Millions of people get their media information online today. There’s no longer any telling if what they are tuned to is fact or fiction. Though we receive political communication from the top down, we still largely engage in political communication in small social circles. And the act of voting is considered private business to be discussed only in small social circles. The workplace is not generally deemed appropriate to discuss politics. OK. So set that aside and consider this.
Last weekend Fareed Zakaria lauded Hit Makers, a new book by Derek Thompson that describes why some phenomena catch on and others don’t. His study concludes that familiarity is the single largest contributor to the chance that something will be widely accepted.
The following may be viewed as sad news, but its undeniable that Donald Trump spoke in a way that seemed familiar to more people than Hillary did. Bernie Sanders also campaigned in what could be called “plain speak”, even though his message was completely different than Trump’s.
I have long argued that familiarity is super-important not only to humans but to all animals because unfamiliarity can be downright dangerous. This is an excerpt from my book “Deciphering the English Code” (2015) which unravels the prehistoric roots of langauge with simple logic anyone can understand.
[page 125] It seems to me, that this binary method of cataloging information, first by the general attribute, then on to the specific, is simply the way that human brains decipher all information. Nature does not create many mistakes that survive over the years, so there likely is an important reason that the order of human information processing proceeds from “large to small” or from “general to specific”.
Imagine that you hear animal footsteps coming your way from the rear. First, you need to make a fast snap judgment about what you are seeing or hearing. Identifying something quickly might save your life. Then, if you have time, you can get more specific with the details. “You snooze, you lose” has been true for a long time.
For instance, dogs smell first and then learn more by looking and licking. With multiple senses, one sense gets the big information first and then other senses add layers of information.|
In the above scenario, which occurs every millisecond in the world of small living things, an unfamiliar sound is indeed downright dangerous. That same primordial way of recognizing things in layers – from large details to smaller – has been transferred up the chain from the smallest microbes to humans by Darwinian survival of the fittest processes. This is precisely why familiarity is the main path to wide acceptance. Once illuminated, it’s a simple understandable concept.
Last night, I attended Adam Schiff’s town hall on climate change at Cal Tech Pasadena. Three earth scientists were speakers and presented documented scientific evidence that in 20-30 years there could 100 days above 95 degrees in Pasadena if we ignore climate change and continue on our merry current path. The summers would be so long we would have to redefine the seasons.
Adam Schiff is a politician who understands the importance of acting now to prevent an environment that will be seriously hostile to human life for those born after 1980. That’s imminent enough, right? Adam also understands the power of simple straight-forward speak. He comes across like someone you could meet in the grocery store and have a chat with.
“People in Congress pay attention to this and I think it demonstrates that the country is not going to sit still while the administration or the Congress dismantles these important efforts to combat climate change. It really resonates,” Schiff said.
And when they got to Q&A, the town’s people asked what could be done to reach average Americans and Trump supporters about the seriousness of the impending dangers of climate change. Some suggested things like advertising agencies to sell these ideas the way they sell products like soap. Making environmental protection sexy echoed in the room. Adam Schiff reminded folks of the ripple effect of personal action and urged everyone to stay vocal and active on the particular issues they were most passionate about.
Let’s face it. Donald Trump fooled enough Americans to contend with a person who was clearly more qualified and experienced to be POTUS. His use of plain language, I dare say even his famous “grab them by the p*ssy” statement, had a tone that reminded many of the way things go down in their private and innermost circles.
And that’s what Hillary lacked most. It always felt like she was talking at people, not with people. In the end, her messages clearly had wider appeal than Trump’s, but that did not matter as much as her not sounding like a straight talker. She did not seem familiar to average folks.
We hear a lot of post mortem on this election and about how Hilary did not have a “unifying national message” that we could hang on to. But even had she found that message, if she had delivered it the same way she communicated in her 2016 campaign, it probably would not have resounded. Her delivery was not familiar and familiarity prevails. Great salesmen all know this. This is why Trump got close enough to register a win. I’m not at all convinced that he would have won without help from the Russians. She only lost by 72,000 votes. That’s not 1%. It’s one-tenth of 1%.
We all sort of know the importance of plain speak. Of course. Have you ever encountered someone from another language and found yourself making your best attempt to speak English the way you think an ESL student from that person’s native land would? I know I have. I attempt to bridge the communication gap, as best I can, by speaking at least some degree of broken or ESL English. I intentionally avoid large words. I do all this because I inherently know this works. When facing a communication barrier, we all strive to sound more familiar to our listeners.
In Trump-speak everything is great, wonderful or terrific. In his case, if he once had a way of speaking that sounded more mature or educated, he abandoned it long ago. I don’t think he presently has a firm enough command of the English language to consider choosing more refined descriptive words. Trump’s plain-speak is literally a no-brainer.
And this also why Bernie and Biden must stay healthy and consider runs in 2020. The stakes are way too high to f*** around with an unproven candidate. In fact, I dare say they should even consider running together, with a young Secretary of State, third in the presidential survivor chain, so the old age thing does not become too strong a factor. Biden has been famous for plain speak since he came on political scene. And Bernie, with his down-home Brooklynese charm, comes across like someone you could chat with on a subway or an uncle you’d like to have in your family. Bernie also has the populist “take our country back from the billionaires” message that resounds with more and more Americans these days. He’s only four years older than Donald Trump and probably in much better shape. Hey Donald, would you like to go a round in the ring with Bernie?
So it’s not Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi that should be center stage for the resistance. Their hearts may be in the right place, but they do sort of come off as elitists. Perez and Ellison also miss that mark.
But its yes to folks like nerdy representative Adam Schiff and fiesty senator Elizabeth Warren.
What a ticket that would be, huh?