As noted a couple posts ago, Trump relies heavily on what I’ve termed “the scoundrel’s script”. His surrogates are adept at it as well. Heavy usage of this script is another worrisome sign about Trump’s psyche.
The “script” is from a slippery storyline I noticed a decade ago that has become way too common for society’s good. It’s about people who do something they want to keep private and hidden, esp. if they know it is wrong. They get away with it for a while, but then are found out. As they feel the brunt of unwelcome questioning if not outright blame, they slide into a standard three-act script to deceive and disorient their accusers.
- Act one is to deny and dismiss wrong-doing: “The accusations are false … nothing of the sort happened … there’s no evidence … my record is clean … I gave no such orders … trust me … show respect.”
- If denial fails and evidence mounts, act two is to diminish the taint: “It was just a one-time mistake … a few bad apples … we thought we read the rules right … we were given bad information … I didn’t know until later … our system works fine; it’s not to blame … we fixed the problem … the media exaggerate … those are not the facts … that’s not what happened … I wasn’t my true self … I didn’t mean it.”
- If that still fails to work and evidence and pressure keep growing, act three is to deflect and displace the blame: “Who are you to judge me … their hands are dirtier … they’ve done far worse … they provoked it … they gave us bad info … there’s a conspiracy … we were being threatened … look at what they’re doing … everybody’s been doing it ... I’m being victimized … they’re to blame.”
This deny-diminish-deflect pattern is all too human. It arises in the maneuvers of respectable folks as well as rogues. And, sadly, it can be found all over the place these days — in politics, business, entertainment, religion, etc. (e.g., the Clinton email fiasco).
Americans are rarely surprised to see the scoundrel’s script unfold in news from other nations. But it’s awfully prevalent here now too. A major episode at a time once seemed the norm (e.g., Nixon reacting to Watergate). But lately it is not unusual for multiple instances to fill the media, simultaneously involving figures from Wall Street, Washington, and elsewhere.
Must I name names? I suppose we each have our own lists of favorite examples. (Frankly, I’ve forgotten many names on my own list by now.)
This adds to signs that American society is corroding. American-style capitalism, democracy, and culture already look increasingly dysfunctional. The rising incidence of the scoundrel’s script only makes matters look worse — it’s become as American as apple pie, amplified by new media that are suckers for whoever uses this script adroitly.
I have lost track of all the instances and issues where Trump and his surrogates have resorted to this script. But to my knowledge, they have deployed it more than anyone — and this seems likely to continue after he is sworn in. The issues I recall right now include aspects of his tax records and business practices, shifts in his policy opinions over time, and his ways of using Trump University and Trump Foundation, not to mention sexual antics. I’m sure more could be added to this tentative listing.
By itself, Trump’s frequent usage of the scoundrel’s script may not be a big deal. What makes it seem more significant to me is it’s relationship to the other two reasons I posit in this series of posts for worrying about his psyche. I’d hypothesize that the script is particularly likely to emanate from leaders who have a hubris-nemesis complex (reason #1) and who are prone to tribalism (reason #3). Usage of the script can reinforce and be reinforced by those other two dynamics.
Source: Blog post titled “The scoundrel’s script: deny, diminish, displace” (2008).
Further comment: The scoundrel’s script is not the only script being deployed by Trump and his surrogates (or by others). But it is the one script that has come to my attention because of my work on TIMN and STA:C.
My sense is that reversions to the tribal form — tribalism and tribalization, especially when voiced in the media — increase people’s use of the scoundrel’s script. It’s a way to manipulate people’s space-time-agency perceptions. Reversions to the tribal form may also increase the appeal of hubris and nemesis scripts.
The information technology revolution may account for some of this, for it provides both scoundrels and their detectors with new opportunities and capabilities. The new technologies — e.g., new record-keeping and information-sharing devices, huge computerized databanks, various types of surveillance and monitoring systems, plus email systems, blogs, websites, and online chat rooms that enable multiple isolated victims to find each other faster and more effectively — make it more difficult for scoundrels to hide. The growing vigilance of investigative media and watchdog NGOs also make it likelier that scoundrels will eventually be exposed. But this won’t stop new ones from coming along. For these same technologies also enable scoundrels to fight back and reposition themselves.
Slightly edited version of text first posted on my Facebook page, December 30, 2016.