If Donald Trump's political strategies look familiar, says Tim Wu, it's because we've seen them before. Where? In the totalitarian regimes of China, North Korea, and Germany.
On November 2nd, Columbia law professor Tim Wu tweeted: "What is the political press going to do for ratings after this blockbuster election winds down?" It’s a funny question, but a serious reflection on the disturbing amount of coverage the Republican candidate has enjoyed. The U.S. has a private media, but the coverage has been skewed one way, and even in his most controversial moments Trump has mostly profited from the millions of dollars of free advertising he has received. Every time you turn on the TV or head to a website’s home page you see one person. Wu draws an interesting parallel between this phenomenon and totalitarian regimes, like North Korea where everywhere you look you see the Great Leader, or China in the ‘60s, where Mao’s face was omnipresent. Trump is inescapable.
It’s just one of the strategies the candidate shares with fascist regimes – and before we go any further, Wu is clear that he is not comparing Trump’s views to those of fascist leaders; he is highlighting the similarity of their methods.
Wu’s latest book The Attention Merchants is an ethnography of advertising culture, examining the way external forces and agendas creep into our minds and influence us – a practice politics is also deeply tied into. Trump is, as Wu says, a "master attention merchant", and upon breaking down his strategy it turns out he understands something many fascist leaders in the past have also understood: the best way to attract attention and inspire intensity in your audience is to make them afraid. Trump has tapped into the unconscious fears and hatreds of his supporters by overstating the danger the United States is in, and creating enemies much greater than reality supports. "If you study carefully the rise of the Third Reich, it is fascinating how well the speakers of the Third Reich targeted unconscious, unspoken but truly present fears, hatreds, powerful emotions, you know, far beyond the thinking mind," says Wu. "And I think that those techniques whether or not you’re a Nazi or Hitler, whatever you are, are effective for anyone who wants to captivate their audience and inspire an angry rally."
Tim Wu’s most recent book is The Attention Merchants The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads.