Cognitive Psychology

Exploring The Three Psychological Roots of the conservative Resistance to Containing the #COVID19 Pandemic

The anti-mask people fascinate me for several reasons. First, their behavior is so wantonly self-destructive and nihilistic. And second, they are so clearly being cynically manipulated by the Ol’ Pussy Grabber for his nefarious gain. If we follow the factors that make conservatives conservative down to their roots, we will figure out this conundrum wrapped in a Gordian knot or will we just be left sick to our stomachs and wondering why we did it? Well, there’s only one way to find out, amirite?

Admittedly this is not a large group of people. As the covfefevirus surges to record breaking heights across the country in all metrics, many people have decided that masks, social distancing, and staying at home are good things. We’re looking at you Gov. Kay Ivey. And, the predictable backlash: Restaurant bans Gov. Ivey over Mask Order. What is the root cause of holding out so long before doing the right thing and then the inevitable backlash?

I saw recently on MSNBC the results of an NBC poll (maybe, it was an NBC poll, you know, memory) that said that 95% of the people who identified themselves as Ol’ Pussy Grabber Repubes thought we were doing great with the covfefevirus but only 54% of “party Repubes” did. Quite a drop off. Hell, even #MoscowMitch is telling people to wear masks.

As far as I can tell there are three factors that drive the defiant followers of the Ol’ Pussy Grabber.

Responses to Anxiety

Anxiety is a generalized unfocused fear reaction, a vague feeling that something is amiss, and you need to be careful. Many things have provoked anxiety in the American body politic: oil shortages, economic recessions, terrorist attacks (both domestic and foreign), and diseases (Ebola, anyone?). When we mix other emotions into our anxious response to a perceived threat, then we get the politicization of anxiety. ISIS terrorists are carrying Ebola across the southern border with the migrant caravans from Central America! They’re coming to cut your heads off! Hide under your beds!

When we’re anxious and fearful, we tend to vote conservative and become far more conservative in our beliefs and decision-making. This makes sense since at the very heart of conservatism is resistance or reluctance to change. When you’re in a dangerous environment, changing can really make things worse. It is better to stick with the tried-and-true and take a risk.

Remember, people loathe taking a risk unless that risk will help them avoid a loss.

So, when the shit hits the fan, we rally around the flag. We give the government the benefit of the doubt. Suddenly the government becomes your best friend. We saw this back in March when the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s approval ratings climbed into nosebleed territory of 48% or so.

In general, when things get bad, trust in the government goes up kinda like we tend to pray when things look really dire in our lives. The only exception is when the economy is bad. Then, we tend to blame the government for making the crappy decisions that got us into this mess, right Poppy?

Our reaction to anxiety is a fundamental piece in understanding these people who seem to want to live in the #GOPDystopia and have real live dead Americans in the hundreds of thousands, but it is not enough.

Authoritarian Personality

Realizing that these people likely have authoritarian personalities is another big piece to the explanation. It’s like that playground comeback, Takes one to know one! Yeah, it never worked very well on the playground either. Isn’t that just a confession? Anywho. Authoritarian personalities are attracted to authoritarian personalities. They like being told what to do and believe by bigger stronger more powerful people.

Let’s just hop in the old search the past machine and dig up our original Ol’ Pussy Grabber is an authoritarian article on Ye Olde Blogge in May 2017! There we’ll pull the traits of the authoritarian personality so w can see how they match up with these nihilistic self-absorbed white Christian voters:

  • Aggression towards those who violate conventional thinking or who are different — This is why fear mongering the teaming hordes of Ebola carrying ISIS-infiltrated migrant caravans is so easy!
  • A professed belief that all people are bad and will lie, cheat, and steal in the right circumstances — That’s why accusations of voter fraud and other electioneering cheating against Dems stick so easily, especially when it is THEM what is committing all of the election frauds.
  • A love of strong leadership and displays of unbending power — As it turns out, all you need is a caricature of strong leadership, you know the weak man’s twisted idea of what strong leadership looks like, and if you add in some bullying these folks can’t tell the difference between Manuel Noriega and Jesus.
  • Using simplistic solutions and polemics to address problems — Simple is as simple does, wasn’t that what Forrest Gump’s mama always said? It is also what makes them susceptible to conspiracy theories.
  • Black and white thinking, an inability to see gray areas — There is no subtlety here. That’s why they can’t understand why “science” can’t tell you immediately whether the covfefevirus is good or bad. It has to be clear from the get-go.
  • Projecting feelings of rage, fear, and inadequacy onto a specific group — Projecting. Need we say anything more?
  • Being preoccupied with violence and sex — Where are all the porn searches coming from? Who commits most of the violent crime including violence against domestic partners and children?
  • Willingness to submit to an authority — Love them some authority just like Jesus was.
  • Conventional morality — That’s why you can’t make them provide birth control to their employees or sell wedding cakes to same-sex weddings.

This does explain why they can’t wrap their heads around the initial order not to wear masks and then the turn-about to wear masks. But, still why would this mean people would willing leave themselves vulnerable to infection with as severe as disease as #COVID19 and allow their communities, states, and country to be so damaged by it?

Identity Politics

One of the determinants of being an anti-masker anti-stay-at-homer the-covfefevirus-is-a-hoaxer is your response to anxiety. Another is an authoritarian personality that leaves you seeing the world as black-and-white and all problems, no matter how complex, being solved by scapegoating and simplistic polemical solutions. Those could easily be trained on the covfefevirus.

The third necessary ingredient for understanding this weird deadly response to the pandemic is identity politics. Identity politics is based on how you see the world:

  • Repubes and conservatives see the world as a dangerous place in which they can never for a second let their guard down or their lives will end and the country taken away from them.
  • Dems and liberals see the world as being safe enough to explore a bit, so they’re open to new things and changes like ending systemic racism and extending equal rights to human beings who are not rural white Christians.

Contradicting this, at least somewhat, is the tendency to adopt the policies and beliefs of leaders as being consistent with political positions whether they actually are or not. This is why when Obama adopted Mitt Romney’s and the Heritage Center’s approach to healthcare when he crafted the ACA, it was immediately rejected as socialism. There is no consistency in belief. If the politician I like says it, then I like it, too, seems to rule the political day. That is squarely in the area of identity politics. I identity with the Ol’ Pussy Grabber, so when he says it, I like it, believe it, and do it.

When the Ol’ Pussy Grabber questioned the validity of the covfefevirus and called it a Dem hoax, his hard corpse followers followed right along.

These people are now stuck. Their authoritarian personality says they need a simple solution to life’ complex problems preferably one that involves discriminating against out-groups and moral righteousness, so the whole racist blame China shtick really resonates. And, what could be simpler than, it is a Dem hoax? They already hate Dems, and if it is a hoax, it doesn’t matter what you do. Because the whole pandemic and resulting economic recession have caused widespread anxiety, they naturally rally to their favored politicians and are inclined to do what he says. Since he says, don’t trust science or the Dems, they don’t.

#COVID19 is a perfect storm for this rural white Christian identity politics of stupid.

Image Attribution

“DSC08290” by RosieTulips is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

14 replies »

  1. Hi Jack

    We just returned from from our cross country roadtrip and observed that the Deep South resonates as the worst manifestations of this problem. I would recommend focusing on southern swing states in the postcard – messaging campaign now. The west coast to me looks pro blue in areas we visited. Stay well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy James!

      Of the state’s in the South that are swingable: Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina seem closest in reach; although, in this crazy year, I wouldn’t be surprised if Arkansaas, Mississippi, and Alabama all flipped.

      I’m hoping that as the depth of the crises becomes undeniable to even the staunchest and most ardent believers, we see widespread mask wearing and social distancing.

      Stay well!



  2. In the realm of black-and-white thinking, “Freedom” and “Liberty” are absolutes (but, only “ours”), not context dependent or subject to any nuance. They are also not relational. So, being in some sense, cognitively empty, anything perceived as limiting or threatening them converts to an existential threat and fight-or-flight response.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Bob!
      The GOP has promoted that sense of being threatened for just that purpose for the past forty years. The Karl Roves and Lee Atwaters of the party have been engineering this paranoid highly emotional mindset because it leaves the rank and vile so manipulable. It leaves the frightened and unsure and much more inclined to vote against their best interest in order to preserve their very lives because they’ve been convinced that the sky is falling around them. The deficit, immigrants, changing demographics, refugees, terrorists, LGBTQ+, and whatever other social and cultural issues they’ve promoted to keep the base riled up, feeling threatened, and convinced that the end is nigh so that they’ll accept whatever extreme — like Portland — response the GOP deems necessary.


      Liked by 1 person

      • The Secret Police actions in Portland fit so well. They are searching for the Great Leader of Antifa because Trump believes that all important events are driven by Great Leaders. He does not understand spontaneous social movements. But, as much as he needs to be seen as doing everything possible (legal or not) to end the protests, he also needs them to continue so he can keep fighting them.

        To someone like Trump, all of history is about contests between Great Leaders.

        Liked by 1 person

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