Social Psychology

Reflecting on the End of Trump’s America: What Did We Learn and How Did We Change?


I had been writing my first ever year-end review of Ye Olde Blogge, when I took a break and started reading Sarah Kendzior’s Hiding in Plain Sight. At the beginning of the book, she offers a lengthy quote from an open letter she wrote to the American people right after Trump’s election asking us to think about our values and what we would and wouldn’t do since all of those things will be challenged during the next four years. It got me to thinking about how we have changed over the past four years. It seemed much better than just a year-in-the-blog review.

What’s changed in 2020, but also what’s changed in the five years that Trump has infected the national stage?

Leave a comment about the things you’ve learned, the ways you changed, or the changes you’ve observed during the Trump years. We’d love to hear from you. Remember, our comments are always open.

The Importance of People

Not only did our time in lockdown show us the importance of people, but so did our elections, protests, and politics.

Protest:The Women’s March kicked off our years of protests. Followed by the wild and woolly Muslim-ban protests at airports around the country. Black Lives Matter kept growing with every black person murdered by the police. And, it all boiled over during the past summer with the pent-up frustrations over lockdowns, continued human rights abuses, and lack of change regarding the police murder of black people.

Protests mattered. They fired people up. They got people committed. And, as Tim Snyder said, they got people out of their comfort zones and meeting people of like mind. They not only created energy, but synergy.

INDIVISIBLE: I don’t think the #Resistance would have been anywhere near as effective without Indivisible. They showed us the way to influence Congress. They inspired Ye Olde Blogge to begin writing about specific pieces of legislation and how to contact your MoC.

The experience showed me how “easy” and effective it is to influence Congress through phone calls. No where was this more evident than in the fight to save the ACA. Democrats really burned up the Capitol phone lines then. It overwhelmed our Representatives and Senators.

One of the most popular posts we had this year was about contacting Emily Murphy to start the transition! Contacting her had a huge effect. Unfortunately, we all too often let our anger get the better of us and many threatened her and her family in spite of my admonitions to be polite.

People mattered in letting our legislators know how we felt about legislation and the 2020 elections. It has helped us learn the lessons of being an involved electorate. Hopefully, we won’t be going back.

Voting: When Trump was elected, people did not turn out to vote. Whatever the reason, the lack of people voting allowed him to win by the slimmest of margins. Things had changed, though, by the 2018 mid-terms. Moderate Democrats were swept into the House on the backs of suburban women. We rode this wave through the 2020 election, but unfortunately, so did the opposition. While #BidenHarris won, by a very slim margin (had Arizona and Georgia gone differently, both candidates would’ve had 269 EC votes and the House would be deciding), we lost seats in the House and have left control of the Senate to the very last election. On the other hand, we had an increase of 20 some odd million from 2016 to 2020.

People mattered when it came to voting, too. Hopefully, we’ve learned this lesson well enough that we elect Warnock and Ossoff to the Senate.

The Authoritarianism of the GOP

I’ve been writing about it since May 2017, and it only got clearer as the years drug on. However, it seemed to culminate with the impeachment trial of the Ol’ Pussy Grabber in January. With the trial, it was made very clear that the GOP did not care about the rule of law only about maintaining their grip on the government. The only conclusion to draw is that they liked what the Ol’ Pussy Grabber was doing and wanted him to continue doing it, and what he is doing is wrecking our democracy.

the ultimate lesson of the Trump years: The Repubes are no longer a democratic party. They no longer wish to be constrained by the results of elections. This has been going on since at least Newt Gingrich’s permanent majority. They have fought hard to rig elections through gerrymandering, voter suppression, and sowing doubt about the legitimacy of our elections. Now they aren’t even trying to be quiet about it any more. They are just coming right out and saying it.

Mitch McConnell: McConnell is the one of the well-springs of the GOP’s anti-democratic urges. He really is the psychopath to Trump’s narcissist, the executive functioning to Trump’s dysfunction. And, during the Trump years, he’s achieved a hat-trick of anti-democratic destruction:

  1. He’s wrecked the Senate rendering it a completely dysfunctional legislative body.
  2. He’s packed the courts with radically unqualified judges.
  3. By passing absolutely no meaningful legislation, he forces the executive branch to rule by executive order making it an authoritarian. Neat trick, Mitch.

In many ways, Mitch McConnell is the single biggest thing wrong with our democracy.

Single-party pseudo-democratic minority rule that will transfer the nation’s wealth to the one percent as quickly as possible while the rest of us all live in Cancer Alley, drink Flint water, and die as quickly and quietly as possible when we no longer contribute as much as we cost turns out to be not only a snarky and sarcasticky description of the goals of the GOP, but, also, damn accurate. That really is what they want and the Ol’ Pussy Grabber and #COVID19 were just accelerants.

People like Kendzior have been warning us about the naked authoritarian grab not only by Trump but by the GOP for a long time. The problem was that no one was ready to hear it. It was too great a violation of our norms and beliefs about ourselves to be believed. After watching it unfold for four years, though, I puzzled through the evidence and came to the conclusion myself.

It was like realizing that your parents had to have sex in order to have you. No one is ever ready to admit that their parents are sexual beings, but at some point the cold grotesque truth wins out and bores itself into your conscious. It is the same here. Realizing that one of our major political parties is no longer supporting democratic ideals and is actively working to destroy our democracy is a hard sell. No one wants to believe it.

The Power of Social Support

Ye Olde Blogge was started as an exercise in understanding how people could be so virulently against gun reform legislation and be so anti-choice. We’ve made great strides in explaining it the psychological mechanisms that allow people to vote against their own best interests. It turns out that Stanly Milgram was right. In the right circumstances we’ll all electrocute someone or vote against our won best interest or profess our belief that #COVID19 is a hoax with our last dying wheeze.

Identity Politics: I’ve come to believe that all politics is identity politics and the less information a voter has, the more the voter relies on identity politics to make political decisions. Low-information voters rely on the politicians they like — **cough, cough ** the Ol’ Pussy Grabber ** cough, cough ** — to determine their political views. Whatever that politicians is saying, that is what they believe. Ideology be damned.

The higher information the voter is, the more likely they are to make political decisions based on ideology and are less likely to blindly support a demagogue. So, the good news is that we want to create high-information voters. Difficult but doable.

Social Support: While we seem to be living in the stupidest of all of the parallel universes, it has at no time been clearer than in 2020 when MAGAs would rather die than give up their conspiracy theories or let go of the cognitive dissonance that allows them to live in the comforting bubble of Trump’s lies. The thing that props the cognitive dissonance against all challenges is social support. Surrounding yourself with people and media that agree with your opinions and beliefs.

Social psychologists have long maintained that 75% of our behavior is due to our environment and other external factors and only 25% due to personality and other internal factors. The Trump years have convinced me that they’re right. The icing on that foul bitter cake is the MAGA reaction to the gross mismanagement of the #COVID19 pandemic by all local, state, and federal Repubes.

The horribler it gets the more they pad their social bubble with true believers that echo their beliefs. There is hope, though. To burst this resilient bubble, we may need to make political lies the equivalent of hate speech. But, at least we have a plausible plan.

One of the beliefs that the blog has borrowed is that a good diagnosis leads to a good treatment which leads to a good outcome. It is a medical model, I know. But, I think, if we can understand the psychological mechanisms that underpin the appeal of the Ol’ Pussy Grabber and the authoritarian GOP, we can find better and more effective responses. It is a fight that we have to have and that we must win if American democracy is going to survive.

These are some of the lessons that I’ve taken from the Trump years. I’d love to hear the lessons that you’ve learned. Please let us know in the comments.

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Image Attribution

“Reflection” by Anderson Mancini is licensed under CC BY 2.0

16 replies »

  1. Some good insights here, thanks.

    The Repubes are no longer a democratic party. They no longer wish to be constrained by the results of elections.

    It is acceptable, and perhaps obligatory at this point, to use the F word. They’ve become a fascist party.

    Whatever that politician is saying, that is what they believe

    Simple test to differentiate a blind follower from a thinking human: Find out what politician or other leading figure the person most admires, then challenge him to give an example of some point on which he disagrees with that figure. If he can’t come up with even one, he’s not thinking for himself.

    MAGAs would rather die than give up their conspiracy theories

    Fine with me. Let them get on with it. It’s natural selection in action, and the fewer of them we have to deal with, the better.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Howdy Infidel!

      I came to the conclusion that they were fascists a couple of years ago and wrote several posts about it. The GOP believes that government should be promoting the interests of corporations using nationalism and scapegoats to manage the population. That 74 million of us are so easily manipulated into supporting it is the astonishing thing. And, that is why the blog exists, to explore the psychological underpinnings of the political support the GOP receives.

      And, at this point it is a race to see whether #COVID19 will kill off more Democratic or Republican voters. We’ll see. I’m sure it will be an exciting contest with a photo finish that none of us survivors will want to miss. They’ll be announcing the corporate sponsors shortly.

      We are so fucked even after Trump leaves office.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      Liked by 1 person

      • it is a race to see whether #COVID19 will kill off more Democratic or Republican voters

        Well, at least we’re social-distancing and wearing masks and listening to scientists while a lot of them are holding super-spreader events in church and listening to morons. The hardest-hit parts of the country are the big rural states in the center, not the crowded cities. I think it’s pretty clear how that’s working out.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Much like the vote count in the presidential election, the Democrats jumped out to a big lead deaths and infections early in the pandemic, and the deaths and infections that occurred late are finally catching up and jumping back into the lead.

        Jack

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I like that medical model. So, if part of the sickness is that too many people are defining their identity too narrowly, really truly not giving a dam what happens to the “Others” or actively hostile to them, then the medicine needs to bring them to a wider identity, or one more functional to their real needs. For example, history has repeatedly demonstrated that identity of economic class (“Worker”, “Labor”, “Poor”, “Exploited”) does lead to more democratic behavior and higher information voting, and union membership, than does “White” or “Male”, or “Patriot” (without the accompanying actual sacrifice of military service). Can we wake up the MAGAs to the fact that the GOP is, and has been for a century at least, engaged in class war against them, and their support for that party (fending off the “evils of socialism”) enable their own exploitation, that in the terms of the union movement they become scabs? I don’t know, but clearly the authoritarians and 1%ers who support them know that truth too and it terrifies them. In their minds, the worst thing that can happen is that the identity boxes of “White” and “Other” will break down as it did in the years leading up to the Wilmington Massacre in 1898. [https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/08/wilmington-massacre/536457/]

    Liked by 2 people

    • Howdy Bob!

      I wasn’t aware of the connection between economic class identity and being a higher information voter. It makes sense since union membership often includes opportunities for becoming better informed on issues and candidates and not just dictates concerning who to support. I have to confess to my own bit of prejudice here: I hadn’t realized that I assumed poor and disadvantaged people weren’t well informed or engaged in the issues until I moved to Kenya and started watching the political process and progress there. People were informed. I was amazed at how newspapers got passed around in the Kibera slum and in discussions with people how politically well informed they were. Politics there was based on tribal identity, but beyond that they were high information voters.

      I have very conservative relatives in the mountains of Tennessee, too. We used to visit every summer. They were poorly educated, but intelligent, racists, but higher information voters. I shoulda known all along that economic status and education don’t automatically dictate interest in and ability to understand the issues that confront us.

      I like the idea of helping change the identities of low information voters in an effort to spark interest in becoming high information voters, but I have to caution myself by reminding that correlation is not causation. Back in the ’90s a study was reported on in the popular press that changed familial behavior for a while. It found that students with higher grades had dinner as a family more frequently. Suddenly, everyone was insisting that they sit as a family and have dinner. No one’s grades improved though. The cause of the higher grades was the interest that parents took in their children’s lives and the closeness of those parents and their children. Those two qualities were expressed through family dinners. It’s a which came first question.

      Changing both identity and level of information of a voter would rely on media. Smartening up our media would help us smarten up our electorate. Something that the conservatives have opposed since Reconstruction.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, smartening up the media, now there’s a challenge. That might also include getting away from “Horse Race” reporting in which we get daily updates of who is ahead and who is behind in the polls, and little else. Why do they do that? It’s easy, quick, and simple, and almost nobody in the audience understands margin’s of error, or the influence of sample size and wording of questions.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Howdy Bob!

        I guess that was the role of the Fairness Doctrine: to keep the media honest and “smart.” Since 1987 we’ve seen the rise of Fox News and cable infotainment replace any since of news reporting and the bankruptcy of both local and broadcast news organizations and social media. We’re happily poisoning ourselves with our tendencies towards confirmation bias and motivated reasoning. All we really needed was a little push from a Russian disinformation campaign and viola we are tearing ourselves apart at the seams.

        I’ve recently come to the conclusion that Trump never does anything that he cannot cheat at. He didn’t run in 2016 to lose. Losing would’ve been too much of a narcissistic wound. He ran to win and cheated to win. It was no accident that he threatened to run or just briefly ran in 1988, 1996, 2000, 2012, and 2016. He committed to running when he had the mechanism in place to ensure victory. I’m increasingly convinced that he had cheated in 2020 and is surprised that he lost.

        Huzzah!
        Jack

        Liked by 2 people

      • Part of Trump’s complaints about various Republican election officials is precisely that they did not sufficiently or effectively cheat for him. They let the wrong people vote. They didn’t challenge and throw out enough votes. They failed to prove that the other side cheated. They let him down. When you are the predestined winner, it hurts to be out cheated, because after all, winning is all about cheating. The the world in the mind of a Trump, everybody (except losers, fools, and suckers) is always cheating. He did not fail. He was failed by others. That is the only way he can see it. He simply cannot believe there can exist any such thing as an honest election fairly run. That is not his universe.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Howdy Bob!

        That is the false consensus effect. You see yourself as average and what you’re doing and believing is what everybody is doing and believing. For Trump this is even worse because of his narcissism. He cannot conceive of anything that he doesn’t think. He has no theory of mind. He thinks everyone cheats, therefore, everyone cheats. It’s insane. It’s no way to run a government.

        Huzzah!
        Jack

        Liked by 1 person

      • There is a demon that pursues the narcissist, the Imposter Syndrome and the fear of being discovered to be less than advertised. Part of the defense is to believe that everybody else is just a much a fake as you are, that that is just the way the world is. You’re right that he has no Theory of Mind. All he does have is the assumption or presupposition that everybody is just like him and may only be either as good at it as he is (none better) or less so.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Howdy Bob!

        If Trump weren’t such a despicable person, his life would bring pity and sympathy. But, he’s just such destructive force that all you can do is despise him. He is, however, nothing more than a caricature of a human being.

        Jack

        Like

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