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Monthly Archives: December 2016

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Emoji of the Masses – The Trump Presidency

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

I have had to work with people like Donald Trump before. Not folks as materially successful of course, but just as wily, and with very similar personalities. It was my job to extract accurate information from them to assess whether or not their children were at risk of harm. There was always a lot at stake, so simply taking them at face value was out of the question. These interviews were among the most difficult and exhausting of my career. It was like engaging in an emotional game of three-dimensional chess. Extracting even the most innocuous facts was challenging. The experiences, however, had the effect of inoculating me from the expert emotional manipulations that are their genius.

Donald Trump spoke directly to the emotions of many voters during his campaign. It was a campaign like no other, but I recognized him right away. He constructed an elaborate emotional tableau, devoid of factual distractions, that resonated with a frustrated, angry electorate. People read into him whatever they believed. Other candidates and the beltway press tried but could not penetrate his invisible cloak with facts, logic or reason. His burgeoning movement of follower would not be dissuaded. Eventually, enough people aligned their feelings about him with the well crafted self-portrait he created through his speeches. He got just enough votes in just the right places to win the Presidency.

So here we are, a people habituated to the ubiquitous marketing assaults we succumb to every day. We were unprepared to see through the marketing cloud of Mr. Trump and now we have a new President about who we really know very little.

Donald Trump. The marketer-in-chief. Master illusionist. And because no one could pin anything on him during the campaigned, he is free to define his term in office any way he likes.

But beware! His disdain for the press, verbal assaults on journalists and his thank-you rally’s around the country are not short lived anomalies. They are harbingers of how he will maintain his power. The deflection of facts and the creation of strong, emotionally evocative impressions is how he operates.

Here is one way to help visualize what is happening. People like Donald Trump have the ability to do with language what a scrim does on a theatrical stage. A scrim is a special type of fabric that can be translucent, transparent, or opaque depending on how stage lights are directed. You can project any image you want on the front of it and it will mask everything from view behind it. When you only light the objects behind it, the scrim disappears like a pane of glass.

Donald Trump created a campaign, and is now building a Presidency behind a giant scrim. When he takes office we will only see what he chooses to project or to reveal. He will continue to divide us and play our emotions like the maestro that he is. My fear is that our only hope of revealing what he is up to will be either by taking control of the lighting board or storming the stage.

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Of Poverty and Proverbs – An Excuse to Blame the Poor

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

There is some wisdom in this old English proverb. It seems obvious that our survival instinct compels us to use our skills to meet our basic needs. The point being made by this proverb is that It’s more worthwhile to teach someone to do something for themselves than to do it for them.

As a nugget of wisdom, however, the expression is also insufficient. It assumes that resource and circumstances are otherwise favorable for the fisherman. The proverb shouldn’t be taken too literally or applied too broadly, but it often is. This is especially the case when it is applied to social welfare.

Specifically, it becomes a problem when policy makers believe that all you have to do is give someone the skills they need they can do the rest on their own. It’s the notion that skills plus self-determination are sufficient for success. This reductive thinking forms the rationale behind the conservative politics of poverty. It’s destructive corollary is a belief that when skills have been properly transferred, yet success remains elusive, the fault lies within the character of the person. It is a belief that fails to consider scarce resources or other barriers beyond a person’s control.

To make this point, take the proverbial fisherman as an example and ask yourself the following question: What else, other than skills, might be required for the fisherman to catch his daily meal?

You won’t get very far down your list before you see the point here. The fisherman’s success still requires the right conditions, many of which are beyond his personal control. And some of the conditions are dependent on social factors, or environmental factors over which we have societal influence. Examples of these include having clean water, allowing public access, or requiring a fishing license.

The devil is always in the details. There are no simple formulaic ways to think about poverty. There is only the need to critically evaluate the impact of policies that influence everyone’s well being, and to seek out, and overcome the barriers people face every day to putting food on their table. Do that and every able bodied person will act with self-determination.