Social Psychology

Trump’s Base: #BurstThebubble of Cognitive Dissonance, part 2

Our Story So Far

On Monday 14 September, we published a post beginning to address the reasons that Trump’s base is so tenaciously supportive of him and so difficult to dissuade.

Essentially, Leon Festinger laid out the basis for his theory of cognitive dissonance in his book, When Prophecy Fails, which he describes as an extended case study of his covert observations of a UFO-doomsday cult based in Chicago in 1954. The cult’s leader predicted that the world would end on a specific date, but her followers would be saved by a UFO.

Festinger and his students infiltrated the group posing as true believers and took notes on what they experienced there. They wondered what would happen when the date came and went without the world ending. To their surprise, many of the followers stayed. Of course, it helped that the leader told them that they had saved the world through the power of their belief. The remaining members (some did leave after all) committed themselves to recruiting new members.

The Role of Social Support in continuing Disconfirmed Beliefs

Festinger observed that there were five conditions that needed to be exist that would determine whether a disconfirmed belief would continue to be held by its adherents: (1) A strong conviction or belief in whatever it is; (2) a commitment exemplified by taking irrevocable acts based on the belief; (3) the belief has to be both specific and connected to the world so that it can be futed or refuted through experience; (4) the believer must recognize the evidence against the belief; and (5) social support must be available for either continuing for the disconfirmed belief or refusing to continue.

Clearly, the above outline fits the MAGAs and covfefevirus doubters in the country. Surely, between the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s confession of downplaying the seriousness of the covfefevirus and understanding the severity of the pandemic at the outset and disastrous results of the multitude of superspreader events that have been held around the country, everyone’s beliefs about the hoaxiness of the pandemic have been adequately challenged. So, we are clearly at condition 5, which is where the first post left us.

Unfortunately, there is plenty of social support for carrying on with asinine behaviors such as refusing to wear masks and grouping closely together for political rallies, motorcycle rallies, weddings, and conventions.

Theory of Cognitive Dissonance

The theory of cognitive dissonance is based on the principle of cognitive consistency, which is the social psychology concept that states that people want their attitudes, beliefs, and behavior to agree. When they don’t agree, they experience cognitive dissonance, which is uncomfortable, so they seek to end that discomfort.

Festinger outlines three ways that people may try to relieve their dissonant pressure:

  1. To change one or more beliefs. This is typical revisionist history, which we see many of the apologists and gaslighters that the Ol’ Pussy Grabber employs out doing in the media now. You just lie to either yourself or anyone who will give you the time of day and claim that at least one of the contradictory things isn’t true. I never downplayed the covfefevirus.
  2. To increase consonance by adopting new beliefs. Again, lying. Or making something up. Whatever helps in the distressful situation. I simply wanted to avoid panic, yeah, that’s it, avoiding a panic. No one wants to panic, right? So, that’s why I downplayed it, I wanted to avoid a panic. Anyone remember how anxious March and April were? Good job of avoiding a panic while New York City lay dying without ventilators or PPE and we all screamed in unison for the federal government to help alleviate the shortages and scratched our collective asses and wondered why instead of coordinating distribution of short PPE supplies we were forcing states and organizations to compete against each other driving up costs. Remember, that? Remember how worried you were that we were all going to get sick and die while the Tweeter-in-Chief played with his tweeter? I sure as fuck do. Good job on limiting panic there.
  3. To reduce the importance of the dissonant beliefs. This is the these are not the droids you are looking for approach. Those 200,000 real live dead Americans? They aren’t important. They gladly gave up their lives to rescue the economy — funny, how the economy ain’t rescued yet, though. Those 6.6 million infected real live suffering Americans show just how good a job we’re doing.

Funny how each one of these techniques is straight out of the gaslighter’s handbook. Let’s take a closer look at how the cult of belief works before the disconfirming event, during the disconfirming event, and, most importantly, after the disconfirming event.

The MAGA or covfefevirus hoaxer has a strongly held belief that the pandemic is a hoax, wearing masks aren’t effective, social distancing is stupid, we’ll all be saved by the magic of the vaccine, #COVID19 isn’t as severe or deadly as “they” say it is, and all the other crap that dribbles out of the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s tweeter in the wee hours of the day and night. As the supporters are immersed in a bubble of shit, they rarely get any unadulterated challenges to these beliefs and find lots of people agreeing with them.

These people then go out into the real world and refuse to wear masks and get into altercations that sometimes result in real violence and even death. They attend events that become superspreader events sickening hundreds and killing tens of people. They encourage their politicians to violate the recommendations of public health professionals and re-open the economy and schools. They are behaving in ways that are entirely consistent with what the Ol’ Pussy Grabber has urged them to do.

Superspreader events happen, schools and business re-open, and evidence accumulates that wearing masks and social distancing are important ways of containing the covfefevirus. Even though the Ol’ Pussy Grabber talks about the pandemic in the past tense and says we’ve turned the corner, it is hard to deny that we are still chugging along at 40,000+ new infections a day and around 1,000 deaths a day. We listen to tapes of the Ol’ Pussy Grabber saying that the covfefevirus is way worse than the flu and severely affects children and young adults not just older people. The disconfirming event occurs. MAGAs are buried under piles of irrefutable contradictory evidence as they struggle to breathe on their ventilators and bury their dead.

They are now experiencing cognitive dissonance. Maybe they are culpable in the deaths of loved ones and complete strangers by refusing to wear masks and being such dicks about it. This type of dissonance is strong and painful. How can they alleviate their pain?

They could discard their belief in what the Ol’ Pussy Grabber is telling them. They could come to their senses and realize that at the very least the Ol’ Pussy Grabber just doesn’t care whether they as a specific individual lives, dies, or suffers terribly or at worst is enjoying being the cause of so much death and suffering. But, that would mean owning their own role in the death of nearly 200,000 real live now dead Americans and the suffering of 6.6 million real live almost dead Americans. In many ways, that would be worse.

They could engage in confirmation bias and stare point-blankly only at information that confirms their conclusions and their side of the story. Or, they can deny the evidence all together. Those tapes are fake news! They were made up by the fake news media!

They can try to invent alternative explanations for the disconfirming information — the Ol’ Pussy Grabber was only trying to avoid a panic! See above.

Each of the methods of avoiding or reducing the pain of the cognitive dissonance that comes from experiencing a disconfirming event in a cherished belief relies on social support. It must be shared by those around the MAGA. “Luckily,” the MAGAs have Fox News, Breitbart, and other conservative media outlets and conservative social media to help sustain their bubble of shit that they prefer to live in. And, none of them explains the tenacity of the MAGAs certainty that the covfefevirus in a hoax, right?

Festinger pointed out this interesting truism: If everyone in the world believed something to be true, then it would have to be true. After the disconfirming event, ardent adherents will double down on their proselytizing in order to expand their bubble of believers to insulate themselves from the pain of the disconfirming event. Living in the false information bubble reduces the pain of the cognitive dissonance to the point to where it can be lived with.

How can we use this to our advantage? Pierce the bubble of gaslighting bullshit with the overwhelming evidence that the Ol’ Pussy Grabber was wrong on his approach to the covfefevirus. Keep coming back to the number of dead and infected, the hot spots and superspreader events, the taped confession of the Ol’ Pussy Grabber.

Cognitive dissonance and cults can only stand up so long under the irrevocable force of reality. There probably won’t be one super-surprising event that makes it absolutely crystal clear that the hoax of #COVID19 is the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s denial of its seriousness and refusal to fulfill the federal government’s role in such crises. To paraphrase America’s favorite president, Barack Obama, Reality has a way of biting you in the ass.

Signs of Life

Sometimes there is silence and then there is silence. My life here in Phnom Penh is noisy and messy and stuff, but my blogging life can be maddeningly silent. Do me a favor, help break that silence! Give me a sign of life. Choose one of these methods:

Image Attribution

“Something Different #1 – High Speed Water Balloon” by Luke Peterson Photography is licensed under CC BY 2.0

5 replies »

  1. One MAGA response to the intrusion of reality that we are seeing is to lash out violently against “unbelievers”, or at least, to attempt to intimidate them. That is how painful the threat of cognitive dissonance can be, especially when the leader and his minions escalate their portrayal of the speakers for reality as evil, disloyal (“Deep State Scientists”), and dangerous.

    Liked by 1 person

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