Why is this race so close?! Trumpnosis? Trump TV? Both?
In the summer of 2016, world-renowned hypnotist Richard Barker spoke to a few news outlets about "Trumpnosis". Was this possible? Could candidate Donald J Trump use mass influence and the power of persuasion to inspire support? If the messaging, "When I'm President . . . ", "I will make America great again . . .", "Crooked Hillary . . .", was echoed in enough places within the conservative media infrastructure, just maybe.
He was not taken seriously
While campaigning in 2016, candidate Trump said some of the most outrageous things. In this video, which is a compilation of his greatest hits, he calls Mexicans murders and rapists, criticizes John McCain, mocks a person with disabilities, says women should be punished for having an abortion, and he says, "I have the most loyal people, I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters."
At the time, Donald Trump was largely given a pass for such statements. For example, following the claim of I-could-murder-someone-on-Fifth-Ave, the Guardian, covered the story, but wrote essentially, 'yeah, ok; his supporters love him', AND MOVED ON! No condemnation. No outrage. The article's only attempt at addressing Trump's statement was to include these biting remarks from the-candidate Ted Cruz: "I can say that I have no intention of shooting anybody in this campaign".
What?! How could Donald get away with this, again? So many assumed that he was only running to build his brand. Therefore, Trump was given another pass. Few expected his cocky, offensive message to appeal to a wide audience. His GOP primary opponents and HRC didn't take him seriously, until he won.
So, how did he do it?
For Democrats following the election, it seemed unbelievable that anyone could support Trump's campaign. Each time he won a primary, Democrats scoffed at the win, thinking he was an idiot. Some Democratic strategists were secretly happy that Trump appeared to be eliminating the more traditional candidates who they assumed would be more difficult for the Clinton campaign to beat, such as Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush.
Meanwhile, others were starting the conversation that this wasn't a fluke. In the summer of 2015, Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert cartoon, said that what many wrote-off as "random insults and bluster and just Trump being Trump", he could see Trump use techniques "from the fields of hypnosis and persuasion".
But, he couldn't have done this alone.
"A strong team can take any crazy vision and turn it into reality." -John Carmack
The Fox Effect? Maybe.
In addition, Fox News and Sinclair Broadcasting edited and amplified a version of Trump that was more palatable. This stylized portrayal on Fox News converted Trump from a has-been reality-TV star in a slowly fading weekly show to a legit candidate for president. For example, in June 2015, Sean Hannity compared Trump to former U.S. president Ronald Reagan. Later in the campaign, Hannity personally endorsed candidate Trump in a social media campaign video, crossing the line of 'independent journalist'.
It could be argued that this Reagan-ized version of Trump helped him win-over rustbelt Democrats hoping to see an increase in U.S.-based manufacturing and conservative suburban moms who were worried about the expansion of Choice. Since these voting blocks based their decisions on more mainstream ideas, this support was understandable. (Meaning, a liberal voter may not agree, but at least he or she could understand.)
Although the strong endorsement of one candidate was not part of traditional journalism, it's was not new or not unexpected. This was "normal" for Fox.
But, the rallies were different
The rallies were different. Seeing the passion from the crowd, it was hard to image that these were 'real' voters. After early events, chattered surfaced about paid actors. On one level, this was comforting because it was hard to acknowledge the racist language and violence. And, it was hard to imagine that real voters would support such a crude candidate. During 2016, the deeper passion for the man and what he represented was hard to ignore. Coverage of Trump rallies, and the pre-rally tailgate parties, were mind blowing. He appeared to inspire the abstainers. The rallies had the energy of a WWF event.
Trump saying hateful things appeared to give attendees permission to say in public what they may have said under their breath. Although this was heartbreaking to see, it wasn't entirely surprising given the country's history of systemic racism. Trump wasn't the first in U.S. history to use race to rally a base. So, once again, this was (sadly) "normal".
But, it was more than that
Weaved into reporters' typical stories from the campaign trail were weird conspiracy theories. Theories so wild that reporters seemed to make lite of them; maybe these reporters didn't think it possible that Trump would win and chose to not take it seriously. Unfortunately, belief in the conspiracy theories was more wide spread than originally understood.
Since 2016, much has been revealed about the influence of Facebook, National Inquirer, InfoWars, Breitbart, RT and the echo-chamber that is Fox News on the campaign. It's now understood that fake news was created and distributed via many channels, and the proliferation of content lent credence to stories that were based on 'alternative facts'.
Spin on Steroids
Spin is not at all a new phenomenon. Every serious campaign pays a communications staff and surrogates to help with messaging and control the narrative. But, this was different. This "spin" was on steroids. Trump surrogates who were also willing to spout alternative facts and weave conspiracy theories into their talking points, such as pushing the myth of mass voter fraud. Although these weren't true, the ideas were out there and believers were influence to accept this a true without further fact checking.
Although this was harmful and wrong, it still was part of this universe. This sort of claim (rampant voter fraud) had been litigated for years and recognizable to mainstream conservatives and liberal. But, some stories were SO WILD. One of the strangest 2016 stories was Pizzagate, a QAnon conspiracy theory. To this day, it's still unfathomable that they moved from fringe outlets (InfoWars), to polite-company consumption (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter).
But, even this couldn't fully explain what was happening. There was an absolutely frenzy around the candidate. His supporters appeared to be in a trance. Similar to a leader of a mega-church, Trump's support appeared to be based on faith versus reason. Was it possible that Trump was using techniques to manipulated minds?
In the middle of the 2016 election, the idea of Trumpnosis was quietly circulating. As mentioned, Barker and Adams were talking about Trump as a charismatic leader.
In March of 2016, Judy Kurtz interviewed Barker and asked him about then-candidate Trump. Barker, a former police detective, worked as a hypnotist for more than 20 years. He said of Trump, he's one of the best at "mass persuasion, mass influence and mass hypnosis." Barker continued,
"He mastered the art of mesmerizing. He uses 'future pacing'; the use of repetitive words and phrases that hypnotize his supporters. It’s always identifying the problem, identifying another problem and then verbalizing the solutions to the point that people need the solutions. The idea of Trumpnosis is being able to sow the seeds of persuasion, suggestion and ideas en masse to other people.”
“He creates expectations. . . [then], he gets his audience to visualize, which is part of a hypnotic trance. He gets them to visualize two problems, then he gets them [to] nod their heads three or four times for solutions. He does all the things that a hypnotist would do when you’re hypnotizing somebody. I teach hypnosis, and if you want to learn hypnosis, look at the way Trump’s doing it.”
It could be that there's absolutely no truth to this. It could be that both Barker and Adams simply wanted their 15-minutes of fame (although Adams was already pretty famous). But, both predicted Trump's win very early in the campaign cycle, when much of the world laughed at the possibility.
Hypnotic Techniques in Media
If Trump used visualization and future pacing, is it possible that media outlets used/have been using hypnotic wallpaper to reinforce their messaging in newscasts?
Wallpaper Access advertises hypnotic wallpaper to "improve customer experience and increase repeat customers". Eye-tracking has been studied to keep a viewer's attention. It this at work in news programs?
This image shows how hypnotic wallpaper is used to create an interactive video game, keeping the attention of the view versus a flat image.
In this poor recording of a Fox News report, the viewer can see the hypnotic wallpaper behind Hannity. While the wheel spins, Hannity says, "Joe Biden not only knew about the pay for play schemes, but was an integral part of the process." [None of what Hannity says is supposed to be true.]
To see the original, click here.
Other weird graphic devices have been used, such as this image with a cartoon, dystopian background. The reason? Who knows, but it's creepy and feels so far away from journalism.
Trevor Noah addressed the idea of hypnosis in a segment that aired during the Trump impeachment trials.
An unsettling prediction
Who knows what helped to elect Donald Trump in 2016. Maybe it was a combination of these factors, or none at all. It could have simply been the case that HRC was so despised that a ham sandwich could have won against her.
But, in 2016, Barker said that he might vote for Trump,“because I want to see [Trump's] hypnosis and how it plays out over the next four years or so. I just think it would be fascinating.”
In 2020, we've seen how "his hypnosis" played out and it hasn't been good for the country. So, to counter Trump's power of persuasion,
Vote like you're democracy depends on it.