“Rage”, Bob Woodward’s new book, compiled in part from 17 interviews with President Donald Trump, is scheduled for release on September 15 and 1.3 million copies are being printed according to CNN. Woodward has always understood market timing.
The book’s title comes from a quote during an interview Donald Trump did with Woodward in March 2016. “I bring rage out,” Trump told Woodward. “I do bring rage out. I always have. I don’t know if that’s an asset or a liability, but whatever it is, I do.” As to authenticity, Woodward is known for taping each interview.
I am sure Simon and Schuster, the book’s publisher, does not need my early commentary, but the title and the quote by the President about rage was more than I could resist.
Enraging people is never a good idea. Rage, or what we often call anger, takes over and reason and humility recede or worse. Rage’s volatility almost assures countervailing use. On a personal level I try to avoid angry people and when I get angry I look for an exit.
The President uses rage as a tool—we don’t need Bob Woodward to confirm that fact. The President and those protesters who work to defund the police, for example, share this tactic. Or, the people who want no restraints on abortions. Or, the people who want no restraints on guns. They succeed in gaining attention and money by polarizing advocacy as they probe for emotional triggers.
I got an early lesson in polarization as a campaign manager. I was shown statistical profiles by fundraising companies that demonstrated the effectiveness of making people mad—they were more likely, I was told, “to reach for the checkbook.”
Single interest groups whether advocating for defunding the police or unlimited access to guns or abortions have highly targeted and limited objectives—most often raising money. Presumably Left, Right and Center would agree that the President of the United States of America should be aiming much higher.
Too often in today’s politics cynicism prevails—mathematics leads. Strategists and their hard-eyed manipulators target micro-blocks of voters in States the candidate needs to achieve an electoral majority. In the case of Donald Trump, they begin their targeting with the Republican tribe and then move on to smaller cohorts like religious conservatives, or those who worship not God but guns or closed borders. And while Democrats use similar techniques, their nominee, Joe Biden, does not seem inclined to use rage as a tool.
Division by targeting often works in, say, Congressional districts; it is harder nationwide. Trump is finding out, for example, that people with a strong religious faith often are turned away by his temperament.
While I can’t measure the frequency of this tactic generationally, it has certainly become more intensely used as media have fractured and social media analytics aid targeting.
Identity politics is not new, but today pollsters measure emotional trigger mechanisms at the micro level. In short, what provocation intensity does a candidate need to use to convert a voter to a single-issue voter? Keep in mind that the candidate is trying to move a voter from one that will give broad consideration to a candidate or set of issues to a narrow one, a single-issue voter. The madder the voters attitude toward guns, let’s say, the less he/she will care about budgets or taxes or temperament.
As I look forward, my optimism about American politics is not high. As democracy is manipulated and corrupted by these technology tools in the hands of the cynical, China-style authoritarianism is given an undeserved gift. We should all keep in mind the predicate to America’s collection of immigrants and their offspring: the United States of America. When United is not the goal, America is profoundly weakened.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.