How to be authentic

beyourself

We all know authenticity is important in political communication. Trump gets a huge wrap from his supporters for ‘saying it like it is’, even when the content of his message is revolting. Pauline Hanson gets similar kudos for saying outlandish and often racist things which are ‘politically incorrect’ and therefore, somehow more worthy because they’re without censorship and therefore fall loosely into the bucket of ‘authentic’, a bucket which sits in a bath-tup of ‘the right way to communicate’.

I know what you’re thinking because I’m thinking it too. Surely to be authentic we don’t have to be gross and say nasty things and be anti-fact and make headlines by being provocative for the sake of being provocative? Surely we’re all better than that?

Yes, we are better than that.

In fact, you are so much better than that, I truly would prefer to hear what you say rather than what the ‘populist’, ‘anti-political-correctness‘ crowd says. I would prefer you grabbed that headline! But the thing is, if you’re not authentic about how you say what you say, no one is going to hear you.

Have you heard of the sniff test? Humans can smell inauthenticity a mile off. What traditionalists might call ‘the party line’, or what you might think of as being ‘well prepared with media training and a list of dot points about why you’re right and everyone else is wrong’, often, I’m really sorry to say, this careful way of communicating, comes across very wooden on our TV screens, monotonal on the radio, flat in print and downright beige on social media.

The enemy of wooden is authenticity. The antidote to woodiness is emotion. We are truly ourselves when we are emotional. And when we’re trying to hide emotion, well, then we’re not just wooden, but we’re the wooden-boy himself – Pinocchio – the one whose nose grows when he’s lying. I know you’re not lying but when you come across all wooden, to be emotively honest, the audience is waiting for your nose to grow. When people say ‘I like Trump, he tells it how it is’, that’s code for ‘he’s being honest and I agree with him’. Of course, he is, unfortunately, lying, but that’s by the by. Perception is reality folks. The important part is that people are listening to, and reacting to, what he has to say.

Obviously I’m not advocating the type of emotion that would see you thrown out of a pub for brawling, or weeping openly with a stream of snot dripping onto your shirt. I’m talking more about that emotion that comes from a passion in your convictions. You are working to further a progressive cause because you’re passionate about it. So tell us: why are you suggesting this policy change? Is it because you’re angry about the way things are now? Show us you’re angry! Do you find something a journalist said to you so outlandish that you want to laugh? Then laugh. Laugh out loud! Do you have a dry sense of humour? Use it! Are you quick witted, always ready to say something cutting? Cut away! Do you do an awesome face palm or an epic eye roll? Give us all you’ve got! Play to your unique strengths!

The best way to elicit an emotional, authentic, and memorable reaction from your audience is to give them one. It’s as simple, and as difficult, as that.

The Emotional Appeal of Donald Trump

he-tells-it-like-it-is

Since Trump’s victory, I’ve broken up with America, tried to understand why white women voted for him, and showed my displeasure at the media’s role in this clusterfuck. In this post, I’m trying to get my head around why masses of people voted for Trump against their best interests by trying to understand why such an on-paper inappropriate choice was chosen.

There is definitely an element of class warfare going on – a rejection of the elite city-dwelling establishment, a reaction to wealth inequality. (Trump is not the answer to wealth inequality by the way. But this problem might take many years for Trump’s voters to recognise, if they are ever willing to admit it. I’ll no doubt be writing about this many times in months and years to come as Trump enables his Republican colleagues to roll out neoliberal reforms that further smash the working class, the working poor, what remains of the middle class and the economy with it. I feel sorry for Americans that they’ve made such a bad choice, but I feel sorrier for the Clinton voters who didn’t).

Race and racism also made a large contribution, where white people voted to take back control of their country, or as Lakoff puts it, reassert their dominance in the moral hierarchy. And whether people will ever admit it or not, there is no doubt that gender played a part; that many Trump voters, both male and female, just can’t accept that a woman can be President.

So with all these factors playing a part, and for some voters, all three influencing their vote, you start to get a picture of how Trump benefited from this pincer-movement against Clinton and the Democrats.

Then, of course, there were Trump’s slogans. As we all no doubt noticed, there was little, if any, policy detail in Trump’s campaign. That’s not to say he didn’t say anything. He actually talked and talked and talked and tweeted and tweeted and ranted and raved (I’ll build a wall, it will be uuuugge, I’ll fix everything, great, it will be great, grunt, grunt, waffle, incomprehensible, Muslims get out). There were huge inconsistencies and contradiction in his statements, so there was a bit of something for everyone; he promised both to bomb ISIS, and to end America’s role as an international police force. He promised to cut taxes, but also spend up big on infrastructure projects (apart from the WALL) to create jobs (with what tax revenue?). Within Trump’s jumbled rhetoric, zig zag, a little from here, a little from there, neoliberalism mixed with protectionism, mixed with anti-globalisation, mixed with anti-elitist, mixed with a likely Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin, who spent 17 years at the heart of Wall-Street’s Goldman Sachs and represents everything Trump claimed to be promising to clean up, there was a clear narrative thread in Trump’s campaign. The narrative sounded something like this:

‘Everything is shit, everything is broken, you have every reason to hate Washington because everything Washington has done has made everything shit and broken. Vote for me and I’ll wave a magic wand and everything will be immediately fixed. I might not be perfect, but my imperfection is just like your imperfection. I am real, and only someone real can fix all your problems. Vote for me, and, whether you like me or not, your lives will be perfect again’.

It sounds ridiculous when you look at it like this, that people believed he really could fix everything. But I wonder if it’s the lack of detail, the obvious flaws, the selling of all this as politically-incorrect and therefore authentic that made it work. Therefore, did Clinton’s opposite image – the polished, policy-detailed, emphasis on experience, emphasis on Obama’s legacy and all the good the government had done – turn Clinton’s words into white-noise, words that didn’t even get a look in when the big, ugly, colourful (orange particularly), rude, obnoxious celebrity was yelling ‘lock her up!’.

And this brings me to emotion. One of my favourite political scientists, Drew Westen, who writes a lot about how the Democrats can improve the way they communicate to voters, has this to say about the importance of emotion and authenticity in political campaigns:

‘Republican strategists have recognized since the days of Richard Nixon that the road to victory is paved with emotional intentions. Richard Wirthlin, an economics professor who engineered Ronald Reagan’s successful campaigns of 1980 and 1984, realized that all the dispassionate economic assumptions he’d always believed about how people make decisions didn’t apply when people cast their ballots for Reagan. As he discovered, people were drawn to Reagan because they identified with him, liked his emphasis on values over policy, trusted him, and found him authentic in his beliefs. It didn’t matter that they disagreed with most of his policy positions’.

They identified with Trump? Yes, he was nothing like them, living in a New York gold-plated ivory tower, apparently representing everything they aren’t (rich). But they identified with his flaws, and identified with his message. Their lives felt shit. He said he could fix them. Simple. They liked his emphasis on values over policy? Apparently. No policy detail required, asked for, demanded, or even considered. They trusted him? After all the obvious lies, the obvious flip-flopping, the obvious inconsistencies, they still trusted him. Yes. It’s not rational. He told them Clinton couldn’t be trusted because she had caused all their problems. She’s fired! Lock her up! He promised everyone would pay less tax, which is a red-rag-to-the-bull for people who hate government, and don’t have much money. He promised to be the hero and save them. They had to trust him. He was their only hope. They found him authentic in his beliefs? See above. They emotionally needed to find him authentic, because the problems he talked about seemed authentic to their lives. It didn’t matter that they disagreed with most of his policy positions? Yep. It didn’t matter if they didn’t even really understand his policy positions, or how contradictory they were. An emotional reaction. Not a rational one.

It’s time to stop treating voters like rational decision makers when all of us, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Labor, Liberal, Greens, Hansons and people who don’t vote at all, all of us make emotional decisions when voting. We don’t quantify benefits and check off the list of policies against our lives to decide which candidate offers us the greatest utility of outcomes. We are emotional beings. We get a vibe. We feel it. We like it. We stick to it like glue and ignore anything that contradicts it. We make it part of our identity. We chant in unison. We will not be convinced otherwise.

Obama’s emotional message of hope triumphed twice in the last eight years, and now Trump’s message of hate, of resentment, of fear, loathing, and disgruntlement has triumphed. If the Democrats are building themselves from the ground up, they have hopefully learned the importance of emotion.

This post was originally published on my blog: victoriarollison.com. You should visit there too!

The left needs more passion

A grimace is the holding back of emotion. Let it out!

A grimace is the holding back of emotion. Let it out!

I’m now looking ahead, not back, and hoping to be part of the worldwide left’s refusal to go down without a fight in the face of a Trump-Republican White-House-wash. My first point of order in the war ahead is to encourage the left to do what any winning team has to do in order to win; be passionate.

It’s not just me who is talking about the importance of emotion in politics. Scott Goodstein, a Democrat who worked for Bernie, says Trump’s message was revolting, but his authentic use of social media was a winning campaign strategy because ‘the true power of social media for politicians is unleashed only if they use it to make emotional connections’. Jonathan Freedland makes the point that the centre-left in the UK and the US (and Australia!), too often ‘play nice, sticking to the Queensberry rules – while the right takes the gloves off’.

I agree with Goodstein that the left have to be more authentic. And with Freedland that the left have to take our gloves off. This doesn’t mean we have to be lying, cheating bastards like the right, as we, by our nature, have morals and values which would make it impossible for us to win this way whilst still being authentic versions of ourselves, which by the way, is a key part of glove removal. What we need is to get our emotional, refuse-to-back-down, do-whatever-it-takes, scream-from-the-top-of-our-lungs, never-say-die, passionate mojo back. Frankly, we all know the left cares, a lot, but too often, we’re too polite to show it. This must end.

Here’s a personal anecdote which might help to convince you. I have always been a loud mouth, always told to tone it down, always getting myself into heated exchanges, partaking in twitter wars with anyone and everyone I disagree with. I’m the same when watching football; a friend described me as never taking a backward step. That’s just how I am. I bring this personality to my blogging. It has always bemused me that the posts I write in anger, bashing the keyboard and getting my political frustrations out in less time than it takes to read it, are the most successful. When I say successful, I’m talking quantitatively. I get the most shares, likes, retweets, hits, comments and occasional trending posts, on the posts that I write with the most passion. Often they’re open letters, usually they’re directed at someone who has done something to make me angry. It doesn’t surprise me that people are more likely to share posts they react passionately to. When they are angry, and I’ve described why they’re angry, they share the post to show how angry they are and on and on it goes around and around the angry, outrage-viral-machine. On the other hand, my more eloquent, carefully-researched, analytical, policy-detailed posts most often sink without a trace.

For a long time I thought the rants were a bit of fun, and that the serious stuff was far interesting and beneficial to the audience. But what’s the point of the serious policy analysis if five people read it? What’s the point of being pithy, smart and toning myself down, if no one reacts to it? What’s the point of carefully constructing a fact-laden explanation of why the left are ‘right’ and the right are ‘wrong’ if it’s just yet another piece-of-argument on a wall of arguments that never get seen and ends up getting us nowhere?

More recently, I’ve learned to embrace my ranty self. The rough edges, the anger, the obvious passion, the emotion, the reaction, is what politics is all about. Politics touches lives, it changes lives, it hurts people, it helps people, it saves people, it kills people. The left need to learn this and need to bottle it and need to use it as a political weapon. Authentic, raw, reaction. No more toning it down. No more careful statements, written by committee, with the emotional-pull of a limp-leaf-salad. If you’re angry, show it. If you’re upset, show it. If something the right has done makes you want to scream, then scream. You can do all these things without denigrating others, without calling people names, without swearing (I have trouble with this one), and without losing your dignity. When you show people why you’re angry, they might find, low and behold, they’re angry too. They might take more notice of you than if you’re just politely inserting a list of factual-dot-points into a slush-pile of facts that don’t fit their pre-conceived opinions.

When watching Clinton debate Trump, when he was being a total arsehole the entire time, Clinton stood passively watching, with a strained smile on her face. The biggest reaction we almost saw was a raised eye-brow every now and then. But imagine if every time Trump said something outrageous, every ridiculous statement he made, she reacted. Imagine if she slapped her forehead when he lied, or she put her hands on her hips and glared at him, or she actually laughed in shock and interrupted him as many times as he interrupted her. (Sure, as a woman, she would have been criticised for doing this, just as she is criticised for not doing this, but either way it would have been great to see her reacting, human to human, to show us she cares!).

The left are too careful, too polished, too reliant on facts, too sure they’re right and often, too scared to get into a screaming argument. The left feel morally superior when they take Michelle Obama’s position that ‘we go high when they go low’. There is no reason you can’t go high and scream it from the mountain tops. You care about something happening in politics? Don’t be afraid to show it.

(This post was originally published on victoriarollison.com – follow me there too!)