When it comes to insulting people, Mr. Donald Trump is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on steroids. That said, I hasten to add that I wish neither of these guys any ill will. I’m sure that if I personally got to meet either of them, I would find that they had a number of fine qualities.
That said, before moving on, I think it is only fair to my readers that I come right out and admit that I did not vote for Donald Trump. There are a great many reasons for this, but that’s not the point of today’s post. Rather, I intend to limit my discussion to his use of insults for the purpose of clarifying an apparent paradox relevant to this blog’s theme.
According to the 8/23/15 article in the New York Times, among Mr. Trump’s insults are calling some people “fat pigs” and “disgusting animals.” Earlier in his campaign, I observed him on national TV calling Senator Lindsey Graham “a stiff,” Governor Rick Perry “stupid,” and numerous other political opponents, “idiots.” More recently, he has denigrated federal judges who ruled against his efforts that sought to suspend refugee flows and to temporarily block visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
In an earlier post about Gov. Chris Christie’s use of insults, I described the following apparent paradox. On the one hand, there is a considerable amount of evidence that people who are very insulting tend to be less liked and respected. On the other hand, Gov. Chris Christie is well known to be very insulting, and despite this, he has twice managed to get himself elected as governor of New Jersey, and at one point he was viewed as a front runner for the next U.S. presidential election. Here is a man that many people have come to admire.
Now we see that Gov. Chris Christie has fallen in the polls, while Mr. Trump has taken his place as a big time insulter who, despite his insulting ways, has gained respect from some and has received more votes from Republicans than his rivals. As I did when Gov. Christie was the king of insults, in today’s post I want to take this opportunity to explain this apparent paradox.
Explaining the Paradox
First of all, the negative effects of being insulting is strongest in interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships. As I define these terms, your interpersonal relationships are your interactions with people with whom you have direct, face to face interactions on an ongoing basis; your intrapersonal relationships involve interactions that you have with yourself.
The relationship that politicians have with voters is best viewed as an intergroup relationship, rather than either an interpersonal or intrapersonal relationship. The intergroup relationship I’m discussing today regarding politicians involves the group of people who might potentially vote for them, the group of people who have a vested interest in getting the politician elected, and the groups of people who are working to get someone else elected. Although insulting people is relevant to intergroup relationships, other issues often become more important.
In an interpersonal relationship, if you attempt to insult the person with whom you are personally interacting, that person might insult you back and the interaction can escalate into violence. In fact, the most common reason people turn to violence is because they felt someone treated them disrespectfully.
When we see politicians seeking to insult someone, they are modeling for others this type of violence producing behavior. But what makes this type of behavior very different for politicians is that they almost always have a group of supporters standing behind them and a team of armed security personnel well trained to intervene if an insulted party makes any moves at all that can be viewed as violent. Under this set of circumstances, it is far safer to play the part of a tough guy who doesn’t take any crap. Meanwhile, as politicians like Mr. Trump model this behavior for people without the protections afforded to politicians, it can potentially increase levels of violence for non-politicians.
Here’s another difference between what typically happens during your interpersonal relationships and the intergroup interactions that involve politicians. When someone directly seeks to insult you, unless you are well trained in handling this in a peaceful manner, you are likely to take the insult personally. The emotions that arise in this situation are more likely to be stronger than typically experienced when groups of people see on TV or in a large arena a politician throwing insults at someone they don’t personally know.
Politicians, moreover, are not seeking to develop a sound interpersonal relationship with you. They are, instead, seeking your vote. They know very well that not everyone is going to vote for them. If they anger the voters who aren’t likely to vote for them anyway, and end up getting 51 percent of the vote, this, to them, is success.
Now, when it comes to interpersonal relationships, if you act in a manner that leads to even a minority not liking you, this can lead to far more direct problems for you than if a minority of people don’t vote for some politician. If those who personally know you don’t like you, they can begin to say things behind your back to people who actually personally interact with you. Some of what gets said can be untrue and very unfair, but you may never hear about this. This behind your back treatment may result in people that you like no longer inviting you to parties. When you used to be invited to go bowling, now someone else is getting invited. In a work setting, you may be passed up for promotion. These types of consequences can have direct effects on your personal life. For Mr. Trump, the personal effects that may occur if he angers a minority of people who would have been unlikely to vote for him, would be far less important to him than getting elected.
Also, note that when people decide on who to vote for, they consider many issues, not just whether or not the candidate insults anyone. When Mr. Trump insults someone, many voters are apt to say to themselves, he isn’t doing anything much different than all the other politicians. These voters then choose a candidate based on other issues. If some voters recognize that Mr. Trump insults others a bit more than other candidates, they may feel that his stand on immigration is a far more important issue for them.
Others will actually like the insulting because the insults are aimed not at them, but at people whom they have come to not like. If you have become angry because you like to use the “N-word” and people have criticized you about it, you may have become angry about what strikes you as political correctness. When Carl Tomanelli, a 68-year old retired New York City police officer was asked by a New York Times reporter why he is supporting Mr. Trump, he answered, “People are starting to see, I believe, that all this political correctness is garbage. I think he’s echoing what a lot of people feel and say.”
Other voters are very angry at the lack of progress being made by current career politicians on solving immigration, economic, and other problems. Many of these voters’ own personal style for dealing with this anger is to throw insults at these politicians. When Mr. Trump does the same thing, these voters see him as one of them. These same individuals are apparently unable to see that if he was throwing the same types of insults at them, they would not like this. To them, it’s perfectly okay to insult people they have come to not like. If someone insults them, however, then that would be wrong. It seems to me that because it is wrong for people to insult them when someone disagrees with them, it is equally wrong for them to insult others when they disagree with others.
Many like to characterize Mr. Trump’s use of insults as his way of being a tough no-nonsense kind of guy. But in my view a person can surely be a tough no-nonsense kind of guy without seeking to insult people.
When asked why he uses insults, Mr. Trump at times says that those whom he insults, insulted him first. It is true that he does often get insulted. Recently I’ve seen him called a “feckless blowhard,” a “jackass,” “reprehensible,” “vile,” “absurd,” and “shameful.” But those who insult him often say they do it because he insulted either them, or someone they personally know. And so many who are either leaders of our nation, or hope to be so, are choosing to engage in this “You Started it First” name-calling game.
It is simply not true that if someone throws an insult at you the only intelligent way to respond is to seek to insult them back. In my view, within the political arena, one way to respond in a manner that I would respect is to state firmly, “I’m not here to get into this name-calling game. I’m here to let the public know what my positions are on the problems of this nation, and how I, if elected, plan to go about fixing them.”
Yes, initially politicians can get a great deal of attention for being extra insulting. This increases name recognition, and a subgroup of people will initially admire you for it. But is it a lasting valuable asset? Although Mr. Trump has won the most electoral votes, polls regularly indicate he is the most disliked candidate in history. Moreover, Mr. Trump had millions of dollars of contracts cancelled when he made a comment that many immigrants found offensive. And so, perhaps his insulting behavior is not such a winning tactic as some may think.
I hope this post will make you think twice if you have begun to think that the type of insulting behavior that appears to be helping Mr. Trump would be just as effective in your own interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships.
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE