Cognitive Psychology

What will it take to cause the Cognitive Dissonance of Trump Voters and Supporters to Collapse?

Much loud lamenting, rending of clothes, and scraping of boils with pottery shards has occurred during the past few weeks about both the hypocrisy of Repube senators and the willingness of rural, conservative, Christian, white voters to vote against their own best interest and to not realize how duplicitous the Ol’ Pussy Grabber and the GOP has been in policy, practice, and statements toward their constituents. Here’s a sampler that I’ve found in my tweeter feed:

I started writing this post a week or so again, so some of the tweets are from then, but this one is from the debate, which just goes to show that everyday and every week there are more of them expressing the same thing. Why do people continue to believe the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s lies?

A MAGA who clearly expects that the new Repube healthcare law/EU will be out in the next two weeks perpetually. Why doesn’t she get it? Why doesn’t she realize she’s being lied to? Why doesn’t she realize that the plan is that there is no plan to allow insurance companies to loot the 99% for everything they can squeeze from them? We’ll answer that in a minute.

So, if the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s own words aren’t enough to convince people that he is duping them over the covfefevirus and just throwing them to poor care and high infectious rates, then what will? More on this in a minute.

But, the Ol’ Pussy Grabber has had an atrocious record of keeping promises with factory closings, job losses, declining coal employment, and so many more, but he won election and has a very real chance — about as much as in 2016 — of winning again. Since 2016, many Repubes have won with these same empty promises, namely, that if we give massive tax breaks — again — to the 1%, it will re-invigorate the economy, but it crashes the economy as we’ve seen repeatedly since Reagan first tried it. So, why haven’t the Trump supporters figure it out, and what will it take for them to figure it out? One more, and we’ll address that question.

The basic lament repeatedly heard over the past four years: when will Repubes get a spine and stand up to the Ol’ Pussy Grabber? If they haven’t by now, they ain’t gonna. Why not? Obviously, they want the Ol’ Pussy Grabber to be doing what he’s doing. They support it. So, why do people keep expecting something different from them? We’ll start answering that now.

I have often posted, written, and tweeted about a trifecta of self-deception that seems to fuel the Repubes and conservatives delusion of democracy and support for the Ol’ Pussy Grabber: gaslighting, groupthink, and cognitive dissonance. While this post is focused on cognitive dissonance, the three interact in truly sinister synergistic ways. It is no secret that the Ol’ Pussy Grabber gaslights us all, but especially elected Repube officials and his rank and vile supporters. His ability to twist reality into anything he wants them to believe seems like a particularly evil super power. Groupthink is the tendency for the members of the group to quash dissenting voices and seek consensus leading to disastrous and immoral decisions like the ones we’re seeing around the covfefevirus. Cognitive dissonance is the tendency to lie to yourself to justify your actions that are in conflict with past statements, beliefs, or current reality. And, cognitive dissonance is the key to understanding the stubborn continuing support for the Ol’ Pussy Grabber in spite of obvious lies and real harm, injury, and death inflicted on his supporters.

Here are three posts that explain cognitive dissonance better.

Study of cognitive dissonance tells us that the more invested someone is in something — a belief, an organization, a political position, whatever — the less likely they are to change their minds in spite of evidence to the contrary. The stronger the belief, the less effective facts and figures are in changing their minds. That’s the situation that all those in my tweeter feed are wondering about.

What has to happen for this house of delusion to come tumbling down? To answer this question, let’s get into Professor Peabody’s Way Back Machine and travel all the way back to 1954 in Chicago to visit Leon Festinger and his students study of The Seekers. The Seekers were a group of doomsday-UFO believers who “followed” Mrs. Keech who communicated with extraterrestrials using automatic writing. Over the course of a year or so, those extraterrestrials told her that the world would be destroyed on a specific date by a terrible flood. It all seems far-fetched, right. It seems impossible even for the naivety of white suburban 1950’s America. But, there it is. By taking a brief look at these folks, we might could learn something about the rank and vile rural conservative Christian white voters.

The people who were following the instructions of Mrs. Keech invested a lot in their belief. They literally believed that the world would end and that if they went to the Allegheny Mountains, they would live there for a year before being rescued by these extraterrestrials and taken to Venus, a planet called Clarion, or other planet. If you really believed all of this, you’d sell your house, quit your job, and lose family and friends. In short, your investment was significant. You were all in.

Relate that to the rank and vile who follow the Ol’ Pussy Grabber, especially as the covfefevirus grips the country. Remember the folks who refused to sign up for the ACA and then needed insurance? They started crowdfunding pages to pay for their critical care when accident and disease struck. That was a significant investment in a conservative lie. The states that didn’t expand Medicaid killed people by the thousands, including conservative voters. That was a significant investment in a conservative lie. Now, we have people, including prominent conservatives, getting sick with and dying from the covfefevirus after flaunting containment and suppression measures. That’s a significant investment in a conservative lie. People have been shot and killed over mask wearing. People have fought and injured others over mask wearing. People have delayed planes and created huge public spectacles over mask wearing. Those are huge investments in a conservative lie.

What happened to The Seekers when the world, quite clearly, did not come to an end on the specified date? Some people left. They were humiliated and disappointed and they gave up the movement and left to put their lives back together. Just like there were defections from the rank and vile after some significant challenge to their belief in the conservative lie.

Another example occurred around LGBTQ+ rights and marriage equality. Many prominent Repubes found the light on marriage equality when they found out their own son or daughter was gay. When it occurred close to home, their cognitive dissonance could not overcome the challenge to their belief. How do you reconcile your love for your son or daughter with your homophobia? The two cannot co-exist. To their credit, many Repubes chose love and family and became advocates of LGBTQ+ rights and marriage equality. Contrast this with Tea Partiers sitting in town halls catcalling people dying of cancer when they were pleading for support for the ACA. Their cognitive dissonance trumped their empathy for a fellow citizen dying of severe disease.

Many of The Seekers stayed, though. STAYED! After the world didn’t end on the appointed date. How could they continue to believe? For one thing, Mrs. Keech moved the goal post. She simply said that the extraterrestrials told her through automatic writing that THEY had saved the world through the strength of their beliefs.

Not only did her followers stay, they began to recruit much more aggressively than they had before. The degree of investment in the organization correlated with how difficult it was for them to give up on their belief. The movement didn’t fall apart until other dates for the end of the world came and passed.

The good news is that no belief can withstand challenges from reality forever. The bad news is that it often takes something as stark and clear as multiple predicted dates for the destruction of the world to pass without the world being destroyed. That’s pretty black-and-white. Nothing the Ol’ Pussy Grabber has done is as black-and-white as that. We should not be expecting MAGAs and the GOP to be giving up on the Ol’ Pussy Grabber. If his strong-arming of Ukraine for aide a year ago didn’t do it, nothing is. If the tapes of the Ol’ Pussy Grabber saying he deliberately downplayed #COVID19 didn’t do it, nothing is. If 200,000+ dead from #COVID19 and the millions of unemployed didn’t do it, nothing is.

Can we give up on this dream now? Because if we can, we can begin to prepare for the very real authoritarian attempt to steal the election through the courts and very real violence in the streets.

Signs of Life

We’re not a cult, but you just might need some cognitive dissonance to justify the last five minutes you’ve spent reading this fascinating article that you loved! So, why not double down like The Seekers did and let me know you were here! Chose from this handy-dandy menu of options. There’s something for everybody!

Image Attribution

“cognitive dissonance” by Robert Couse-Baker is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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