Posts Tagged ‘social dimension’

The Psychology That Binds Trump Fans to His Racism

July 23, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Kathleen D. Vohs in the Outlook section of the 21 July 2019 issue of the Washington Post. Vohs is writing about Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance. This theory will be returned to later in this post, but the article reminded HM that psychological theories can account for Trump and his supporters.

There have been many posts about Kahneman’s Two System view of cognition. There was a previous post titled Kahneman and Identity Based Politics that provides a large portion of the explanation for Trump and his followers. In Nobel Lauerate Daniel Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition, System 1, intuition, is our normal mode of processing and requires little or no attention. System 2, commonly referred to as thinking, requires our attention. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1. When we encounter something contradictory to what we believe, the brain sets off a distinct signal. It is easier to ignore this signal and to continue System 1 processing. To engage System 2 requires attentional resources to attempt to resolve the discrepancy and to seek further understanding.

Emotional processing is a System 1 process. System 1 is fast requiring minimal cognitive resources. Virtually all of Trump’s message is emotional and is processed on System 1. His MAGA message is one founded on hate and fear. Ironically, it seeks to turn the United States back to a time when it was much more racist and fearful of immigrants. There is nothing Great about what he wants to do to the United States.

Unfortunately, to rebuke these views requires System 2 processing. System 2 requires critical thinking, something which many find painful to do, and a recourse to facts and logic. Trump dislikes facts and tells his followers that he is the only source of truth. This is the hallmark of a demagogue, but his followers remain blind to his lies and contradictions.

Here is where Festinger’s Theory of Cognitive Dissonance enters. Our minds do not like to confront dissonant ideas. So the tendency is to reduce the dissonance by shunning the truth. People refuse being called a racist, because racism is bad they, their families, and friends are certainly not racists.

Understand that we individuals cannot determine whether we are racists. We need to infer this from what we are called by others. “Strangers to Ourselves:  Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious”   by psychologist Timothy D. Wilson provides sound research showing that we need to understand ourselves from the reactions we receive from our fellow human beings. Unfortunately, many people remain unaware of this truth.

Perhaps the most prominent or well known example of this is Joe Biden. He has insulted people, but fails to apologize because he didn’t intend to insult them. There might be a problem with his brain, because this is not how it is supposed to function. Should you insult someone inadvertently, and HM has done this so many times that it is painful, apologize for insulting them and learn from this experience.
Many agree that Trump is not just a racist, but one of the world’s foremost racists. Unfortunately Trump’s base consists of Nazis and white supremacists. It is likely that Trump’s followers will deny this, but while they might not be Nazis, they are white supremacists. Indeed, Fox News has succeeded not from its fraudulent fair and balanced news, but by appealing to white supremacists. True they do not use the term, but the beliefs and the hatred of Obama stem from white supremacist beliefs.

Nazism and white supremacists are bad things, but people think of themselves as good people, not bad people. Similarly for their relatives and friends, they are good people, not bad people, so they cannot be white supremacists. But many, and it can be argued whether it’s a plurality or a majority, think that they are.

Trump voters express a variety of problems that are real and not racist. But still, how could they vote for Trump? Characterizing his behavior as boorish is being charitable. Clearly he is not presidential. He is an embarrassment for us regarding foreign nations. It is doubtful that he could pass a high school civics test. He embraces Putin and other totalitarian dictators. As was mentioned in a previous post, the paramount question is where did he get the money to make so many purchases since so many were in cash. He had been bankrupt and no respectable bank would lend him money. Trump’s son said that he got the money from Russia. So why won’t Trump release his financial data? The obvious reason is that he owes Putin and that Putin effectively owns him. All this was apparent before the election. Republicans recognized his faults and denounced him. But once he was elected, and many Healthymemory posts have outlined how Russia supported him, Republicans embraced him. It is clear that what they want is power, and the capability of profiting remuneratively from that power.

Expect Republicans to keep defending Trump. The Mueller report is not needed to impeach Trump. His behavior, which has worsened since he became President, is sufficient. Plus, how can the United States afford a president who is indebted to a hostile foreign power? Nevertheless, Republicans will ignore the facts and continue with the false narrative being advanced that Trump is the victim. This 1984 scenario is the only one that will save Trump.

Trump’s false claims about being the victim are clearly motivated out of desperation and are wrong, but to realize this it takes System 2 Processing, which requires mental effort and might be painful, so clearly Trump is a victim. Some people are for Trump for religious reasons, but religions that promote Trump have a political agenda. And for true Christians, they might want to switch to a Christian sect that is more in accordance with Christ’s teachings.

There is another dimension to consider, and that dimension is truly enormous. That is the social dimension. Although psychology provides an understanding of Trump’s support, unfortunately it provides little in the way of knowledge for changing people’s minds once they are firmly set. Usually this takes significant time. Abandoning Trump would likely produce frictions within families and among friends. So a thinking person needs to proceed carefully. One option would be to remain silent, but to use the ballot box to record one’s true and well reasoned opinions.