LIKE Darcy-Ray Flavell-Hudson from the "ghost chips" drink-driving advert, I've been trying to internalise a complicated situation in my head.

I've repeatedly wondered why voters, both here and in the United States, continue to maintain their allegiances to individual incumbents or to party despite evidence that to do so ignores their own self-interest.

It would be comforting to think in terms of Euclidean geometry and just attribute the behaviour of voters to inertia. You know, a body at rest tends to stay at rest etc.

That's just too easy and it doesn't explain the kind of fierce loyalty voters here extend to their party of choice, whether Labour, National, Greens or Act. Or certainly not the willingness of Trump loyalists to overlook his latest outrageous acts or statements, evidence of misogyny or racism that would easily have doomed another politician.


I've been operating on the idea that language itself is determinative.

In her great book on linguistics and aesthetics, Philosophy in a New Key, Suzanne K Langer posited that language - words themselves - has power. In many hands that power is used to block critical thinking.

She writes: "To name something is to say nothing more about it."

By calling some aspect of behaviour by a name, we can convince ourselves and others that we know something about it, that we've sussed it out most thoroughly, when actually we've done little more than make a more or less meaningless noise but one freighted with emotional connotation.

Think "left" and "right". We often refer to political positions or even whole parties as either left or right. These terms, Wikipedia tells me, take their origin from the era before French Revolution when in the National Assembly the aristocrats sat on the right, the commoners on the left.

The terms "left" and "right" have evolved since 1789 to be used to describe a political party or an ideology. Just as often these words become pejoratives and operate as mind blocks.

Currently, American Public Broadcasting is showing an 18-hour documentary of the Vietnam War by Ken Burns.

Burns has said the timing of this recall of America's longest war before Afghanistan is in response to the divisiveness in the country, divisions begun with the supporters of the war and the opposition.

One American veteran observes: "We were probably the last generation to believe our government would never lie to us."

Previews of the documentary focus on the leaders, five US presidents, who sought to stop the spread of communism.

The word "communism"was emotionally charged, but fatally misunderstood by the US in its application to Vietnam.

The North Vietnamese were acknowledged communists but their goal was nationalistic. The striving for their own independent country superseded any other adhesion.

Their rejection of their Chinese communist allies was only slightly exceeded by their revulsion for their French colonialists and the Americans who tried to occupy them.

That fatal misunderstanding and misreading of "communism" to suggest an expansionist monolith cost the lives of 58,000 Americans, and of many of our allies, including New Zealanders.

It cost the lives of three million Vietnamese, whose initial failing was to believe too much in the declared intention of President Roosevelt after World War II to assure that all nations were free to choose their own form of government.

A review of Donald Trump's campaign oratory shows his repeated use of promises that "his plan" whether for healthcare or economics or taxes, "would make Americans very, very happy". Up until now, his hardcore of supporters - 34 per cent of Americans - have not demanded more than those promises.

A promise of "happiness" like the lure of the word "jobs" that we hear from New Zealand politicians is a big blank cheque. Anyone is invited to fill in their own hoped-for details.

But before you try to cash a cheque, it's a good idea to find out if there's even an active account. A wise friend advised "hope is not a plan". Voters need to ask just what the plan is.

■Jay Kuten is an American-trained forensic psychiatrist who emigrated to New Zealand for the fly fishing. He spent 40 years comforting the afflicted and intends to spend the rest afflicting the comfortable.