Donald Trump is successful in a world driven by feelings, not facts | Americas| North and South American news impacting on Europe | DW | 28.09.2016
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Donald Trump is successful in a world driven by feelings, not facts

There are many negative things to say about Donald Trump, but maybe he is en vogue in a world where people trust their emotions more than objective evidence.

Political scientists and journalists, especially in Europe, are in agreement: Hillary Clinton was the clear winner of the television debate against Donald Trump. She is the only one in question for the most important political office on the planet. They argue that she is politically much more experienced, prudent and more level-headed, whereas Trump is simply out of the question. These are the official arguments currently doing the rounds on both sides of the Atlantic. Quick polling after the debate confirmed that audience members had also made this assessment.

Trump, on the other hand, has never been taken seriously by political observers. It was unthinkable that he would even be selected as the Republican candidate to run for president. But he got through. And after he was selected as a candidate, these same political scientists and journalists claimed that Clinton would definitely be moving into the White House.

But, from the beginning, not all experts have agreed on this assessment. Even after the television debate experts such as Frank Brettschneider, communications scientist at the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart, are talking about a "tie."

Trump is "deserving of his reputation as a political bully," but Brettschneider in no way sees this as a drawback for Trump. In any case, for those who are undecided, it's not so much about the actual debate, but the reactions afterwards that matter - and these mostly take place online. Trump's supporters have sprung into action. "They will end up neutralising the media coverage," Brettschneider believes.

The wrath of the white man

At the end of June, US filmmaker and Trump-hater Michael Moore wrote in the weekly newspaper, "Die Zeit": "This despicable, ignorant and dangerous part-time clown and full-time psychopath wants to be our next president." Although, "77 per cent of his constituency is made up of women, non-whites and young voters under 35 - in none of these groups can Trump win a clear majority."

USA TV-Duell Karikatur von Sergey Elkin

Will Clinton's experience and relative level-headedness help her clinch the president's post?

But these "facts" are not decisive. Clinton is widely disliked as a person and seen as too much part of the existing "system." This is why many Americans will end up deciding not to vote at all, while Trump, on the other hand, will be able to mobilise his voters.

And then Moore attempts put himself in the shoes of the "angry white man" who is on the defensive: "After being bossed around by a black man for eight years, should we just idly stand by and now let a woman push us around for another eight years?" For people like this, Trump is irresistible, fears Moore.

Angela Merkel and the issue of "feelings"

Are elections decided against facts and logic? Are broad sections of the electorate guided more by anger than by self-interest? Is this really the case, and if so, is this a common phenomenon?

In Germany, the CDU was speechless when in came in behind the racist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in the state election in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, although the "facts" spoke for the political party. There was a strong upturn in this state, where the CDU had governed as a junior partner in a coalition with the SPD. And in Germany as a whole, there is a very positive economic outlook. Refugees, a main topic in the election, are barely visible in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

Chancellor Merkel also admits that the voting behavior is contradictory to facts. And this frustrates her: "Most recently, it implies that we are living in post-factual times. This means that people are no longer interested in facts but rather just follow their feelings."

Georg Pazderski, member of the AfD, politician, says, "What you feel is also reality" - and offers this as an explanation for some of his party's electoral success.

But Merkel prefers to stick to the facts. At the beginning of September, she said in parliament: "If we start to go along with the idea that facts can be just tossed aside or ignored, then it is no longer possible to offer responsible and constructive answers to issues."

Search engines replacing knowledge

Eduard Kaeser, the Swiss philosopher and physicist, is not only convinced that we are living in a post-factual world, but also sees this as a threat to democracy. In an article published in August in the "Neuen Zürcher Zeitung", he uses this idea to explain the phenomenon that is Donald Trump. Trump's "lies and contradictions" haven't hurt him. On the contrary, they have made him more credible in the eyes of his supporters because he comes across as genuine.

According to Kaeser, social media has only increased the tendency "to only accept as 'fact' that which you already believe." Institutions that have traditionally searched for verifiable truths, such as universities or statistical authorities, are being questioned. Citizens now see themselves as 'experts' fed by the substitute knowledge provided by search engines.

But the search for truth is vital for the survival of democracy. "Once the guard rails of fact are taken down, we will end up on the run-away train of cheap propaganda."

But there is one reality that Merkel has until now strictly adhered to: nothing is impossible, not even a President Trump. While the usually reserved foreign minister, SPD politician Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has called Trump a "hate preacher," Merkel has refused to comment. Because you never know with whom you may have work in the future.

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