Back in the days of long ago when my son played what is known here as traveling basketball, there was a team he played against that carried the nickname “Chopkins.” Virtually every team that played them referred to them that way because they seemed to be deliberately coached to foul constantly. Any guard bringing up the ball could expect to be hacked, bumped, tripped, elbowed and kneed in an attempt to steal the ball. They were particularly adept at a move akin to a karate chop liberally applied to a player’s dribbling hand. Hence the nickname. The strategy was crude, but effective. If they fouled all the time it put the referees in the position of either constantly blowing the whistle or ignoring the chops. What they usually settled for was to call some fouls, but not all. It made coaching and playing against them a nightmare.
Donald Trump is the “Chopkins” of Presidential candidates. Call his strategy Trumpkins. He lies so often and so outrageously that correcting all his “chops” would fill an entire news broadcast or the whole page of a newspaper. So like the refs who had to call games against Chopkins, reporters have chosen to correct some misstatements, but not others. Do a search for Trump and Pinocchio and it will keep you busy for an entire evening or two.
Trump was especially effective at employing the Trumpkins strategy as he laid to waste the weakest field of Presidential contenders in a long time. Forced to deal with Trump’s hacking away at them, his opponents often found themselves using their time to rebut ridiculous lies rather than outline their own agendas. Jeb Bush, in particular, was totally befuddled by the Trumpkins directed at him. Like the basketball players forced to contend with Chopkins, he fumbled the ball a lot.
Now the Trumpkins strategy is about to be directed at Hillary Clinton, who is the presumptive Democratic nominee. If Clinton had trouble with Bernie Sanders, imagine how she will respond to a nonstop deluge of Trump chops and hacks. For those who buy the current poll numbers (which I don’t–but that is food for another essay), think about the impact of Trumpkins. Start with Clinton herself. She has always come off best when she can tell her story; she has traditionally had problems with candidates who engage in personal attacks.
Just as he did in the primaries Trump will campaign under the assumption he is not going to change the minds of hardcore supporters, so why try. That leaves independents. The conventional press wisdom at the beginning of this campaign was that Trumpkins would not work because people would dismiss him as a jerk or a lightweight.
They were wrong, in part because they fell for the strategy just like those youth basketball referees. Like Chopkins, Trumpkins is based on the simple, but effective proposition that sooner or later you will steal the ball. Throw up enough lies and some of them will stick, especially if they go unanswered or the answers sound like technicalities. Enough people believed the lier was someone who “tells it like it is” that they were able to give Trump a string of unexpected victories.
Trumpkins is made for today’s climate when most of the public believes the media and politicians are liars or shills for particular interest groups. In a room full of liars it is often the biggest liar or the one who tells the most lies who wins.
For many of us watching this spectacle, we either conclude Trump is a pathological lier and just turn him off or get angry at the media for letting him get away with it. But there is another group where Trumpkins works. All of us see the world through glasses colored by various ideological and social perceptions. All Trump has to do is to connect with a few of those and we find ourselves saying, “Maybe this guy is on to something.”
If we go back to the sports analogy, Chopkins was a game of averages. If the refs let 25% of the fouls go and a percentage of those uncalled fouls created turnovers, that gave Chopkins anywhere from ten points on up that they did not deserve. With Trumpkins, if 25% of the lies go unchallenged and a percentage of those resonate with undecided voters, that gives him bonus points in the polls.
Add to this what systems thinkers call the infection effect. There is a small model of the dynamics of rumors that I have used to demonstrate how this works. If one Trumpkin tells ten people and the probability of “infecting” a person with the rumor is 10%, then one out of ten becomes a new Trumpkin. Multiply that by a thousand Trumpkins and the number increases dramatically.
Trumpkins is a test of our new social media world in which we listen only to voices like ours and the responsible mainstream media is handcuffed by is own commitment to covering both sides of an issue. That is how Trumpkins performed what people thought could not be done: he turned Faux News audience against its own network. Think about that if you believe Hillary Clinton will walk all over Trump.Print