Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump is the candidate for our time.
If social media - Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and the comment sections of articles and blogs - were to be given human form, it would be Donald Trump.
Statements without thought, lying, bullying, name-calling, misrepresentation, threatening or inciting violence, the rapid "sharing" of nonsense - often without even taking the time to look at what was shared, and never - ever - admit to being wrong.
It is no wonder that Trump cannot comprehend the error of his ways. He goes onto Twitter and sees everybody else doing exactly what he is doing. Perhaps those people have different sympathies - liberal versus conservative, for example - but the methodology is the same. Hatred, bullying, and a total disregard for truth and evidence.
A person (like Trump) can well wonder, "What the heck is wrong with that?"
Yet, in Trump, we see a living example of the costs of the misuse of social policy.
In fact, taking Trump as the most visible and universal representative of this culture, we would not introduce much error to simply call it "Trumpism."
The characteristics of Trumpism include:
- Asserting anything one hears or reads that one is comfortable with as fact.
- Straight-out lying.
- Sharing anything anybody else says that one is comfortable with as if it is fact.
- Bullying, name-calling, and insults in place of substantive conversation.
- Incitement and threats of violence against anybody who disagrees or protests what one says.
- Never admitting that one has made a mistake.
Trumpians have a lot in common with trolls. However, "trolls" are typically understood as people who are knowingly uncivil. They are the social equivalent of vandals who recognize that their behavior is disruptive and wrong, but get enjoyment out of being disruptive.
Trumpians, on the other hand, do not recognize any wrongdoing. They engage in this type of behavior as a matter of course - without intention or even much thought. This is, to a Trumpian, "standard operating procedure". If one sees something that supports a desired conclusion, they share it. If somebody questions or criticizes what they share, they respond with more nonsense, or with insults and abuse. If others do not back down or bow down, this abuse becomes increasingly violent. Rather than appeal to reason, the Trumpian appeals to a stick.
Trumpians are the social media equivalent of reckless drivers - rude, agressive, angry, believing that the rules of the road are meant to restrict other drivers but do not apply to them. They are far more common than trolls while completely oblivous to the costs that come from their attitudes and behaviors.
With Donald Trump serving as the personification of this type of attitude, I think we have an opportunity to recognize some benefit from his campaign.
In looking at Trump, many people are, in fact, learning the costs of this type of behavior. What we need to do next is to get them to recognize when they, themselves, are behaving like Trump. This could have two effects. The one we have reason to avoid is to have people think, "Trump isn't all that bad after all, if he is like me." The other, socially beneficial option is for Trumpians on social media to realize that they should perhaps cut back on that portion of their own behavior that follows the Trumpian model.
One of the things I have been doing online is identifying when those who oppose Trump engage in distortions and misrepresentations of Trump. These people may be expressing opposition to Trump, but they are doing so by mimicing his attitudes and behavior towards the truth, and towards other human beings. Consequently, they legitimize Trump by saying, in effect, that his practices are legitimate.
This is built on the fact that universalizability is one of the defining characteristics of morality. In a moral context, whatever we do, we say that others may do. Whenever an individual engages in dishonest or intellectually reckless behavior in social media, whenever they respond with threats of violence, whenever they lie, they are telling everybody else in the world to engage in the same type of behavior. To perform an act type is to tell the world that performing that act type of a legitimate activity.
When people engage in Trumpian behavior in social media, they are telling the world that Trumpian behavior is legitimate.
Perhaps, in seeing Trump as the personification of these attitudes, some people can be brought to realize that Trumpian behavior is a bad thing - that this is something that they should be discouraging.
One way to discourage this type of behavior is to each by example. An anti-Trumpian is somebody who at least tries to abide by the following practices:
- Checking to make sure that what one asserts is true before passing it along to others.
- Refraining from outright lies - do not say what one does not believe to be true.
- Refraining from malicious misinterpretations - make certain that what one is criticizing is a reasonable interpretation of what was actually said.
- Refraining from attacking other people and, in particular, never - ever - threaten or advocate violence against another. Criticize the ideas all one wants, but focus on the ideas, not the person.
- Admitting to being wrong when one is wrong.
- Promoting these rules among others who use social media, pointing out examples that follow the rules, and explaining why responsible people refrain from that type of behavior.