Excerpts from Words on Fire

“This book is dedicated to all who were ever labeled any form of the Other, and to those who stood up to bullies, either for themselves or to protect those at risk."

- Dedication from Words on Fire

On Communication and Leadership: 

 

“Communication has power… Communication has the power to change people, to change societies, and to change the world. Communication has the power to comfort, to inspire, to liberate. Communication  also has the power to terrify, to demoralize, and to oppress. Some leaders use communication to help their followers overcome fear. Some use communication to provoke fear. Some leaders use communication to unite; some to divide. Some leaders  use communication to appeal to the better angels of our nature; some to appeal to the worst demons within us.”

-page 5, Words on Fire


“Leaders can also change what people feel, think, know, and believe by pitting groups against each other: divide and conquer. This is often a way for leaders to acquire power at the expense of their own people. They create contention, suspicion, fear. They keep people so focused on the danger of the Other that they have no time or ability to hold the leader accountable.”

- page 15-16, Words on Fire

On Tone from the Top

“In all organizations - families, companies, nations - the leader sets the tone at the top: what we care about; values that drive our decision-making and behaviors; what we reward; what we avoid; and what we punish. Leaders create a culture that sends such signals throughout the organization.”

- page 17, Words on Fire

On Trump’s Language

 

“Donald Trump's language is often incendiary. Sometimes it goes further. Sometimes his words are on fire. His language divides. His language plays to the worst angels of our nature. He uses language in ways that dehumanize, demonize and delegitimize political opponents, critics and minority groups. He unleashes words that cannot be unsaid and that are not easily erased from memory, words that make citizens less empathetic towards one another.”

- page 63, Words on Fire

On Trump’s Speech Patterns

“Trump's language plays to the worst angels of our nature. He uses language in ways that dehumanize, demonize and delegitimize political opponents, critics and minority groups. He unleashes words that cannot be unsaid and that are not easily erased from memory, words that make citizens less empathetic towards one another.”

- page 63, Words on Fire

 

“The way Trump uses language, the consequences of his language and his indifference to those consequences, are all unprecedented for the President of the United States. The more heated his language and the more often he uses it from the pulpit of the White House, the more likely his language is to create a social context in which violence against members of a suspected group is normalized.”

- page 67, Words on Fire

 

“Donald Trump uses language in ways that are unprecedented among presidents of the United States. He uses of a kind of language that the Holocaust Museum Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide labels “dangerous speech”— speech that, under the right conditions, can influence people to accept, condone and commit violence against members of a group.”

- page 139, Words on Fire

 

“One pattern of speech Trump uses is conflation: Trump's tendency to lump together genuinely dangerous people with the group they come and to say that the exception and the general rule are one in the same.”

- page 149, Words on Fire 

On Trump's Dance with White Supremacy

“Looking at Trump’s language from the beginning of the campaign through the first 30 months of his presidency, Trump clearly has embraced a white nationalist approach. It is evident in his patterns of speech, his choice of words and his behavior.” - page 153, Words on Fire

"Trump follows a pattern of deflecting calls to denounce white supremacists, followed by a weak denunciation, then reverting to his prior language."

- page 153, Words on Fire

"The way in which white supremacists respond to the pattern, especially the deflections, is significant. It suggests a kind of dance between Trump and the white supremacist movement, He signals them; they signal back."

-page 154, Words on Fire

On Trump Encouraging Violence

“I conclude that Trump does not necessarily intend the violence. Rather, I believe that he is indifferent to the violence that often arises in the aftermath of his communication. He uses such language because it helps him accumulate power, animate his base, and distract the media and critics, without regard to the consequences of that language. Even when put on notice of the likely consequences, he continues using such language. Sometimes he even intensifies the dehumanization or demonization.”

- page 67, Words on Fire

 

“One of the effects of Trump's language was that people who otherwise would resist the temptation to insult, confront, or commit acts of violence become less inhibited.”

- page 80, Words on Fire 

 

“Without a doubt Donald Trump's language provokes or encourages some people to commit or attempt violence against members of specific groups, as well as against Trump's critics and rivals. There are two possible explanations for Trump's incitement of violence: Either he wants the violence, or he doesn't care about violence.”

- page 159, Words on Fire

 

“Why does Trump use language that provokes and encourages violence? I believe Trump does it because he wants to feel important, powerful. The harm his words may cause does not interest him. He may not even believe that he says. But he does it for the effect it causes, and he is indifferent to the negative consequences to others. I believe that Trump is

a leader who lacks humility and is incapable of empathy. He makes choices based on what will benefit him in the moment. If others are hurt in the process, they are (considered by him) collateral damage.”

- page 161, Words on Fire

How We Can Hold Leaders Accountable for Incendiary Language

"Responsible leaders allow themselves to be held accountable for the consequences of their actions and statements, even when there is not a direct connection between the violence or threats of violence they prompt."

-page 226, Words on Fire

“Donald Trump is not the first leader to put people's lives and safety at risk because of the language he uses. And he won't  be the last. Whether concerning Donald Trump during his tenure as president, or other leaders in government, religion, business, or other sectors, it falls to engaged citizens and civic leaders to recognize the lone wolf-whistles and their significance. And to hold  bot those who send the signals  and the lone wolves who respond to them accountable. This requires and active and engaged and informed citizenry.”

- page 245, Words on Fire

© 2020 by Logos Consulting Group

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