By Toa Lohe (@Toamatapu) | 4 min read
With the most recent election many tactics employed by President Trump were were recycled and not new. Look at past presidential campaign slogans, speeches and debates. No president was a saint. Gustave Le Bon discusses the techniques used by all of them.
Seduce the Crowd
Victorious presidential candidates are those who can create an “intimate communication with a crowd [that] can evoke images by which it will be seduced.” Even before the candidate reaches the crowd he or she will review the public opinion and discuss only the policies most citizens generally support. A candidate must attract the crowd with a “higher idea” that will spark newfound faith. This idea will then be propagated to the masses.
This “higher idea” will be linked too many positive images and policies dear to citizens. But every voter ends up asking themselves, which fundamental ideas will stick with the candidate when he or she is in the White House? Le Bon believes that crowds “are always several generations behind learned men and philosophers” and encourages leaders to be mindful of committing wholeheartedly to what was promised during the campaign. But politicians are never going to deliver what they promised since “leaders are often subtle rhetoricians, seeking only their own personal interest, and endeavoring to persuade by flattering base instincts.”
Be a Doer, Not a Thinker
Don’t ever expect the brightest and the best to serve in politics. Those gifted with the ability to think will not act. Those who aren’t will do. “The leaders we speak of are more frequently men of action than thinkers. They are not gifted with keen foresight, nor could they be, as this quality generally conduces to doubt and inactivity.” This makes an elected leader, less of a statesman and more of an agitator who entices the crowds. “In the case of human crowds the chief is often nothing more than a ringleader or agitator, but as such he plays a considerable part. His will is the nucleus around which the opinions of the crowd are grouped and attain to identity.” He or she can make the public opinion malleable and conform to their will. Ultimately, candidates who are strong-willed have much more of an effect. “The multitude is always ready to listen to the strong-willed man, who knows how to impose himself upon it. Men gathered in a crowd lose all force of will, and turn instinctively to the person who possesses the quality they lack.” To attain this powerful aura, all a politician has to do is drum into the crowds “ears a few set phrases.” These phrases do not require deep analysis of what they are supporting since phrases generalize and oversimplify difficult problems that demand complex solutions. Le Bon writes that the politician only needs to “change the words without, of course, laying hands on the things themselves, the latter being too intimately bound up with the inherited constitution to be transformed.” Only a slight perversion of words is demanded by a candidate for a public office.
Befriend the Media
The media is incredibly important for a political candidate. The media manufactures opinions for their readers and “supply them with ready-made phrases which dispense them of the trouble of reasoning.” Politicians tap into the imagination all the time and recognize that the “popular imagination [is] the basis of their power.” But the media is a big player in that power. Reporters will spin a story to fit whatever narrative a candidate wants to share with the people. The media can even help defeat a candidate’s opponents. Le Bon provides an example. “If we always read in the same papers that A is an arrant scamp and B a most honest man we finish by being convinced that this is the truth, unless, indeed, we are given to reading another paper of the contrary opinion, in which the two qualifications are reversed.” Media helps elected leaders govern the people instead of being governed by the people. Citizens will inevitably “become a crowd under the action of certain influences.”
Political candidates may believe in the liberty of each individual but the crowd is what will get them elected. Remember “the masses have never thirsted after truth. They turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste, preferring to deify error, if error seduce them. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim.” Both Republican and Democrat voters are at fault in Le Bon’s characterization of them. “Crowds are only cognizant of simple and extreme sentiments; the opinions, ideas, and beliefs suggested to them are accepted or rejected as a whole, and considered as absolute truths or as not less absolute errors.” Voters in crowds will submit to servitude for the possibility of their hopeful imaginations to be fully realized. Candidates will always exaggerate, affirm, repeat “and never to attempt to prove anything by reasoning.”
Say This Three Times: Affirmation, Repetition, and Contagion
When political candidates speak to crowds they must make affirmations. Le Bon explains that an “affirmation pure and simple, kept free of all reasoning and all proof, is one of the surest means of making an idea enter the mind of crowds. The conciser an affirmation is, the more destitute of every appearance of proof and demonstration, the more weight it carries.” Then a candidate must repeat it as many times as they can. “The influence of repetition on crowds is comprehensible when the power is seen which it exercises on the most enlightened minds. This power is due to the fact that the repeated statement is embedded in the long run in those profound regions of our unconscious selves in which the motives of our actions are forged. At the end of a certain time we have forgotten who is the author of the repeated assertion, and we finish by believing it.” The third step for a candidate to resonate with the crowd is “the action of contagion.” If an affirmation is repeated enough times it may become a “trend” that will cement a candidate’s position.
Do You Have Prestige?
“Whatever has been a ruling power in the world, whether it be ideas or men, has in the main enforced its authority by means of that irresistible force expressed by the word ‘prestige.’” Le Bon isn’t describing royalty. “Prestige in reality is a sort of domination exercised on our mind by an individual, a work, or an idea.” It is essentially another element of the imagination and is employed in too many different ways for it to be easily defined. Ultimately Le Bon is arguing that the crowd must feel that it is being elevated to some sort of new status with a candidate. The candidate has to have something that the crowd lacks whether it is money, fortune, titles, history, education or anything else that can quantify great worth, he or she will beat out their opponents. One easy way to earn prestige is to associate with a dead person. “The greatest measure of prestige is possessed by the dead, by beings, that is, of whom we do not stand in fear–by Alexander, Caesar, Muhammad, and Buddha, for example.” Every candidate will bring up an old dead popular president but very few will actually be able to successfully entertain the possibility to voters whether they can be the next Lincoln, Jefferson or Washington and actually be the next great American president.