BJ'S BLOG 02/29/16 "The Power of Persuasion"

February 29, 2016

Today's blog comes from one of my mentors, Dan Sanders:

I try, I really try, to not write about politics. Trying to change someone’s mind, as I learned back in the sixties, is likely to get me clubbed and/or jailed and is a near-impossible task.

I read recently that Robin Williams’s villa was up for sale for $18.1 million. Robin Williams was one of the few people who made me laugh out loud. I remember him first in Mork and Mindy, and I literally laughed so hard my sides hurt. Robin, like a lot of talented, creative, funny people, was not an extrovert, so I have to ask myself why he needed five bedrooms.

I was glad when the X-Files returned, and I am again a regular viewer. What do five bedrooms and a very funny man have to do with the supernatural–paranormal? In episode 5, Mulder convinces a doctor to give him an experimental hallucinogenic so that he might communicate with a comatose suicide bomber, and Mulder experiences visions and speaks to the dying terrorist. This is all well and good until he learns that the doctor gave him a placebo instead of a hallucinogenic. So why the visions, why the ability to communicate with the nearly dead man? The power of the mind! Mulder wanted to believe.

One of Hitler’s greatest attributes was the power of persuasion. Immediately after the death of Reich President Paul von Hindenburg, he gave himself total power, unrestricted by any constitutional constraints. He was now head of state and supreme commander of the armed forces as well as head of government. On August 4, 1934, a newspaper headline read "Today Hitler Is All of Germany," reflecting the shift in power that had just taken place, and the German people felt they had no choice but to follow him.

Danielle Allen, a political theorist at Harvard University and a contributing columnist for The Washington Post, wrote recently, “They knew evil was evil, but they too facilitated it by departing from the battlefield out of a sense of hopelessness. I have spent my life perplexed about exactly how Hitler could have come to power in Germany. Watching Donald Trump’s rise, I now understand. Leave aside whether a direct comparison of Trump to Hitler is accurate. That is not my point. My point rather is about how a demagogic opportunist can exploit a divided country.”*

It’s the same thing that causes a sad, depressed, funny man to have a home with five bedrooms. It’s the power of suggestion. If you make yourself believe you need something or someone tells you that you need something or something is bad and this bombardment of supposed need is strong enough, it is possible to believe the need is true. As a nation we are a lot like Robin Williams. We want to be funny, but we are sad and depressed. We are angry and for good reason, we are sad and for good reason, and we need someone to point the finger at, and we have a persuasive madman among us. Donald Trump is an angry man speaking to angry, sad people, and he can be very persuasive. I am afraid we are about to give a raging lunatic too much power.

I will have a few more thoughts on this in the podcast, and then we will have some fun with the rock and roll timeline. Join me on the shore of Rambling Harbor.

*Danielle Allen: