Cognitive Psychology

A Quickie: How “Defund the Police” Played into Republican Hands and White America’s Psyche


Well, the results of Election 2020 are in and, danggummit! if the Dems didn’t pert near snatch defeat from the jaws of victory… AGAIN! Not only didn’t we win Senate seats we shoulda won, we almost lost the House majority! Now, the great post-election hand wringing and circular firing squad session has begun.

One of the chief contenders for the blame game is the role that Defund the Police played in the loss of House and Senate races. Many moderate Democrats including the House stalwart, Rep. Jim Clyburn, blame the slogan for the losses and many progressives have turned around and blamed moderates for their own losses.

Between #COVID19, mail-in-voting, polling place intimidation, voting fraud hysteria, Trump, and disinformation, Election 2020 was a complex affair with voters being pulled in every direction, it is difficult understand how much of the losses are to be blamed on Defund the Police and how much on other issues, but it is not difficult to imagine that it did entice some 2018 Dem voters back to the Repubes.

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What is for sure is that Repube seized upon the slogan and demagogued the bejeezus out of it. They tarred and feathered every Democrat with the slogan.T Progressive candidates weren’t hurt too bad by it since they tend to run in more progressive districts, but moderates who had flipped Repube districts in 2018 took a drubbing.

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There are two main reasons for this: First, it is an easily remembered phrase. It is simple and catchy. It is short and to the point like a short spear poking you repeatedly in your psyche. You can see why progressive activists liked it when they thought it up. And the other reason is that it is easily understood. The notion of defunding the police pert near takes your breathe away. If you’re white because it leaves you feeling naked, afraid, and vulnerable. If you’re a PoC because it means the police won’t be killing you so often any more. Which ever camp you fall closest to, the meaning weren’t lost on anyone.

The US being such a law-and-order culture we think some fundamental deep personal flaw causes people to be criminals (cough-cough being black, cough -cought).

The average white person didn’t hear the phrase and think, “Hmmm… Surely, they don’t mean go WITHOUT police entirely, so what do they mean? I know! They must mean take some of the funding that police use for military-grade equipment and murdering unarmed PoC in their sleep and as they run away and use it to for social services and education that could decrease the number of crimes committed and require fewer police.

Anything sounds stupid when you say it like that. And, you can see racially anxious white voters stopping at, Defunding the police would mean we’d have no police. That’s both terrifying and crazy! White folks already think of black men as criminals, so the prospect of being without police protection really resonated with white suburbanites, especially women, as it turns out.

As it turns out entertaining fantasies of Cory Booker servicing the unmet needs of white suburban women was all fun and games until you wrapped it up in a lack of immediate police protection from the criminally minded Other.

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After that smearing all Dems moderate and progressive as being pro-Black and Brown criming in white neighborhoods was EASY. It would be as if Election 2018 had never happened, All those white voters would come home.

Democrats just don’t seem to appreciate how difficult it is to think, especially when there is an easily grasped and understood alternate explanation handed to them by a nice smiling white Repube. is hard and people just won’t do it when they have a ready-made alternative is beyond me. When the police don’t race into your neighborhood and gun down a child playing with a toy gun within seconds of arrival, you don’t think of the police as being a deadly adversary. And, when you’ve been trained all of your life to think of criminals as being black, brown, lower class, and someone other than you and your elected representatives. About 57% of white voters are ready, willing, and able to jump with both feet over that cliff.

I reckon Election 2018, makes it all very very confusing. In 2018, the Repubes lost big in the House and held their Senate losses to two seats. The only way to protest Trump was to vote against the Repube candidates, and people did up and down the ballot. The electorate was sending a message: they was done with Trump. Things were just a bit different in 2020. Trump was running, so voters split their ballot, voted against Trump but for the Republican candidates who white voters trusted to protect them from the Other.

The literal meaning of Defund the Police resonated with white voters. Once you are trying to explain the slogan, you’ve lost the fight. You ain’t gonna win no voters using a slogan that you gotta explain to them, especially one that stimulates the unnameable fear of black-on-white crime.

Ironically, progressive are correct when they say that moderates lost the messaging war. The literal message of Defund the Police too difficult for many to overcome in Repube districts.

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“File:Defund the police.jpg” by Taymaz Valley is licensed under CC BY 2.0

36 replies »

  1. Jack, your two-part summation of Defund the Police: (1) “easily remembered” and (2) “easily understood” could not be more correct and yet a hugely disturbing reflection of the average level of critical-thinking and prudent analysis in the U.S. by voting Americans. Add to that the wave of Populism here to our presently widespread civil inattentiveness, or laziness to go the full distance getting all the facts and data of a social, legal, and political issue—which btw Americans, takes more than 10-mins on a social-media platform hunting easily remembered and easily understood catchy phrases!!!—are as a civilized Constitutional Democracy creating a recipe for malignant cancer to our government and its supporting institutions/agencies.

    Among several other issues and causes, THIS is why the U.S. has fallen from a top-ranking of Full/Pure Democracy in 2017 to a “Flawed Democracy” ranking the last 3-years according to the annual EIU Democracy Index. And we keep dropping because we have too many Americans craving oversimplifications that are easily remembered and understood for their OWN brains, not what is best for a Constitutional democracy and your fellow Americans and why; which are more often than not more complex with numerous moving variables REQUIRING good-to-exceptional critical-thinking skills and prudent, equitable analysis. Period!

    Great post Jack. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Professor!

      I’m afraid you’re right. The rise of my opinion is equal to your expertise type approach to public discourse equates emotional decision making with careful critical analysis. The promotion of alternative facts cynically exploits the reluctance of human beings to think if a ready-made satisfying solution is at hand. As our Founding Father’s warned, a republic takes an informed electorate to keep and maintain. We’ve seen an assault on an informed electorate since Reagan who initiated the make your own facts approach to governance and it has accelerated under the influence of social media with the shortened messaging, use of memes, and insular nature of information.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      Liked by 1 person

      • MAN! You could not have said it any better than that Jack! 👏🏼👍🏼

        Grrrrr, we desperately need our university and institutional (highly professional, highly educated, highly trained) “experts” as a whole to engage our general public, our poorly informed, poorly educated public a lot more frequently, especially those Americans with no more than a GED or H.S. diploma. They are typically the ones with poor or no critical-thinking skills and prudent full analysis easily swayed by Populism and as you aptly pointed out: craving easy to remember, easy to understand OVERSIMPLIFICATIONS that many times, sometimes, or all the time are merely rhetoric, propaganda, and erroneously-based fabrications, i.e. an ignorant and gullible general populace.

        Fake President tRump has become a master of this oral propaganda technique along with most of his loyal associates that use him as their front-man, e.g. Steve Bannon, Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, Kellyanne Conway, etc. Then there are his children and in-laws. These blind loyalists to front-man tRump give Joseph Goebbels and the Nazi National Socialist German Workers’ Party a very good run for their money, don’t they!?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Howdy Professor!

        I’m continually struck by how similarly Trump’s behaviors follow Hitler’s rules as derived by Langer for the OSS in 1943: “[Hitler’s] primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.” Of course, it sounds a lot like gaslighting, so it may just be the way narcissists solve their problems.

        I think if we’re going to reach Trump’s base, we’ll need to take a page out of minority influence and find someone they respect and like who will voice opposition to Trump. It will be hard because there is a die hard group of supporters of Trump. It is clear, though, that political belief and behavior depends much more on who is espousing things than what they are espousing. Political values are less important than the politicians.

        Also, it is part of the authoritarian personality type to prefer simple solutions for complex problems. That points us in the direction of good slogans and jingles. Build Back Better did not appeal as much as Defund the Police repulsed.

        Huzzah!
        Jack

        Liked by 1 person

  2. It is clear that the opponents of the people who want to reallocate police resources for social programs are being disingenuous. However, I think that the people who are calling using the slogan “Defund the Police” should keep explaining what they mean to the normies and the open-minded. Much like Medicare for All, the majority of Americans can be swayed if activists are strong in their message and refuse to back down. Also, I think it would help if people point out the difference between “Defund the Police” and “Abolish the Police,” the latter of which is what fearmongers are saying that the former is seeking to do.

    Personally, I don’t know if I can support abolishing police departments or jails and prisons, but I am open to hearing from the people who do. What do we do about dangerous criminals, like rapists and murders, for example? And what do we do with corrupt cops in a new system?

    Ultimately, I think what we should do is to remove the corrupt cops from their post, revise our laws, and take our legal system from one that weighs heavily on the Black, brown, indigenous, and poor, to one that punishes corruption and oligarchy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Shmaltz!

      While I think that the opportunities for educating the public about the real meaning of Defund the Police are legion and ultimately will work, police reforms on the ballot across the nation won overwhelmingly, it is a little late for this election.

      This process of winning over the majority opinion by a minority in a population is called minority influence. We’ve seen it occur several times recently. Perhaps the biggest example is in BLM which a majority of Americans support.

      My biggest concern with the phrase, Defund the Police, is that it too easily activates the inner-racist of many white Americans. It causes an unarticulated and unconscious fear of black-on-white crime to exert influence on their choices. Given that it is all emotional, it is very difficult for the rational parts of the mind to overcome, especially since it is very stealthy, meaning that people are not aware of it. Of course, they have every motive to keep it hidden since awareness of it is to acknowledge their racism, which, we all, know is wrong. Yet, there it is living in many white people whether they’ll acknowledge it or not.

      Given that 57% of white people voted for Trump — and House Republican candidates outperformed Trump — I think it is clear that the racial overtones of the slogan affected the outcome of the election. Overcoming the last vestiges of the inner-racist in white Americans is going to be extremely difficult given the resistance that white Americans have in acknowledging that it is possible and doing the hard work of examining their own attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors around race.

      Hopefully, activists will be able to educate more white Americans about the real meaning of Defund the Police and blunt its effectiveness before the 2022 mid-terms in which the president’s party usually loses seats because you know the GOP will be bludgeoning every Dem candidate with it that they can.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

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      • While it is true that the phrase “Defund the Police” triggers racists, I reject the notion that many Democrats lost on the down-ballot because of the slogan. If we look closer, we can see that many of the Democrats who lost in close races and even in areas where Joe Biden carried the vote in the presidential race, generally rejected Medicare for All and/or a Green New Deal. Even among Republicans, those ideas are gaining popularity, and Medicare for All has garnered at least 72% among all Americans.

        Also, if we are to cast some blame, it should be on Democrats for not putting more focus on the down-ballot and the Biden campaign for embracing “moderate” Republicans while touting the endorsements from famous Republicans. Those Republicans included John Kasich and Rick Snyder, the latter of whom should be in prison for what he did to Flint, Michigan.

        When Democrats tried to appeal to Republicans living in suburbs and embraced regressive Republican figures, they sent voters a mixed message. While stressing that Donald Trump was a disaster as president (which he is), Democrats made the same mistake that Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign made: They failed to tie the worst policies of the Trump administration to the greater Republican Party. The Democrats thus laundered the reputations of Republicans and permitted voters to vote for these ghouls.

        On that note, a special mention goes to Amy McGrath. What was that? The Democratic leadership (namely Chuck Schumer) gave more support to McGrath than it gave to Charles Booker, her primary opponent in Kentucky. McGrath described herself as a “pro-Trump Democrat.” Aren’t we supposed to hate Trump? Also, McGrath’s campaign ran pro-Trump ads, and ads in Ohio (WTF?). She was not a serious candidate to take on Mitch McConnell, one of the villains of this pandemic.

        If the Democrats had supported Booker, I don’t know if he would have won, but he would have stood a chance, especially if Democrats hammered the point home about McConnell blocking any meaningful legislation to aid Americans during this pandemic. Instead, only Nancy Pelosi was (rightfully) taken to task for her inaction and bad politics for holding up more relief in the House of Representatives. McConnell should have been pegged as Enemy #1 (after Trump) for stating that he would pass no new stimulus after the greatest corporate giveaway with the CARES Act.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Howdy Shmaltz!

        I can’t speak to any of that really because I don’t know the individual down-ballot races very well at all. The thing that I do know, though, is that people will support a position in a poll but not vote that way. Abortion and gun regulations come to mind as clear examples. To me, it is clear that people will answer polls one way and vote another. Part of the reason is that the response on polls depends on how the question is asked. Most voters in this past election had their minds made up who they would vote for for president. Maybe they did for down-ballot races, too. I don’t know. What is clear is that many votes voted against Trump and Republicans down ballot.

        I’m beginning to think the problem with polling is that many conservatives will not answer polls, so they are chronically under represented giving a false sense of what public sentiment it.

        If the problems that Dems face with white conservative voters were solved by simply offering more government programs and spending, they would never have had a problem with white conservative voters. It isn’t Medicare for all or pandemic relief spending that won or lost this election. People are emotional decision makers. It depends on the emotions that are being stimulated in the election. And, it may be as simple as conservative white voters concluding that Biden would win the presidency and they needed a Republican Congress to counter balance him.

        I don’t think the solution is for Dems to be chasing after conservative white voters, though. I think the solution is to solidify their coalition and meet their needs through policy and legislation.

        Huzzah!
        Jack

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  3. Critical thinkers can deal with nuance and ambiguity and so parse a slogan like “De-fund The Police” into policies other than having no police. People stuck in cognitive dissonance avoidance can’t. Hence, the truth of the following:

    “Reason is poor propaganda when opposed by the yammering, unceasing lies of shrewd and evil and self-serving men.”
    Robert A. Heinlein

    Liked by 2 people

    • Howdy Bob!

      No matter how critical the thinker, we all respond emotionally first. For the one-third+ Americans who are independent voters, but lean one way or the other that instant emotional reaction anchors their response to such a slogan. When you hear it, you either like it or you don’t. And, for many white Americans, they instantly disliked it and you can’t overcome that. Heinlein was right.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      Liked by 2 people

      • Similarly, mention of (for example) “Gun Control” to some translates to “They’re going to take our guns away.” Or, “Black Lives Matter” gets a visceral dislike and means, “And yours don’t.”

        And, how can some learn not to run in terror at the word “socialism”? IDK

        Liked by 2 people

      • Howdy Bob!

        There are two findings that I find interesting, applicable, and contradictory. One is a finding in political science that the message doesn’t matter as much as the person delivering it. If the listener is affiliated with the speaker, then they’ll support any statement as being consistent with their political beliefs even if it contradicts them. Trump and MAGAs are the living manifestation of this phenomenon. Two years ago if you asked MAGAs if they’d be supporting a person who knowingly caused the deaths of a quarter million Americans, they would’ve say no, I imagine. They wouldn’t be able to think of any circumstance where that would be the case. I wish someone would’ve been prescient enough to have asked the question, but that probably is true Yet, here we are; 72 million Americans voted for him.

        The other finding is a psychological finding that suggests how you feel on a very basic like or dislike basis determines most of your decisions and is difficult to overcome. So, the trick is to associate a term with an issue like BLM = YOUR WHITE LIFE DOESN’T MATTER, any gun reform = TAKING YOUR GUNS AWAY, and any government service to the general population = SOCIALISM. It’s like putting a sexy model in your commercial to trigger the liking system.

        Put the two together and you get I like the speaker, so I’m prepared to agree with whatever they say no matter how outlandish. If it is backed by 70 years of smear campaign as is Medicare for all = socialism is or hundreds of years as BLM = the revenge of the Blacks, then it is all the more powerful, controlling, and difficult to overcome.

        Breaking that voodoo is going to be difficult. Maybe the only thing to do is to focus on the younger folks for whom those associations are less strongly made and wait for the older generation to pass.

        Huzzah!
        Jack

        Liked by 1 person

      • Generational change may be the real answer. That give me both hope and fear. Our current younger generations do trend (though not unanimously) more accepting of racial mixing and intermarriage, more concerned with climate change, and more liberal on other social issues like abortion and LGTQ rights, and are well represented by politicians like Bernie, Warren, and “The Squad’. For their parents and grandparents, alas, many of the “Dog Whistle” buttons are damned near hard wired. Still, I have to wonder what effect the present toll that the virus is taking and will continue to take for months to come among the unmasked, church going, bar hanging out, and rally crowding folk of Trump Country will have. That is exactly where the thing is raging worst, and even Republican leaders at the state level are being forced to try to impose measures to slow it down (at least in some states, but not all – Hello Texas). Which reminds me of another quote from Mr. Heinlein:

        “Stupidity cannot be cured. Stupidity is the only universal capital crime; the sentence is death. There is no appeal, and execution is carried out automatically and without pity.”

        If only they were only risking themselves.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Howdy Bob!

        We just moved to Cambodia over the summer. I am daily reminded of the genocide that the Khmer Rouge carried out in the 1980’s on its own people. On the streets, you rarely see anyone much older than myself (60 years old). They literally removed an entire generation. In the Europe in the 1970’s and ’80’s there was a deficit of elderly men because of the losses in World Wars I and II. #COVID19 may be eliminating a generation of alternative fact purveyors from our midst as we speak.

        I have been frustrated this morning because I’ve heard several references to anecdotes told by #COVID19 nurses that MAGA patients die still believing it is a hoax. For the life of me, I cannot find a print story verifying this. I would love to use it in a blog post, but won’t because I cannot verify it. Such is life.

        Huzzah!
        Jack

        Liked by 1 person

      • And several countries are having a problem with fewer younger workers than retired and soon to retire older workers – China due to the One Child policy, others (Japan, S. Korea, Russia, for example due to low birth rates).

        I’ll keep watch for print stories on the Dying Deniers.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Howdy Bob!

        We need immigration to replace and support our aging populations. The countries that manage their immigration well are the ones that will succeed over the next fifty years or so. That means China and the US and the UK are at distinct disadvantages. None of them like immigrants.

        Dying Deniers. I heard a segment on Lawrence O’Donnell’s show in which he was interviewing a contact tracer from one of the Dakotas. She was saying that people will be less than cooperative because they don’t believe contact tracing is necessary because they believe the pandemic is a hoax. Now that it is more wide spread in her state, she sees it less often. She is also saying that they are so overwhelmed that they could do little more than to be a notification service: you’re infected try not to infect anyone else.

        Huzzah!
        Jack

        Liked by 1 person

      • Howdy Bob!

        The distance between cause and effect can definitely dampen any eye opening. The connection between our votes and policies is too great for people to put together, especially those who have low emotional IQ and are ambiguity intolerant. Christ, rural conservative Christian white voters haven’t connected their vote with living in Cancer Alley, how would they connect their vote with declining Social Security funding for their retirements and immigration policy?

        It is situations like this that sometimes leave me wondering about our future.

        Huzzah!
        Jack

        Liked by 1 person

      • Our brains and social/emotional systems evolved for a couple of million years and many generations as hunter-gatherers and served us well in that way of life. We are trying to operate a Agro-Urban civilization with Stone Age minds. It is still a young experiment at les than 20,000 years. Climate change (our own doing) will be the make-or-break test. If a sufficient plurality of people cannot make the cause and effect connection about elections and policies and viruses and behavior, the prospects for the climate crisis do not bode well.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Howdy Bob!

        I would agree. Either our rational minds overcome our emotional minds, our dedication to the group overcomes self-interest, and long-term interests overcome short-term gains, or we all lose. The problem is that all those heuristics and biases feel instinctual. They are our natural reaction to an immediate situation. In a sense, they are our gut instinct, and we’ll always trust our gut over our minds. We’ll see if we make it as a species. Fortunately or maybe unfortunately, the definitive moment may be beyond our lifetimes.

        I’m working on a post using Freud’s death drive and #COVID19 deniers. It occurs to me that this tendency to look myopically at our immediate self-interest using heuristics and biases may be a big feature of it.

        Huzzah!
        Jack

        Liked by 1 person

      • I try not to think about Freud at all. He’s far more interesting and appropriate as a commenter on the Victorian era than on the human psyche. However, he his a genius for getting as far as he did using the limited tools at his disposal.

        Jack

        Liked by 1 person

      • It is important to remember that Freud began as a neurologist and remained sure that mental illness is a neurological disease, but turned to psychological methods because no effective tools or medications were available to treat it medically.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Howdy Bob!

        It’s surprising how accurate the theories and suppositions of the 19th and early 20th century neurologists — including Freud — were based on the logical implications of synaptic communication. You can see some of those implications in Freud’s theorizing causing some to try and reform Freud’s reputation attributing far more accuracy to him than I feel is warranted. It is like saying the earth-centric model of the solar system is accurate because it got rotation and orbit right.

        Freud wanted to revolutionize mental health treatment. He realized that going after the biological basis of mental health would take far longer than his lifetime. He also had some thoughts on brain plasticity and sought to alter the brain — a generous interpretation of his understanding — by altering the environment through talk therapy. He also wanted to shock the old folks as one translation of his early writings put it.

        Again, my reading of Freud is that he had amazing insight into and commentary on Victorian Europe, some insightful understanding of neurology, and little real treatment of mental illness. Psychoanalysis never worked any better than doing nothing, but it made people a fine upper middle class living for half a century and got us to talk about mental health issues. That alone is a major accomplishment. His ideas are part of our culture now for good or bad.

        Huzzah!
        Jack

        Like

      • Indeed, for better or worse, as are several of the reactions including the Anti-psychiatry movement (Laing & Szasz) and the development of lime-limited problem focused therapies (as opposed to interminable psychoanalysis). Also, for better or worse, we have the enduring influence of Jung’s thinking.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Howdy Bob!

        That’s one of the major accomplishments of the American psychologists: wresting mental health out of psychoanalysis and into science. I’m thinking specifically of Aaron Beck and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and its proven effectiveness. I think that Szasz’s questioning of the causes of mental illness were important for treatment and diagnosis to improve. The focus right now is on functionality and satisfaction with life as being the deciding factors for treatment. There is a line between sever mental health disorders and the elective treatment. When you run into someone with severe mental illness, you know it. Changes in their environment and stressors can modulate their mental functioning, but probably will not alleviate it completely. We’ve gotten better at helping the severely mentally ill live more functional lives. Then, we have the elective mentally ill. the middle class that participated in the great Prozac nation escapade of the ’90’s. Those folks live productive functional lives but feel like things could be better.

        Anywho. I’m not sure where I was going with that. Maybe it is better to leave it right there.

        Huzzah!
        Jack

        Liked by 1 person

      • Howdy Bob!

        On that note, the Florida law eliminating conversion therapy was just overturned by a federal court. That will certainly be appealed and probably not upheld.

        Both the removal of homosexuality from the DSM and elimination of the last act of eugenics were both uncomfortably recent, but at least they happened.

        Huzzah!
        Jack

        Liked by 1 person

      • Glad to do it. I figured you would be interested. I was just thinking about your post about censoring the lies. We are seeing lethal lies on a massive scale, not just about COVID. The Republican Secretary Of State of Georgia told reporters that he was asked by Lindsey Graham whether he could disqualify all the mail in ballots from certain places. He also said he and his wife have been getting death threats.

        Liked by 1 person

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