Trump’s Orwellian “Rigged” Campaign Is Straight Out of Putin’s Propaganda Playbook
Russia expert Paula Chertok writes brilliantly about the propaganda, linguistic and psychological tricks Donald Trump is using.
Me me me I. Trump uses “I” statements often as a way to instill both trust and authority. He’s never worked in government or been in the military. Yet he paints a dark world of corruption, injustice and incompetence, and then declares that he knows more everyone, like a “father knows best,” better than our leaders, experts, generals, etc. In this way he presents himself as a trusting father figure. Recall his “I alone can fix it” line from his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. This language is of course reminiscent of some of the most notorious authoritarian leaders in history, including Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler, whose survivors and survivors’ children are mortified by recognizing echoes of their parents and grandparents’ traumatic histories.
Hyperbole. Notice also Trump’s use of hyperbole and repetition. These are linguistic strategies that hammer messages home, leading the audience to think what they’re hearing are their only possible options. In other words, you must trust what Trump is telling you because things are so dire that the sky is about to fall. Trump repeats and tweets “This is your last chance,” a phrase a car salesman uses when he tries to close a deal with a customer so they don’t walk away. This language creates a stress response, and is anxiety-inducing, trapping the listener to buy into a sense of false impending disaster.
Colloquial extremes. Further building on the psychological agitation is Trump’s use of extremes like “fed up,” “rigged” “disaster” and repeating them often. There’s something powerful and engaging when someone speaks so resolutely and audacious, using words that many don’t use in polite company. We don’t think of American English as having a literary language that is all that different from colloquial language, as in French, for example, but of course we do. It’s natural for people to write differently from how they talk, and to use language differently in different settings. We talk in a house of worship differently from a classroom or a boardroom or a bar. We speak differently to our family at home than we do with our bosses at work.
Some of this is rooted in a generalized private and public distinction. But Trump’s characteristic rule-breaking style also breaks language conventions, and that gets a rise from people. He uses a crass, in-your-face confrontational style of speaking, which includes insults, name-calling, even accusations of criminality, all of which feels jarring precisely because we are witnesses to the breaking of conventions as we are listening to him. And those who are present at Trump rallies feel this even more strongly, as confirmed by many journalists who’ve written about the extremely agitated crowds.