Whether we want to or not, for the sake of America, we must try to understand the Donald Trump phenomenon, as it has completely swept the nation and also fiercely divided it. What is most baffling about it all is Trump’s apparent political invincibility.
As he himself said even before he won the presidential election, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Unfortunately for the American people, this wild-sounding claim appears to be truer than not, at least for the majority of his supporters, and that is something that should disturb us. It should also motivate us to explore the science underlying such peculiar human behavior, so we can learn from it, and potentially inoculate against it.
In all fairness, we should recognize that lying is sadly not uncommon for politicians on both sides of the political aisle, but the frequency and magnitude of the current president’s lies should have us all wondering why they haven’t destroyed his political career, and instead perhaps strengthened it. Similarly, we should be asking why his inflammatory rhetoric and numerous scandals haven’t sunk him.
We are talking about a man who was caught on tape saying, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy.” Politically surviving that video is not normal, or anything close to it, and we can be sure that such a revelation would have been the end of Barack Obama or George Bush had it surfaced weeks before the election.
The psychological phenomena described below mostly pertain to those supporters who would follow Trump off a cliff. These are the people who will stand by his side no matter what scandals come to light, or what sort of evidence for immoral and illegal behavior surfaces.
- Practicality Trumps Morality
For some wealthy people, it’s simply a financial matter. Trump offers tax cuts for the rich and wants to do away with government regulation that gets in the way of businessmen making money, even when that regulation exists for the purpose of protecting the environment. Others, like blue-collared workers, like the fact that the president is trying to bring jobs back to America from places like China. Some people who genuinely are not racist (those who are will be discussed later) simply want stronger immigration laws because they know that a country with open borders is not sustainable. These people have put their practical concerns above their moral ones. To them, it does not matter if he’s a vagina-grabber, or if his campaign team colluded with Russia to help him defeat his political opponent. It is unknown whether these people are eternally bound to Trump in the way others are, but we may soon find out if the Mueller investigation is allowed to come to completion.
- The Brain’s Attention System Is More Strongly Engaged by Trump
According to a study that monitored brain activity while participants watched 40 minutes of political ads and debate clips from the presidential candidates, Donald Trump is unique in his ability to keep the brain engaged. While Hillary Clinton could only hold attention for so long, Trump kept both attention and emotional arousal high throughout the viewing session. This pattern of activity was seen even when Trump made remarks that individuals didn’t necessarily agree with. His showmanship and simple language clearly resonate with some at a visceral level.
- America’s Obsession with Entertainment and Celebrities
Essentially, the loyalty of Trump supporters may in part be explained by America’s addiction with entertainment and reality TV. To some, it doesn’t matter what Trump actually says because he’s so amusing to watch. With the Donald, you are always left wondering what outrageous thing he is going to say or do next. He keeps us on the edge of our seat, and for that reason, some Trump supporters will forgive anything he says. They are happy as long as they are kept entertained.
- “Some Men Just Want to Watch the World Burn.”
Some intelligent people who know better are supporting Trump simply to be rebellious or to introduce chaos into the political system. They may have such distaste for the establishment and democrats like Hillary Clinton that their support for Trump is a symbolic middle finger directed at Washington. These people do not have their priorities straight, and perhaps have other issues, like an innate desire to troll others, or a deranged obsession with schadenfreude.
- The Fear-Factor: Conservatives Are More Sensitive to Threat
Science has unequivocally shown that the conservative brain has an exaggerated fear response when faced with stimuli that may be perceived as threatening. A 2008 study in the journal Science found that conservatives have a stronger physiological reaction to startling noises and graphic images compared to liberals. A brain-imaging study published in Current Biology revealed that those who lean right politically tend to have a larger amygdala — a structure that is electrically active during states of fear and anxiety. And a 2014 fMRI study found that it is possible to predict whether someone is a liberal or conservative simply by looking at their brain activity while they view threatening or disgusting images, such as mutilated bodies. Specifically, the brains of self-identified conservatives generated more activity overall in response to the disturbing images.
These brain responses are automatic, and not influenced by logic or reason. As long as Trump continues his fear mongering by constantly portraying Muslims and Hispanic immigrants as imminent dangers, many conservative brains will involuntarily light up like light bulbs being controlled by a switch. Fear keeps his followers energized and focused on safety. And when you think you’ve found your protector, you become less concerned with offensive and divisive remarks.
- The Power of Mortality Reminders and Perceived Existential Threat
A well-supported theory from social psychology, known as Terror Management Theory, explains why Trump’s fear mongering is doubly effective. The theory is based on the fact that humans have a unique awareness of their own mortality. The inevitably of one’s death creates existential terror and anxiety that is always residing below the surface. In order to manage this terror, humans adopt cultural worldviews — like religions, political ideologies, and national identities — that act as a buffer by instilling life with meaning and value.
Terror Management Theory predicts that when people are reminded of their own mortality, which happens with fear mongering, they will more strongly defend those who share their worldviews and national or ethnic identity, and act out more aggressively towards those who do not. Hundreds of studies have confirmed this hypothesis, and some have specifically shown that triggering thoughts of death tends to shift people towards the right.
Not only do death reminders increase nationalism, they influence actual voting habits in favor of more conservative presidential candidates. And more disturbingly, in a study with American students, scientists found that making mortality salient increased support for extreme military interventions by American forces that could kill thousands of civilians overseas. Interestingly, the effect was present only in conservatives, which can likely be attributed to their heightened fear response.
By constantly emphasizing existential threat, Trump creates a psychological condition that makes the brain respond positively rather than negatively to bigoted statements and divisive rhetoric. Liberals and Independents who have been puzzled over why Trump hasn’t lost supporters after such highly offensive comments need look no further than Terror Management Theory.
- The Dunning-Kruger Effect: Humans Often Overestimate Their Political Expertise
Some support Donald Trump do so out of ignorance — basically they are under-informed or misinformed about the issues at hand. When Trump tells them that crime is skyrocketing in the United States, or that the economy is the worst it’s ever been, they simply take his word for it.
The Dunning-Kruger effect explains that the problem isn’t just that they are misinformed; it’s that they are completely unaware that they are misinformed, which creates a double burden.
Studies have shown that people who lack expertise in some area of knowledge often have a cognitive bias that prevents them from realizing that they lack expertise. As psychologist David Dunning puts it in an op-ed for Politico, “The knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognize that one is not good at that task — and if one lacks such knowledge and intelligence, one remains ignorant that one is not good at the task. This includes political judgment.” These people cannot be reached because they mistakenly believe they are the ones who should be reaching others.
- Relative Deprivation — A Misguided Sense of Entitlement
Relative deprivation refers to the experience of being deprived of something to which one believes they are entitled. It is the discontent felt when one compares their position in life to others who they feel are equal or inferior but have unfairly had more success than them.
Common explanations for Trump’s popularity among non-bigoted voters involve economics. There is no doubt that some Trump supporters are simply angry that American jobs are being lost to Mexico and China, which is certainly understandable, although these loyalists often ignore the fact that some of these careers are actually being lost due to the accelerating pace of automation.
These Trump supporters are experiencing relative deprivation, and are common among the swing states like Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. This kind of deprivation is specifically referred to as “relative,” as opposed to “absolute,” because the feeling is often based on a skewed perception of what one is entitled to.
- Lack of Exposure to Dissimilar Others
Intergroup contact refers to contact with members of groups that are outside one’s own, which has been experimentally shown to reduce prejudice. As such, it’s important to note that there is growing evidence that Trump’s white supporters have experienced significantly less contact with minorities than other Americans. For example, a 2016 study found that “…the racial and ethnic isolation of Whites at the zip-code level is one of the strongest predictors of Trump support.” This correlation persisted while controlling for dozens of other variables. In agreement with this finding, the same researchers found that support for Trump increased with the voters’ physical distance from the Mexican border. These racial biases might be more implicit than explicit, the latter which is addressed in #14.
- Trump’s Conspiracy Theories Target the Mentally Vulnerable
While the conspiracy theory crowd — who predominantly support Donald Trump and crackpot allies like Alex Jones and the shadowy QAnon — may appear to just be an odd quirk of modern society, the truth is that many of them suffer from psychological illnesses that involve paranoia and delusions, such as schizophrenia, or are at least vulnerable to them, like those with schizotypy personalities.
The link between schizotypy and belief in conspiracy theories is well-established, and a recent study published in the journal Psychiatry Research has demonstrated that it is still very prevalent in the population. The researchers found that those who were more likely to believe in outlandish conspiracy theories, such as the idea that the U.S. government created the AIDs epidemic, consistently scored high on measures of “odd beliefs and magical thinking.” One feature of magical thinking is a tendency to make connections between things that are actually unrelated in reality.
Donald Trump and his media allies target these people directly. All one has to do is visit alt-right websites and discussion boards to see the evidence for such manipulation.
- Trump Taps into the Nation’s Collective Narcissism
Collective narcissism is an unrealistic shared belief in the greatness of one’s national group. It often occurs when a group who believes it represents the ‘true identity’ of a nation — the ‘ingroup,’ in this case White Americans — perceives itself as being disadvantaged compared to outgroups who are getting ahead of them ‘unrightfully.’ This psychological phenomenon is related to relative deprivation (#6).
A study published last year in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found a direct link between national collective narcissism and support for Donald Trump. This correlation was discovered by researchers at the University of Warsaw, who surveyed over 400 Americans with a series of questionnaires about political and social beliefs. Where individual narcissism causes aggressiveness toward other individuals, collective narcissism involves negative attitudes and aggression toward ‘outsider’ groups (outgroups), who are perceived as threats.
Donald Trump exacerbates collective narcissism with his anti-immigrant, anti-elitist, and strongly nationalistic rhetoric. By referring to his supporters, an overwhelmingly white group, as being “true patriots” or “real Americans,” he promotes a brand of populism that is the epitome of “identity politics,” a term that is usually associated with the political left. Left-wing identity politics, as misguided as they may sometimes be, are generally aimed at achieving equality, while the right-wing brand is based on a belief that one nationality and race is superior or entitled to success and wealth for no other reason than identity.
- The Desire to Want to Dominate Others
Social dominance orientation (SDO) — which is distinct but related to authoritarian personality syndrome (#13) — refers to people who have a preference for the societal hierarchy of groups, specifically with a structure in which the high-status groups have dominance over the low-status ones. Those with SDO are typically dominant, tough-minded, and driven by self-interest.
In Trump’s speeches, he appeals to those with SDO by repeatedly making a clear distinction between groups that have a generally higher status in society (White), and those groups that are typically thought of as belonging to a lower status (immigrants and minorities). A 2016 survey study of 406 American adults published last year in the journal Personality and Individual Differences found that those who scored high on both SDO and authoritarianism were those who intended to vote for Trump in the election.
- Authoritarian Personality Syndrome
Authoritarianism refers to the advocacy or enforcement of strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom, and is commonly associated with a lack of concern for the opinions or needs of others. Authoritarian personality syndrome — a well-studied and globally-prevalent condition — is a state of mind that is characterized by belief in total and complete obedience to one’s authority. Those with the syndrome often display aggression toward outgroup members, submissiveness to authority, resistance to new experiences, and a rigid hierarchical view of society. The syndrome is often triggered by fear, making it easy for leaders who exaggerate threat or fear monger to gain their allegiance.
Although authoritarian personality is found among liberals, it is more common among the right-wing around the world. President Trump’s speeches, which are laced with absolutist terms like “losers” and “complete disasters,” are naturally appealing to those with the syndrome.
While research showed that Republican voters in the U.S. scored higher than Democrats on measures of authoritarianism before Trump emerged on the political scene, a 2016 Politico survey found that high authoritarians greatly favored then-candidate Trump, which led to a correct prediction that he would win the election, despite the polls saying otherwise
- Racism and Bigotry
It would be grossly unfair and inaccurate to say that every one of Trump’s supporters have prejudice against ethnic and religious minorities, but it would be equally inaccurate to say that many do not. It is a well-known fact that the Republican party, going at least as far back to Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy,” used tactics that appealed to bigotry, such as lacing speeches with “dog whistles” — code words that signaled prejudice toward minorities that were designed to be heard by racists but no one else.
While the dog whistles of the past were subtler, Trump’s signaling is sometimes shockingly direct. There’s no denying that he routinely appeals to racist and bigoted supporters when he calls Muslims “dangerous” and Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “murderers,” often in a blanketed fashion. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a recent study has shown that support for Trump is correlated with a standard scale of modern racism.
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There Was No ‘Unmasking’ Because Flynn’s Name Wasn’t Masked: Former Senior Gov’t. Officials
Another right wing conspiracy theory down the drain.
For days if not weeks the right has insisted various Obama administration officials had targeted former Lt. General Mike Flynn, trying to “unmask” his name from transcripts on intercepted calls with Russian officials.
That was a ludicrous assertion, since “masked” names are masked and no one knows who they are until they are unmasked.
But now, as The Washington Post reports, Flynn’s name actually wasn’t even masked.
“A Republican effort to determine who may have leaked the name of Michael Flynn in connection to his 2016 contact with the Russian ambassador has centered on the question of which Obama administration officials requested his identity be ‘unmasked’ in intelligence documents,” The Post reports.
“But in the FBI report about the communications between the two men, Flynn’s name was never redacted, former U.S. officials said.”
“When the FBI circulated [the report], they included Flynn’s name from the beginning” because it was essential to understanding its significance, said a former senior U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive intelligence. “There were therefore no requests for the unmasking of that information.”
This is a breaking news and developing story. Details may change. This story will be updated, and NCRM will likely publish follow-up stories on this news. Stay tuned and refresh for updates.
‘Social Distancing Inside’: Fox & Friends Celebrates Crowd Protesting Shutdown as NJ Gym Opens Against State Orders
“Fox & Friends” is applauding a New Jersey gym owner and the crowd that’s come to support his decision to re-open against state COVID-19 orders. New Jersey has the second-highest coronavirus death toll in the country, with more that 10,000 people succumbing to the virus.
All morning co-host Pete Hegseth has been reporting live from outside the gym in Bellmawr, where a crowd has grown to see the owner’s act of civil disobedience that could lead to more coronavirus infections.
The crowd is filled with people protesting the shutdown order who have also turned the pandemic into politics. Some are holding signs, with at least one reading, “Stay Poor, Vote Democrat.” Very few are wearing masks, no one is practicing social distancing. They are chanting, “USA! USA!” Studies show the louder someone’s voice, the more coronavirus particles can travel and spread.
FOX NEWS ALERT pic.twitter.com/Krh6rw9Sth
— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) May 18, 2020
Hegseth, who infamously said last year he does not wash his hands and does not believe germs are “real” because he cannot see them, says gym members will be practicing social distancing “inside.”
There are about 50 to 100 people standing close together outside the gym.
“We’ll see what the governor does, trying to shut down a small business who’s trying to make a living,” Hegseth tells his co-hosts, who are broadcasting from their homes. He adds that the protestors are “yelling, ‘Open New Jersey now,’ and that’s what you hear from the signs.”
“Ultimately they feel like, ‘Hey, we’ve flattened the curve, we’ve done our part, and now it’s time to let people be responsible individuals.'”
Fox & Friends gives glowing coverage to a New Jersey gym reopening in defiance of a lockdown order, with protesters not wearing masks or social distancing. But Pete Hegseth says “they’re taking protocols, taking temperatures at the front door … social distancing inside.” pic.twitter.com/DtKfjh6z7v
— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) May 18, 2020
“You guys have been a voice for millions,” Hegseth tells the gym owner. They claim they do not meet the definition of catering to the “public” because they have “members.” They say they’re standing up for the 14th Amendment.
Hegseth tells them, “people are resonating with you and your message.”
As of just after 8 AM the police had not yet shut the gym down.
Fox & Friends is banking on a live confrontation this morning between a New Jersey gym owner and the state police. pic.twitter.com/uVUsH0EbO4
— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) May 18, 2020
Even bigger crowd:
totally nuts pic.twitter.com/NH3Ls8hGRM
— John Whitehouse (@existentialfish) May 18, 2020
White House Again Downplays Importance of Coronavirus Testing: ‘Not Preventative’
On Monday President Donald Trump held an hour-long press conference, complete with banners falsely proclaiming “America Leads the World in Testing.” On Tuesday White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who takes her orders directly from President Trump, minimized the importance of testing.
President Trump had bragged about what he claimed was “the unprecedented testing capacity developed by the United States — the most advanced and robust testing system anywhere in the world, by far,” and that the United States was about to “pass 10 million tests conducted — nearly double the number of any other country.”
On Tuesday McEnany appeared to devalue the importance of testing.
“Testing is not preventative,” McEnany told reporters at a short White House press conference. “Preventative is wearing this mask,” she added, holding up a mask but not wearing one.
“Preventative is social distancing,” which the President and many in the White House have refused to practice.
“Preventative is washing your hands. These are measures we need to take to safely re-open, um and then we’ll use testing strategically, for contract [sic] tracing purposes, for example. So, that’s the way it should be used and deployed,” McEnany said, which is at best inaccurate and at worst dangerously false.
Testing is preventative when those who test positive are removed from contact with the rest of the population, via self-isolation or quarantine – something President Trump and his press secretary appear to not understand.
Kayleigh McEnany: testing is not preventative pic.twitter.com/aLQlF8WxwU
— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) May 12, 2020
McEnany went on to lecture a reporter, saying, “every state is better off than South Korea at this moment.”
South Korea has had 258 deaths, thanks to the fast action – including testing – they took immediately.
That’s five (yes, 5) deaths per million people.
Only 18 states have had fewer total deaths than South Korea. None have come close to that nation’s per capita death rate.
White House reporters noted McEnany left the press conference without wearing a mask.
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