So starts one of Black’s Laws, droll bits of wisdom from my beloved mentor Dr. Jan Black. There are a lot of different ways to finish this sentence, but most of them point to the same idea:
The have-nots don’t rise up against the haves very often, unless they are so desperate for change that they’re willing to try anything, including the most desperate of measures.
I’ve been thinking about Dr. Black’s words a lot lately in light of the election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States. He was the candidate of change, promising have-nots that he understood their pain and would rescue them from it.
We human beings instinctively avoid pain and seek pleasure. But at a certain point, when pain has become intolerable, we’ll do anything – anything, even trading one kind of pain for another – to make this pain stop.
To many of us, Trump’s election looks like the proverbial jump from the frying pan into the fire. It’s a different kind of heat, even if it hastens one’s end. Hey: it’s something. If you’re looking for a quick way out of pain, the fire is a faster way to go than the frypan.
Listening to Trump supporters trying to explain why they chose the candidate they did, I hear sentiments like, “this country is on the wrong track and this was our last chance to save our way of life,” and “the alternative was worse!” that reflect the kind of fear and discomfort that motivates human beings to take drastic action.
Fear is not rational. Decisions motivated by fear come from the most primitive part of the human brain, which is not capable of rational thought. Donald Trump appealed to and stoked people’s fears, then encouraged his followers to act on their most primitive impulses. He offered some handy scapegoats onto which they could channel their rage: Mexicans, Muslims, women, the disabled, liberals, the Clintons, the Obamas, the Republican Party, the judiciary, Rosie O’Donnell, NATO, NAFTA, globalization, China, the media… take your pick. Pile on with your own prejudices. This is not an exhaustive list.
We don’t lash out at one another like this, generally, unless we feel threatened. Why would we? Of the four basic actions the primitive brain understands – fight, flight, feast or fornicate* – fight is the most costly and difficult. The stakes are too high. Our own lives are on the line, and could just as easily be lost in a fight as saved.
Of course, many genuinely believed, or wanted to believe, that Trump could save them from the frying pan of fears both real and imagined. The have-nots – those who felt threatened, left behind, and anxious/angry about losing the power and the security they once had – rose up and lashed out against the haves in a desperate attempt to take back control in a world that had become too uncomfortable for them to tolerate.
Bye-bye, frying pan. Here comes the fire.