The Insidious Art of “Patter” – And How to Resist It

A Leadershit Lesson from Trump

Have you ever felt mesmerized by a politician’s speech or a salesperson’s pitch, almost unconsciously being lulled into agreement? You may have experienced the powers of “patter” – an insidious technique of using strategic repetition and cadence to bypass rational thinking.

At its core, patter involves the strategic use of repetitive verbal patterns, cadences, and vague assertions designed to distract, manipulate, and persuade their victims or “marks” – or lull entire audiences into a trance-like state of rapport. Some key characteristics include repeating key phrases, speaking in a monotonous tone, applying psychological pressure through fearmongering and urgency claims, embedding commands into speech patterns, and using confusing jargon.

It employs many of the same tactics used by hypnotists – creating distraction through a calming rhythm, cadence, intonation and specific keywords or recurring “sleep commands” in the form of repeated phrases, and tapping into the subconscious desire to follow a confident leader. Patter is a core technique used by con artists, hustlers, grifters, and some salespeople to overcome the victim’s resistance and rational decision-making abilities through sophisticated verbal deception.

Although “mantra” may be its legitimate cousin, patter was originated by con artists and grifters. A deeper look reveals however that it has insidiously seeped into countless other facets of society. Media pundits and talking heads frequently deploy patter through combative catchphrases: “You’re either with us or against us!” Personal finance gurus utilize vague mantras like “Wealth awaits those who want it!” as hypnotic calls to buy their latest wealth-building packages. Even protest chants like “This is what democracy looks like!” and “Silence is compliance!” serve as rousing patter if left unexamined.

And of course, the skilled patter artist leans heavily on platitudes and thought-terminating cliches like “It’s time for real change!” or “The system is rigged!” Familiar yet lacking concrete meaning, these vacuous mantras are embedded through sheer repetition to prime audiences’ emotional needles.

Corporate leaders also tap into patter’s powers of repetition and simplicity to “galvanize teams around transformative visions.” What unites them all is extreme positivity and political correctness against the backdrop of solid unverifiability:

  • “We work together with a team spirit” (large public company)
  • “We are transparent and authentic at all times and at all levels of the organization” (large public company)

Worryingly, even many personal development and self-help personalities hawk simplistic maxims like:

  • “Convert every defeat in opportunity“ (Napoleon Hill)
  • “Like attracts like!” (Rhonda Byrne) or
  • “You were born to win!” (Zig Ziglar) or
  • use debt to get ahead (Robert Kiyosaki)
  • “Life was designed to give us what we deserve” (Jim Rohn)

While having a kernel of truth, the deliberate vagueness and repetitive chanting of these unsupported affirmations induces a hypnotic effect more akin to mantras than genuine empowerment.

Of course, the political arena is where patter looms largest. Trump’s “Make America Great Again,” repeated ad nauseam, exemplified simplistic patter allowing supporters to fill in their own meaning while creating patriotic obligation. It’s a way of overwhelming the rational mind through verbal overstimulation and simplistic mantras. The purposeful lack of nuance doesn’t give a less sophisticated listener critical faculties enough to push against.

The iconic leftist L’Internationale lyrics (1871) may be considered one of the best early examples of patter application in politics and leadershit, skillfully reinforced by an unsophisticated tune. Here’s a literal translation of the first verse; it could be quite appropriate to sing on Jan 6, when “hardworking patriots like you (attempted to) save our country” because “our country has had enough”:

Our outraged minds are boiling,
Ready to lead us into a deadly fight.
We will destroy this world of violence
Down to the foundations, and then
We will build our new world.
He who was nothing will become everything!

Modern politicians make frequent use of characteristic patter language in speeches, interviews, and social media. For example, the insistent refrain of “Believe me” as an assertion of authority without evidence; rendering subjective judgments through childlike adjectival repetition – “a horrible, horrible thing”; oversimplifying issues into bumper-sticker binaries of “a total disaster” vs. “a tremendous success.”

Patter aims to make you voluntarily enter a trance, becoming impervious to contradictory facts as you slip into following a comforting narrative over reality. Distinguishing substantive rhetoric from patter is critical – if details are vague, emotions prioritized over rationality, and belief seems the endgame, you’re likely in patter territory.

From street hustlers to political messiahs wielding the dark arts of patter, their smokescreens rely on you remaining unaware you’re being conned. In this era of mass persuasion, resisting hypnotic mantras and demanding forthrightness may be the ultimate way to assert authority over your own mind. Stay wary of patter’s seductive rhythms, simplicity, and Illusory truths – your critical thinking depends on it.

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