Make America Great Again.
What does it mean?
Does it mean anything?
Barack Obama had “Hope and Change.”
What did that mean
Did it mean anything.
One of the strange terms I heard back when I watched the English – never the American – Apprentice was “strap line.”
“Strap line” is the theme, the idea, the organising principle of the enterprise.
The beauty of “Hope and Change” as a “strap line” is that it can mean whatever you think (and feel) it means.
Here is how it works.
You, the democrat — the customer —project your hopes and fears, desires and aversions onto the theme.
The “strap line” or theme allows your imagination to engage in wishful thinking. This is what James Burnham called “politics as wish.” You then let your wishes fill in the blanks. The candidate says a few vague (policy wise) but emotionally charged statements; then you imagine, you hope, you wish.
Make America Great Again is a genius theme.
First of all, it allows nearly everyone to buy into it and, at the same time, it makes it very hard to disagree with.
If you’re American, then you will likely agree that either America is great or has been great. Most people are proud of their country, Americans especially so. Americans want their country to be great.
All political regimes require a political formula, or a story — a narrative. Successful formulas or stories (fictions) allow everyone to feel part of something, to feel that they belong. More importantly, they serve as the organising principles of social coordination and political power.
The King is King because he is King, and God put him there, so shut up and dig peasant.
These “formulas” do not just exist in politics, however.
Look at football, or English soccer. Did the fans of Manchester United have any say, in any way, over Sir Alex Ferguson?
The Game Is the Game.
And yet there they were participating, shouting with joy, and crying tears of sadness at victory or defeat. We won, we lost — WE.
Who is this “we” kemosabe?
People in a democracy have as much say over their government as Manchester United supporters did over Sir Alex.
Yet the game continues because all participants enjoy the “buzz” — all part of the team.
In a democracy, the object of the game is power via the coordination of the minds of the masses.
Power is achieved — a more accurate description is that it is “normalised” — by constructing winning coalitions.
Winning coalitions are constructed by creating a formula of US and THEM. We and thee.
Yes we can!
“We”being the “voice” of the “people”.
Vox Populi, Vox Dei.
But the “voice” of the “people” requires a leader who “articulates” the “will” of the “people”.
All politics is tribal, especially so in a democracy.
People, the more tribal anyway, in a democracy desire to be great, they want their country to be great —like supporters of a football club want their team to be great: the “buzz”.
Anyone who disagrees is simply not a “team-player.”
In reality, the “will” of the people is manufactured by those who control, construct, coordinate, and communicate the memes that mould the minds of the masses.
Yes, Noam Chomsky said this too, but so did Walter Lippmann, long before Chomsky:
That the manufacture of consent is capable of great refinements no one, I think, denies. The process by which public opinions arise is certainly no less intricate than it has appeared in these pages, and the opportunities for manipulation open to anyone who understands the process are plain enough.
The creation of consent is not a new art. It is a very old one which was supposed to have died out with the appearance of democracy. But it has not died out. It has, in fact, improved enormously in technic, because it is now based on analysis rather than on rule of thumb. And so, as a result of psychological research, coupled with the modern means of communication, the practice of democracy has turned a corner. A revolution is taking place, infinitely more significant than any shifting of economic power.
Within the life of the generation now in control of affairs, persuasion has become a self-conscious art and a regular organ of popular government. None of us begins to understand the consequences, but it is no daring prophecy to say that the knowledge of how to create consent will alter every political calculation and modify every political premise. Under the impact of propaganda, not necessarily in the sinister meaning of the word alone, the old constants of our thinking have become variables. It is no longer possible, for example, to believe in the original dogma of democracy; that the knowledge needed for the management of human affairs comes up spontaneously from the human heart. Where we act on that theory we expose ourselves to self-deception, and to forms of persuasion that we cannot verify. It has been demonstrated that we cannot rely upon intuition, conscience, or the accidents of casual opinion if we are to deal with the world beyond our reach.
Those features of the world outside which have to do with the behavior of other human beings, in so far as that behavior crosses ours, is dependent upon us, or is interesting to us, we call roughly public affairs. The pictures inside the heads of these human beings, the pictures of themselves, of others, of their needs, purposes, and relationship, are their public opinions. Those pictures which are acted upon by groups of people, or by individuals acting in the name of groups, are Public Opinion with capital letters. And so in the chapters which follow we shall inquire first into some of the reasons why the picture inside so often misleads men in their dealings with the world outside.
There follows an analysis of the traditional democratic theory of public opinion. The substance of the argument is that democracy in its original form never seriously faced the problem which arises because the pictures inside people’s heads do not automatically correspond with the world outside.
My conclusion is that public opinions must be organized for the press if they are to be sound, not by the press as is the case today. This organization I conceive to be in the first instance the task of a political science that has won its proper place as formulator, in advance of real decision, instead of apologist, critic, or reporter after the decision has been made. I try to indicate that the perplexities of government and industry are conspiring to give political science this enormous opportunity to enrich itself and to serve the public. And, of course, I hope that these pages will help a few people to realize that opportunity more vividly, and therefore to pursue it more consciously.
Walter Lippmann is not a crank, he is considered the “Father” of American journalism and the most “influential” or persuasive journalist in American history; Lippmann was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom; Lippmann was also a progressive (like Chomksy) and his book Public Opinion is a foundational text in media studies:
So, in a democracy, like with the hand that moves the stick that moves the stone, whoever moulds and moves the minds of the masses, moves the Machine: Government.
A formula, a narrative, a brand, a message — whatever — is the way to organise, and coordinate, a “demo-army” or “base” or simply “voters.”
In the 2016 election, it was Make America Great Again v Stronger Together.
Stronger Together is not so good. Its sounds Fascist, after all, rods are stronger together. Also, some people don’t want to be “together” — they like their liberties, or their spaces. Crucially, it has no “verb” and no real emotional “buzzwords” like “America” and “Great.”
Secondly, MAGA is evocative and nostalgic. Many people — it is basic human nature — think (and FEEL) that the past was better than the present, and that the future will be worse than what already is.
MAGA speaks to many, say, over the age of forty who thinks: where the hell did our country go?
However, part of the genius of MAGA is that it is also a call to arms: a point of social coordination.
The key is the verb “make”. That is the “change” part in the “hope” of making America “Great Again.”
Young people are the builders, the doers, the changers. So MAGA also allows young people to get behind the theme, the common project, of making America great again.
Thirdly, if people disagree with MAGA, then they are the outsiders, the rich, the privileged, the out of touch, the croakers, the wastrels: the people who are the enemy.
MAGA is a dividing line. It forces people to take a position: either/or.
The real genius, however, is that if anyone denies MAGA then they have no real comeback. To be against MAGA is to be against America, and to be against America is to be an enemy of America.
And if you’re an enemy of America in America, then you’re an enem of the “people”.
Now, don’t complain about this in a democracy. Democracy is politics and politics is division. Period.
Once the “frame” of MAGA is established, all it takes is a few key examples to demonstrate the general principle that America is not great anymore, that America is not working, that America is going to the dogs.
How framing works:
There are many labels for such mental models: maps, paradigms, mind-sets, worldviews, and cognitive lenses, to name a few. We call them frames. A frame is a set of beliefs and assumptions that you carry in your head to help you understand and negotiate some part of your world. A good frame makes it easier to know what’s happening, see more options, and make better choices. Frames are vital because human affairs don’t come with computerized navigation systems to guide you turn by turn to your destination. Instead, you need to develop and carry accurate maps in your head.
Such maps make it possible to register and assemble key bits of available data into a coherent pattern—an image of what’s going on.
Deal, Terrence E., Bolman, Lee G. “The Art of Reframing.”
Furthermore, once you have created the perception and belief in a “coherent pattern”, framing allows you then to create and use confirmation bias.
You announce your theme (a big, bold claim), announce some sub-themes (more specific sub-claims under the umbrella of the master claim); then provide some key, highly emotive, examples. Describe the examples using strong, passionate, forceful and visual language. Finally, claim that it will only get worse, and worse, and that nobody but you can either understand or deal with the problem.
What happens is that events prove you right.
Note, several principles of persuasion are also at work here: Authority, Social Proof and even Scarcity (the good life is running out).
Trump is, above all, an entrepreneur — a textbook description of an ESTP ( Extroverted Sensing Thinking Perceiving) in Myers-Briggs typology.
An entrepreneur is someone who wants to give people what they want.
An entrepreneur absorbs information, considers human psychology, imagines futures; asks hypothetically what people will want, could want and might want; then, they try to provide the goods and services that will satisfy people’s wants and desires.
Below is a description of an ESTP:
“ESTPs are big-thinking, action-oriented entrepreneurs – bold go-getters who go for what they want with great confidence in themselves. They have an uncanny ability to size up a situation and either leave it or get what they want from it. Flexible and pragmatic, ESTPs typically see little need to do things “by the book” – especially not if doing things “outside of the book” will get greater results. Unconventional, alert, and extremely adaptable, ESTPs are good at thinking on their feet and even better at convincing others to get behind their solution to a problem. In situations where others have to sit down and think to come up with a solution, the ESTP can often shake out an answer by simply looking at the problem.
Of all the 16 types, ESTPs are perhaps the most observant and discerning realists. As first movers with an eye for innovation, they are frequently attuned to what the “next big thing” will be before others have even noticed it. For this reason, ESTPs may sometimes seem as if they have an eerie ability to always be in the right place at the right time. When a golden opportunity arises, the ESTPs of this world are usually among the first to notice it, seize it, and to make use of it for their own ends.”
Finally, the beauty of MAGA is that if America is not great, then someone must be responsible. Right
Now, in a democracy, as with all politics, the object, again, is to win power.
To build a winning coalition to obtain power, it requires appealing to as many people as possible.
To successfully appeal to as many people as possible it requires identifying the most basic of human psychological and social conditions.
Step forward Saul Alinsky.
Alinksy was a radical leftist. His book Rules for Radicals is a democratic masterpiece.
Alinsky said that in a society there are three groups. (He was not the first, nor the last to say this.)
The first group, the smallest group, is the group who have a lot. They have a lot of power, wealth and prestige.
The second group is the “have a little want more” group.
The third group is the “have littles”.
In any democracy, this pattern appears again and again.
So, a political “entrepreneur” such as Barack Obama, a student of Alinsky, practices want Alinsky preaches.
A typically play:
Folks! I know you’re tired, I know you’re hungry, I know you”re angry.
Folks! See dem folks over there?
Dem folks be the problem right there. (Point.)
They did X, they did Y, they did Z.
So, vote for me I will do ABC and give you 1,2,3.
And what do the people do?
The principle here, is that in a democracy you identity a scapegoat group and you blame them for everything.
Bernie Sanders blamed the banks (smart but not smart enough).
Hillary Clinton blamed the American people (the “deplorables”) (stupid).
Donald Trump blamed the politicians, all of them — Democrats and Republicans. (Genius.)
America is not great because the politicians who have wealth, power and prestige have failed America.
A government is a just a business. It provides goods and services to people who pay.
But has America delivered good customer service? Has Europe?
The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
And the answer is no.
In short: poor, corrupt, customer service.
This is what happens when you have a monopoly or a cartel.
Or oligarchy: rule of the few over the many for the good of the few.
So this is one reason why America is not great, and Europe is a disaster zone.
The problem is that if you get bad customer service in a business, you go elsewhere.
Most Americans, most people, dimly grasp that something is just-not-right. And Trump has, in his own way, understood this point well enough and that has allowed him to become the President.
If America is not great, and if the politicians are to blame (so says Trump), then who can make America great again?
Enter, via an escalator, Donald J Trump — the Wizard.