I had a look into the mind of a Trump supporter today — and it was very disturbing to me.
I knew this particular friend had voted for Donald Trump, but we hadn’t talked about anything political lately. I had recently thought about how he justified his vote for Trump, but I had assumed the way events have played out had made him question that decision.
I was wrong to think that. Instead, my friend has doubled down on his support of Trump. He no longer mentions his previous reasons for supporting Trump. His narrative has changed. But the bottom line is the same: The media are lying and Trump is a wise businessman leading the country to a better place.
The thing that was most frustrating is that this bright and educated guy has turned Trump’s massive anti-trade record into a long-term scheme to bring complete free trade to the world. Seriously. I’m not making this up.
My friend is a supporter of free trade. He agrees with me that it’s nobody’s business if two people or companies want to trade across political borders.
He says that Trump wants no tariffs. He says Trump wants completely free trade. He says that Trump is imposing crippling import taxes on American consumers is designed to force other countries to be “fair.” He accepts Trump’s assertion that other counties’ government are being “unfair” to the U.S. What’s more, he also accepts that it’s a “national security issue.”
If you accept the theory that a politician’s reckless pursuit of a particular policy is a Machiavellian scheme to bring about the opposite of that policy, how in the world can a reasonable person prove that it’s wrong? If the pursuit of the wrong thing is supposed to lead to the good thing, then the more fervently the bad thing is pursued, the more the politician is given credit for doing the right thing.
My friend believes that the media are lying. He told me that at least half of what CNN says is wrong. I told him that most of the facts reported by news organizations are true, even though reasonable people can disagree about the interpretation of the facts and about what constitutes things worth reporting. But he’s convinced the anti-Trump things he hears in the media are all lies.
How can a rational person fight such beliefs?
When I brought up the crazy and irrational things Trump does — attacking people and making threats in public — my friend had an explanation for that, too. He’s just “playing the game,” he said. Trump is just playing “the media game,” he said.
So here’s the way it stacks up:
— If Trump pursues a policy that will destroy the world’s economy, it’s because he wants to stop others from using a lesser version of that policy to destroy us. (And my friend is convinced that these crippling tariffs are going to hurt those of other countries far more than they’ll hurt U.S. consumers and companies, meaning foreign governments will beg to get rid of all tariffs.)
— If Trump threatens people and countries in his tweets, we shouldn’t take those threats seriously, because it’s all just a “media game.”
— If facts come out that prove Trump is lying or doing bad things — even things my friend would disapprove of — those “facts” are wrong. They’re all lies by media people just trying to hurt Trump.
The conversation frustrated me, because there’s no way to refute such a belief structure. Any fact which should prove to be a negative to my friend — who is a traditional conservative who wants far smaller government — is simply proof that Trump is doing the right thing to reduce the size of intrusive government.
Sadly, even if Trump destroys the world economy or brings us to war, this belief system is such that my friend would blame everyone else. It wouldn’t mean that Trump had failed. It would merely mean that his enemies stopped him from doing the right things. There’s no way to prove how false that is.
This is ultimately the problem with cognitive dissonance. If you believe one thing strongly and facts seem to contradict those facts, there must be a reason why the facts are wrong.
It would be easy for people who don’t know him to call my friend an idiot. Many people today believe that anyone who still supports Trump must be an idiot or evil, but the truth is far more complex. He’s a human being who has fallen prey to cognitive dissonance — and he’s found ways to explain away the pesky facts which contradict his previous beliefs.
We all fall victim to this process at time, and the only way to fight it is to understand the psychology behind it and try to be brutally honest with ourselves. The book which opened my eyes to this process — and changed the way I look at the world — is “Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me),” by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. I can’t recommend this book strongly enough. I beg you to read it.
There are a number of delusions at the heart of majoritarianism. One of the biggest ones is that people are rational and most people will ultimately discover truth. There is absolutely no evidence for this, but most people seem confident that the truth will win in the “marketplace of ideas.”
Some supporters of every politician are idiots, but a huge percentage are not. Many are simply deluding themselves in order to unconsciously defend what they’ve previously understood to be true.
That’s true of people who support Trump, but it’s also equally true of those people who support the system of government which put Donald Trump in a position to destroy the world.
If you want to make fun of the “idiots” who support Trump, you need to ask yourself why the same judgment shouldn’t be placed on your support of this immoral government system.