I think presidential candidates’ sales pitches are pretty predictable. And, they can be downright dangerous.
When Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders began to rise and persist in the polls, I started to think about political revolutions and when and why they happen. How do politicians get millions to follow them? The Sanders pitch is a bit unorthodox, but I can understand it. The Trump pitch is one with which I have trouble.
So, I wanted to read about Germany in the 1920s and 1930s and found the book Hitlerland. The book was interesting because it documents what Americans in Germany thought of Hitler and the Nazi Party.
The short answer is this: American journalists and diplomats who met with Hitler one-on-one always dismissed him. He was viewed as weird, effeminate, socially awkward, and not impressive at all. The conventional wisdom was this: he’s loud and obnoxious and Germans would never pick him to be their leader. A fringe player at best.
The country that produced Mozart, Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Schumann, Schopenhauer, Kant, Hegel, Marx, and other greats just simply was too smart.
But, the Americans missed something. Hitler had an important gift for public speaking, and, when given a microphone and a stage, could carry millions in the palm of his hand. And, when the global stock markets collapsed, Germany was once again pushed into a brutal economic retraction.
The Nazis’ pitch started to work. They in the end won a plurality. Hitler won 37% of the vote in 1932. He then proceeded to consolidate power, legally, and became the Führer (or, Leader). So, yes, with a mere plurality, Europe later was thrown into complete hell.
Hitler’s pitch followed this framework:
- Take action
Here’s what I mean:
- Empathy: We Germans have suffered for too long.
- Affirmation: We are not losers. We in fact are the greatest nation. We are “Aryans” and all other races and cultures are inferior to us.
- Scapegoat: the Jews, and our politicians who agreed to the Treaty of Versailles, have betrayed us!
- Take action: We need a strong Leader, for democracy doesn’t work. We need to purify our population and eliminate the sub-humans among us. We deserve more space, or Lebensraum, to expand our people’s need for land and resources. We will create a new empire that will last for 1,000 years.
I think this is Bernie’s pitch:
- Empathy: I know you’ve worked hard and you economically feel very challenged.
- Affirmation: It’s not your fault that you’re not getting ahead. The system is rigged!
- Scapegoat: Big Banks and the wealthy control the system.
- Take action: We need to make college free and break up the banks. We need to raise taxes and re-distribute income.
I think this is Trump’s pitch:
- Empathy: The political establishment is not listening to you, even though you’ve worked hard.
- Affirmation: You’re not losers. You in fact are winners. Let’s make America great again!
- Scapegoat: Politicians are corrupt because they are beholden to special interests. They’re also inept. Immigrants are taking your jobs.
- Take action: Vote for me. You can trust me because I’m rich. That means I don’t need to raise money from special interests. I also am a business executive and I can negotiate better deals for America. And, let’s build a big wall to keep out Mexicans and force all Muslims to register.
I hope people are thinking critically about this election. I’m not from America and I’ve blogged before about one day when American democracy will end. Every empire ends at some point.
We need really good leaders to be our politicians. And, we cannot under-estimate people who have a gift for public speaking but simply cannot be trusted.
We have to see through the sales pitch.
For me, many of Trump’s recommendations are anathema.