Throughout the course of his campaign, President-elect Donald Trump frightened many — and enticed many more — with comically implausible promises. He promised to ban all Muslims from entering the US. Most famously, he wanted to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it.
Now that he’s actually won, he appears to be reneging on his promises.
The people he’s brought into office are still longtime politicians. To be fair, as Stephen Colbert joked, “they’re exactly what I’d expect to find at the bottom of a drained swamp.” He isn’t going to prosecute Hillary Clinton, he decided he might not like waterboarding so much after all, and he thinks The New York Times might not be so bad.
But this inconsistency — reminiscent of his frequent self-contradictions on the campaign trails — shows that Trump can’t be trusted. Making promises, then disavowing them, makes one wonder what other commitments he will make as commander-in-chief and later back out on.
Furthermore, Trump is a skilled manipulator. In his 1988 book “The Art of the Deal,” he explains: “One thing I’ve learned about the press is that they’re always hungry for a good story, and the more sensational the better … If you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you.”
He followed this technique to the letter in his campaign. Everything he did and said grew more and more outrageous as it went on. And by going back on these outrageous statements, he’s just manipulating us more.
Scaring people, as Trump has, then not acting on the threat is known to psychologists as “fear, then relief.” A classic example of this is the “good cop, bad cop” trope, where one officer threatens someone, then the other reassures them that everything is actually going to be okay, as long as they comply. The disorientation caused by abrupt emotional changes is what leads the person to become more compliant.
Even if Trump is not intentionally trying to use the fear-then-relief strategy, recognizing how it works will help us avoid succumbing to it.
Besides — Trump hasn’t changed that much. Sure, he says he’s not going to build a wall “in certain places,” where instead, he will put a fence — same thing, really. And Kris Kobach’s leaked security plan includes a plan to reinstate NSEERS, a registry for immigrants from majority-Muslim countries. It’s the closest thing we can get to an actual Muslim registry while still following the law.
In short: don’t relax. Your worst fears appear to be coming true.