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Trump is a changed man? Don’t bet on it.

Evan Solomon on the danger of dismissing Trump’s rhetoric


 
60 MINUTES Correspondent  Lesley Stahl interviews President-elect Donald J. Trump and his family at his Manhattan home last Friday (11).  The sit-down was his first post-election interview for television. (Chris Albert/CBSNews/60 MINUTES)

60 MINUTES Correspondent Lesley Stahl interviews President-elect Donald J. Trump and his family at his Manhattan home last Friday (11). The sit-down was his first post-election interview for television. (Chris Albert/CBSNews/60 MINUTES)

In 1971 the social psychologist Philip Zimbardo conducted an experiment to test how power affects behaviour. He built a simulated prison and recruited 23 students to play both guards and prisoners. “Recruited” doesn’t accurately describe the elaborate intensity of the process. Zimbardo actually hired real police to “arrest” students at their homes and haul them down to the “prison” where other participants were dressed as guards. The experiment was designed to last for two weeks, but it quickly went sideways.

The prisoners flipped out—let’s stick to the ’70s vocabulary—and tried to revolt. In response the “guards” took extreme measures to suppress them, including withholding food, sleep deprivation, stripping them naked and even spraying them with a fire extinguisher. “In only a few days, our guards became sadistic and our prisoners became depressed and showed signs of extreme stress,” Zimbardo wrote. He had to stop the experiment.

The Stanford prison experiment revealed how power dynamics can radically alter people’s behaviour. As Zimbardo wrote, the experiment was “a classic demonstration of the power of social situations to distort personal identities and long cherished values and morality.” I thought about the study after Donald Trump appeared on 60 Minutes, and journalist Leslie Stahl emerged from the interview claiming Trump was a new man.

“I saw quite a change,” Stahl said. “I think [Trump] wanted the public to know that he understood that he had to shift gears and pay attention to the responsibilities now.”

The “Trump transforms” narrative—or “Give Trump a chance,” whatever you want to call it—is now the standard post-election refrain. The former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner told MSNBC, “I expect that we’re going to see a somewhat different Donald Trump.” But which Trump is the real Trump? The incendiary Trump on the campaign trail or the restrained Trump in transition?

RELATED: What will Donald Trump do for the ‘lock her up’ crowd?

Newt Gingrich, one of Trump’s closest advisers, told Face the Nation that Trump’s conciliatory victory speech and his choice of strategists reveals the emergence of a new Trump. “Those things show you steps toward stability and maturity that are very, very encouraging.”

Let’s just pause here on what this really means. Newt Gingrich suggested that the 70-year-old Donald Trump, who is about to be the most powerful person in the world, has just taken the first steps toward “stability” and “maturity.” Assuming that doesn’t unnerve you, what’s even more bizarre is to see Trump’s own supporters now arguing that Trump’s maturation requires him to break his core promises, as if his proposals to build a wall, ban all Muslims, prosecute Hillary Clinton, deport 12 million illegal immigrants, rip up NAFTA and abandon NATO were just campaign rhetoric, hardly worth remembering. It’s as if the Trump camp is now asking the media to apologize for doing exactly what Trump claimed they refused to do all along: take him seriously.

Maybe Trump will change. Recently he’s moderated some his most divisive rhetoric. But still, why buy this new transformation narrative? Doesn’t this swap one false delusion about Donald Trump, that he will never win, for another, that he will become exactly like the establishment politicians he beat? It is the classic trap of confirmation bias, where Trump’s former opponents now see him, in victory, as a reflection of their own values. Why would a man who just won the presidency, held the Senate and the House, suddenly ditch it all? Surely it’s more likely that he will fulfill his promises than break them.

Why did he appoint the controversial Breitbart News CEO Steve Bannon as his chief strategist? Is it because Bannon never actually believed the content his own company created, that he never believed the alt-right, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim rhetoric that has frequently been enabled and supported on the site? Maybe. But why would we doubt Bannon’s sincerity? More likely he stands behind the Breitbart work he championed for so long—and so does Donald Trump. Doesn’t that make more sense than forcing ourselves to believe it was all fake?

MORE: Stephen Bannon, far-right outsider, becomes White House insider

When Trump phoned the incendiary, conspiracy theorist commentator Alex Jones of Infowars to thank him for his support and offered to come on his show, is that the new Trump or the old Trump? It’s neither. It is just Trump. After the call, Jones ranted against the “scumbag news” and the criminal, globalized elite who have, in his words, “hijacked the nation” using “weaponized media to mind control people.” They are “enemies of this country,” he warned darkly, before predicting that indictments are coming. Is Trump simulating his affection for Jones? Why would he? Give Donald Trump his due and let’s take him at his word.

The world hopes that a Trump presidency will bring stability, peace and prosperity. He is certainly more nuanced than the extreme fringes he validates and he has given a legitimate voice to a large group of pissed-off Americans. But the Stanford prison experiment revealed how easily power can “distort personal identities and long cherished values and morality.” Part of that distortion happens when we forget the facts, and dismiss what Trump said on the campaign trail. Part of that distortion happens when we try to overlook what his closest advisers have done in the past. It’s already started. Amnesia doesn’t have to be an ingredient of unity.


 

Trump is a changed man? Don’t bet on it.

  1. All we can do is hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

    • Wasn’t that the European Jews’ philosophy in 1933? Didn’t work then, won’t work now.
      We need to have a firm grip on our Canadian identity and a social/economic future. A wishy washy approach with Trump would be unacceptable.

      • Oh hey we don’t have an identity. Isn’t that what lispy boy justine said?

  2. The same argument can be made about the Clinton’s.

    The Clinton’s are going to be the same Clinton’s. The same Clinton’s who facilitated Reagan’s Contra War in the eighties (to endear themselves to the Deep State), turning a blind eye to the CIA’s use Arkansas as its main US import and transit point for importing cocaine, which then flooded the black inner cities with crack cocaine. The proceeds of which went to finance the Contra War.

    The same Clinton’s, who in the nineties, enacted politically expedient criminal “justice” reforms which filled the booming private American prison system with two million young black men (or as Hillary called them, super-predators).

    The same Clinton’s who deregulated the banking system, eliminating Glass-Steagall, insisted on the non-regulation of derivatives, which directly led to the structured finance and mortgage debt fraud that caused the global economic crisis.

    The same Clinton’s who boldly supported the Iraq War.

    The same Clinton’s who took tens of millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia for the Clinton Foundation, while Hillary at the State Department pumped up US arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

    (And started two proxy wars for regime change at Saudi behest in Libya and Syria).

    The same Clinton’s who took millions from Russian banks, so Hillary would approve the takeover of a US uranium company by a Russian-controlled company.

    Etc.

    • Well you are certainly invested in your belief about Clinton. So what. That is old news. what are your views about Trump?

      • Anybody who managed to rid us of the Clinton neofascists, and the Bush neoconservatives deserves a chance.

        • Wrong

          It’s bad enough you want to play Russian roulette. But you’re using a semi-auto with a full clip.

          • It is Clinton who was/is trying to start a shooting war with Russia, not Trump? It is Clinton who wants a no-fly zone in Syria, which means a shooting war with Russia. It is Clinton and Obama and their neocon state department rep, Nuland (wife of Donald Kagan, the founder of PNUC), who organized the coup in Ukraine which led to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and Russia sending little green men into eastern Ukraine.

            Clinton’s regime change plot in Syria using Libyan weapons, Saudi money, Turkish duplicity, and radical Islamists has failed miserably because she assumed that Russia would not respond.

    • The plural of Clinton is “Clintons”, not “Clinton’s”. FYI.

  3. All we can do is hope he does something impeachable….including upsetting Republicans. He is the emotionally stunted 5 year old with the winner take all belief. He does not have the capacity to change. He does not have the capacity to be managed. I predict he will implode and it won’t be pretty.

    • In which case, Mike Pence becomes POTUS. AFAICT Pence is as socially conservative as they come, whereas Trump seems fine with gay marriage and is something of a question mark on abortion, campaign rhetoric notwithstanding. Pence is also likely to be more of a hawk than Trump (although, again, we’ll have to wait and see the true Trump, I suppose).

      OTOH, Pence is likely to take the traditional Republican approach to trade, which would be good news for Canada.

      Trump may indeed implode, but I don’t think a President Pence is something to necessarily look forward to.

      • Can’t say a President Pence is overly appealing. But I think he’s at least mentally stable. I’d trust him a lot more with the nuclear football than I do Trump. We’d have a far better chance of surviving until 2020…

      • Burt Lancaster tried a coup d’état against Fredric March, only for Kirk Douglas, in’ Seven Days in May’ (1964).

  4. Evan Solomon:
    Why in the world would you expect a man who almost single-handedly destroyed the Clinton, Bush, and Obama families, as well as the Democratic Party, while becoming the President-Elect of America in one fell swoop to change his successful winning formula?
    Mr. Solomon, like most of the MSM, is in a state of emotional shock and mental derangement commonly known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
    Please face reality and accept he fact that Trump won and Clinton lost. The election results have consequences. I know it’s difficult, but try to think and behave rationally.
    Get over it, Evan. It is you, and your ilk, and not President-Elect Trump, who will have to change.
    But I doubt it is within your capabilities to man up and get real without professional help.

    • Go back and reread. Solomon’s point is that all this talk about a changed Trump sounds far more like wishful thinking than reality. i.e. – he hasn’t changed, and will likely try to carry out his promises.

      So he’s saying the same thing you are. Maybe you need professional help – with your reading skills.

  5. As if all Islamocriticism were just anti-Muslim rhetoric that no one believes in. Islamocriticism gets conflated with Islamophobia and racism, and Islam gets a free pass. Spend a few minutes thumbing through the Qur’an and then claim, with honesty and integrity, that Islam is harmless. Or no worse than contemporary Judaism or Christianity.

    • Having lived and worked in an Islamic country, and have a good understanding of the Qu’ran, please be assured that, given a choice (and many aren’t) you would never choose an Islamic over a Christian country.

      I am amazed that it is necessary to make this statement.

      Returning to the sore loser article, Mr. Solomon, as a journalist, does not surprise me that he has learnt nothing more from his pre-election stance to today’s reading of his fiery crystal ball. For goodness sake, The Donald hasn’t been sworn-in yet!

      And I fully realize that I, hopefully, live on the calmer side of the border.

  6. Despite the powder-puff Stahl interview on 60 Minutes, Trump hasn’t changed in the past 10 days. An anxious public (and world at large) just desperately wants to be able to sleep at night and tell themselves it will all be alright. It likely won’t.
    Trump is still largely making it up as he goes (changing horses and crony kiss-a$$es on his transition team, staying vague as a Scottish moor in the morning, trying to make the Presidency fit into his life instead of vice versa, ignoring convention or arms-length legalities, all while playing a wait-and-see about personal tax disclosure and pending law suits and continuing to tweet his uncensored thoughts). He’s still having a grand old time, largely because he’s the center of attention and has prime patronage appointments to give out, but when the full weight of the position lands on his shoulders… that will likely change.
    Every President adjusts to the formidable role, but they don’t grow into the role. They have it or they don’t.

  7. Ah yes another personal opinion and drive by smear form another macleans ‘supposed’ writer.

  8. Solomon- Have you ever taken the time to read Breitbart News? I’ve been visiting Breitbart routinely for several years now, and I have yet to come across anything remotely anti-Semitic. Please try and be a little more journalistic in your journalism.

  9. Solomon….you’ve been wrong through this whole election cycle and I guess it’s good to see you’re still batting a thousand.

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