Donald Trump triggers deep-seated human instincts

My dad is a locally famed and sincere career politician. All my life I have seen him value public service over personal wealth.  As a young lawyer, he worked in Washington DC for the Department of Justice during the civil rights movement, and he often shares stories of his tour of duty in 1960’s Alabama. After that service, he came back to West Virginia where he has been elected to numerous West Virginia constitutional offices. He taught me, and has been quoted as saying, “Without protection for the least of us, there is no protection for the most of us.”

I have been a wife and a doctor for 20 years. I have been a mother for 17 years. My daughter is 17. When I heard Donald Trump’s 2005 (he was a then 59-year-old man) comments regarding the uninvited grabbing of a woman, I felt not only bothered and disgusted by it, but also minority — like and potentially oppressed. It was an example of what I have seen in this country which has been coined, “the Trump effect.”

It is a phenomenon which I have noticed all along myself and have un-eloquently called his, “bringing out the worst in people.” He brings out the lowest.

The “Trump effect” survey was the SPLC’s (Southern Poverty and Law Center) April 2016 survey of 2000 teachers which showed an increase in bullying in schools.  It was self-describedly “unscientific.”

However, as the SPLC website notes, it is the richest data source we have on this phenomenon and at least approaches the power of large numbers with 2000 survey respondents. The SPLC’s survey report noted students seem “emboldened” to use “slurs” and “inflammatory” language towards others.

Unscientific as it may be, I have seen the phenomenon in adults. Professionals. Fellow physicians. Colleagues. Unscientific? Perhaps, but by definition (of “I know it when I see it”) I didn’t need scientific evidence to tell me it was there.  I know it when I see it.

One colleague, a physician, has taken to disparaging remarks about other physicians’ ethnicity. Another told me a blatant racial joke. I have a physician colleague who religiously brings me extreme right wing presidential campaign propaganda which is often constructed in the form of a joke. I repeatedly tell him, “I don’t think it’s funny.” Worse than that, I think it’s part of the problem.

Again, these colleagues are fellow physicians.  They have attained arguably the highest educational status our country has to offer.

How can this happen? According to Douglas Fields, Ph.D., a neuroscientist and author of, “Why We Snap,” Donald’s banter triggers deep-seated human instincts – instincts of fear, anger, and aggression – which are located in the limbic system.

These human instincts are:

Being part of the tribe: Us versus them. This can be illustrated by the self-proclaimed traditionally Republican newspaper the Cincinnati Enquirer’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton.  They said of Donald, “Trump, despite all of his bluster about wanting to ‘make America great again,’ has exploited and expanded our internal divisions … But going two weeks without saying something misogynistic, racist, or xenophobic is hardly a qualification for the most important job in the world.” They even as of then, “condemned his… offensive remarks to women.”

Threat to environmentIronically, the Cincinnati Enquirer said, “Trump is a clear and present danger to our country.”

Invoking talk or thoughts of life or death situations. Sadly, this instinct was illustrated by Dr. Fields himself by the use of the word “kill” 53 times during the December 2015 GOP debate, versus zero times during the previous GOP debates.

I’ve lately wondered, will my daughter grow up in this milieu? Will this easiness with haphazard degrading remarks, and will similar ease toward racism, sexism and xenophobia stick to our collective unconscious? Will the clock be set back to the 1960s?  The language and the connotation of the 2005 remarks made me wonder about my daughter — as a young woman coming of age, will she be taken seriously in her endeavors?

This lowering effect, this bringing down of individuals in our society, this incitement of these tribal instincts, the rise of bullying, the so-called, “Trump effect,” while it may not be rock-solid science, as a mother of a daughter and a wife and a doctor, again, there doesn’t need to be that for me to know it is there.  I know it when I see it.

So, back to my dad and what he taught me; without each of us being protected, none of us are. Our rights are sacred. Our protection as individuals is at stake with this vile-talking man.  Donald Trump is a magnet for the worst in us.  What I hope for us is a leader who will bring out our best.

The author is an anonymous physician.

Image credit: Joseph Sohm /

View 3 Comments >

Most Popular

✓ Join 150,000+ subscribers
✓ Get KevinMD's most popular stories