Morning After (the first presidential debate)


Hillary Clinton is not an inspiring speaker. To appreciate what she is saying, a person must think about it and not just feel it.

Donald Trump arouses affect, specifically the affects of fear, anger, and disgust. He drives people’s deeply felt but unacknowledged shame toward the response the psychiatrist Donald Nathanson named the “attack other” pole on his compass of shame reactions.

For this reason, Trump supporters are unlikely to be moved by the substance of what Hillary Clinton or anyone else is saying in this runup to the election of our next president. They are supporting Trump, not rationally, but emotionally. Like bigotry, Trump support is rooted in feelings and emotions – in affect. Twice I have read or heard people say, “We know he’s an ass, but . . . [I still support him]. Never before have I read or heard that type of support for a candidate for the presidency, and I believe only affective attachment can explain it.

Donald Trump arouses affect in people, mostly the negative affects of fear, anger-rage, and disgust, but last night’s debate made it clear to a person who remains unattached to him that he has nothing else working for him. He has no substance. He has never needed any. Trump is a con artist, and arousing affect is the con artist’s stock in trade, his one necessary skill. Truth is irrelevant. Follow-through is irrelevant because the con artist has no intention of following through on any promise. Expecting Trump to build the wall, revitalize the economy, clean up Washington, or make America great in any way is like expecting the supposed Nigerian princess to send you your inheritance after you have sent “her” your money.

Watching and listening to last night’s debate became, for me, like watching a stage magician while knowing how the magician does the tricks. The sleight of hand is no longer hidden, the distractions no longer distract, the impressions fail to impress. So, I was left watching a man my age behaving like a boor, a petulant child caught misbehaving but refusing to admit it. The only message remaining was that Donald J. Trump will keep telling us how great he is, desperately hoping we’ll believe him.

Candidate Trump’s Appeal


“We are living in a season of anger that is already exceeding danger levels.” I wrote and preached those words in March of 2010 in a sermon titled, “Appealing to What in People?” At that time, I had heard of Donald Trump but would not have considered taking him seriously as a public figure, except as a con man and low level celebrity.

That was six Palm Sundays ago; this is now, Palm Sunday 2016. Here are the first two paragraphs of the sermon I preached that day in 2010.

We are living in a season of anger that is already exceeding danger levels. Decades ago, we spoke of anger as though it were a liquid that could be “bottled up” inside us. We thought we needed to express our anger to “get it out” of our systems so it would not blow up, boil over inside us, or poison our temperaments. Since those days, we have learned that the more people practice anger, the angrier they become. We can actually train ourselves to become easily enraged, which, of course, can have quite detrimental effects upon our blood pressure, our work, our sleep, and our personal relationships as well.

Angry people do not think straight, as one man recently confessed, he says, to his shame and fear. He is the younger man in the now infamous video of two men in Columbus, Ohio bullying an older man with Parkinson’s disease, and he now admits he was completely out of control and says he will never go to a political rally again. For him, that decision might be wise, but neither politics nor religion necessarily fuels rage. Playing to anger, stirring it up in crowds, is a choice by politicians or religious leaders that deliberately targets enemies and keeps demonizing them so that the enraged followers no longer feel the need to treat those others so demonized as fellow human beings.

Notice how frequently Mr. Trump uses the word disgusting to describe people.

Already back then, we could see the phenomenon now being exploited by the candidate Donald Trump: crowd rage arising from fear, resentment, shame, and fostered disgust (at the presence of vulnerable groups labeled disgusting). Notice how frequently Mr. Trump uses the word disgusting to describe people. Disgust dehumanizes its objects, the tactic used by the Nazis to make Jews appear subhuman to a humiliated and enraged German populace and the tactic used by the Romans to dehumanize perceived rebels such as Jesus of Nazareth. Once people have been perceived as disgusting, violence against them seems justified and may even be glorified.

Many have been asking what makes candidate Trump appealing to people? I am reversing that question. To what in people is Trump making his appeal? Con artists play upon people’s impulses. Some can be conned by appealing to their greed, others by appealing to their compassion.

The question of my sermon, addressed mainly to the Christian church, concerned what we appeal to in people to move them. Fear? Guilt? Pride? Greed? Selfishness? Desire for thrills? The need to be entertained? The wish for self-justification? To what human impulses do we make our presentations or distortions of the gospel appeal? What impulses do we arouse and encourage in people?

Do they bring out the best in us or the worst?

Now we need to ask that same question of candidates for the presidency and other politicians trying to appeal to us. To which of our feelings and impulses are they appealing? Do they bring out the best in us or the worst?