A Glut of Disgust in the 2020 Race

Joe Biden on stage in Cleveland with Donald Trump who shows lots of disgust on his face during the 1st presidential debate of 2020

Oscar Wilde’s most famous play is The Importance of Being Earnest. But I’m here today to talk about the importance of disgust. Like contempt, disgust is an aversive, rejection emotion. But the two emotions are cousins, not twins. Contempt is an intellectual or attitudinal emotion—signaling distrust and disrespect. In contrast, disgust is the single most visceral emotion—signaling that something is poisonous: literally, physically, something stinks or tastes bad, and/or is morally repugnant.

In Tuesday night’s first—and I pray only—2020 presidential debate, Donald Trump oozed disgust—showing that emotion 10 times more often than Joe Biden. So what, you might say. Well, research shows that conservative people have greater disgust sensitivity. In other words, given their tried-and-true, less experimental nature, conservatives are far more likely to reject what’s new and unfamiliar. That conservative, disgust-sensitivity bias would seem to suggest that Trump was on-track by showing a glut of disgust on Tuesday. When, though, is lots of disgust too much of a bad thing?

Here are Tuesday’s emotional results:

A chart showing the percentage of facially coded emotion Joe Biden and Donald Trump showed during the 1st Presidential debate of 2020. Disgust is dominant and threatening

In short, Trump went emotionally overboard and likely repelled undecided voters, who tend to be less interested in and, hence, more emotionally low-key about politics. Take the President’s constant interruptions of Biden and even the moderator, Chris Wallace, then add that lack of decorum to Trump’s massive showing of disgust and now you’ve got someone whose bully-dominance is telling voters intuitively, emotionally—beyond words alone—that he’s prepared to blow everything up to get re-elected. Right-wing militia types like the Proud Boys might be delighted. Largely apolitical voters as well as female suburban voters are, however, likely to be left both appalled and profoundly uneasy, tilting them in Biden’s favor.

…he’s prepared to blow everything up to get re-elected.

Does It Smell Right?

The sense of smell is the oldest, most powerful sense we have. Its even the origins of the brain, meaning it should be I smell, therefore I think – not I think, therefore I am.

Why Has Hatred Become So Prevalent Today?

Released today: episode #21 of “Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight” podcast series, featuring Berit Brogaard, the author of Hatred: Understanding Our Most Dangerous Emotion(Oxford University Press 2020). Listen to the audioclip below and click on the image to get to the new episode.

Photo of Author Berit Brogaard and the cover of her book "Hatred" featured on Dan Hill's EQ Spotlight podcast episode 21
What is it that makes hatred so addicting?

What is it that makes hatred so addicting?

Berit is a Professor of Philosophy and a Cooper Fellow at the University of Miami. Her areas of research include the topics of perception, emotions, and language. She’s published five books, four with Oxford University Press over the past decade, plus The Superhuman Mind, published by Penguin in 2015.

Topics covered in this episode include:

  • The two-fold nature of hatred, which has both a personal dimension and a group dimension to it. Hatred runs hotter and longer than anger, having more intensity and an attitudinal element.
  • How a 6th trait, honesty-humility, is a contender to supplement to the usual Big 5 personality model because it brings into the equation the role of narcissism, and its likely relationship to contempt.
  • How it is that some relatively privileged white men could be so prone to hatred toward women and minorities, with that hatred growing in times of greater economic inequality.

Dan Hill, PhD, is the president of Sensory Logic, Inc.

Monetizing the Presidency

Tump Store cherry blossom White House

Last spring, Donald Trump launched his “Cherry Blossom Collection” available online at his Trump Store, complete with images of The White House appearing below the branding: Trump Hotels. Now for his encore performance, Trump has delayed the release of the Covid-19 economic stimulus checks so that his name can be added to the checks’ memo section. This break in protocol led me to imagine he might want a currency bill of his own. Which national leaders featured on U.S. paper bills would most compete with the highly-emotive Trump? There are two.

Jackson and Franklin on currency with facial coding

First, Trump’s favorite president, Andrew Jackson ($20) wins the sadness sweepstakes with eyebrows both raised and pinched together, creating waves of wrinkles across his forehead. Jackson’s mouth also shows sadness with left corner of his puckered mouth drooping. Second, Benjamin Franklin ($100) wins the defiantly on-guard award. His eyebrows are arched, his eyes wide, and his drawn-up chin collides with firmly pressed lips that hint at a smile while a smirk crowns the left corner of his mouth. It’s quite the feat: surprise in Franklin’s upper face, while his lower faces mixes together anger, disgust, and a hint of a smile overshadowed by contempt (i.e., the smirk).

Let’s imagine Trump really, really, really wants to win re-election. What might that take? My suggestion is that he substitute his characteristically angry, sad and disgust-ridden face for Woodrow Wilson’s tight-lipped look, and re-release the $100,000 gold certificate that was briefly in circulation amid the Great Depression. As unemployment skyrockets, I can’t think of more apt symbolism than that right now.

041620-03 100k Bill

Who Really Is Ivanka Trump, Anyway?

Well, it’s out – not the latest, 140-character tweet from her dad, but a full-length book from Ivanka instead. In Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success, we learn that after a year and a half spent on the campaign trail, the news from from Ivanka is that “I have grown tremendously as a person.”  Perhaps so, but what’s the personality, the emotional base, that Ivanka is starting from?

There are now photographs of Ivanka Trump sitting beside the Donald in the Oval Office, and of Ivanka as “first daughter” attending a women’s leadership conference in Berlin, to go along with photos stretching back to childhood and a first career as a teenage model. The person who emerges from the photos displays most of all a sense of superiority and distance. Contempt is Ivanka’s signature emotion, the one that distinguishes her from the other celebrities I’ve been studying lately. Contempt conveys a sense that others aren’t worthy of respect, which makes Women Who Work a dodgy exercise. How sincerely can you be empowering those you disdain? That leads to another question: who exactly are these women who work if they’re not to be condescended to, even if inadvertently? As it turns out, this book about self-actualization is first and foremost for the actualization of women like the one Ivanka sees in a mirror: wealthy and powerful, with “your team” at work to support their efforts.

How sincerely can you be empowering those you disdain?

Now, contempt actually isn’t an emotion the Donald shows very much. It’s too reflective an emotion for him. So there’s a father/daughter gap there. But alongside the Donald in emotional terms is the other emotion that most distinguishes Ivanka: disgust. Like contempt, it’s an aversive, rejection emotion – only more visceral than contempt. Something “stinks” or tastes bad. Like contempt, disgust is an intimacy and empathy-killing emotion. Women Who Work not surprisingly therefore works as a plug for glambition fully accessorized with Ivanka Trump jewelry.

In Berlin, the conference moderator served up a minor dizzy of a question for Ivanka: “I’d like to ask you, what is your role, and who are you representing: your father as president of the United States, the American people, or your business?” The poised answer: “Well, certainly not the latter.” Plenty of people are hoping Ivanka proves to be a moderating voice that might, if not advance women’s interests, then at least keep them from getting frayed by the Donald’s policies. Those people might take heart from Ivanka’s current reading of Eleanor Roosevelt’s autobiography and her reaching out to Mary Barra and Ginni Rometty, the CEO’s of General Motors and IBM respectively.

Roosevelt, however, exceeded the happiness Ivanka feels while feeling only half as much fear as the First Daughter does. Will Ivanka eagerly fight for what she feels is right? Does she have the guts to hang in there when a very grumpy dad won’t change his mind, readily if at all? His amount of anger shown is over one-third greater than her own.  Ivanka’s brand of feminism is less about any sweeping societal changes than individual self-realization. By her own account, Ivanka liked her life in New York City before the election as much as her dad is wistful about his his pre-administration life. What are the odds that if frustrated , she fires herself from her White House role?