Illuminating Denial of Death
© 2016 Ernest Becker Foundation
“…what better way to forge a nation into a unity, to take everyone’s eyes off the frightening state of domestic affairs, than by focusing on a heroic foreign cause?”
—Ernest Becker, Escape from Evil, p. 98
This advertisement for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign compares two hypothetical American futures. The first, with Hillary Clinton as President and presented as “rigged against Americans”, is one in which illegal immigrants consume social security benefits, and terrorists, implicitly linked to Syrian refugees, threaten the security of everyday Americans. The second, with Donald Trump as President, boasts secure (i.e. closed) borders that keep the American people safe. The guiding message is simple; the solving of domestic issues is as simple as detaining, deporting, or otherwise punishing foreign out-group members. This is not a unique strategy; though perhaps the most famous example of the political use of scapegoating is the blaming of the Jewish people for problems faced by interwar Germany, more recent targets include China (Chen, 2010) and African-Americans (Krugman, 2007). Why is this technique so popular? An application of Ernest Becker’s work to this blaming of American issues on illegal immigrants and Syrian refugees reveals it is not a mere rhetorical trick; scapegoating appeals to our deepest concerns about our existence as an animal that has to die and knows it.
In his masterful Escape from Evil, Becker applied the final thesis from The Denial of Death, that humans create symbolic systems of meaning to allay existential anxiety rendered by knowledge of inescapable mortality (Becker, 1973), to the problem of human evil. He merged Marxist materialism with psychoanalysis, in keeping with the tradition of the Frankfurt School, to arrive at an existential dialectic in which history unfolds as a series of ‘workings out’ of existential concerns on others (Becker, 1975). Scapegoating is one such of these ‘workings out’. Before we get in too deep, let’s unpack Becker’s basic dynamic.
The recognition of death’s inevitability creates anxiety. To manage this anxiety, humans construct and adhere to symbolic systems of meaning, or cultural worldviews, that provide answers to the “big” questions of existence, e.g. Where did we come from? What is the correct way to live? What happens after death? These cultural worldviews also provide avenues for self-esteem maintenance. Together, cultural worldviews and self-esteem mitigate death anxiety by convincing people of their status as contributing members to a symbolic, and thus eternal, world of value and meaning. So, even if physical death is inescapable, one may live on through contributions made to their culture (Becker, 1973). This, however, does not completely solve the fundamental problem, as “the terror of death still rumbles underneath the cultural repression” (Becker, 1975, p. 5). So what does this ‘rumbling terror’ influence? Enter scapegoating.
Here is Becker’s basic explanation of scapegoating: guilt is projected onto the other to be destroyed. According to Becker and other existentialists, guilt develops from existential concerns such as the responsibility of self-creation, the loneliness and danger of individuality, and the limitations and fate of an animal body (see his perceptive passage on the nature of guilt in Escape from Evil p. 32-37). These issues arise from the heart of human existence and have been thusly labeled “ontological” (p. 35) and “metaphysical” (p. 103); simply, guilt is an inherent component of human existence. Guilt is also a very abstract concept that must be concretized in order to be managed. This is accomplished by projecting personal guilt onto out-group members that can then be destroyed, giving the person power over death and allaying their own existential concerns.
Recent social psychological experiments have exemplified this process in a nice way. Sullivan, Landau, & Rothschild (2010) found that exposure to external dangers increased attribution of influence to an enemy figure. In this experiment, and scapegoating in general, disparate dangers and anxieties are focused upon a single target, which can be destroyed, and the problems “solved”. Another study confirmed this grim conclusion; news of out-group deaths minimized anxiety following an existential threat (Hayes, Schimel, & Williams, 2008). We can now see why the use of scapegoating in political advertisements is so widespread and effective; it mitigates the guilt and anxieties of a conscious existence.
Becker, E. (1973). The Denial of Death. New York: Free Press.
Becker, E. (1975). Escape from Evil. New York: Free Press.
Chen, D. (2010, October 9). China Emerges as a Scapegoat in Campaign Ads. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/10/us/politics/10outsource.html
Hayes, J., Schimel, J., & Williams, T. (2008). Fighting death with death: The buffering effects of learning That worldview violators have died. Psychological Science, 19(5), 501-507.
Krugman, P. (2007, November 10). Innocent mistakes. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/11/10/innocent-mistakes/
Sullivan, D., Landau, M., & Rothschild, Z. (2010). An existential function of enemyship: Evidence that people attribute influence to personal and political enemies to compensate for threats to control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98(3), 434-449.
I graduated from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado and am now working on a doctorate in social psychology at the University of Missouri. After, I hope to teach and continue research on terror management theory and related topics.
All four identified manipulation themes are evident in this one-minute advertisement. This ad serves as a summary of all the qualities a President must have to run a successful country. It portrays all of Hillary Clinton’s accomplishments from her time as First Lady to Secretary of State.
From the beginning to the end of the ad, there are shots of real world problems that a country encounters and the ad calmly makes the point that Hillary Clinton is the only one to handle it all, which thus makes her the most qualified person to be our next President. All four identified manipulation themes are evident in this one-minute advertisement. This ad serves as a summary of all the qualities a President must have to run a successful country. It portrays all of Hillary Clinton’s accomplishments from her time as First Lady to Secretary of State. From the beginning to the end of the ad, there are shots of real world problems that a country encounters and the ad calmly makes the point that Hillary Clinton is the only one to handle it all, which thus makes her the most qualified person to be our next President.
The first theme is manipulation through death reminders. In this ad, there are scenes of destroyed buildings while the narrator explains that Hillary Clinton helped a city rise again as the Senator from New York. These are followed by more visions of guns (even Ted Cruz holding a gun) and a jet taking off from a Navy ship showing aspects of war. The narrator also avers that Hillary Clinton spoke to “hostile” leaders while she was Secretary of State. The word “hostile” gives off the idea that these leaders could be a potential threat to our national security and implies that Hillary Clinton is not afraid to handle these leaders, making her seem like a cultural Becker-type hero for America.
For the second theme, “Us” versus “Them,” there is the idea of Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump and the Republicans. Hillary Clinton is shown with children multiple times throughout the ad. This implies that she is defending our culture from the Republicans who do not share the same views on the importance of caring for our children. It is mentioned that Hillary Clinton will take on anyone who tries to take things away from Americans such as Planned Parenthood and social security. The narrator says that Hillary Clinton will keep the Republicans (“Them”) from ripping away all our great progress (“Us”).
The third theme is apocalyptic visions, which is evident in the first few seconds of the ad wherein pollution from a power plant is shown as well as the destruction of a city with clouds of smoke everywhere, all while Hillary Clinton is at the site helping. There is also a picture of an elderly couple that looks distraught because of difficulties with health care. For this theme, Hillary Clinton is shown as the leader who could fix everything in America as well as sustain it and make it better.
The last theme of holy longing, which involves family values and religious beliefs, is shown in the depiction of a family coming together to eat dinner towards the beginning of the ad. With holy longing, there is this sense of family values to which Americans can cling. Closer to the end of the ad, Hillary Clinton is seen speaking to working class Americans where she looks invested in knowing what they have to say. This gives off the sense that she will be there for the American people and gives people reassurance that America is in good hands with someone who understands them and shares their deeply held values and beliefs.
My name is Jennifer Yazzie and I am from a little town called Gallup in New Mexico. I am a senior at Fort Lewis College where I major in Psychology. In the future, I want to go back to the Navajo reservation and help the combat veteran community by assisting in programs that focus on mental health.
In a recent advertisement sponsored by Hillary Clinton’s campaign titled “Sacrifice,” we see several veterans watching Donald Trump speak on television.
Throughout the advertisement, we see images of these veterans and their families. Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for 2016’s presidential election, is heard claiming that he knows “more about ISIS than the Generals” and that he has made “a lot of sacrifices,” while disabled Veterans and the families of deceased veterans watch from their living rooms. It is very clear when viewing this advertisement that ad-makers were very aware of (and attempting to manipulate) our emotional responses when that which we hold “sacred” is threatened. In this ad, we watch America’s veterans, our heroes, being disrespected and discredited for their sacrifices by Donald Trump.
One of the main ideologies of American culture is our sense of freedom that soldiers have fought for in many wars. The image of Donald Trump, a wealthy white man who has never fought in battle, claiming that he has made great sacrifices for our country is the definition of a threat to something we hold sacred. Americans are proud of our military and have been taught to respect and honor our veterans. By showing us the visual of veterans being belittled, this threatens our sacred culture and depicts Donald Trump as the source of the threat.
By using this manipulation, we see Hillary appealing to the viewer’s worldview allegiance (see Burke, Kosloff, & Landau, 2013). Although the theory of conservative shift predicts that, when faced with ideas of their own death, people are likely to become more conservative in their views, this advertisement does the opposite because it illustrates veterans being disrespected by a conservative candidate. Viewers watching this advertisement may thus feel less willing to support Donald Trump after watching the effect his words have on some of our most honored Americans. Hillary Clinton’s campaign uses these powerful images of disabled veterans and the families of deceased veterans alongside footage of Donald Trump mocking the sacrifices made by members of the military.
Burke, B. L., Kosloff, S., & Landau, M. J. (2013). href=”http://faculty.fortlewis.edu/burke_b/Teaching Portfolio/Burke, Landau, & Kosloff 2013.pdf”>Death Goes to the Polls: A Meta-Analysis of Mortality Salience Effects on Political Attitudes. Political Psychology, 34, 183-200. doi: 10.1111/pops.12005
My name is Angelica Root, and I am a Senior in the Psychology program at Fort Lewis College. After I graduate, I plan to attend graduate school to get my master’s degree in forensic psychology. When I am not studying hard, I am out on adventures with my corgi, Lucy!
Hillary Clinton’s campaign ad starts out by showing a very simple house with a sunset in the background with mellow music playing. Then Donald Trump’s voice comes out of nowhere and it shows a child watching TV. Each scene shows elementary age kids watching TV by themselves or with other kids.
In the background you can just hear Trump’s voice screaming nonsense. In one scene, Trump drops an expletive and the kids watching are shocked. Each scene is perfectly matched with a child whose ethnicity Trump is angrily disrespecting. For instance, a Hispanic-looking girl is watching Trump on the TV while he says, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists…” These children all have straight faces with wide open eyes because they have probably never heard this kind of profanity before on the news. In another scene Trumps claims, “I could stand in the middle of 5th avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” Although these children in the ad look very young, they could see the hatred and anger Trump portrays in his speeches. This is a very strategic way to make people afraid and relates well with terror management theory.
There is a theme of manipulation through threats to things we hold sacred throughout this ad. These children’s religion and way of life is being endangered by Donald Trump. There is a sense of terror and hatred toward the American people in this ad. Hillary Clinton is trying to show the American people that our culture and individualism is being threatened by Trump and his negative tactics, which undermine our way of life and bedrock values. The ad later shows a scene that states, “Our children are watching, what examples will we set for them” with a black background and depressing slow music.
As the Becker Foundation website points out, unlike negative, fear-mongering, apocalyptic visions of desperation, ads that appeal to our desire for transcendence and connectedness are generally positive and uplifting. They tap into a deeply human sense of longing, hope, and desire for a deeply spiritual communal connection, which transcends the isolation and selfishness of individualism. This ad attempts to blatantly contrast the apocalyptic violations (and expletives) of Trump in the first 37 seconds with a holy and prelapsarian vision of the future (courtesy of Clinton) in the last 23 seconds. The end of the ad portrays Hillary Clinton talking while kids watch on the TV with smiles on their faces. The lighting is much brighter with nicer soft music. She explains that our children and grandchildren will look back at the choices we make that will help or hurt their future. She explains to the kids that are watching that we as Americans need to make sure that our kids in the future will be proud of this America. The last scene in the ad shows all the Hillary supporters putting up their American flags and clapping for her. She then puts her right hand on her heart and states, “I’m Hillary Clinton and I approve this message.”
My name is Jessica R. Laskowitz and I am a senior at Fort Lewis College. I am originally from Miami, Florida but I fell in love with the Rocky Mountains. I am a psychology major hoping to work as a child/adolescent trauma therapist in the future. Some of my hobbies are skiing and mountain biking with my two dogs.
Political advertisements attempt to have an impact on the way you view the politician and the issues they are for or against. The most common form of advertising politically is through programming on television. One popular strategy used in political ads nowadays is the incorporation of terror management theory to evoke fear in the viewers by what is being portrayed.
There are four key themes that such ads could utilize in this evocation of terror: death reminders, relaying an “Us vs. Them” mentality, apocalyptic visions, and holy longing. The first two themes are what was used in the Donald Trump ad that this essay will analyze. This Donald Trump ad centrally features manipulation through death reminders and the promotion of “Us vs. Them” attitudes. The ad starts off by stating that a 17-year-old male football star was gunned down outside of his home by an illegal immigrant gang member. The ad shows the teen in his football uniform holding a football in one picture and his killer in his prison uniform with a tattoo of a teardrop visible just beneath his eye in another. Teardrop tattoos signify that the person has killed someone. This ad starts off by instilling fear into viewers using terror management, implying that our homes and neighborhoods are not safe because illegal immigrants come to America and join gangs to kill our children. This is both a death reminder and an “Us vs. Them” thought process. The ad dehumanizes the killer by never stating his name and only referring to him as an illegal immigrant gang member. The ad states that the killer had just been released from prison, implying that we are not safe because our current leaders are not strong enough on crime or illegal immigration.
According to a meta-analysis done by Burke, Martens, and Faucher (2010), the use of death reminders increases our desire to have children. This ad shows a child dying, which is another implementation of terror management theory because the viewers will be infuriated that they cannot bring their children up in America without an illegal immigrant gang member killing said child. The death reminder may also have a conservative shift effect such that status quo conservative (Republican) worldviews become more attractive after mortality salience (Kosloff, Burke, & Landau, 2016).
The ad adheres fervently to an “Us” vs. “Them” mindset via its usage of American culture as a weapon. In America, football is revered as our most sacred sport, one that we (almost) universally cherish. The ad uses makes sure to mention that it was a football star who was killed to solidify the notion that we as Americans are united against illegal immigrants because they threaten our core culture. The ad implies that immigration is taking away something sacred from America and dehumanizes illegal immigrants because it implies that they are all killer gang members who should not be allowed into this country.
The ad concludes with the slain boy’s father coming on to say that he supports Trump because Trump is the only one that is saying “you will be dealt with,” and “he will enforce that,” referencing the killer. He closes his speech by saying “Donald Trump wants to make us great again.” That last quote sticks with viewers because there is a heavy emphasis on the word “Us,” implying that Donald Trump is the only one who can make the American people great again by preserving the essence of (white) American culture.
Burke, B. L., Martens, A., & Faucher, E. H. (2010). Two decades of terror management theory: A meta-analysis of mortality salience research. Personality & Social Psychology Review, 14, 155-195.
Kosloff, S., Burke, B. L., & Landau, M. J. (2016). Terror Management and Politics: Comparing and Integrating the ‘Conservative Shift’ and ‘Political Worldview Defense’ Hypotheses. In L.A. Harvell & G.S. Nisbett (Eds.), Denying Death: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Terror Management Theory (pp. 28-46). New York: Routledge.
My name is Dezlie A. Gibo. I am from Waipunalei, Hawai’i and I am a psychology major with a minor in criminology. I plan on becoming a counselor for abused children with an emphasis in animal-assisted therapy.
This promotional, 30-second, Trump-sponsored ad begins by showing a young American boy who had been killed by a nameless illegal immigrant. The boy’s father is shown expressing the action that Trump will take to prevent illegal immigrants from entering our country and killing more Americans.
Four guileful components found in this ad are death reminders, the idea of us vs. them, apocalyptic visions, and holy longing. Death reminders and fear are the primary drivers of this clip, which should enhance allegiance to more conservative worldviews such as Trump’s (Burke, Kosloff, & Landau, 2013). The video begins by showing a man referred to as an “illegal immigrant” and “gang member” next to the 17 year-old, Jas Shaw, whom he had killed. The illegal immigrant has a face tattoo and a grimace that could potentially invoke fear in any viewer. Interestingly this gang member is unnamed and only referred to as an illegal immigrant, hinting that the populations of illegal immigrants are likely to kill Americans or be associated with a gang. These images remind people of death and loss with the ominous music and dimly-lit imagery.
A powerful depiction of the “Us” vs. “Them” concept relates to Jas Shaw who was shown to have had the interesting distinction of being an American football star. Football is an iconic and beloved American sport; this, along with his death from a foreigner, embodies a threat to the American way of life as well as people’s cultural and religious beliefs and values. This could strengthen the viewer’s notion of keeping our culture unchanged and unharmed from external dangers (“Them,” the immigrants) that threaten the American way of life (“Us”). This separation distinguishes, in simple terms, the good guys and the bad guys, making the ideas portrayed to the audience simple, understandable, and compelling.
The apocalyptic visions are seen immediately when the ad shows an illegal immigrant killer and then occupied prison cells, presumably full of other foreign killers amongst us. The apocalypse that is displayed in the ad shows that America is in need of leadership (Trump) as there are foreign dangers that will “kill” us without him. In addition, his slogan “Make America Great Again” implies that the country needs Trump to raise it from its currently somber condition. Jamiel “Jas” Shaw is also shown in an old photograph with his father, which serves to personalize this tragic event. This again is both an apocalyptic vision and a strong death reminder.
Lastly, Trump’s ad demonstrates the idea of holy longing by adding uplifting music towards the end and showing a crowd of supporters cheering him on as he chants his slogan, with Jas Shaw’s father saying that Trump will make America safe from immigrants again so that what happened to his son will not happen to anyone else and that “It’s a beautiful thing.” American flags and patriotic imagery reinforce cultural values and hint to the viewer that America will flourish once Trump is elected.
Burke, B. L., Kosloff, S., & Landau, M. J. (2013). Death Goes to the Polls: A Meta-Analysis of Mortality Salience Effects on Political Attitudes. Political Psychology, 34, 183-200. doi: 10.1111/pops.12005
My name is Sarab Khalsa and I am from Española, New Mexico. I am currently a senior and psychology major at Fort Lewis College and I am planning to attend graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in clinical/counseling psychology.
Political ads have played a prominent role in many elections as the way to reach voters and guide them to the politicians’ side. We see them on our televisions and they slowly creep into our unconscious to sway our vote one way or the other.
One commonly employed set of strategies in these ads is to invoke the central principles of terror management theory in hopes of scaring the American people into voting for said candidate or getting them to NOT vote for the other candidate. This short essay will attempt to prove the latter through the use of a Hillary Clinton campaign ad. In the Clinton ad being analyzed, the ad-makers utilize death reminders and the idea of “Us vs. Them” to highlight two key aspects of terror management theory—mortality salience and in-group bias (Burke, Martens, & Faucher, 2010). Using the first theme, death reminders, the ad begins by showing Republican candidates saying things like, “I would bomb them” or “Bomb them into oblivion.” This could unconsciously activate fear of bombing or a new World War for viewers. The ad includes Clinton responding to these quotes by vowing to protect the American people. The clever use of these quotes only including “them” also lends itself to the “Us” vs. “Them” theme of in-group bias, leading the viewers to wonder, who is the “Us” in this equation?
The Clinton ad instills fear into the hearts of the viewers. This fear, according to terror management, could lead the viewer to do many things, including vote for and support Hillary Clinton. According to Burke et al. (2010), the use of fear and death reminders can lend itself to both the increase in bias against other genders as well as an increase in helping. Clinton bets on the increase of both these due to her ad. The only Republican opponents shown in this ad are men which could push the idea that Clinton, a woman, is in fact better for this job due to her gender. Later on in the ad, Clinton asks for help from the American people and her viewers to make sure to “Stand with her” to help make sure these men do not win the Presidency. By activating gender and mortality salience simultaneously, the ad could bolster worldview allegiance effects and encourage women to support their own in-group (Burke, Kosloff, & Landau, 2013).
Kate Suazo is a senior psychology student at Fort Lewis College. Originally from Bernalillo New Mexico, she plans to graduate in April 2017. After she graduates, Kate plans to go straight into graduate school to get her MSW.
When watching Donald Trump’s political advertisement entitled “Donald J. Trump is the Only President Who Can Fix America,” it is clear that the writers used manipulation techniques supported by Terror Management Theory in order to convince Americans that Donald Trump is the right choice for President.
The most prevalent of these themes include manipulation through death reminders and manipulation through threats to things we hold “sacred.” The advertisement begins with dark ominous music and photos of Hillary Clinton. Photos of terrorists holding guns in a hostile manner then quickly follow. This fear of terrorism that is ubiquitous in America is a clear tactic of manipulation through death reminders. A meta-analysis showed that images of terrorism can in fact function effectively as a death prime (Burke, Martens, & Faucher, 2010). When advertisements attempt to use this sort of manipulation, they associate a commonly shared fear with the thought of the opponent. By playing dark music and associating Hillary Clinton with photos of terrorists, the authors imply that terrorism will loom even larger should she become President. When people are reminded of death, they want to feel protected and thus they gravitate toward charismatic and potentially conservative leaders (Burke, Kosloff, & Landau, 2013). In this case, the advertisement indicates that only Donald Trump will protect the American people from harm.
Another tactic of manipulation through death reminders used in this advertisement is the idea of “social death.” One of the most frightening thoughts for individuals is the idea of failing, which is what “social death” implies. The Trump campaign attempts to ignite the idea that, if Hillary were President, the entire country would fail; this is done by stating that her presidency would result in American people losing their “Jobs, Homes, and Hope.” American people are terrified of high unemployment and a failed economy because capitalism is a bulwark of U.S. culture; economic recession indicates that the “American Dream” may be unachievable.
This mortality salience causes a need to defend one’s culture and follow someone who will stalwartly defend it. In this Donald Trump for America advertisement, it is clear that manipulation through threats to things we hold “sacred” is used in order to associate Trump with defending our country. After the audience experiences the terror that comes with Hillary Clinton, the music softens and Trump’s face appears. It states that in “Donald Trump’s America, the American Dream [is] Achievable Again.” This slogan is extremely appealing to Americans because the American Dream is a sacred value in our culture. The ad’s goal is for viewers to come away with a feeling that Donald Trump is the candidate who will protect our most ardently held and sacred cultural values.
My name is Caroline Findlay and I am a senior at Fort Lewis College. I plan on graduating with a degree in psychology this December 2016. After graduation, I hope to further my studies in neuropsychology in graduate school. When I am not working on my degree, I love to hula-hoop!
In the beginning of the ad, the narrator states “behind all the glitter lies this dark truth.” While that is being said, Hillary Clinton is shown with a Hitler-like hand raise and a blurry dark American flag in the background. This triggers emotions to associate Hillary with Hitler, a famous dictator who would take away our hope and future—the ultimate apocalyptic vision.
The directors also employ certain facial expressions and body language with specific backgrounds to emphasize this salient point. For instance, Clinton is shown with her face pursed and lips drawn tight, a micro-expression sometimes associated with lying; this is coupled with the Oval Office in the background to imply that she would lie as President. The apocalyptic vision deepens with her policy plans, with the ad claiming that, in Hillary Clinton’s America, taxes would keep rising, while the background displays a family of four outside a classic small white urban neighborhood house looking sad and hopeless with heads drooping. This increases the desire for a strong leader to pull our nation together and give that hard working middle class family hope.
A classic death reminder then ensues, as the ad shows three Middle Eastern-looking men in the back of a truck with AK-47s and head wraps flying an assumed Islamic state flag with the claim that terrorism would only get worse under Clinton. Images of terrorists reliably make mortality salient (Burke, Martens, & Faucher, 2010). The ad quickly pans to the White House with dark ominous clouds behind it and another shot of Hillary in a dictator-like pose with the words “Losing our hope, home, and jobs.” This is another manipulation through death reminders, attempting to make the audience feel scared and thus seeking protection. Empirical evidence on terror management theory suggests that Republican candidates should put death reminders in their ads, because the default reaction to such reminders is a conservative shift, wherein people tend to become more conservative in their political views due to the death-buffering potential of these ideologies (Burke, Kosloff, & Landau, 2013.
The next scene moves to Donald trump looking happy and heroic, giving the camera a big two thumbs up. It quickly shifts to a military family being reunited then many military and law enforcement personnel standing in front of a jet. The text that appears as soon as the switch is made is “In Donald Trump’s America,” which lingers until it pans over a battleship safe in an American harbor. This tells the viewer that Trump’s America will keep you safe from Hillary and the terrorists. The frames speed up to where they were almost flashes and you cannot see much, other than that people are happy and safe and the colors are brighter. This implies—without giving the viewer much time for reflection—that Trump will indeed be the President and cultural hero (in Becker’s terms) that will pull the nation out of the “dark times” we are presumably facing.
My name is Johnathan Cannon and I am a senior at Fort Lewis College pursuing a degree in Psychology. After I graduate, I plan on going into firefighting and possibly getting a paramedic license, as well as getting more into international mission work.
In this political ad, “Donald Trump’s America,” sponsored by Donald J. Trump for President (2016), the director contrasts different visions of America under the two main presidential candidates. The ad masterfully paints a dichotomous image of the prospective Clinton administration versus that of the Trump administration.
Death reminders and threats to values—two key terror management themes—play prominently in Clinton’s segment. The caption “Hillary Clinton: U.S. should take 65,000 Syrian refugees” adorns a photo with hundreds of refugees in the background [00:04]. Coupled with images of a line of supposedly undocumented immigrants detained at the border [00:06] and individuals handcuffed by police officers [00:07], these brief few seconds are orchestrated to strike fear into voters who are tuned in to the fierce immigration policy debate. These images further suggest that undocumented immigrants are outlaws that, together with Syrian refugees, threaten the safety and security of ordinary Americans—thereby triggering mortality salience or death reminders (Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 2015).
The final portion of the Clinton segment mentions phrases such as “skipping the line” [00:11] and “our border open, it’s more of the same [of the current administration], but worse” [00:12]; these confront the hallmark American value of abiding by the law. This threats to values theme was designed to further nudge the viewers towards a more conservative candidate—Donald Trump—as evidenced by the conservative shift hypothesis that people gravitate toward more status quo worldviews when mortality is primed and core values are threatened (Burke, Kosloff, & Landau, 2013).
The ad ends the first dichotomy with Clinton’s hand propping up her face in the foreground with the White House in the back [00:15] all in black and white, seemingly revisiting the motif of apocalyptic vision of gloomy and darkness.
Contrasting with the previous black and white color scheme, the ad turns brilliantly colorful as the helicopter flies into focus and proclaims loudly that “Donald Trump’s America is secure” [00:16]. The voice over stating “terrorist and dangerous criminals kept out” is designed to starkly contrast to the apocalyptic visions previously implied of the prospect of Clinton’s administration. The images of a law enforcement officer arresting a seemingly Hispanic/Latino man [00:19] and military personnel standing tall while clenching onto a rifle [00:21] both provide a counter-narrative to those previous apocalyptic visions. The picture of a husband and wife kissing each other with the son looking on [00:23] fades into the presence of a navy warship docked securely within the harbor [00:25] further invokes a sense of security, which reinforces the theme of holy longing—searching for a better world amidst family and community. The ship fades out as candidate Donald Trump appears confidently in front of the camera [00:26], occupying the final four seconds of the ad—a significant portion is a 30-second ad. His appearance marks the final touch, which delineates the dichotomy of bright and uplifting future versus the previously negative and apocalyptic prospect of Clinton’s candidacy.
Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., & Pyszczynski, T. (2015). The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life. New York: Random House.
My name is Tse Chi “Chad” Yen. I am an immigrant from Taipei, Taiwan and have been living in the United States for almost 20 years. I am a graduating senior majoring in psychology at Fort Lewis College. I plan to enter Law school next year with the intention of completing the Indian Legal Program.