Sunday 17 December 2017

How a 19th century French thinker predicted the rise of Donald Trump

Donald Trump. Photo: Carlo Allegri
Donald Trump. Photo: Carlo Allegri

Verity Ryan

Picture this: it's July 21, 2016, and Donald Trump has taken to the stage to begin his presidential nominee acceptance speech. The atmosphere is intoxicatingly palpable: bright lights, chants, an abundance of Trump memorabilia. You can feel the energy pulsating from the live Twitter stream as you watch remotely on your phone, absorbed in the moment with the crowd. It is an experience at the cross-section of modern politics and the digital world, not to mention 19th century figure Gustav Le Bon.

In his much-vaunted 'Psychologie des Foules', Le Bon outlined his theory that individuals in crowds undergo a psychological transformation in which they become less rational, more impulsive and given to overly exaggerated feelings; feelings which have a habit of infectiously spreading across the group.

Fast track 121 years later and it remains a startlingly accurate template for political interactions in the 21st century. The difference today is that the fast, connected, anonymous digital world has mobilised the mob on a global scale and exaggerated its most tempestuous temperaments.

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