The title of this post is identical to the title of an article in the Comment section of the July 16-22, 2016 issue of the New Scientist. The article asks the question ”How is is possible that a self-absorbed, egoistical billionaire who criticizes Muslims, Mexicans and women could win more primary votes than any Republican candidate in history?
The answer is that reality does not matter to Trump, who sees himself as more powerful than the facts, nor does it matter to those attracted to his claims. Yale philosopher Jason Stanley says that figures such as Trump ruthlessly prey on public fears to reconstruct reality to pander to them.
Psychologist Bryant Welch notes that many people feel beleaguered trying to keep pace with change places ever greater demands on the brain, and this combines with worried about immigration, the economy, unemployment, terrorism, climate change and security. Anxiety makes crowds turn to a power fun commander. Unfortunately, the more this happens, the weaker and less capable people become. Welch makes the comparison to a heroin addict craving larger and larger doses to get the same high. Welch says, “People are mainlining the Trump drug, a cocktail or absolute certainty, strong opinion, and talk of control.” Trump demonizes his opponents saying that they are not just wrong, but idiots. This demonization triggers a primal response, both calming fears and awakening tribal instincts.
Being unhampered by facts and expert evidence, Trump promises: “don’t worry about climate change, it’s not happening; don’t worry about terrorism, we can stop it with force; don’t worry about jobs, we can build a wall to protect yours; don’t fret abut the economy, we can just rip up free-trade deals.” These versions of reality are mentally more comfortable than dealing with uncertainty and anxiety. Trump does not bother with persuading; rather he manipulates fear.
The article concludes as follows: “After the fireworks, the big question will be; will fear, insults, and hate win the White House?”
Previous healthymemory blog posts have used Kahneman’s Two Process theory of cognition, where System 1 is fast, emotional, and System 2 is slow, methodical and requires mental effort. The vernacular term for System 2 is thinking. For democracies to survive, thinking is essential.
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