Trump’s campaign for president isn’t a historical anomaly, as many have called it. It bares a lot of resemblance to the 2000 campaign. But there are definitely aspects to it that are wildly unique, and should be a lesson to anyone who is interested in how people think and make decisions.
I’ve pointed out before that not a lot of Trump’s policies are not particularly consistent. He often left his proposals vague and with only a passing connection to objective reality. There are dozens of examples of this. One that comes to mind would be when he declared that Barack Obama was born in the US. His words were that Hillary Clinton started the rumor and he is ending it. Sure, if you squint just right and ignore the fact that Hillary Clinton never said anything like that, it sounds great. And it conveniently ignores the years of him pushing and trying to delegitimize the president as a way of pushing his own political career. But, if you take his words in a vacuum without considering the history of the man saying them, then it sounds amazing. That’s lesson one. People have bad memories and the main thing that matters is how long ago something happened. If someone does something terrible decades ago, that matters a lot less than a neutral thing that happened last week.
Lesson two is that emotions matter far more than raw facts. I would argue raw facts are basically irrelevant towards making decisions, especially decisions like who to vote for. No one know who will be the better president. There are plenty of scenarios where Trump is the stronger person to deal with it than Clinton would be, and vice versa. There is no metric or number to point to and compare. You have to base your decision on imperfect information, so facts fall to the side. Trump won because he had a greater emotional connection to the voters than Clinton. Just like Barack Obama had a greater connection than Mitt Romney and John McCain. And George W. Bush had a greater connection than John Kerry and Al Gore. I can’t remember any of Kerry or Gore’s proposals or policies. I can remember how monotonously they spoke. I can remember how animated W was.
Lesson three, and the most important, is that it’s easier to appeal to our fearful nature rather than our better selves. I think a lot of people would like to live in a world where a woman is president. It sends a great message to the next generation of people that anyone can be president. But, more than that, we’d like to live in a world where we can be safe. Where anyone can get a good paying job and a good education, and where crime and terrorism aren’t risks. Clinton tried to appeal to our better nature. Trump appealed to our lizard brain. That’s a hard thing to overcome. Barack Obama did it successfully, but Mitt Romney and John McCain never could bring fear to the forefront. They were good campaigners, to be sure, but they brought a knife to a gun fight. That’s never going to win.
All in all, what we should be learning is that we are far less rational than we believe. This isn’t a good or bad thing. This simply means that we should be aware of how our brains work, so when someone hits those fear and hope buttons, we know what they’re doing and why.