Cognitive Psychology

Bernie Bros and MAGAts: The Four Psychological Factors They Share

Elizabeth Warren has left the race and as much as I mourn her withdrawal, I must leave it for another blog post. As always, though, Warren’s penetrating insight into what ails the country shines a light on the dangers of political extremism. And, as I’ve pointed out before — the Authoritarian Personality of Bernie Sanders and his supporters — it corrodes both sides equally as if the political spectrum is not a line reaching from pole to pole but an arc, and when you reach the far ends of either side, you find yourself reaching around to the far pole of the other side.

All of us on social media are watching a brutal attack on Joe Biden by Sanders and his supporters. There is the fake video of Biden that was faked by the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s team and adopted by Sanders supporters. It was so bad that Twitter has labeled it manipulated. Then there is Sanders telling George Stephanopoulos that the DNC forced Klobuchar and Buttigieg to withdraw from the race furthering the whole “rigged” conspiracy theory rather than accepting his appeal being limited to white men and that when he’s faced with a white man and not a woman, he doesn’t win those who prefer white male candidates. What other politician traffics in doctored video, conspiracy theories, radical followers, and political extremism?

Political Extremism

Can you say, the Ol’ Pussy Grabber? I thought you could. Let’s psysplore the things that all political extremists have in common whether they’re coming at it from the left or the right.

There is ample solid evidence that the same psychology drives extremists on the far right and left. In fact, their psychological motivations are so similar that we cannot tell them apart. It turns out that a political extremist is pretty much a political extremist with not much other than minor policy differences to separate them because both sides violate the same principles of human decency, morality, and democracy. They want what they want, and they are so certain that they’re right that it justifies whatever means it takes to achieve it.

By attacking the Democratic Party so harshly, Sanders is putting his interests ahead of those of the country. For someone who professes to believe that the only hope for our democracy to survive is to defeat the Ol’ Pussy Grabber, he sure is trying to damage the only party that can do it.

Make no mistake about it, friend, the Repubes mean to finish gutting our democracy by suppressing the vote and encouraging Russian interference in the 2020 elections. They have already hollowed out the Congress and most of the judiciary. They have cleared away any and all objection from the “independent” organs of the Executive, DoJ, national intelligence, State, and have moved onto the smaller organelles like the CDC and weather service. They are political extremists coming at us from the right.

Sanders and his followers are political extremists coming at us from the left, but they are both born of the same womb. And, they both have the same solution.

Elizabeth Warren’s Two Cents Worth

Rachel Maddow interviewed Elizabeth Warren on her show the other night. It was such a tour-de-force that I’m surprised God didn’t reach down and anoint Warren president because Warren focused her bull shit-piercing gaze on Sanders and his supporters and diagnosed the problem. Let’s take a gander at a video clip of that moment, shall we? Hahahahaha! Sometimes I just crack myself up. No one watches video on these blog posts because buffering. Fire and damnation, we can put people on the moon, but we can’t watch two minutes of video without buffering.

See what she did there? She described the vitriol of the Sanders troll army. It is every bit as nasty and mean as Trump’s flying monkey brigade. And, the both have bubbled up from the same pit of nastiness that lives within the human psyche.

If you’d rather read about it, then this Vox article lays it out very clearly Elizabeth Warren’s exit interview is a warning for the dirtbag left. Dirtbag left. I like that, but the article speaks to Sanders’ own ambivalence for supporting or opposing it. He says he doesn’t like it. He also has done interviews with podcasts that support this aggressive polarizing divisive extreme online sadistic trolls.

The Four Psychological Factors

The theory is that political extremists of both the left and right are driven by the same fears, motives, and desires. Van Prooijen and Krouwel, a Dutch psychologist and a Dutch political scientist, respectively, postulate that there are four factors that drive political extremism of any stripe:

  1. Psychological distress is a kind of existential crisis, as if Jean Tarrou (Camus’ The Plague — I had to look it up, so you wouldn’t have to) were vacationing in Cleveland in 2016 and decided to vote. You know the social angst of the Christian conservative White voter who is driven by the anxiety of becoming a minority and losing their country! Or the angst ridden petulance of the unreliable (at least as far as actual voting goes, eh, Sanders?) Sanders supporter, but, boy, will those boys get online and bust some heads for ya!
  2. Cognitive simplicity does not mean simple mindedness, but I’m sure there are ample derisive jokes in there somewhere, but rather the simplistic solution to complex problems that we all crave and demagoguing cynical politicians will crank out by the minute.
  3. Overconfidence describes the certainty that their simplistic solution to our complex problems is absolutely right and far far better than your simplistic solution to our complex problems. The basis of so many Twitter fights that it makes it almost unbearable.
  4. Intolerance is exactly that, a refusal to tolerate anyone thinking, looking, or believing, and sometimes all three, differently than you are. Rather like overconfidence, but it is doxxing that the overconfidence drives and the cognitive simplicity justifies.

Psychological Distress

These factors all work together like some kind of macabre interlocking web of self-righteous propagandizing. The psychological distress of the right wing political extremist is triggered by the shifting demographics and the inevitability that white people will become the minority in the US. Their solution is minority rule, and that always has ended well when it’s been done in the past.

The psychological distress of Sanders supporters is far far more interesting because it is more subtle and its effects more nuanced. I’m sure you’ve noticed that Sanders youth vote hasn’t been turning out for him in 2020 just like it didn’t turn out for Clinton in 2016. Many of Sanders supporters were disaffected and estranged from mainstream society long before Sanders came along and will be long after. They believe that all of society is rigged for the rich white man and that there is no difference between a Clinton and Trump presidency. However, Sanders has the magic antidote for it!

Cognitive Simplicity

Which brings us to cognitive simplicity. The solution is simple, Sanders says, we need a revolution. We need a system that favors the working class and mumbo jumbo presto-magico if Sanders is elected we’ll all be holding hands as we ride on our unicorns over rainbow bridges eating heart-shaped cupcakes and singing Kumbaya while the billionaires run after us scooping up all the rainbow-colored unicorn shit. It’s a beautiful dream but it is illusory explanation.

Sanders platform of Medicare for All, free college tuition, universal pre-K, and the rest would improve our society. Sanders is a talented politician. But, he ain’t the man to get us to that promised land because politics. It is just more complicated than that when you’ve got a Repube Party hellbent on defeating democracy itself.


Armed with this simple-minded solution, the political extremist wades into the political market place and uses it to bludgeon anyone who dares question the wisdom of Sanders. They have the truth, dammit, and if we’d all just listen we’d see that. They are just so sure that it is all so simple. It just makes sense, so there must be some other reason that people refuse to acknowledge it.

As others fail to fall for the Ol’ Pussy Grabber is a great man bankrupting small and medium-sized farms like he bankrupted his casinos and destroying our environment like he destroys contractors and throws the professionals out of the Executive branch like he threw out his ex-wives, they become intolerant of those of us who think he’s just, science fact, the most prolific liar in the country. It helps that they were also predisposed to intolerance given the racism and sexism that is inherent in their segment of the US culture and society.


Sanders supporters, though, are intolerant or anyone who is not a Sanders supporter. They won’t tolerate anyone in the squishy messy middle who realizes that the heart of democracy is compromise and that is the way to accomplish our goals not by educating the masses so that once they understand the message and program, they’ll be on board. That smacks too much of re-education and indoctrination camps. That we need a healthy debate between ideas and competing solutions to avoid the pitfalls of groupthink.

The ironic thing for Sanders is that his supporters are not given to voting because they are too certain that the system is rigged and intolerant of any moderate voice that the system promotes. Let’s hope that #VoteBlueNoMatterWho and disgust of the Ol’ Pussy Grabber and the Repubes will be enough to allow us to tune out the destructive divisive derisive trolls and save our democracy.

Image Attribution

The image of Bernie Sanders was found using a Creative Commons search. It was taken from Flikr. It was produced by Becker1999. It is licensed as Attribution 2.0 Generic.

12 replies »

  1. Add to those inclinations on both ends (actually, there are more than two ends, what with the Randian Libertarians and the flat out Anarchists both egging on the “sovereign citizen” types) the activity of domestic and foreign agents provocateur just stirring any pot they can. So here’s another thought: If the smart folks in the Democratic Party (best example, Warren) can’t provide the arguments and plans to de-fang the Bernie Bros and incorporate the saner Bernie supporters, what chance do they have against the powers behind the MAGA Mob other than sheer revulsion at Trump?

    As an aside, I have a serious epistemological problem with the simplistic Left-Right way of thinking about politics. We need a way to account for the complicated people (socially conservative and fiscally liberal, socially liberal and fiscally conservative, etc.). Is there a way out of the Two Party Duopoly? Could we let the fringes have their own little parties to get recruited into coalitions of specific issues instead of trying to take over one of the two or three major parties?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Bob!
      I’ve been saying for some time now that results of the democratic experiment are in and parliamentary democracy has won. Had we lived in a parliamentary democracy, Trump would’ve been out in six months. The coalition building and faith-keeping that the is necessary in that system keeps most of the errors that are made out at the extremes at a minimum and the ability to change governments quickly adapts to rapidly changing situations. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than what we’ve got.

      Fortunately, for us, we don’t need to win over MAGAts or even very many Bernie Bros. We just need to get our folks out. And, if the turn out in 2018, SC and Michigan are any sign, we are having a much larger turn out in 2016. Turn out is up among African Americans and the suburbs. Same group that did 2018. The two groups that are most fired up to see Trump gone.


      Liked by 1 person

      • Yep, if everybody who is utterly disgusted with, terrified by, or just plain tired of Trump and his gang of thieves goes out and votes for the Democrat, Trump will loose. Arguments about “electability” are irrelevant. They are about who will vote FOR someone. This election is far more about voting AGAINST someone.

        Liked by 1 person

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