On Monday 8 August a group of regular tourists toured the sweltering cesspool that is the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s grifting HQ and carted away a boatload of souvenirs. You’d think MAGA Nation would be happy about such an event! The free publicity and grifting alone should allow Trump and various and sundry MAGA politicians and organizations to swindle the rank and vile out of thousands of dollars that would be better spent on insulin, cancer treatment, OxyContin, cigarettes, and alcohol. It should be seen as win-win, right?
Well, like Jesus said, there’s no pleasing some people. We’ve seen everything from calls for civil war from the militia types to cries of refund the FBI from those what think they’re clever to accusations of government persecution of political enemies to threats that the IRS are going to come after Ma and Pa MAGA’s guns while beheading them with ISIS, infecting them Ebola, and taking their welfare checks with undocumented immigrants.
The FBI Raid of Mar-a-Lago
It has led some who study the rhetoric that spews from various orifices on the right to characterize it as “this is really the most ominous time since right before the Jan. 6th insurrection.” Dana Milbank, who has a book to flog, described it as “reckless rhetoric” on the right, causing people to oppose the government, promoting desperation among the core MAGA base, and prompting some to seek a Second Amendment solution.
Milbank, a political opinion columnist at The Washington Post, believes it is incumbent for AG Garland to explain why the raid was necessary and what it accomplished to counter the disinformation that is churning through the conservative media bubble. However, studies of the fallibility if memory and distortions of perception due to partisanship suggest this will largely be ineffective.
Let’s take a closer look at the findings.
Two Studies of Partisanship and Memory
A Memory Primer
To really appreciate these findings, we’ll need to have some basic understanding of how memory works.
Memory is reconstructive, meaning that you encode the various pieces of an event, and, then, when recalled, you reassemble those pieces. Just in that sequence alone, there are punctures where the memory can be corrupted, but it is even worse than that because EVERY TIME you recall something, it gets reassembled, and then EVERY TIME you’re done with the memory, it gets disassembled and put away. Every time it is assembled and disassembled, it can be corrupted.
It’s kind of like a piece of IKEA furniture, except without all the cussing — Isn’t it worth the extra twenty bucks to have the IKEA folks assemble it? Imagine that every time you wanted to use your desk, you had to put it together, and every time you were done, you had to take it apart and put it away. It’s easy to imagine that you’d soon loose a screw or two, the little holes they go into would wear out, some piece or other would break. You’d have to find replacements. Eventually, it wouldn’t even look like the original desk, right?
That’s what your memory is like. It is especially vulnerable to emotional influence, so the emotions you’re experiencing when you’re disassembling and putting it away can really affect the content of the memory.
Even more alarming, we can make up memories out of whole cloth, like that time you met Bugs Bunny at Disney World or got lost in the bathroom at Constantinople International Airport and your mother had to come find you. With very little suggestion at all most people will happily fill-in the blanks and create new memories.
But wait, don’t buy yet because there’s more! We believe our memories are 100% accurate like they are a common MPEG file or something.
What happens when we mix the alchemy of memory with the witch’s brew of partisan politics? We know that motivation alters perception and affects the accuracy of memories. We also know that partisanship affects many aspects of our lives, from which political leaders we support to the morals we live by.
Study #1: Partisanship and Fake News
In a study specifically about the influence of partisanship on recalled memories, participants were asked about political events, like Trump admitting that there was no evidence of voter fraud or Biden asking for the military for a drone strike to distract the public. They were given these options for their responses:
- I remember seeing/hearing this.
- I do not remember seeing/hearing this, but I remember it happening.
- I do not remember seeing/hearing this, but I believe it happened. — distinguishes false beliefs from false memories
- I remember this differently.
- I do not remember this.
There was a distinct partisan bias for the fake events, but not for the real events. In other words, conservatives believed the fake events that made Trump look good and Biden, bad happened, and the same for liberals. When asked about a specific fake event, many could provide clear details about where they were at and what they were doing when they heard about it!
Finally, they found that certain personality traits correlated with proclivity for creating or believing fake memories: “narcissism, conspiratorial thinking, and susceptibility to pseudo-profound bullshit.” Pseudo-profound bullshit is a technical psychology term, so make sure you’re using it correctly when you’re using this study to pick up chicks.
Study #2: Partisanship and Negative Fake News
This next study investigated how party affiliation affected memories of an 87 second clip of the Women’s March. After viewing the video, participants were asked about specific scenes, some actually occurred, some were fake. Of the fake events, some were neutral and some were negative.
People that identified as Trump supporters were more likely to recall more negative and fewer positive scenes, they were more likely to identify the scenes as much more extreme; and they were more likely to remember fake negative scenes.
All participants regardless of partisan affiliation had similar memories of the scenes that did occur, causing the researchers to conclude that the participants who were motivated to see the march as negative interpreted real and fake scenes more negatively and as more extreme.
These findings suggest that there maybe “a feedback loop in which partisanship predicts perceptions of political events that confirm the narrative that political opponents are bad or evil.”
The findings of all of these studies suggest that partisan motivations affect how we interpret political events (positively and negatively and intensity), which events we remember (positive for our side and negative for the other), and which fake news stories we’re susceptible to believing (negative stories about the other side).
Applied to the legal FBI search warrant-based search of Mar-a-Lago, it strongly suggests that MAGA Nation will see the raid as extreme and remember it as being “bad.” They are likely to dismiss any concerns about Trump selling our most sensitive secrets to China, Russia, or Saudi Arabia. And, they are likely to see the FBI, AG Garland, and the DoJ as evil.
All of this also suggests that real violence is likely to increase.
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