Trump’s communication techniques, frames of analysis, and democracy

Several months ago I said that I would do some analysis of Trump and the American election. Up until now I have refrained from doing any kind of analysis or reflection, primarily because I feel the conversation is so saturated that nothing I had to say would be particularly interesting or novel. But now I have an idea, so here it goes.

Recently I stumbled upon a YouTube channel called Charisma on Command. Basically the channel breaks down ways in which you can be charismatic and persuasive (including analysis of why certain Game of Throne characters do well and others do not, if your into that sort of thing). In May 2016 the channel posted a video predicting that Donald Trump would win the American election, and proceeded to break down the communication techniques and strategies that Trump was using and why they were beating those techniques being used by Hillary. The analysis is quite interesting, but what struck me was that technique is not something I have seen much discussed in public dialogue as to why Trump beat Hillary. Most analysis that I have seen has been primarily ideological/economic, proposing that Trump won because of disenfranchised rust-belt voters, democrat hubris, and various other accounts. There just has not been much talk about the idea that Trump won and Hillary lost because Trump was a better communicator who successfully controlled the election agenda. I think that there are two interesting things to take away from this. First, I think it shows how theory/frame sets the ways in which events are interpreted and explained. Second, it is possibly the case that the ‘technique’ frame is avoided because it undermines the democratic frame.

I am using the term ‘frame’ here pretty loosely to refer to the broad assumptions that are being made about how the world works. In the American election, I suggest that the assumptions that have been made are something like this: beliefs and economic circumstances are the important factors that determine an election. Candidate’s win or lose based on their moral characteristics and the degree to which they represent the public.

Contrast this with the frame that captures Charisma on Command’s interest. The primary ethos of the channel is that charisma can be captured through teachable techniques (this being how the channel makes its money). The primary focus of the video on Trump is breaking down the methods through which he succeeds. This kind of explanation is almost a-historical – Trump won because he was a good public speaker and tactician, shifting tactics and ideology to suit the different audiences he needed to win. This is potentially anti-democratic because it seems to undermine the democratic assumption that voting places authority in the hands of the people – if elections are won on the back of rhetoric and technique, than democracy entails rule by the rhetorician, not the public. I said before that this frame is possibly avoided because it undermines the democratic frame. By this I do not mean that it is inconceivable that both technique and ideology play a role in democratic life. However, trust is a keystone in democracy – the system functions in part because people believe in it. I therefore think it is unsurprising that the technique frame is rarely explored in public channels.

Let me know what you think!

CreativePhilo

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Trump’s communication techniques, frames of analysis, and democracy

Several months ago I said that I would do some analysis of Trump and the American election. Up until now I have refrained from doing any kind of analysis or reflection, primarily because I feel the conversation is so saturated that nothing I had to say would be particularly interesting or novel. But now I have an idea, so here it goes.

Recently I stumbled upon a YouTube channel called Charisma on Command. Basically the channel breaks down ways in which you can be charismatic and persuasive (including analysis of why certain Game of Throne characters do well and others do not, if your into that sort of thing). In May 2016 the channel posted a video predicting that Donald Trump would win the American election, and proceeded to break down the communication techniques and strategies that Trump was using and why they were beating those techniques being used by Hillary. The analysis is quite interesting, but what struck me was that technique is not something I have seen much discussed in public dialogue as to why Trump beat Hillary. Most analysis that I have seen has been primarily ideological/economic, proposing that Trump won because of disenfranchised rust-belt voters, democrat hubris, and various other accounts. There just has not been much talk about the idea that Trump won and Hillary lost because Trump was a better communicator who successfully controlled the election agenda. I think that there are two interesting things to take away from this. First, I think it shows how theory/frame sets the ways in which events are interpreted and explained. Second, it is possibly the case that the ‘technique’ frame is avoided because it undermines the democratic frame.

I am using the term ‘frame’ here pretty loosely to refer to the broad assumptions that are being made about how the world works. In the American election, I suggest that the assumptions that have been made are something like this: beliefs and economic circumstances are the important factors that determine an election. Candidate’s win or lose based on their moral characteristics and the degree to which they represent the public.

Contrast this with the frame that captures Charisma on Command’s interest. The primary ethos of the channel is that charisma can be captured through teachable techniques (this being how the channel makes its money). The primary focus of the video on Trump is breaking down the methods through which he succeeds. This kind of explanation is almost a-historical – Trump won because he was a good public speaker and tactician, shifting tactics and ideology to suit the different audiences he needed to win. This is potentially anti-democratic because it seems to undermine the democratic assumption that voting places authority in the hands of the people – if elections are won on the back of rhetoric and technique, than democracy entails rule by the rhetorician, not the public. I said before that this frame is possibly avoided because it undermines the democratic frame. By this I do not mean that it is inconceivable that both technique and ideology play a role in democratic life. However, trust is a keystone in democracy – the system functions in part because people believe in it. I therefore think it is unsurprising that the technique frame is rarely explored in public channels.

Let me know what you think!

CreativePhilo

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Trump’s communication techniques, frames of analysis, and democracy

Several months ago I said that I would do some analysis of Trump and the American election. Up until now I have refrained from doing any kind of analysis or reflection, primarily because I feel the conversation is so saturated that nothing I had to say would be particularly interesting or novel. But now I have an idea, so here it goes.

Recently I stumbled upon a YouTube channel called Charisma on Command. Basically the channel breaks down ways in which you can be charismatic and persuasive (including analysis of why certain Game of Throne characters do well and others do not, if your into that sort of thing). In May 2016 the channel posted a video predicting that Donald Trump would win the American election, and proceeded to break down the communication techniques and strategies that Trump was using and why they were beating those techniques being used by Hillary. The analysis is quite interesting, but what struck me was that technique is not something I have seen much discussed in public dialogue as to why Trump beat Hillary. Most analysis that I have seen has been primarily ideological/economic, proposing that Trump won because of disenfranchised rust-belt voters, democrat hubris, and various other accounts. There just has not been much talk about the idea that Trump won and Hillary lost because Trump was a better communicator who successfully controlled the election agenda. I think that there are two interesting things to take away from this. First, I think it shows how theory/frame sets the ways in which events are interpreted and explained. Second, it is possibly the case that the ‘technique’ frame is avoided because it undermines the democratic frame.

I am using the term ‘frame’ here pretty loosely to refer to the broad assumptions that are being made about how the world works. In the American election, I suggest that the assumptions that have been made are something like this: beliefs and economic circumstances are the important factors that determine an election. Candidate’s win or lose based on their moral characteristics and the degree to which they represent the public.

Contrast this with the frame that captures Charisma on Command’s interest. The primary ethos of the channel is that charisma can be captured through teachable techniques (this being how the channel makes its money). The primary focus of the video on Trump is breaking down the methods through which he succeeds. This kind of explanation is almost a-historical – Trump won because he was a good public speaker and tactician, shifting tactics and ideology to suit the different audiences he needed to win. This is potentially anti-democratic because it seems to undermine the democratic assumption that voting places authority in the hands of the people – if elections are won on the back of rhetoric and technique, than democracy entails rule by the rhetorician, not the public. I said before that this frame is possibly avoided because it undermines the democratic frame. By this I do not mean that it is inconceivable that both technique and ideology play a role in democratic life. However, trust is a keystone in democracy – the system functions in part because people believe in it. I therefore think it is unsurprising that the technique frame is rarely explored in public channels.

Let me know what you think!

CreativePhilo

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Trump’s communication techniques, frames of analysis, and democracy

Several months ago I said that I would do some analysis of Trump and the American election. Up until now I have refrained from doing any kind of analysis or reflection, primarily because I feel the conversation is so saturated that nothing I had to say would be particularly interesting or novel. But now I have an idea, so here it goes.

Recently I stumbled upon a YouTube channel called Charisma on Command. Basically the channel breaks down ways in which you can be charismatic and persuasive (including analysis of why certain Game of Throne characters do well and others do not, if your into that sort of thing). In May 2016 the channel posted a video predicting that Donald Trump would win the American election, and proceeded to break down the communication techniques and strategies that Trump was using and why they were beating those techniques being used by Hillary. The analysis is quite interesting, but what struck me was that technique is not something I have seen much discussed in public dialogue as to why Trump beat Hillary. Most analysis that I have seen has been primarily ideological/economic, proposing that Trump won because of disenfranchised rust-belt voters, democrat hubris, and various other accounts. There just has not been much talk about the idea that Trump won and Hillary lost because Trump was a better communicator who successfully controlled the election agenda. I think that there are two interesting things to take away from this. First, I think it shows how theory/frame sets the ways in which events are interpreted and explained. Second, it is possibly the case that the ‘technique’ frame is avoided because it undermines the democratic frame.

I am using the term ‘frame’ here pretty loosely to refer to the broad assumptions that are being made about how the world works. In the American election, I suggest that the assumptions that have been made are something like this: beliefs and economic circumstances are the important factors that determine an election. Candidate’s win or lose based on their moral characteristics and the degree to which they represent the public.

Contrast this with the frame that captures Charisma on Command’s interest. The primary ethos of the channel is that charisma can be captured through teachable techniques (this being how the channel makes its money). The primary focus of the video on Trump is breaking down the methods through which he succeeds. This kind of explanation is almost a-historical – Trump won because he was a good public speaker and tactician, shifting tactics and ideology to suit the different audiences he needed to win. This is potentially anti-democratic because it seems to undermine the democratic assumption that voting places authority in the hands of the people – if elections are won on the back of rhetoric and technique, than democracy entails rule by the rhetorician, not the public. I said before that this frame is possibly avoided because it undermines the democratic frame. By this I do not mean that it is inconceivable that both technique and ideology play a role in democratic life. However, trust is a keystone in democracy – the system functions in part because people believe in it. I therefore think it is unsurprising that the technique frame is rarely explored in public channels.

Let me know what you think!

CreativePhilo

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Trump’s communication techniques, frames of analysis, and democracy

Several months ago I said that I would do some analysis of Trump and the American election. Up until now I have refrained from doing any kind of analysis or reflection, primarily because I feel the conversation is so saturated that nothing I had to say would be particularly interesting or novel. But now I have an idea, so here it goes.

Recently I stumbled upon a YouTube channel called Charisma on Command. Basically the channel breaks down ways in which you can be charismatic and persuasive (including analysis of why certain Game of Throne characters do well and others do not, if your into that sort of thing). In May 2016 the channel posted a video predicting that Donald Trump would win the American election, and proceeded to break down the communication techniques and strategies that Trump was using and why they were beating those techniques being used by Hillary. The analysis is quite interesting, but what struck me was that technique is not something I have seen much discussed in public dialogue as to why Trump beat Hillary. Most analysis that I have seen has been primarily ideological/economic, proposing that Trump won because of disenfranchised rust-belt voters, democrat hubris, and various other accounts. There just has not been much talk about the idea that Trump won and Hillary lost because Trump was a better communicator who successfully controlled the election agenda. I think that there are two interesting things to take away from this. First, I think it shows how theory/frame sets the ways in which events are interpreted and explained. Second, it is possibly the case that the ‘technique’ frame is avoided because it undermines the democratic frame.

I am using the term ‘frame’ here pretty loosely to refer to the broad assumptions that are being made about how the world works. In the American election, I suggest that the assumptions that have been made are something like this: beliefs and economic circumstances are the important factors that determine an election. Candidate’s win or lose based on their moral characteristics and the degree to which they represent the public.

Contrast this with the frame that captures Charisma on Command’s interest. The primary ethos of the channel is that charisma can be captured through teachable techniques (this being how the channel makes its money). The primary focus of the video on Trump is breaking down the methods through which he succeeds. This kind of explanation is almost a-historical – Trump won because he was a good public speaker and tactician, shifting tactics and ideology to suit the different audiences he needed to win. This is potentially anti-democratic because it seems to undermine the democratic assumption that voting places authority in the hands of the people – if elections are won on the back of rhetoric and technique, than democracy entails rule by the rhetorician, not the public. I said before that this frame is possibly avoided because it undermines the democratic frame. By this I do not mean that it is inconceivable that both technique and ideology play a role in democratic life. However, trust is a keystone in democracy – the system functions in part because people believe in it. I therefore think it is unsurprising that the technique frame is rarely explored in public channels.

Let me know what you think!

CreativePhilo

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Should the police have more discretion?

Police discretion is a contentious issue, particularly around the topic of racial discrimination. The issue is usually framed in terms of equality before the law vs. police effectiveness (I.e. should police have the discretion to employ questionable tactics if those tactics are effective). While this is an important conversation  In this paper I want to explore a radically different interpretation of the significance of police discretion explored in a very interesting paper called ‘Better living through police discretion’, written by Harold E. Pepinsky and published in1984 (download link).

Pepinsky proposes five features of police discretion that he thinks are generally overlooked. The five features are:
1 – police accountability requires discretion
2 – discretion consists of unexplained variation in police decision making
3 – it does not contribute to the already existing class bias in policing
4 – discretion is increased by the imposition of laws, regulations, and rules that set out to curtail discretion
5 – Creating police discretion is necessary for reducing the injustice of policing

I will explore these points in order.

1 – Police accountability requires discretion
Pepinsky’s point here is quite simple: people can only be responsible if they have choices (which he defines as having the ability to do otherwise). Otherwise they are being held responsible for the decisions of those others who regulate their behaviour. The police therefore cannot be responsible to the public if they do not have options in their conduct.

2 – Discretion consists of unexplained variation in police decision making
Some may find Pepinsky’s claim here controversial. The key argument that he is making is that the police only have discretion if their actions are not readily explainable. He provides an example of officers dispatched to instigate a report. Supposedly it was up to officer discretion as to whether an incident required a report. What the investigation found, however, was that the vast majority of officers would only file a report if the dispatch had identified a specific crime. Pepinsky therefore concluded that these officers did not have discretion.

3 – Discretion does not contribute to the already existing class bias in policing
The key to this claim is that the police as an institution are already heavily class biased. This is true in a number of ways, but the most interesting one is probably Pepinsky’s critique of who gets policed in society. The key factual claim he makes is to contest the generally accepted belief that poverty causes crime, and that lower class crime causes more harm than upper class crime. If these assumptions are false, then there is a great deal of explained variation when it comes to the policing of the wealthy and the poor – the poor are policed because the wealthy are in power. Further, Pepinsky thinks that it is a political impossibility that the police will be regulated so as to police the rich and poor equally. It is therefore benecial to increase police discretion (as he has defined it) because that entails reducing the explanatory power of race and class when it comes to police conduct.

4 – Discretion is increased by the imposition of laws, regulations, and rules
This is probably Pepinsky’s oddest point. The basic claim is that introducing new laws makes it harder to predict police behavior. The reason this is the case is because customs (our habitual modes of conduct) make it easy for others to predict how people will behave (or at least agree upon how people should behave). When rules are introduced to regulate police behaviour, this disrupts previously established customs and standards. For a notable period of time after the introduction of new regulation, police discretion is increased due to uncertainty on the parts of both police and those responsible for enforcing regulation on the police.

4.5 – Increasing policing does not increase safety
Before getting into point 5, I want to quickly outline a crucial sub-point. Pepinsky proposes that increasing law enforcement does not significantly increase the safety of citizens. This point rests on A) the vast well of unaddressed crime that the police can never hope to address, and B) the highly harmful acts of high class criminals that are likely never to be prosecuted however many officers we put on the streets. Note, however, that this does not mean that we can simply decrease law enforcement. For though the increase of law enforcement may not have increased safety, its removal will increase the perceived opportunity for crime and disorder.

5 – Creating police discretion is necessary for reducing the injustice of policing
The above four points ultimately feed into Pepinsky’s argument that the way to reduce the injustice of policing is to increase police discretion. The shape of the argument is essentially this: given that police enforcement is almost inevitably unequally distributed, and increasing it does not generally increase the safety of society, we should increase police discretion to not enforce the law. In practice, Pepinsky proposes this would entail giving police the discretion to negotiate standards of conduct locally. Crucially, this means giving citizens the right to decide when to call upon police power. The ultimate goal would be to increase the degree to which problems can be solved without hard law enforcement, and to gradually ease citizens into managing situations without calling upon law enforcement so that it later becomes possible to decrease levels of enforcement without leaving a void.

Reflection

It is evident, on this review, that Pepinsky’s argument does not purely pertain to discretion – his argument crucially rests on the assumption that policing is inevitably class-biased and he is primarily oriented towards decreasing enforcement for this reason. That being said, he constructs a very interesting account of what police discretion entails, and how expanding it (in certain ways) could lead to the improvement of society. I do wonder whether discrimination would just be shifted from central government to local powers, but I am inclined to agree with his argument that the notion that increasing enforcement will necessarily decrease crime is fallacious, and also agree that policing is heavily class-biased.

Let me know what you think!

CreativePhilo

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Alternative Realities: Regret, Counterfactual Thinking, and the Creative Mind – Guest post by Ashley Pearson

I am delighted to be publishing CreativePhilo’s first guest post! Today’s article is by Ashley Pearson, a London-based director and playwright specializing in opera, new work and reimagined classics.

Don’t worry, this isn’t
an article about Trump. I promise.

We’ve all been hearing a
lot about regret lately – particularly, people regretting the choice they made
when they were asked a question about the future of their country.
But as artists, what can
we learn from, and how should we deal with, regret?
I’m an artist. I direct
(mostly opera), I write (mostly plays), and I make a lot of mistakes. One of
the best instincts to tell me if I need to change something is regret. It’s one
of the most important tools in my toolbox. I need my regrets to tell me when
I’ve done something that doesn’t align with my artistic vision. Or when I’ve
done something that’s just plain silly (ie. dear lord why did I think the light
should be purple?). I know I can’t let it control me, but I need it and I use
it.
However, regret is also
a powerful force in opposition to creativity. According to a study by Dr. Neal
Roese, people tend to have more regrets when they have more opportunity. Choice
can be a burden. And what is creativity if not a boundless set of choices,
limited only by imagination.
As
a
n opera director, I make
decisions all the time. My job is about being decisive and having opinions
about everything from what someone should wear on stage, to how many rehearsals
we need, to what Handel meant when he wrote that melody. And I make a lot of
mistakes. But something I’ve learned through my practise (and there’s a reason
they call it a ‘practise’) is that the niggling feeling of regret that pangs in
my gut means I need to do one of two things: Either file it away as a mistake I
won’t make again; or change it. One of the best pieces of directing advice I’ve
ever received was from Stephen Unwin, who said, in the theatre “everything is
changeable”.
But how do we know what
to change? And how can we envision what we want to change it to?
COUNTERFACTUAL THINKING
Counterfactuals are
thoughts about what might have been. An integral indicator of regret, they
present us alternatives to the present moment, and we’re involved in
counterfactual thinking all the time— “I should have had that salad for lunch,”
or “I wish I hadn’t said that.” In my directing work, I am constantly
confronting counterfactuals; ‘I should have given that note like this,’ ‘That
lighting state would be much better if it wasn’t so blue,’ etc. With
counterfactuals, we imagine alternative realities that are somehow better than
the current one. But how can imagining these alternative realities help us?
We can categorize
counterfactuals in a few different ways. Additive counterfactuals focus on
doing something that wasn’t done, for example, ‘I wish I had learned Italian,’ whereas
subtractive counterfactuals focus on things we wish we hadn’t done, and is
about removing a choice, for example, ‘I shouldn’t have ordered those tacos.’
Also, we can categorize
counterfactuals as either upward or downward. An upward counterfactual tells
you how to make something better, while a downward counterfactual only tells
you how to make sure something doesn’t get worse.
Categorizing
counterfactuals:
ADDITIVE
SUBTRACTIVE
UPWARD
“What else could I have done well?”
If I ate more salads, I would be
healthier.
“What shouldn’t I have done, so I
could do well?”
If I hadn’t had that piece of cake,
I would be healthier.
DOWNWARD
 “What could I have done that would make this
even worse?”
If I had that piece of cake, I’d be
really unhealthy.*
“What didn’t I do that made this
worse?”
If I didn’t have salad with my
cake, I’d be really unhealthy.
*The author in no way
wishes to imply you shouldn’t have that piece of cake.
COUNTERFACTUAL THINKING AND CREATIVITY
The distinction may be
subtle, but studies have shown that additive counterfactuals enhance creative
thinking, while subtractive counterfactuals can enhance analytical problem
solving.
Additive counterfactuals
are marked by the absence of negation. So, to enhance creativity, it may be
wise to try and phrase counterfactuals in an additive way. For example, instead
of thinking “I shouldn’t have made the lighting so blue,” a better phrase may
be “I should have made the lighting more orange.” By using the latter, I’m
imagining a reality in which the lighting is more orange, instead of just
taking a negative view on the ‘blue’ reality. The additive counterfactual also
allows for more specificity. It presents a solution to the problem.
As you can imagine, too much
counterfactual thinking is indicative of stress and anxiety. Too much
counterfactual thinking early in a creative process might be
counter-productive. It is a reflective activity, and it may be best to put
aside self-evaluation until a later phase in the creative process. Try
following a first draft rule: The first time you write something, don’t
evaluate or judge the work. Then, when in later editing stages, bring in that
counterfactual eye. There may be some scientific evidence to back up this
method.
THE ORBITOFRONTAL CORTEX
The orbitofrontal
cortex, which is an important area for decision making and emotional processing
in the brain, is one of the main areas involved in our experience of regret.
However, studies have
shown that inhibiting the prefrontal cortex (the larger area the orbitofrontal
cortex is a part of) can enhance creativity. Suppressing this area can help to
disinhibit an individual’s emotional responses. In one study, scientists found “extensive
deactivation” of certain areas (including lateral orbital) of the prefrontal
cortex when jazz pianists were asked to improvise.
This suggests that
spontaneous creative thought is significantly aided by the suppression of areas
associated with regret and counterfactual thinking.
Experiment:
1.     
Next time you’re doing something creative (painting, writing,
acting), write down all the moments of regret you have. Then, when you’re done
the activity, try rephrasing all of them as upward, additive counterfactuals.
See if this helps your next creative phase.
2.     
Take another creative moment, and try ignoring and pushing out
any regrets or counterfactuals. Try not to control where your mind wanders.
(You’re suppressing your prefrontal cortex) How does this impact your early
creative phase? What about your next creative phase?
CONCLUSION
Regret and creativity
are inextricable linked through counterfactual thinking, and regret is an
essential part of the creative process. However, we need to be aware of when
regret becomes an inhibitor to creativity, especially in early stages of
creative thinking and idea generation. Regret is a reflective activity, but it’s
better to phrase regrets as additive, upward counterfactuals, to stimulate
creative problem solving.
Regret in creative
practise (and in life) can be a compass guiding us to change.
And finally, presenting
yourself with alternative facts may enhance your creativity. As long as you don’t
believe they actually happened (ok, maybe it’s a little bit about Trump).

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