Right Brain Politics
© 2016 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
Wonder why it’s been a year of Donald Trump and at least 40% of the electorate still supports him? And now he’s the official Republican nominee. It just doesn’t seem logical. But it turns out that there’s two kinds of logic: rational logic and relationship logic. If you don’t realize this, you won’t understand Trump and how to talk to his supporters.
In reality, he uses relationship logic in a powerful way that skips over rational logic. In a sense, he’s a bubble that’s pumped up by emotions which will burst when reality sets in. So far, he’s been in the role of a standup entertainer, so he can get away with saying anything. But pretty soon he’s going to have to deliver, which is when his Trump Bubble will burst.
Most people know that the left hemisphere of your brain processes language and rational thinking—rational logic. It focuses on details, planning for the future and step-by-step problem-solving. The right brain processes things in a big picture way: like the relationships between people, art, creativity, stories and nonverbal behavior such as tone of voice, facial expressions and the meaning of hand gestures—relationship logic. The right brain also processes most of our negative emotions, to help defend and protect us.
Of course, there’s overlap between the hemispheres, but researchers say that most of the time our left brain is dominant. Then, in a crisis or totally new situation, our right brain becomes instantly dominant. We become focused on fight, flight or freeze responses, instead of analyzing and considering alternatives. Immediate survival trumps everything else. All-or-nothing solutions. Don’t think – act!
So if Trump can keep people afraid, look big and strong, and tell them he loves them—and do this constantly and emotionally, day-after-day—then they will bond with him and defend him against all outside threats. It’s all about relationship logic, not rational logic. People bond with the person, so that it doesn’t matter what he says or how irrational his ideas are. It’s his stories of Fear and Anger and Love and Strength and Energy that win them over and keep them committed despite everything he does. (Did you notice these emotions spell FALSE?)
In fact, the attacks on Trump strengthen his bond with his followers, who feel that the outsiders—the enemies—have struck and need to be fought off to protect our group and our dear leader. That’s why he teaches them at his rallies that journalists should be treated as enemies and their factual statements should be disregarded with hostility.
His statements are unrelated to the truth and, in fact, PolitiFact gives him a 76% total rating for making statements that are mostly false, false and pants on fire. (Hillary Clinton gets a 27% total rating for these same categories.) But it’s not the truth that matters, it’s the emotional messages and strength of the stories. If you’re talking about rational logic, you’re talking to the wrong brain! Lyin’ Ted and Crooked Hillary work as labels, because they tell the story, not because of any rational analysis. He speaks in conclusions, all-positive or all-negative, which leap over thinking and are swallowed whole without even realizing it. His emotions trump thinking.
There was a study of the brains of liberals and conservatives in England a few years ago, in which they found that conservatives had a larger right-brain amygdala—the part that grabs your attention and tells you to fight, flee or freeze. This means that they are likely to interpret situations as more dangerous than liberals. And liberals had a larger left anterior cingulate cortex, which is the part that helps you manage conflicting ideas. So liberals are often fascinated by analyzing conflicting ideas, whereas conservatives are threatened by them.
With all of this in mind, if you talk with Trump supporters you will be more effective if you stay calm and friendly, and don’t try to talk logic too much. Instead, ask them what they like about Trump and then say what your fears are about Trump. You could also suggest that he’s not as strong as he says he is, and that he’s actually had many business failures and lawsuits against him. But don’t imply that they are following a con artist or that they’re stupid. This will aggravate their relationship brains and push them closer to their leader and shut off listening to you. Instead, find something to talk about that you have in common, so that you can have a positive relationship—and speak the language of right-brain politics.
Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high-conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.