Abnormal Psychology

Coping with your MAGA Relatives during the Festivus Season


Regular readers may remember that I do in fact have a favorite drunk rage uncle, my Uncle Ingus. Anyone reading back in 2017 may remember that he wrote a post for us arguing that America wasn’t a racist country. Something of birthday present since we share the same date of birth. Because Uncle Ingus has played such a prominent role in our family, I’ve had to cope with his increasingly virulent aggressive representations bubbling up out of the mass psychosis that has overtaken MAGA Nation. Like many of us with Fox News-watching Big Lie-believing inner racist-having #COVID19-resisting CRT-hating gun toting relatives, I’ve struggled with how best to cope with his presence at family gatherings and interact with him without feeling like I’ve sold out completely and avoiding spittle ladened invective.

With Festivus coming up, I know most of us want to (a) renew the familial gatherings that we couldn’t hold last year and (b) worry about how the Feats of Strength will go if we’re too honest during the Airing of Grievances and everything gets tinged with accusations of treason, stolen elections, and various conspiracy theories. I also know that several readers have actually asked how they can help their friends, neighbors, and relatives that have fallen into the QAnon, Fox News, MAGA Nation rathole.

We’ll start with the basis of the problem because we all know that a good diagnosis will help us find a good treatment.

Diagnosis, Trauma

Part of living in the miasma of mass psychosis is being traumatized. In reality, we’ve all been traumatized by the Trump years and #COVID19, but layered on top of that for your favorite drunk rage uncle is the traumatic effects of being continually outraged by white grievance identity politics for the past forty years.

Because of the sheer continuous nature of the outrage, they get stuck in the trauma that is induced. In an episode of the podcast, On Being, the psychiatrist, Bassel van der Kolk, presents strong evidence that the over stimulation of the fight-or-flight response can get us to be permanently stuck in panic mode ready to defend ourselves. This is where MAGA Nation is now. They feel constantly under threat whether they really are or not. They perceive the world as an extraordinarily dangerous place to be in.

When you look at them through this lens, you can see some humanity in them. The politicians that are manipulating them have deliberately created this milieu of threat and victimhood that is interwoven with racist dog whistles to keep them stirred up and fighting back against the forces that are arrayed against them. Of course, there are no forces fighting them. It’s just us. Fellow Americans who want to earn a living and raise our families same as them.

Seeing the mass psychosis of MAGA Nation as trauma is helpful because it points us towards ways of dealing better with the individuals suffering from it in our lives. Because trauma exists deep within the somatic and emotional parts of the brain, it is not directly linked to the thinking, rational, speaking parts of it. This lack of communication between these two areas makes it difficult to articulate our deeper emotional responses like those we have when we suffer trauma.

This is why it does no good to try to present rational information to your favorite drunk rage uncle about why the conspiracy theory of the Big Lie is wrong or that masks really do work or that the vaccines really are trustworthy. He’s, literally, running on just his limbic system and rarely engages his prefrontal cortex where his thinking is controlled. He just won’t process that information. It will never be able to affect the way he sees the world.

Trauma rewires the brain so that it perceives the world as an inherently dangerous place. The person automatically responds to the world as dangerous. They are predisposed to seeing the world as threatening. Understanding these two things, that the rational part of the brain is disengaged and that they constantly feel threatened by the world, helps us understand better how to respond in a more effective way.

Responding to the Traumatized

To treat trauma, you have to engage the body and emotions, not the rational thinking part of the brain. You need physical activity, emotional engagement. Get your favorite drunk rage uncle to engage is physical activities with you like dancing? Playing catch? Walking the dog? Hikes in the country? Sing-a-longs? Whatever you can think of that your family would be willing to do together. Cut off talk of politics. Focus on a group activity.

Trauma doesn’t allow the body to relax because it feels constantly under threat, so re-engaging the body is one of the most important keys to working out trauma. Exercise will allow the body to relax after its done. Exhausted muscles aren’t capable of being in fight-or-flight mode, they’ll be in rest and digest mode.

Other Advice for the Festivus Season

Unfortunately, the Festivus comes but once a year and MAGA Nation’s white grievance identity outrage is year round. It means that you may have to engage a lot more often and a lot more closely with the members of MAGA Nation in your life if you really want to try to deprogram them.

Remain Engaged

As difficult as it is, we should seek to remain engaged with the MAGA folks in our lives. Many have lost touch with reality because they suckle at the teet of Fox News and conservative talk radio all day and night. Without some actual contact with the sane world of reality, they will have no hope of recovering from the spell of mass psychosis that has been cast over them. So, maybe think of a long-term project or problem that you could solve together even if it is just painting a house or helping with the lawn upkeep or starting a garden.

It really is that simple. You don’t want to argue with them and further inflame their intransigence, but you want to offer the quiet reality-based alternative. They know without you saying it outloud that you don’t agree, so arguing with them, as we’ll see, doesn’t actually help. Brief mentions of things from the news like the man in Utah who knowingly signed his dead wife’s name to her absentee ballot, filled it out, and sent it in was Republican and one of the only verified examples of voter fraud will do more as an earworm than a screaming red-faced rage fest of a confrontation.

Seek Common Ground

Look for topics that you can agree on that are safe. Before my mother passed, one of the few things we could talk about was football and her team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even though I can’t be a football fan because of the gross mistreatment of retired players with chronic traumatic encephalitis, I followed it enough to be able to hold intelligent conversation with her about the season. Now and again, though, I’d talk about a player in the news who was suffering from the chronic traumatic encephalitis, like the great Pittsburgh center, Mike Webster, in order to address injustice in the world. She could hear it then.

Of course, I never brought her back from her Fox News-induced delusional thinking disorder syndrome, either, but I like to think that I made some inroads before she died a few years ago.

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Image Attribution

“PTSD Nation” by Truthout.org is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

46 replies »

    • Howdy Ten!

      That is one way to cope with the incivility that has infected our political intercourse. It seems to me that we should be calling something by the name Zuckerberg. Some disease or something.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      Liked by 1 person

        • Howdy Ali!

          Salmonella is a nasty thing to get, so that could work. Anal warts are, too, so maybe them. Other than Trump, I don’t know that there is a single person who can be attributed with having a greater deleterious effect on our democracy.

          Why does all the paths that greed walks seem to lead to authoritarianism?

          Huzzah!
          Jack

  1. At the moment, I suppose I could enjoy a moment of feeling lucky. My only uncle, Dad’s brother, died more than 20 years ago, but were he alive his Bipolar illness might have led him a wild manic chase down the popular rabbit holes. Dad’s sister has also passed on long since, no doubt expecting to be welcomed on the other side by her Evangelical Jesus. The last time I saw all of my four cousins (2 each from Dad’s siblings) was for our shared grandmother’s funeral in 1957. One of the cousins from the Evangelical Free Church side of the family (Aunt Mary married a graduate of Moody Bible Institute) did visit en-route to Florida after Dad died, and politics was not discussed. Most of my friends and acquaintances hereabouts are active in Indivisible. Those I know who might be Trump voters seem to keep it low key.

    Anyway, the first need in dealing with traumatized people is to find a way, an activity, a context, in which they can feel ( even if briefly), if not safe, then at least less unsafe. If your drunk rage uncle gets going on a rant, seeming to agree with him doesn’t help, it only stimulates him to go further. Directly challenging brings escalation. In dealing with someone like that, it is not about the facts of the outside world. It is about the relationship, the “I and Thou” being a safe place.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Howdy Bob!

      That makes it a tricky line to walk. Finding safe spaces to interact around and build relationship is difficult and fraught with areas where it can be easily derailed. But, at the same time, if we are to survive as a nation, muchless as a democracy, it has to be done. We have to find a way to not only co-exist but to interact and govern together. Right now, the GQP is refusing to do so, witness McCarthy’s threat that every minority Democrat will have to have majority approval to serve on a committee should the Republicans ever become the majority in the House again. They are not serious about working together to govern.

      Our only recourse is to try to shrink their base by rescuing people from the cult. Otherwise, we go the route of the Beatles and break-up the band. Personally, I’d rather be the Rolling Stones and keep us together well into our old age.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      Liked by 2 people

      • Well, their base is now significantly over-represented in COVID deaths, Long COVID, and overdose deaths (we’ve hit 100,000 in 12 months and still going fast). Of course, the overdose rate is getting a lot of attention and calls for solutions because it includes a lot of rural white people.

        COVID + Fentanyl —- 750,000 + 100,000 — we are approaching a million deaths since this thing began.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Howdy Bob!

          But how much do the Republican politicians really care about it? Back in 2017 the opioid crisis was all the rage and it got a lot of coverage. Trump even mumbled a few lines about it and referred to it vaguely and had some notion of solving the problem, but they never did, of course. Now that they’ve lost the better part of 850,000 lives, do they care any more?

          I don’t think so.

          Recently, I’ve been looking into what it would take to bring Trump and select governors before the ICC on charges of crimes against humanity. Their #COVID19 reactions seem to me to qualify. Of course, it would just inflame the nationalists even more and cause the next Republican president to pull out of the ICC. But, it would be some accountability.

          Huzzah!
          Jack

          Liked by 1 person

          • It has long been clear that the United States (along with a few other countries) does not want itself or its agents and citizens to be accountable to an international court like the ICC. We don’t mind Third World dictators and such being tried there, but not us or ours. As for pulling out of the ICC, we can’t, because we aren’t in it, never have been.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Howdy Bob!

              Good catch. I had forgotten that we had never joined the ICC. It seems odd, but it is true, we will not subjugate ourselves to their judgment. It may be the last avenue for holding Trump accountable for his crimes, though.

              Jack

              Liked by 1 person

                • Howdy Bob!

                  There are three ways: a state can make the referral, the UN Security Council, or the prosecutor can open a preliminary investigation under her own authority. I’m guessing that the UNSC won’t do it since it involves passing a resolution, which the US will veto. But, the other two are possible. Some self-respecting country or one that just wants to devil us more can do it.

                  Jack

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • The words, “crime against humanity” or similar are being used more frequently with regard to Trump’s (and a few other leaders, like Bolsonaro) handling (if it can be called that) of the pandemic. It is difficult to imaging that somebody somewhere isn’t quietly building a case.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • I’m hoping that there is some ICC prosecutor who is looking to make a name for themselves that will take out such a case.

                      Of course, the NYC prosecutor’s office just might could ladle out a dollop of justice on the Trump crime family, too.

                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • And then there is the case in Georgia of Trump threatening and demanding votes “be found”.

                      Trump’s brand is “The Guy Who Never loses”. Once he does lose in a way he cannot deny, even if he can frame it as a conspiracy, that begins to crack. If the losses pile up, even in small matters, he and his brand will go into a spiral of narcissistic wounds and loss of credibility. If his executive privilege ploy fails his enablers will begin to realize he cannot protect them.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      From what I understand many of the lesser WH aides have requested a subpoena as cover for their testimony to the commission. Many want to come in and give their testimony. It will be interesting to see how much Bannon et al’s refusal to cooperate actually hurts their ability to uncover the truth given the testimony of others and phone records and other records that they can access.

                      Trump’s already in an extended fit driven by the narcissistic wound of losing the election. If he starts losing court cases, we may see some weirdly worded and sinisterly accusatory press releases and public statements being made by him. He might even start going on stadium tours so he can rant incoherently for hours at his supporters.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Those lower ranks from the Trump WH were living in a very abusive environment. They also know that Trump would not see them as important enough to pardon if he were to get back in the office. So, the committee (and any grand juries) are their refuge, and potential revenge.

                      Being handed the message, “Loser, loser, loser”, is probably the most intolerable possible narcissistic wound Trump could get. With a few rounds of that, he would be completely unhinged.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Once he would lose the focus to make his story about himself also about them, especially since he would turning on everyone (like all his lawyers and staff) he would blame for letting him down (a conspiracy of the world against him).

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      I just don’t see this ending well for Trump. I don’t see him becoming president again in 2024. Whether he runs or not is immaterial, plenty of people keep running for office once their time has passed them by. And, that failure alone — his increasing isolation and irrelevance and its increasing obviousness — will drive him absolutely mad.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • I have never really hoped for a president or other office holder to die… I’ve never really hoped for anyone to die, before Trump took office. I’m only a little ashamed to admit it.

                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Of course, Trump is only one of a number of political celebrities whose death would produce a flood of conspiracy stories (some don’t qualify as theories) whatever the cause might actually be.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • The ironic thing is that Trump the person and individual isn’t needed by MAGA Nation. He’s replaceable as long as the need is met. That could be the plot of your next dystopian novel, the three hundred year old narcissistic dictator who is just replaced by an actor when the old one dies and the political machine just keeps on rolling.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • I’m remembering that in 1984, Big Brother was not seen in person, but on screens. So, in the now envisioned Metaverse on the internet, Trump or the dictator like him could be a virtual character, an avatar always present, and not an actual living breathing human being, almost a god, and his adversaries also virtual super villains – like living in the Marvel universe. The technology is already here.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • But only if he himself is there to appreciate it. The thought of being replaced by a deep faked copy managed and operated by others would enrage him. Then we could have Trump at war with Trump.2, and the general public confused about which is the real one. Actually, a well funded deep fake team could create that now.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • I think he would only like it if he would still be present, experiencing it. If he could upload himself to a computer and become electronically immortal, that he might go for. As cor contemplating his own death, he might be able to do that to the extent of setting up his will to guarantee that his children would be fighting over it for the rest of their lives.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • He definitely would want his children fighting over his estate for the rest of their lives… and they probably will, too, except for Tiffany and Barron. Barron is probably taken care of in the pre-nup. Dreams of immortality, electronic or otherwise, sounds about right.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • There are those who say that Trump is showing signs of dementia now. It could be that in three years, he won’t be functional enough to run. In three years, a lot can happen, prison, heart attacks, strokes, prison. You know, the future is uncertain and doesn’t always turn out as we imagine.

                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • He has such a loose relationship to facts and truth, that being able to tell if he’s slipping is a bit difficult.

                      Just thinking about the last three years can make one cautious about predicting even one year ahead, let alone three.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • The world has been so topsy-turvy, I don’t know why anyone is entertaining thoughts of 2024.

                      There are other signs of dementia that are obvious. I’ve seen several speculative pieces on the signs of Trump’s emerging dementia in the past four years. It can be difficult to suss out without a close examination.

                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Dementia can be very subtle for a long time, and Trump’s tendency to confabulate and his famous irritability make it even harder to identify. My dad’s dementia first began to show when he quit his job as secretary at the local Rotary Club because he couldn’t suffer the Republican fools quietly. And Trump’s enablers will cover for him as long as they can, just as Reagan’s did. Mark Meadows has already dropped the bomb of Trump being a COVID spreader. He would have been in a good position to notice, except that he wasn’t in the WH job that long to see significant changes. There are people in the GOP who would not have a problem electing a mentally incompetent President if they knew they could control and manage him, but if they know Trump, they know that won’t work as long as he can talk.

                      Predicting anything about 2024 is both very popular among the opinion creation class, and fraught with Known Knowns, Known Unknowns, and Unknown Unknowns from the climate, the economy, the 2022 elections (whatever SCOTUS does on abortion, they will piss off at least half the country just in time for campaign season), and so much else.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!
                      There are those in the GOP who would prefer someone with dementia or other fatal flaw that they could control and manage. A Warren Harding. At first, I thought Trump would be like a trash-talking Harding. He was in a way, but far to vindictive. Harding knew he was incompetent and happy to be used. His price was cheap, prohibition liquor and hookers. Trump, on the other hand, doesn’t know he’s incompetent and has to have his ego stoked constantly. If the GQP had a Putin in their ranks, they could handle Trump. But, they don’t.

                      Right now, we’re failing the big man of history test. We have no one rising to the occasion. No one with the vision to lead us through these troubled times. Me may stagger through them and come out all right on the other side, but it will be more dumb luck than anything else. I had thought Obama was our visionary. Perhaps he was, but the Republicans successfully term-limited the presidency after FDR, so we’ll never know.

                      I really hate the prediction game that the pundits play. There is no penalty for being wrong. No one tracks the predictions and scores them after the fact. It just sets up us for disappointment, confusion, and frustration since we can’t really distinguish easily between prediction and fact. Once we’ve heard it, we start thinking of it as true.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Definitely, I don’t see anybody in the GOP who could either challenge Trump (or, Trumpism) with a grand vision (even a dark one) and charisma, or out Trump Trump, or control him. And, the Democrats don’t seem to have someone with both the vision and the ability to effectively communicate it. Biden mostly represents an idea of normality. That is both needed and a problem because normal is just over for at least the next several hundred years. And, they keep getting caught up in the details (and arguing about them) which obscures the grand vision.

                      I manage to avoid a lot of the punditry (no TV) but their un-accountability for getting it wrong, and often continuing to make the same wrong predictions and explanations is worse than useless.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      I think Biden is a necessary and needed step towards a more visionary Democratic leader. I just don’t see any on the horizon. The best we’ve got so far are some fairly charismatic technocrats, Warren and Buttiegieg. And a somewhat charismatic person, O’Rourke. Few of the other also rans from 2020 strike me as being of the visionary timber.

                      Perhaps that is because before Trump, the Democrats were mostly concerned with technocratic ideas and very few with real abstract value-laden ideas… until Sanders came along.

                      I find Harris to be a very disappointing figure. She does not project the dynamic strong ideology that we need going forward. Biden is not grooming her to be his 2024 successor or in 2028, either.

                      The last few weeks or so, I’ve cut down on the punditry that I follow and I’m not the worse for it.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

  2. I so thoroughly failed to assist my TWO Magidiot brothers return to the land of rational thinking that I finally just gave up completely. No more interaction with them at all…they (of course) think I am the problem. After all, I believe in climate change, rational gun control laws and abortion rights. I am becoming more and more of the opinion that we should just let Texas secede from the states and let all of the morons move south where they can be happy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Suze!

      I go back and forth with that line of thinking. We either go the route of the Beatles and break up going our separate ways and hope that we live in Paul McCarthy-land, or we go the way of the Rolling Stones and do what it takes to keep us together and periodically put out a platinum album. Either way has its advantages and disadvantages.

      On the advantage side, we’d be free of them and they of us! In the short history of the country, they’ve demonstrated that they are unwilling to let go of their chattel slavery view of the world and will just find ways around our laws preventing it spreading misery to all they come in contact with. So, maybe we should just give up the ghost of trying to build a more perfect union with them.

      On the disadvantage side, we’ll never be free of them even if we live in two separate and distinct countries. For their authoritarian government to work, it needs a scapegoat. Guess who that scapegoat will be in the immediate aftermath of separation? They will be sending in terrorists and creating other incidents to keep us engaged to further their authoritarian grip. Worse, their corporate overlords won’t want to give up on milking the richer states for their prosperity.

      I don’t really see a clear path forward. Either way, we’re exiting the superpower center stage. The world gets worser in terms of climate change and violence.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      Liked by 1 person

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