“First, negative affect may shape peoples decisions by coloring the content of their thoughts. It is well established that under negative mood people’s perceptions, thoughts, and judgments are often distorted toward greater negativityan effect known as mood congruency (…). Second, negative affective states may alter the process through which people make decisions. It is widely held that negative affective states such as anxiety and sadness interfere with people’s ability to process information (…). As a result, anxious or sad individuals are posited to process information less systematically in judgment and decision making (…). Third, negative affective states may influence decisions by shaping decision markers motives.”
The fragment above was taken from a psychological study conducted by Drs. Rajagopal Raghunathan and Michel Tuan Pham. In their study “Motivational Influences of Anxiety and Sadness on Decision Making“, they analyze how negative emotions can affect judgement, motivation and even logic behind decision making. As can been seen in the fragment above, Raghunathan’s and Tuan Pham’s main conclusion is not surprising: fear doesn’t go well with logical decision making. Now, you might be wondering what that has to do with the election of Trump. Well, you may even have an idea where I’m going with this, but to better clarify this feedback-type relationship between Trump and fear we have to go back a couple of years, to a time when America was great and George W. Bush was the president of the US.
After the 9/11 attacks, Bush decided it was time to intervene with more power against the terrorist threat and this intervention, as anything made by our fellow Americans, had a catchy and marketable name: the War Against Terror. From day one, the US was fighting a new war, a war against those who proclaimed they are against freedom of speech, a war against those who attacked their country and a war against 186,432 innocents killed in Iraq so far. After that moment, Bush gave the expression ‘enemy of the state’ a color, a religion and a place of birth. And, of course, the market wouldn’t lose the opportunity to make some money out of this.
The mainstream media gradually realized that selling any program with violent, real-time fights against the bad guys was a success: police chasing black people around and the military actions in Iraq and Syria are examples of that. Without forgetting the video of Osama Bin Laden’s assassination, which might have more views on Youtube then Gangnam Style by now. The point is, selling that America was fighting the bad guys and giving those bad guys a face seemed at the time to be a profitable, harmless idea. But it’s hard to believe that no one realized the damage it could cause to our society. Let’s look at what our friend Alpert, a professor from the University of South Carolina, who collects data on these type of TV shows, says about the sensationalism of the pursuits: “police pursuits are like Nascar – hundreds of thousands of people watch it, waiting for the next crash”. It’s kind of hard to read that without giving a small laugh, am I right?
In one of his brightest documentaries, “Bowling for Columbine”, the director and activist Michael Moore shows a diverse number of statistics that depict how bad police reality shows and sensationalist TV programs can be to the population. One astonishing statistic is: where criminality was reaching its lowest, gun ownership was rising in accelerated pace. People were more afraid, not because the world wasn’t safe, but because they were told all the time, by all the possible types of media, that there was a crime here or an assassination attempt there, or “WOW there is a police chase going on only 1 block away from your house!”.
The War on Terror brought fear closer to the population. And Donald Trump is a result of that fear. In the fragment at the beginning of this article you can see the description of three ways in which fear affects decision making: judgment, motivation and action. All these three combined lead to decisions that are made only to satisfy fear. Now, I know most people who were against Trump are still grieving with his victory, and most are still in the anger stage, blaming all those that voted on him and supported him. But taking all this story into consideration, can you really blame those voters? Aren’t they just making their decisions based on this constant fear we all have to live up everyday? And don’t get me wrong, I am not saying those who didn’t vote for him are brave, logical thinking, non-emotional people. No, they are partly responsible for it, and also because of a fear, albeit a different one.
Recently, British comedian Tom Walker made a video as his left-wing TV show host persona, Jonathan Pie, talking about how the left wing’s attitude in the last couple of years (and I have to put myself into that bunch) had a direct effect on this result: “The left is responsible for this result because the left have now decided that any other opinion, any other way of looking at the world is unacceptable. We don’t debate anymore because the left won the cultural wars. So if you’re on the right, you’re a freak. You’re evil. You’re racist. You’re stupid. You are a basket of deplorables. How do you think people are going to vote if you talk to them like that?“ Personally, I cannot deny that my attitude in the last few years has been exactly like that. In the midst of constant discussions with my mum I was ending up saying that her ideas were nonsense because, well, it was the right wing, the precursor of fascism, national-socialism, Nazism, greed, ambition, capital, interest and all there is bad in the world. Is that not a depicted fear as well? A sensationalist way of looking backwards in history to what really happened? Doesn’t matter who started it, but it’s a fact that debating or discussing anything between the left and the right wing in the last years has been just like Trumps hair: is there for us to see it, but deep down everyone knows its fake.
Another psychological study from James E Maddox and Ronald W Rogers talks about fear appeal. Fear appeal is a psychological term used to describe the use of stimuli to arouse fear. In their study, called “Protection Motivation and Self-Efficacy: A Revised Theory of Fear Appeals and Attitude Change“, Drs. Maddox and Rogers show that when choosing a partner, people in state of fear tend to choose a person with better social skills rather than technique skills. Now, we all know Hillary was better prepared, technically speaking, to take the seat in the Oval Office, but let’s be fair: her social skills are as good as her trying to quote a Jay-Z song, and if you didn’t see that, oh pretty please, see it.
Not only in psychological studies are there proofs that this election was decided by emotionally driven voters – all the states that were voting in favor of progressive lawmaking had astonishing results. Regarding the legalization of marijuana, only one state rejected it; a raise of the minimum wage was also only rejected by one state. If only these votes were taken into analysis, we would be talking about how forward looking the American society is turning out to be; looking at different alternatives and more intense debates in areas in which traditional solutions are simply not working. But instead, we are discussing how conservative, old fashioned and protectionist they are and with that we are separating ourselves even more. Trump was a result of fear and of lack of discussion, so why not using him as a way to learn and improve? Go and read his program, aim to be in favor or against his measures. Chill on your couch while laughing about his hair movements. Do whatever you want, but simply do not fight anger with more anger and sensationalism, because that WILL be worthless.
Its a fact that 2016 is a year that will be in history books. The new uprising of nationalism has begun, with different motives, enemies and, of course, bloody solutions to solve everything with one war. At moments like this, countries tend to split and intensify the never ending discussion between left and right, red or blue and so on. Above everything else, there has to be an understanding that anger will only lead to more anger, and if the example of Donald Trump isn’t enough for you to realize the consequences of an anger/fear driven society, well, then you might need some personal freedom sessions in the American embassy. And before you, Europeans, start making fun of Americans, remember: the next Trump might be right next door, either enjoying a croissant in a cafe close to the Eiffel Tower or eating fish’n chips right outside the English Parliament.