Filmmaker Ken Burns delivers the Stanford commencement address. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)
The current Republican Party nominee for President is characterized as having extremely negative personal characteristics. We hear repeatedly that Donald Trump hates women, Mexicans, and disabled people.
The technique used to create these characterizations is called Malicious Extrapolation. Here’s how it is employed:
--Donald Trump criticizes his political adversary, who happens to be female. Donald Trump hates women!
--Donald Trump accuses District Judge Gonzalo Curiel of having a conflict of interest as he presides over a civil fraud lawsuit against Trump University. (The judge is Hispanic.) Donald Trump hates Mexicans!
--Donald Trump makes fun of a journalist who is critical of him. The journalist has a physical disability. Donald Trump hates people with disabilities!
In each case, a particular incident is extrapolated to become an expression of extreme prejudice toward a particular identity group. Coincidentally, in these examples, each identity group is aligned with the Democratic Party.
Let’s put all this in context.
Kristen Wiig is an entertainer known for her sketches on “Saturday Night Live.” She has portrayed several characters, one of whom is “Dooneese.” Dooneese appears to have various physical impairments, but never has Kristen Wiig been accused of mocking people with disabilities. Instead, our culture seeks out Donald Trump.
Malicious extrapolation is wildly successful in the realm of political theater. Two public figures recently demonstrated how malicious extrapolation became a transformational event in their personal lives.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a justice on the Supreme Court of the United States. She aligns with the liberal wing of the bench, but tries to maintain an air of impartial objectivity.
That broke down in July of 2016. NY Times reporter Adam Liptak wrote an article describing her as thinking she would move to New Zealand if Donald Trump were to become president.
Her remarks, while heartfelt, were impolitic. Members of the judiciary are expected to avoid taking sides in political campaigns. Justice Ginsburg was overcome by the impact of malicious extrapolation. It transformed her.
Another example comes from documentary film maker Ken Burns. He is well respected in his field, and took the opportunity of a speaking engagement at Stanford University to illustrate the transformative power of malicious extrapolation.
Mr. Burns (pictured above) was asked to speak at the graduation ceremony for the class of 1916. He began his remarks with information on his work over the past few decades, but felt obligated to display his extreme prejudice against Donald Trump.
His remarks were well-received by the attendees. Nonetheless, his comments were well outside the norms for a graduation speech. Malicious extrapolation moved him to inappropriately lash out against a fellow American.
Malicious Extrapolation helps diminish and isolate its targeted victims, but as Mr. Burns and Justice Ginsberg have learned, it also causes people to mistrust the authority figures that use the technique or come under its spell.
This week another example came from a blog by Scott Shackford at reason.com. Mr. Shackford describes how various reporters have styled the content of a speech by Donald Trump as being anti-military.
The actual transcript of the speech doesn’t support this notion, but those reporters chose to portray Mr. Trump’s remarks in that fashion. They practiced malicious extrapolation.
Political Religious Movements tend to use this technique to a greater degree than other entities. It serves them as the vehicle for instilling hatred against a particular identity group. Our cultural leaders simply repeat the malicious extrapolation over and over until it becomes Truth.
Malicious Extrapolation: It just works.
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