As his presidential campaign grows older, real estate mogul Donald Trump continues to make polarizing and controversial comments about nearly everything and everyone. The Republican frontrunner has come under fire recently for calling Hillary Clinton’s bathroom break at the Democratic debate “disgusting.” When Clinton accused him of having “a penchant for sexism,” he said the same about Hillary’s husband and former president Bill Clinton. Trump has also accused Hillary Clinton of “playing the woman’s card.”
Some of Trump’s points make at least marginal sense. Several women have accused Bill Clinton of raping them – though none of these accusations gained much legal traction. As for “playing the woman’s card,” Hillary has brought up her gender in appeals to voters: “Being the first woman president would be quite a change from the presidents we’ve had,” she said at a Democratic debate on Oct. 13.
Trump, however, attacks the Clintons from shaky ground. In addition to his comments concerning Hillary Clinton’s bathroom break, he has blamed a female journalist’s attitude on her menstrual cycle, insinuated he finds his daughter sexually attractive and has repeatedly insulted women he dislikes over little more than their physical appearance.
Donald Trump’s inflammatory demeanor is no longer new, surprising or funny, yet he has been able to maintain his influence over the tone of the current presidential campaign. The 2016 Republican race often seems to devolve into a kindergarten playground of uncreative insults lobbed back and forth over a cratered landscape devoid of intelligence, reason or tact. And that’s exactly how Trump wants it.
In this age of information, where any politician can be scrutinized with a single Internet search, how has Donald Trump survived and even thrived on insults, blatant appeals to fear and occasional vague policy proposals?
The answer might be found in science. A 2011 study conducted at University College London found that people with larger amygdalas tended to identify with more conservative political views. The amygdala (a region near the base of the brain) is the center for emotions and motivation, including fear responses.
A 2008 study carried out at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln said conservative-leaning individuals reacted more strongly to environmental stimuli such as loud noises and threatening images than those with liberal political views. Other studies have supported the notion that overall, emotion tends to be the biggest factor in conservative decision-making, while reason tends to be the biggest factor in liberal decision-making.
This trait of some conservative-leaning people can at least partially explain Donald Trump’s continuing success. When he calls Hillary Clinton’s bathroom break “disgusting,” uses graphic anecdotal evidence to support statistically incorrect generalizations about undocumented immigrants, and appeals to the fears of the nation by calling for an absolute ban on Muslims entering the country, the large, emotionally-driven sector of the Republican electorate responds with their support.
Clearly, not all Republicans follow emotion over logic. Maybe not even a majority. But right now, with pathos-abusing fearmonger Donald Trump leading nearly every major Republican poll, it’s up to them to prove it.
Alex Storer is a Contributing Columnist for the Central Florida Future.