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New Trump Donor Survey Divides, Disinforms, And Ends in Dark Patterns

Editors of Novel Science

Former President Trump shared a new survey with over a million of his followers on April 12th saying it was the “ONLY way to make sure I hear your voice.” The survey was rife with divisive rhetoric, disinformation, and dark patterns used to trick people into donating more than they intend.

Dark patterns are ways websites and apps trick people into doing things like subscribing or donating money. Often companies that do use these patterns issue an immediate notice so you can cancel it then, but many people reported only realized it once thousands had gone missing.

The framing may, intentional or not, draw readers who feel unheard. In the past several months, a barrage of repetitive messaging asserted they were being silenced. The data suggest otherwise, but perception is what matters.

The survey begins with what might appear to be a jest out of context, but the language follows a longstanding pattern of dehumanizing those who do not support former President Trump. Democrats and “RINOs” are often the subjects of his extreme rhetoric. The insults are often far worse than any made about America’sadversaries.

Both the insistence that true Americans support the President and that everyone else is a Democrat are attempts to impose black and white thinking on supporters.

Several questions appear to be sincere efforts to gather intel, but the questions then switch to manipulative rhetorical devices[1].

The form contains a series of questions about President Biden’s performance. Although one earlier question offers both positive and negative responses, a litany of negative only response prompts echo familiar talking points. Repetition begets familiarity, and it is startlingly easy to mistake familiarity for truth.

Following the negative series, the questions shift to asking how readers feel. The framing leaves them with little option in how to answer.

The survey asks if Biden is the blame for the border crisis and the wall, two subjects for which there has been recent coordinated inauthentic activity online. The tactic is generally used to influence public discussion.

Polls indicate that around half of Americans feel Biden is at fault for the Border situation although the evidence doesn’t show that either President Trump or Biden drove the surge of migrants. Still, if you argue one, it’s hard not to argue it for both.

Warmer weather following a year of pandemic-suppressed migration, an unexplained choice to delay responding to the increasing number of people, and the political tumult in South America are most likely responsible. The evidence not only fails to support that Biden is responsible for this, it directly contradicts that assertion.

Questions lead the participant down a narrow mental framework.

“Do you agree that Joe Biden and the Democrats should prioritize American citizens over illegal aliens?” and “Do you agree we must do everything we can to STOP the Left from RAISING your TAXES?” the text asks.

The question neglects some critically important detail about those taxes — they’re corporate and cutting them in 2017 added trillions to the federal debt[2]. If informed consent were required to donate, these questions would likely not be legally sufficient.

Currently, elected officials are relatively free from repercussions for misleading constituents. Some argue that voters punish leaders for their lies. That may be true for bad liars, but it fails to account for skilled liars or the power of strategic communications.

“The methods used are so effective that the average person is entirely at the mercy of those now in command of the forces by which he is manipulated.”
“Are We Victims of Propaganda? A Debate.” Forum Magazine 81.3 (1929) [3].

When readers are asked if Biden and the Democrats should choose Americans over migrants, it does two things. By asking about the situation rather than arguing it is true, that sidesteps the need to support their argument. Instead, it is dogma, and respondents are steered toward emotion.

While the notion that any elected officials have chosen foreign citizens over Americans is, of course, open to subjective interpretation, it’s difficult to argue in view of all facts.

Former President Trump has argued in the past that refugees cost Americans money, which he says is unfair to native-born citizens; however, it neglects information the Trump administration itself discovered through an HHS study.

The study, which leaked to the press, found refugees “contributed an estimated $269.1 billion in revenues to all levels of government” between 2005 and 2014.

The Trump administration cited these same HHS study estimates, which found that refugees cost the government $3300 per year versus $2500 for the average American, in a budget proposal. The proposal neglected any mention of return on investment, which is unusual for a cost-benefit analysis.

The critical point is we see an economic benefit in the long term, something that bore out in the George W Bush Presidential Center research on immigration. The Center study reported:

“When immigrants enter the labor force, they increase the productive capacity of the economy and raise GDP. Their incomes rise, but so do those of natives. It’s a phenomenon dubbed the ‘immigration surplus.’
Immigration has net benefits. The fact that it has some costs is not a reason to bar it, but rather to manage it.”
-George W Bush Institute Report

Of course, the answer to the troubling dogma was simple — easy to understand, symbolic, and something that seems like it would work on the face of it: The wall.

That the wall would fail is a conclusion found across the political spectrum. An immigration policy analyst from the Cato Institute, a conservative think-tank rated highly for factual reporting but also highly for political bias, commented:

“Even if you get a sea-to-shining-sea wall, then people would just build ladders, ramps, and other ways — tunnels — in order to get around it,” Bier said. “It’s just not reflective of the reality, which is people will come if they want to come.”

Most experts’ issue with the wall fails to reach ideological discussion because the argument is flawed from the get-go.

A wall never had the ability to secure the US border or halt illegal immigration–even if you were in favor of the purported goal. The wall is more a monument to ideology than border security. Walls tried in the US, Europe, and Asia all failed. We can ill-afford to pour billions into the solution that wasn’t.

Again, we see the reader’s worldview prescribed for them. The Left™ wanting to turn the nation into one of big government is dogmatically claimed in the prompt. By asking the reader if we should stop this scenario, the survey both prescribes a world view and leaves the reader unable to answer anyway but yes.

The survey that was a person’s only chance to be heard tells the reader that their response has been sent directly to the President. The blue square shakes to suggest that I should donate $250, which would quickly multiply. When I failed to act quickly on the page, a pop-up appeared. It further urged me to donate now.

I have been selected. President Trump wants to see my name on his donor list. This returns me to the previous donation page. If I failed to pay attention, I would very quickly be in a bad way. Nearly 80% of Americans could not afford a $400 surprise bill, and that was before the pandemic.

The boxes come pre-checked asking if I’d like to put my name on the Official Founding Member Donor List by making this a recurring donation. Then, it also asks if I want to step up and donate an additional amount, which would be the amount that I selected for my first donation, $250 in this example.

Image Credit: NY Times, 2021.

That would come out on April 30th. I’ve been led to this place after a series of questions that seem as if designed to inflame grievances commonly voiced by Trump supporters. The survey paints a picture of an idyllic life fading away and my last hope, former President Trump, is now asking me for anything I can spare to save it.

People of limited means report having been pulled in by this, only to find they’ve had their accounts drained.

Stacy Blatt was in hospice care last September listening to Rush Limbaugh’s dire warnings about how badly Donald J. Trump’s campaign needed money when he went online and chipped in everything he could: $500.

It was a big sum for a 63-year-old battling cancer and living in Kansas City on less than $1,000 per month…When his utility and rent payments bounced, he called his brother, Russell, for help.

What the Blatts soon discovered was $3,000 in withdrawals by the Trump campaign in less than 30 days. They called their bank and said they thought they were victims of fraud.

“It felt,” Russell said, “like it was a scam.”

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References


1) Henderson, G.L., Braun, M.J., Adams, L.L., Bazerman, C., Chaput, C., & Dunmire, P. (2016). Propaganda and Rhetoric in Democracy: History, Theory, Analysis. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.


2) Bennett, B., Thakor, A. V., & Wang, Z. (2019, September 3). Stock Repurchases and the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. SSRN. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3443656.

Corser, M. (2019, December 17). Still terrible at two: The Trump tax act delivered big benefits to the rich and corporations but nearly none for working families. Economic Policy Institute. https://www.epi.org/publication/Trump-tax-act-still-terrible-at-two/.

Curran, E. (2020, December 29). Ten Ways Covid-19 Has Changed the World Economy Forever. Bloomberg. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-12-30/ten-ways-covid-19-has-changed-the-world-economy-forever.

Emanuel, K. (2019, May 31). U.S. Investment Since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. IMF. https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WP/Issues/2019/05/31/U-S-46942.

Gardner, M. (2019, April 11). Corporate Tax Avoidance Remains Rampant Under New Tax Law. ITEP. https://itep.org/notadime/.

Gardner, M. (2021, February 3). Amazon Has Record-Breaking Profits in 2020, Avoids $2.3 Billion in Federal Income Taxes. Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. https://itep.org/amazon-has-record-breaking-profits-in-2020-avoids-2-3-billion-in-federal-income-taxes/.

Hanauer, A. (2021, March 25). Corporate Tax Reform in the Wake of the Pandemic. Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. https://itep.org/corporate-tax-reform-in-the-wake-of-the-pandemic/.

Paulson, M. (2018, September 19). The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: Extending Changes to Individual Taxes. Penn Wharton Budget Model. https://budgetmodel.wharton.upenn.edu/issues/2018/4/11/the-tax-cuts-and-jobs-act-extending-changes-to-individual-taxes.

Richter, F. (2020, March 5). Infographic: Tax Cuts Push Stock Buybacks for Big Pharma. Statista Infographics. https://www.statista.com/chart/21056/big-pharma-money-spent-on-research-and-buybacks/.

Szmigiera, M. (2021, March 30). Quality of infrastructure: countries with best infrastructure 2019. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/264753/ranking-of-countries-according-to-the-general-quality-of-infrastructure/.

T&R Staff. (2020, June 4). Corporate Stock Buybacks Hit Record Levels. Treasury & Risk. https://www.treasuryandrisk.com/2020/06/04/corporate-stock-buybacks-hit-record-levels/?slreturn=20210306101502.

Troise, D. J. (2019, April 4). US companies’ tax windfall fuels record share buybacks. AP NEWS. https://apnews.com/article/438fae12f9204b1fbd8e8b1985ae554f.

World Inequality Lab. (2018). World Inequality Report 2018. Global Inequality Data. https://wid.world/.


3) Martin, Everett Dean, and Edward Bernays. “Are We Victims of Propaganda? A Debate.” Forum Magazine 81.3 (1929): 142–49. Library of Congress.

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