Politics, Trump and the Black Swan
I wrote recently about how the metaphor of The Black Swan—not the film but the metaphor in decision-making—describes how random events rivet our attention.
Writer and scholar N. N. Taleb notes The Black Swan describes a rare and extraordinary event or individual that gains momentum in news, politics and behavior.
The terrorist attacks on US soil in 2011, the rise of Adolf Hitler, and the rare hatching of a black swan are examples of unexpected phenomena that have profound effects on how we respond as citizens, and how we make decisions—lay-folk and law-makers alike.
Today’s political scene sets the stage for The Black Swan metaphor, judging from the vast coverage in mainstream press, television news, Twitter and Facebook squibs.
Donald Trump is the modern-day Black Swan: like voyeurs witnessing a train-wreck, we can’t turn away.
How can we pay so much attention—through public discourse and interpersonal conversations—to an individual who is clearly a racist, a bigot, and a liar, and who embodies the legal definition of insane?
When did we decide vulgar diatribes are more worthy than rational, thoughtful and courtly debates?
In what other venue would we listen to someone who besmirches women, belittles Blacks, offends Muslims, besmears Mexicans…ad nauseum?
The following remarks (which have been authenticated by noteworthy news organizations) garnered international attention when spoken by Donald Trump:
- Trump says he saw, “thousands and thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey cheering the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001
- Trump claims, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists”
- When asked about the status of his wealth, Trump said, “Who the f— knows? I mean, really, who knows how much the Japs will pay for Manhattan property these days?”
- When describing women, Trump called Rose O’Donnell a “big fat pig” and said attorney Elizabeth Beck was “disgusting” when she requested a break from their meeting to pump breast milk for her baby
- Trump acknowledged that his staff includes African Americans: “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day” and he also noted that, “Laziness is a trait in Blacks”
How ironic we have blasted others for sexist and racist remarks: Seinfeld alum Michael Richards responded to a heckler at a stand-up performance in 2006 (Richards was caught on film with a response that included the N-word) and says his remarks ruined his career.
Or how about Justine Sacco, who lost her job and wrecked her public relations career when she posted a tweet that went viral as she headed to South Africa: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”
Both Richards and Sacco have apologized profusely for their statements. But Trump?
“I can never apologize for the truth.”
Trump’s notions of truth and fact are as convoluted as his self-awareness: “I’m not a racist. I don’t have a racist bone in my body.”
The lack of self-awareness strikes me as—not only heightened narcissism—but as evidence Trump verges on the insane.
Insanity, according to Ryan Howes, writing in Psychology Today, is a legal term that describes a “mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct her/his affairs due to psychosis, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior.”
The fantasy-reality confusion is demonstrated by the manifold interviews with Trump when he spouts “facts” that he invents on the spot, while his psychosis (mental disorder) is evidenced by his impulsive behavior: for example, refusing to participate in a debate because he dislikes report Megyn Kelly, and acing Ted Cruz of cheating after he won the recent Iowa contest.
So the question arises once more: why does public discourse attend to such extreme views espoused by a petulant madman?
The Black Swan.
We focus on the extremes and ignore the mundane, and outrageous remarks and behaviors play right into our desire for the bizarre.
What should we do?
Quit stoking the embers of his madness by drawing attention to him.
Artwork by Portland artist, Sarah Levy. Levy auctioned her painting “Bloody Donald” to raise money to aid immigrants. Prints of the painting can be purchased from her website, https://sarahlevyart.wordpress.com/