to the need to give us the straight skinny.
As I see it, there are three layers to the information onion: The tell, the compel, and the sell.
- A “tell” is raw information, meant to inform with no agenda or product to sell. A teller plants both feet firmly on the truth, with no personal point of view.
- A “compel” is like footwork in basketball; the rule is that one foot has to be on the truth at all times. Cable news networks like Fox and MSNBC use their other foot like a magician uses a wand, as misdirection to distract us so we don’t notice that they palmed the truth. We look back and whatever they are selling – their ‘swamp land in Florida’ – has replaced the truth. If we aren’t paying attention we won’t be able to tell the difference, and we will wind up believing all sorts of patently ridiculous things. I see the results of these ‘truths’ in my Facebook inbox every day, from all sorts of ideological angles.
- Selling – true selling – has nothing whatsoever to do with the truth. Selling is simply getting your way. The sale is all that matters. Truth? A fully indoctrinated salesman has no idea what the truth is, because he has been lying to himself long enough to have lost track of it.
There are other levels in between, with subtle shades. For instance, most individuals try to tell the truth most of the time, but (1) nobody recognizes their own agenda and (2) those truths were most likely sold to them in the first place. Sales, like some martial arts, can use truth as a weapon when it is available – and discard it when it is no longer of any use.
You can probably figure out where most information lands on the scale with a little skull sweat. My interest – the reason why I bothered to explain all that – is in how it affects us through Donald Trump’s campaign.
One of the sneaky little tricks about selling is that a good salesman sounds like he is telling the absolute, unspun truth. He knows that we intuitively recognize agenda – from long experience – so he has learned how to toss information at us like a knuckleball, with no spin. Since there is no truth to spin into an agenda, this isn’t all that hard to do. Children master it early, faking a cough to get out of going to school. Adults learn to control the urge to sell, or they eventually become pathological liars – unable to tell themselves the truth.
Here is where we find Donald Trump. He is America’s most celebrated salesman, a business lifer. Like a shark has to keep moving, Trump has to keep selling. Making a deal is his sole source of self-esteem, from the casinos down to his trophy wives and children Salesmen don’t develop value systems. A value system would get in the way of the deal, the deal, the deal.
There is no Trump Truth, no True Trump. Does Trump see himself as a bad guy? I don’t think Trump sees himself at all, even if he looks up. All he sees is a reflection, a mirrored gestalt of an empty suit, filled with the sum of his deals.
Unencumbered by the truth, he just keeps making things up until he gets his way. Since nothing he said yesterday matters, he doesn’t have to keep track of anything he says; he just starts a new cycle as if the old one never happened. Sales is completely results-driven, so the occasional failure is meaningless. The cost of doing business – tain’t nuttin’ but a thang. Sell one today, yesterday don’t matter.
Is there anything we can do about it? Short of making him tell the truth, there is nothing to stop him from eventually convincing the country to let him be President. We have been trained to get our information in packaged form. Trump is better at it than anyone else.
It’s up to us to make him tell the truth, through our representatives in the media. We have to demand that they cover Trump as a free press, and stop feeding on his reflected attention. Trump has received roughly two billion dollars in free media coverage so far, in a race that just went over one billion combined in paid ads. That has to balance out. The media has to stop feeding, get back to work – and get both feet back on the truth.