A neuroscientist doesn’t think President Donald Trump will win the 2020 election, arguing that the fear Trump triggered so effectively among voters in 2016 is losing its grip on Americans as they face the facts of his presidency.
In an opinion piece Sunday in Scientific American, neuroscientist and author R. Douglas Fields notes that Trump successfully tapped into fear in his 2016 campaign by relentlessly hyping the threats he claimed America faced. He concocted a nation dark with peril and Christmas-haters. He demonized immigrants and rival Hillary Clinton.
The fear Trump provoked triggered the part of voters’ brains driven by emotions, especially fear — and overrode critical, rational thought, according to Fields, senior investigator in the nervous system development and plasticity department at the National Institutes of Health.
“Trump’s strategy does not target the neural circuitry of reason in the cerebral cortex,” Fields wrote. “In the 2016 election, undecided voters were influenced by the brain’s fear-driven impulses — more simply, gut instinct — once they arrived inside the voting booth.” Many of them struggled to articulate their position because it was driven by emotion, not thought, according to Fields.
But that initial powerful flush of overwhelming fear that compelled so many to instinctively support Trump is dissolving in increasingly skeptical minds armed with facts, wrote Fields.
Trump continues to use the “same strategy of appealing to the brain’s threat-detection circuitry and emotion-based decision process to attract votes and vilify opponents” — but this is losing its impact, Fields argues.
In a textbook example of his strategy, the president insisted at a Wisconsin campaign rally last month: “[Joe] Biden wants to surrender our country to the violent left-wing mob …. If Biden wins, very simple, China wins. If Biden wins, the mob wins. If Biden wins, the rioters, anarchists, arsonists and flag-burners, they win.”
Fields also noted that the president relentlessly interrupted Biden in the first presidential debate to smother rational discussion and replace it with aggression. “Trump annihilated the format to inflame emotion,” Fields said.
Humans rely on “gut reaction” when they have few facts — including facts about the political newcomer they elected into office and the conspiracy theories he touts. But now Americans know the facts about Trump, Fields said.
“Fear-driven appeals will likely persuade fewer voters this time, because we overcome fear in two ways: by reason and experience,” Fields wrote. “Reason” will “quash fear if the dangers are not grounded in fact.”
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