Pence got away with a powerful linguistic trick twice within the first few minutes of the Vice-Presidential debates. What if Senator Harris had confronted the tricks instead of having to pretend Pence was actually debating issues?

Image of a generic figure with swirly, hypnotic eyeglasses

Conflating ‘Trump’ with ‘the American People’

Harris criticized Trump’s handling of the coronavirus and Pence responded by saying, with astounding aplomb, that she was criticizing how ‘the American People’ have handled the coronavirus.

I noticed it worked quite well to confound me. Suddenly I couldn’t remember what Harris had just said and I began to doubt my previous understanding.

I believe the power of this tactic is based on the psychological concept of ‘fractionation.’ When I Google ‘what is fractionation in psychology’, all the top search results are about how men can use the tactic to seduce women.

I know the word fractionation from chemistry, but it’s used here in the way hypnotists use it. It’s a way to deepen someone’s hypnotic state by abruptly breaking one trance state and using the power of suggestion to create another.

Of course, this means that in order for it to work, one must already be in a hypnotic state— which is just where we are when we get ‘carried away’ with our internal stories. We all have strong internal stories right now, especially about ‘the evils of Trump’ or about ‘the American People.’ We all identify with our internal stories.

Conflating Trump’s medical narrative with valid expertise

When Harris made the proclamation that she would be discerning about who recommends a vaccine, Pence used a variation of the conflation tactic to claim she was undermining the ‘healing of the American people.’ It’s a claim that Trump’s presidential authority conveys omniscient authority.

Conflation gone wild is a cornerstone of the Trump paradigm; Trump as Jesus, Trump sycophants as true Patriots. It’s all over the place.

Breaking the Spell

What if Kamala Harris had called out Pence on this tactic, and educated the American people about it? That would be a real service to the American people, and it would ‘break the spell’ of these hypnotic tactics.

And let’s not put the burden all on our leaders. It’s possible to enjoy the benefits of our internal stories without being wholly caught up in them. But it takes desire, knowledge and practice. As a species, we deny our psychological design at our peril.

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