Memory

Don’t Let Them Gaslight You: The Implications of Trump’s 6 January Insurrection Riot as a Flashbulb Memory


Trump’s insurrection riot was one of the most significant events in American history. It’s one that we should be sure to understand thoroughly because of the wide-ranging repercussions that it will have on our politics and society for an extended period of time. We’ll focus on one aspect of it that, perhaps, few others are discussing: The implications of it being a flashbulb memory in the American psyche. As a flashbulb memory it will be well remembered; and it is vulnerable to manipulation.

Flashbulb Memories

As discussed before on Ye Olde Blogge, a flashbulb memory is a special type of memory that is formed when an event has significant personal importance and strong emotional content. While all of our #COVID19 milestones are important, the frequency of their occurrence numbs us enough so that they no longer have the emotional impact that they should. It stops them from being a flashbulb memory. However, the events on 6 January during the Trump insurrection riot, were shocking. Utterly shocking. They qualified on both counts to form a flashbulb memory. The fear and anxiety we all felt provided the strong emotional content and the attack on our very government and in one of the most iconic buildings in American history produced a personal significance for each and every one of us. We immediately seared the memories into our brains — literally, since flashbulb memories actually use a different neurological track in the brain to form and be retrieved as well, but I don’t think anyone really wants a deep dive into that, do they?

Another aspect of flashbulb memories that is important and relevant to us here is that they are frequently discussed and ruminated upon after they have happened. You tell me that the insurrection riot didn’t dominate news coverage for the days and weeks after it happened and come up between everyday folks in daily conversation. It helps that more video footage shot by the rioters themselves or people covering the riots keep coming out as well as first hand accounts from rioters, police officers, and members of Congress. Everytime we use a memory, we strengthen it. So the shere frequency with which we have thought about the insurrection riot has helped the memory grow stronger in our minds.

That’s good because we need to hold onto this memory. We need to hold on to the shock and outrage, fear and anxiety, disgust and distrust that it evoked in all of us. Those are emotions that we are going to need. We will need them especially in 2022 when it is time for us to elect a new Congress. We need to remember who did and said what on and about that day.

Wait! What? Our emotional responses and many elements of 6 January will remain accessible to us because of the nature of flashbulb memories. We’ll remember who we were with when we found out about it and what we were doing. We’ll remember specific moments of the riot. We’ll remember details and emotions. But, what politicians said and did afterward, maybe not so much. Those things won’t be part of our flashbulb memory. It doesn’t mean that they won’t be remembered, though. It just means that it is part of a different memory system.

What’s important here is that the energy and motivation of our emotional response to 6 January will be needed in 2022 election campaign. It will be needed to motivate us to organize, campaign, and vote. That kind of fear, anxiety, and angry are huge motivators. We will need that motivation to overcome the voter suppression efforts that the GOP is sure to enact before the vote in 2022.

Manipulating Memory

The Repubes know this. And, they have a specific strategy that they are enacting right now to help blunt the impact of our flashbulb memories. It is a tried and true strategy that they have used on us many times in the past twenty years or so with devastating effectiveness.

The Unreliability of Memory: the IKEA Analogy

You see, every time you recall a memory, you unpack it from its storage containers much like you might take the parts out of an IKEA box before assembling your next bookcase, dresser, or storage unit or what have you. You then assemble the memory using those parts. They are connected and, perhaps, have something akin to instructions concerning the order of events and other characteristics of what happened. But, then, when you’re done, you restore the memories. You literally take apart your IKEA bookcase, dresser, or storage unit, and box it back up and slide it into whatever crawl space you have for those types of things. You leave it there until you need it again.

If you were to put together and take apart that IKEA bookcase a thousand times, what would happen? You’d lose screws and other attachments. The little grooves and holes would become worn and would fit less securely. You might even lose a big piece of it. And, it would certainly become damaged with scratches and dents and stuff. One day when putting together something else, you might even borrow a piece of this one. You might have to substitute something for a missing piece. Gradually, overtime, that bookcase, dresser, or storage unit would change. It would be different from when you first put it together. No IKEA unit can survive the reassembly. You can’t really ever put them together a second time, can you?

Memories work in much the same way. The emotions you feel when you recall a memory, influence it when you re-store it. Events and thoughts that you are having when you remember something influence the parts that you recall. There are subtle changes made to the memory every time it is recalled because you have to reassemble it. You are using a logic similar to, “It must’ve been like this…”

Taking Advantage

Repubes take advantage of this phenomenon. And, you can see them doing it right now in real time:

  • Shifting blame: Antifa were the real perpetrators. Can you imagine anything more preposterous? We have right now people who were at the riot breaking down doors and windows, attacking police officers, and destroying government property who now swear it wasn’t them, it was antifa.
  • Both side-ism: It’s the same as the Portland demonstrations or the BLM protests that resulted in property destruction. The hell you say. You can’t equate a protest and an attack on the seat of our federal government. But, yet they do. You can’t equate the behavior of protesters and demonstrators that were provoked by law enforcement or were actually provocateurs with those of rioters who were wound up by Trump, Hawley, Cruz, and other politicians through the deliberate repetition of lies about the election.
  • Blaming the victim:This is what happens when you don’t listen to the concerns of people about an election. Really? You don’t think having lied repeatedly about how the election was stolen had something to do with it?
  • Minimizing: It wasn’t that bad. The fuck you say? They wanted to kill Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic lawmakers. They had help from specific members of Congress in understanding the layout of the building and where Nancy Pelosi was — we’re looking at you Boebert!
  • The Bait and Switch: We need unity and healing as a nation. This is just code for forget what we did. They have no intention of unifying with any liberal or moderate.

Don’t Let ‘Em Gaslight You

Unfortunately, if they repeat this crap enough, enough people will hear it and it will corrupt their memory of 6 January. We cannot let that happen. Here’s what we need to do:

  • Bookmark this link: Where Was the Protection? from The Professor’s Convatorium . It is a post chronicling the events of the day, It’s quite thorough and well annotated. It is just what we’ll need to help us remember what really happened and avoid the gaslighting that the Repubes will try to us on us.
  • Write a letter to yourself: Take a moment right now to write a letter to yourself. It could be a tweet, a FB update, an email, an Instagram post, whatever it is that you can return to in two years to remind yourself of what happened on 6 January and how you felt about it. What do you imagine that your future self will need to know about 6 January to be motivated to vote, get out the vote, campaign, and organize against the continuing GOP insurrection? That’s what you need to put in that letter. We need to preserve the memory of what happened and to protect ourselves from this attack on our understanding of what happened.
  • If the Dems were smart, they would be funding some documentarian to produce a film that could be released in 12 to 18 months about the insurrection riot just so we could all relive it again before the election.
Join our email list

If you enjoyed this post and would like to read about other ways psychology can help us in our daily lives and help us politically become an email subscriber so you’ll never miss a post!

Image Attribution

“One direction: Insurrection!” by Flats! is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

15 replies »

  1. I very much enjoyed and agree with what you’ve written, with one exception. I am a professional mover, have been since the eighties, and I can tell you from (literally) thousands of experiences that IKEA furniture should be built once and NEVER moved again. I can’t begin to tell you all how many I’ve had to fix, or jury-rig, or for that matter how many claims I’ve paid for new ones. Sadly, it’s my further observation that everybody (including scores of millionaires and at least two billionaires that I’m aware of) has at least one piece-of-crap Swedish export in their house.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Kevin!
      Oh yes, moving country every five years or so for the past 25 years has put me in a position of using lots of IKEA products. They are cheap and accessible, so you end up with them to fill-in the gaps. It doesn’t take long to realize that once you’ve taken put it back together again that it will never be quite the same.

      That said, they make the perfect metaphor for memory. Once you recall something, it is never the same again.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      There is some comfort in knowing that no matter how rich you are, you still own pieces of shit.

      Like

  2. Reblogged this on Scotties Toy Box and commented:

    Hello CalicoJack. It has always astounded me that people would forget what a politician promised and failed to do between elections. Or the reverse. I remember during the 2018 elections when Republicans were running advertisements and publicly saying they would save the ACA at the same time having voted repeatedly to destroy it. They were in court to have it declared illegal and they were running on keeping it safe. A lot of people seem to completely disconnect the Republicans voting against giving them the assistance they desperately needed, yet voting those same people back into office. I am thinking of McConnell who was voted back into office with a 10 point margin by the very poor people he basically stiff armed. Thanks for this post explaining it for us. Hugs

    Liked by 2 people

    • Howdy Scottie!
      This is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart: poor whites voting against their best interests. It is one of the issues that drove me to start blogging about political psychology. I’ve come up with three factors that helps explain it: (1) authoritarian personality — they like simple black and white solutions and explanations to complex problems; (2) low-information voters — they don’t want to be bothered with the details, it’s just all emotion, all the time, so they vote for the person they like (see authoritarian personality); and (3) white grievance read that as racism — they may not be explicitly racist, but they have implicit bias in spades.

      High-information voters are less susceptible to being tricked into voting against their best interests, so our solution is to create high-information voters. The question is how.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, the hazards of misunderestimating (my favorite “W” neologism) how easily we humans can mis-remember even a flashbulb memory, especially with the help of gaslighting. I’m thinking of the battered woman saying something like, “He didn’t really hit me THAT hard.” I like the idea of the documentary, which would hopefully include Trump’s Senate trial and conviction, and, perhaps more consequences for him and others (some well earned perp walks).

    Liked by 2 people

    • Howdy Bob!
      One of the more outrageous blues lines was, “I wouldn’t hit ya, if I didn’t love ya!” and “Why should I let you go and let some other man mistreat you when I can keep you and mistreat you myself?” Oh the misogyny. I guess those are only tangential to the topic at hand and a reflection of my misspent youth.

      I am amazed at how effectively the GOP manipulates the memory of its followers and directs their emotional reactions to upsetting situations away from holding them accountable and doing something about it. They honed this technique responding to mass shooting with the “hearts and prayers” and “too soon for politics” treatment. They condemn liberals for wanting to be cruel and forcing us to talk politics while we grieve implying that there will be something later, but later never comes. They really are masters at giving their supporters simple interpretations and emotional reactions to associate with every issue that might turn them against the party.

      As I said to someone else in another comment today, it is one of the reasons I started the blog. I wanted to address this very situation.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      Liked by 1 person

      • They do fear hearing the song with the most appropriate answer to those blues lines, “Hit the road Jack” (some other Jack, of course).

        It is amazing how the Right Time for considering action on some problems never comes. Reality is that the time to clean and dress a wound is when it is fresh, not to wait for it to go necrotic and infectious.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you Jack for the pingback/link to my blog-post. 🙂

    For the sake of our Constitutional Republic/Democracy and its very explicit, very well-established 245-year old protocols, processes, and implicit concepts/spirits of a Constitutional Republic/Democracy and its LAWS/AMENDMENTS (not one man or one subsequent minority ideology) will never be defiled, twisted, or abandoned all together by such UNAmerican radicals and militant extremists who DO NOT know, much less understand or interpret our laws and Constitution, no one… not one single American citizen ever has any right to violent, vandalizing protest or insurrection at any time simply because our/the Laws & Constitution of the Land implemented by fair, free, and LEGAL elections and legislation displeases YOUR OWN ideology or religious beliefs!!! That has never been how our nation of laws were designed, implemented, or protected and enforced.

    Geeeezzz, what in tha HELL has happened the last 3-4 decades in our middle school and high school Social Studies, History, and American Government curriculums!??? Why are so many Americans clueless about these basis American Government 101 teachings!?

    Great stuff Jack. Keep up the great work! 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    • Howdy Professor!
      I’m glad to pass along useful information, especially when it is well presented.

      Unfortunately, we have an entire political party and their supporters who believe that it is okay to trample on the Constitution, rights, laws, traditions, norms, and anything else as long as they believe it benefits them. It is actually in keeping with the deep culture that we inherited from our Pilgrim and Calvinist forebears.

      Most people believe that the Pilgrims came here seeking religious freedom. They did, but it is only half the story. Their real goal was to remove themselves from the persecuted and install themselves in the role of the persecutor. Ask Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams about the religious freedom they enjoyed at the hands of the Pilgrims.

      In many ways Trump was a blessing because he laid bare the conflicts in the American psyche, especially the racism that dwells deep in the inner recesses of our consciousness. It didn’t take much to get that all out and going again.

      He also taught us a lot about our democracy and what a democracy actually means and how it functions. It is my sincere hope that if we can survive this moment with our democracy intact, we will be the stronger for it. But, it means, probably, destroying the Republican Party and guarding against the resurrection of a race-driven authoritarian party.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      Liked by 3 people

Howdy Y'all! Come on in, pardner! Join this here conversation! I would love to hear from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.