And what it tells us about persuasive communication
By Tara Trask
Regardless of your views of Donald Trump, one thing is certain: he has impacted the American political system in a way no other candidate has in recent history and he has both been impacted and not been impacted by the media in ways no other candidate has in recent history. Many would argue that he has, for reasons unknown, or at least too challenging to tackle here, not been subject to the same laws of cause and effect that most politicians running for office face.
Until Khazir Kahn.
Only time will tell if the fallout from Trump’s comments to and about the Kahn family will have lasting implications, but at the very least, the world has for a few days returned to a place where certain laws of nature exist for all—including Trump. It’s caused me to consider these “laws” in terms of how they impact those of us who work to persuade jurors. I think we would all do well to remember these universal truths regardless of how they impact Trump’s campaign in the future.
Acknowledge and empathize
Trump’s failure to acknowledge the Khan’s pain over the loss of their son served as the initial catalyst, and his ongoing remarks continue to stoke the flames. Trump was, of course, under no obligation to take responsibility for or apologize for that pain, but his seeming unwillingness to even see or understand it has been a real issue. This has clear implications for those who persuade jurors. We all know that product makers, healthcare professionals, large corporate entities and others that find themselves entangled in litigation where people are either hurt, or otherwise damaged, often cannot and should not apologize. However, showing empathy for harm and pain, whether responsible or not, is just the more human way to respond. The level of backlash Trump has sustained may well have been mitigated by a sympathetic phrase at the outset of his response. Lesson: Acknowledge pain or harm and offer empathy where you can.
Pick your battles
On one side, a family who sacrificed a son in the line of duty, on the other, a billionaire who claims to have made “lot of sacrifices” including having “worked very, very hard,” having created “thousands and thousands of jobs and built great structures.” This is not the fight to take on. There is no way to win. Amazingly, Trump surrogates appear on television continuing the fight by advancing this rhetoric. There is no way to equate hard work or risk with death. That is a losing battle from the start. Lesson: Don’t take on fights you have no way to win.
Know when to quit
Due to Trump’s incessant digging, even nude photographs of Melania Trump emerging in the New York Post couldn’t get the news media off the Khan story for days. Donald Trump continued to counter with new comments on this issue when the Khan family or others kept talking. If Trump had stopped responding, the news media coverage would have ended much earlier than it did. Lesson: If something isn’t working, stop doing it.
Whether the Khazir Khan episode will ultimately influence voters’ views of Trump remains to be seen, but it has certainly been an interesting lesson in perception, communication, and the lines no one can cross without facing repercussions.