What is obvious and contemptible to me as a human being, is sometimes not obvious and contemptible to others. When these “others” are people who I respect on many levels, I am truly baffled by our very different ways of thinking. I was pretty much unaware of these differences until Donald Trump announced his candidacy, until I experienced a campaign like non-other and, ultimately, the unlikely 2016 election results.
In the search for answers I came across an article on vox.com (which is slightly left of neutral and provides fair interpretations of the news). The article is 7 Psychological Concepts that Explain the Trump Era of Politics by Brian Resnick 5/6/2017
- Motivated reasoning – rooting for a team changes your perception of the world. It “… is our tendency to come to conclusions we’re already favored to believe. It is …real and persuasive, …you often don’t realize you’re doing it. We automatically have an easier time remembering information that fits our world view. We’ re simply quicker to recognize information that confirms what we already know, which makes us blind to facts that discount it.“
- People who are the most well-informed about politics are often the most stubborn about it – They may “…bend what they know to fall in line with their political goals and don’t realize it, …and feel confident in their partisan conclusions because they feel well-informed.”
- Evolution has left us with an ‘Immune System’ for uncomfortable thoughts – “Psychologist theorize…” that “..our partisan identities get mixed up with our personal identities…” and “…an attack on our strongly held beliefs is [seen as] an attack on the self.”
- The argument that’s most convincing to you is not convincing to your ideological opponents – Looking at the healthcare debate, “Liberals make their arguments for expanding coverage in terms of equality and fairness (i.e., everyone should have a right to healthcare), while conservatives make their case grounded in self-determination (i.e., the government shouldn’t tell me how to live) and fiscal security (i.e., paying for health care will bankrupt us all).” The author explains that “moral foundations is the idea that people have stable, gut-level morals that influence their worldview. The liberal moral foundations include equality, fairness and protection of the vulnerable. Conservative moral foundations favor in-group loyalty, moral purity, and respect for authority.” “…we often don’t realize that people have moral foundations different than our own.” “When we engage in political debate, we all tend to overrate the power of arguments we find personally convincing – and wrongly think the other side will be swayed.
- Many people seem unashamed of their prejudiced – The author provided the following definitions for some of the elements of prejudice. “Dehumanization – the ability to see fellow-men and women as less than human. Social dominance orientation – favor inequality among groups in society, with some groups dominating others.” He reported that a study found that, “…blatant dehumanization of Muslims and Mexican immigrants was strongly correlated with Trump support.”
- Fear has a powerful influence on political opinion – “Stoking people’s racial and demographic fears helped Trump win votes. Negative, scary information is almost always more sticky and memorable than positive information.” One study found that “…white people begin to feel less warm toward members of other races when they are reminded that minorities will eventually be the majority, while another found that this increased support among white people to support Trump.”
- Social norms that protect against prejudice can change in the blink of an eye – “We learn what’s socially acceptable by watching other people. There’s evidence that social norms against prejudice change when people in power start talking and behaving badly.” According to University of Kansas psychologist Chris Crandall, “Trump’s rhetoric and the rise of the alt-right movement are encouraging people with prejudicial views to act upon them” …changing “people’s perceptions about what is okay and what is not okay.” After the election of Trump, both Clinton and Trump supporters, “…were more likely to report it was acceptable to discriminate against… marginalized groups – like the obese, Muslims, Mexican immigrants and the disabled.” Because Trump was still elected after saying such, “…disparaging things, …during the campaign, …sent a powerful sign, …that it is okay to discriminate against others.” Crandall said, “…it took away the suppression from the very highly prejudicial people, and those people are acting.” The author writes that “…exposure to misbehavior simply makes it more acceptable.”
Considering all of this, how do I know what I think and feel is the truth? I am naturally on the side of fairness, equality and protection of the vulnerable. This worldview is not the product of a mental decision, it is just who I am. I also believe in self-determination, fiscal responsibility, forgiveness and the rule of law, but not in in-group loyalty that excludes others, dehumanization nor social dominance.
I believe in the greatest commandment. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets,” NRSV Matthew 22:37-40. If I truly believe this, how can I exclude others? Our neighbors include everyone.
Sadly, this past week has seen 14 pipe bombs mailed to top liberals by a Trump supporter and today a white nationalist killed several congregants in a synagogue in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, who declared all Jews must be killed, a devastating, horrible, tragedy. The latter extremist was actually critical of Trump calling him a globalist even though Trump publicly stated that he was a nationalist just this week. This perception, I believe, is correct. How can a businessman who owns businesses throughout the world be a nationalist? Stating that he is a nationalist is only a lie to appease his base.
I hope that we can learn from these 7 psychological concepts, have greater understanding of our differences, clearly see the truth and know that the current decline of social norms from the top is dangerous to our democracy and our well being.