As US President Donald Trump arrived in London, he took a moment to praise former London mayor and current candidate for the prime minister’s seat, Boris Johnson: “I think Boris would do a very good job. I think he would be excellent,” Trump told The Sun. “I like him. I have always liked him. I don’t know that he is going to be chosen, but I think he is a very good guy, a very talented person.”
Ironically, Trump’s praise came only a few days after Johnson had been ordered to appear before a judge to answer three charges of misconduct in a public office following an allegation that he lied about the size and timing of Britain’s contributions to the EU.
Trump, who’s told a few “porkies” of his own – the experts count about 10,000 misleading statements or outright falsehoods – probably only admires Johnson more, not so much for not telling the truth, but rather for pulling together a media persona that doesn’t have to. This is very much what Trump’s other ally, Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage, has done as well – Trump also singled Farage out as a “great guy.”
A New Kind of Demagogue
Like Trump, Johnson has built a following based on what people actually believe, not what is real.
Psychologists call this creating a kind of feedback loop: with some lacking perspective, Trump’s supporters seek confirmation of false ideas like “Barack Obama is not American,” or “There are scores of rusting factories in the US that we can easily put back to work.” Trump’s supporters believe this sort of thing, and when Trump says it too, they get a good feeling that goes way beyond learning what is true or not.”
“Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have shown that feedback, rather than hard evidence, boosts people’s sense of certainty when learning new things or trying to tell right from wrong. Developmental psychologists have found that people’s beliefs are more likely to be reinforced by the positive or negative reactions they receive in response to an opinion, task or interaction, than by logic, reasoning and scientific data.”
Johnson, who made a splash as Mayor of London, being a lively and humorous speaker, has created this kind of feedback loop with his supporters.
Trump and Farage thrive off Twitter
Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage has been equally adept at creating a feedback loop that thrives on fables and myths, as his party’s recent scoring of 31.7 per cent at the European Parliament elections on May 26 once again shows.
“Mr Farage has woven this combination of pride and resentment into a compelling anti-establishment narrative. Brussels bureaucrats are intent on turning an enterprising nation into a vassal of the European super-state, he says, and the British establishment is too craven and corrupt to see what is happening,” writes The Economist.
New technology makes it easier for this kind of politician to keep in close touch with their believers.
“From Trump’s hyper-active social media presence, we see a novel political relationship between Trump and his followers. By the very nature of social media, the visibility of a post is inherently related to popularity, to the amount of likes, retweets, and views. Due to this intimate connection between public popularity and the influence and presence of Trump’s medium of choice, we can see the beginning of a new, arguably more ‘democratic’ mode of political dissemination. This emergent phenomenon of political communication thereby creates a political system in which political discourse is now effectively produced by citizens at large, for the people determine for themselves what political figures and ideologies are deemed worthy of popularity through the largely democratic process of voting through likes and retweets. Trump’s campaign is truly innovative for this reason,” writes political science commentator Jordan Hollinger.
This kind of feedback loop has permitted Farage to pull together what some might call a naïve vote against immigration with all sorts of frustrated people who blame the government for their ills. They know nothing about the European Union, and so were easily persuaded that it is a kind of freedom-destroying “Soviet Union.” So Trump and Farage have created a world in which, as Dick Morris, Chief Strategist for former President Bill Clinton, said:
The Internet will be the Congress. The Internet will be the Parliament. The Internet will be the election
And no one really knows what kind of world it will be.