When you meet a Trump supporter up close


For most of us, because we associate with others largely by choice, the people in our social circle tend to be those who share our worldview in general, especially when it comes to political and social issues. Thus political discussions usually take place upon generally agreed principles and within common frameworks, and such discussions tend to be more analytical and less emotional and confrontational. This is not the case when it comes to family members who can be all over the map and problems can also arise when the two groups overlap. Thus the advice to avoid topics like politics and religion at social gatherings where people might have widely differing views is quite sound.

Over the weekend, I experienced first hand what can happen when this rule is broken. About ten of us were gathered together for dinner, part of a monthly gathering of couples who are learning to play the card game bridge, with me as the teacher because I am the only one who knows the game. This was a group that had met together many times before and we all knew that nine of us had not voted for Trump but that our host for that evening had. During the dinner, there was some general conversation about the recent book revelations about Trump but then one of the guests, who was related by marriage to the host, laughingly pointed out that we had a Trump supporter in our midst and looked at him as if for a response.

None of us expected what came next. Our host exploded into a passionate defense of Trump and everything that he had done and said that he was a great man and that he would vote for him again in a heartbeat. He said that none of us present could get elected president like he did so who were we to criticize him? He said that there were no norms for what constituted proper behavior of presidents and so none of us had the right to criticize him since 40% of the public supported him. He then went on a tear about how awful Barack Obama had been and came out with some utterly absurd allegations about him. I was struck by the fact that it was just like the explosive reaction of Trump voters in the video I showed three days ago when one person in the room called them a cult.

Needless to say, this was an awkward moment, to put it mildly. One of the people there then steered the conversation to a neutral topic and then we broke to play cards but I could tell from the sullen expression of our host that he was still seething the whole evening.

Later on I reflected on what happened. I had observed in the past that the host in general was someone who would find reasons to not accept conclusions that he disagreed with, a not uncommon trait in people and that all of us suffer from to some degree. On previous occasions I had had disagreements with him on other issues, such as the fact that he did not like that transgender people could use the bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity and presentation, because it would make him personally uncomfortable, though he could not say what exactly it was that made him feel that way. My argument that this ‘discomfort’ was probably one of the arguments white people made for segregated bathrooms in the Jim Crow era and that, if we let people’s personal feelings of discomfort be the basis of policy then we would have chaos and injustice, did not sway him in the slightest. On another occasion, he and I strongly disagreed because he made disparaging remarks about poor black people.

But on those occasions, he did not have anywhere near the degree of emotion he displayed this time and I wondered why. I thought that the heated defenses of Trump supporters may be because they actually secretly fear that some of the things being said against their hero might be true and that is deeply unsettling and causing them to react so explosively because they just do not want to hear it. We tend not to get angry about things that we think are absurd or laughably false. What upsets us are things that we do not want to be true but fear that they might be. I wonder if that is the territory we are entering now. However much Trump supporters may wish that it were not true, the evidence is piling up that he is unfit for the office he holds, evidence that even they cannot ignore however much they may dig in their heels, shut their ears, and yell loudly.

Comments

  1. says

    they actually secretly fear that some of the things being said against their hero might be true

    I refuse to accept that there is anyone credulous enough to believe all the Trumpian B.S. They know that they were played and are exhibiting various forms of buyer’s remorse.

  2. busterggi says

    Believers can’t handle hearing that their god isn’t real and Trumpists are ist rate cultists.

  3. flex says

    I would call this a classic identity threat response.

    I think this has come up before, but the main idea of an identity threat is that a person has adopted an idea, value, opinion, as part of how they view themselves. For example, I consider myself a progressive. When I’m told that progressive policies will not work, I feel a certain need to justify my position. The term ‘threat’ does not have to mean immediate danger, but only that a person feels (correctly or not) that some part of how they perceive themselves is being challenged.

    There are a lot of ways for someone to react to an identity threat, one would be to re-consider their position with as much impartiality as possible. But most people do not have that level of introspection. It is very common that an identity threat is met by silence, e.g. not responding to the threat but not changing their beliefs either. It is not uncommon, especially if the person has been receiving signals from many places, for a person to get defensive or belligerent.

    In your friend’s case, and probably in the case of most Trump voters, he is being told daily that Trump is venal, immoral, incompetent, irreligious, and lazy. This puts a great deal of identity threat on someone who voted for Trump with the belief that he was honest, a competent businessman, a hard worker, and/or religious.

    One of the interesting aspects of identity threat research is that a serious challenge to someone’s identity generally strengthens that aspect of their identity. We all know of YEC who look at the evidence and come away with not only their faith that the world is only 6,000 years old, but believing in a young earth even stronger. Challenging your friend’s identity, may have re-enforced it rather than weakened it. This is even more likely if he has had exposure to identity threat from multiple sources. The trans-gender bathroom issue was not as firmly attached to his personal identity, so he could discuss it reasonably. The Trump voter issue, on the other hand, is probably a greater threat to his identity simply because he’s been exposed to numberless media account about how the person he supported for president is not fit for the job. That’s a hard pill to swallow.

    So, how does this play out? There is no way I can predict what your friend will do, but my experience is that as long as Trump is in office it will be very hard to change your friend’s mind. If Trump is removed from office, that will be seen as a unconstitutional action (even if the rules of the constitution are followed), and he will continue to believe that Trump was the greatest thing since sliced-bread but removed by the corruption of the Washington insiders. If Trump serves out his term, after 4-5 years (say 2025) your friend will no longer consider Trump as strong a part of his identity and might admit that he made a mistake. There is a possibility is that your friend, who I’m certain is very intelligent, might finally realize that he was sold a lie by the Republican party. Unfortunately, that’s somewhat unlikely.

  4. Reginald Selkirk says

    He said that none of us present could get elected president like he did so who were we to criticize him? He said that there were no norms for what constituted proper behavior of presidents and so none of us had the right to criticize him … He then went on a tear about how awful Barack Obama had been and came out with some utterly absurd allegations about him.

    So the penny never dropped.

  5. sonofrojblake says

    @Marcus Ranum, 1:

    I refuse to accept that there is anyone credulous enough to believe all the Trumpian B.S.

    I see what you did there 🙂

  6. KG says

    This puts a great deal of identity threat on someone who voted for Trump with the belief that he was honest, a competent businessman, a hard worker, and/or religious. – flex@3

    Can there really be anyone who did that? I’d say the vast majority voted for him because they could see perfectly well that he was a racist authoritarian.

  7. jrkrideau says

    Any idea of where your host gets his news? I don’t watch Fox or read Brietbart but if these are his main sources of information he may still think that Trump is not bad and is steadfastly ignoring that elitist, lying, leftist, main stream media that are out to get Trump.

  8. Mano Singham says

    ahcuah,

    Since my blog posts may be read by anyone, I don’t write anything that I wouldn’t want anyone to read. So if he does, that is fine by me.

  9. Mano Singham says

    jrkideau,

    I don’t know where he gets his news. What you say is possible but the kind of reaction I saw indicated to me that something had really stung, not just that his views had been challenged.

  10. flex says

    @7 KG

    Can there really be anyone who did that?

    I knew of two in my office. Both very nice people. But one had swallowed the kool-aid that a businessman would make a better president than a politician, and that Trump, being a billionaire already, couldn’t be corrupted. The other felt that Trump was a very religious individual who would make them feel more comfortable in their religion, while Hillary would have torn down the charter schools their children attend.

    One has died, passed away with a brain aneurysm last spring, so I don’t know if he would have had buyer’s remorse. The other I supervise, so I avoid the topic.

    Not all of Trump voters are racist, misogynist, white-supremacist assholes. I’d even go so far to say that most are not explicitly so, but are so awash in a society where a certain amount of racism, misogyny, and anti-intellectualism is actually rewarded that they do not see how their belief in a just-world is invalid. I’m hoping that by not directly challenging those people who believe they are good people who I know voted for Trump, but discussing things peripherally, like the benefits they could see from a progressive agenda like raising the minimum wage or universal health care, they will slowly start to challenge their own preconceptions. You cannot force someone to change their mind; but you can prepare, enable, and encourage someone to change their own mind.

    The trouble with the democrats at the moment is that they are not showing the electorate what can be done with a progressive agenda. There are things the voters would clamor for, like universal health care, mandatory overtime pay, and relaxed (rather then tightened) bankruptcy laws. Reforms of our criminal justice system, like abolishing private prisons, better oversight of police as well as enforceable national standards of police conduct, and the elimination of additional fees added to misdemeanor charges which create debtor’s prisons. And, of course, once a criminal is rehabilitated, the mandatory restoration of all citizen’s rights. But, I fear, the democratic party looks at all these very popular ideas as reductions in their revenue. A pox on them.

  11. says

    @flex, No. 12,

    The trouble with the democrats at the moment is that they are not showing the electorate what can be done with a progressive agenda. There are things the voters would clamor for, like universal health care, mandatory overtime pay, and relaxed (rather then tightened) bankruptcy laws. Reforms of our criminal justice system, like abolishing private prisons, better oversight of police as well as enforceable national standards of police conduct, and the elimination of additional fees added to misdemeanor charges which create debtor’s prisons. And, of course, once a criminal is rehabilitated, the mandatory restoration of all citizen’s rights. But, I fear, the democratic party looks at all these very popular ideas as reductions in their revenue. A pox on them.

    Hear! Hear!

    Jeff

  12. lanir says

    @flex #12
    I’d love to do the touching base at the periphery thing and talk about things that actually matter but even that can be difficult. One of the things the more regressive groups have been doing for a long time is poisoning the well pro-actively on many of these ideas. They know or at least strongly suspect somewhere in their mind where they still honestly approach problems that progressive ideas could work and are starkly terrified of how that would change the world for them.

    I still remember my parents in the 80’s characterizing anyone who wasn’t a Republican as somehow out of touch with reality. A sentiment that seems bitterly ironic these days.

  13. flex says

    @14 Lanir,

    Sometimes a swift kick helps.

    More seriously though, I try what works for me, and what works for me is patience, good-humor, and the ability to hold my tongue.

    At the same time I applaud, thank and donate to those organizations who are far more aggressive than I am in working for change. I’ve been able to start many conversations because something in the news occurred which irritated a ring-wing co-worker, which then allowed me to explain more fully what the various protesters were really upset about. There were numerous discussions about Ferguson, and I was able to both explain and point out the injustice of the policing in Ferguson. I know I didn’t convince the more racist people in the office that law enforcement in Ferguson was a pustule needed to be lanced, but quite a few ended up at least knowing more of the story than was portrayed on Fox news. They listened to me because they knew me and trusted me.

    This doesn’t and won’t work for everyone, so I’m only offering what I do. There are times the best solution may be the swift kick of loving correction. And there are times when walking away is the only way to avoid being disappointed or hurt by someone. I don’t agree with the phrase that walking past an injustice makes you party to it. If walking past an injustice gives you more power in the future to correct it, or if you know that intervening in an injustice will make things worse, then it may be best to walk past it. It’s not the noblest action to take, but being noble doesn’t really amount to much.

    To the comment about your parents, in my opinion, one of the biggest contributors to the extremism of the right wing is the abandonment of the Fairness Doctrine in 1985 (or 1987 depending on where you place the cut-off). The original justification for the Fairness Doctrine was that when there is a limited number of sources of news which affect the public interest, like schools, tax policy, roads, etc., the media outlet must provide information on opposing views. The Equal Time Rule was not quite the same thing, it covered candidates directly, while the Zapple Rule expanded the Equal Time Rule to cover a candidate’s spokespersons and supporters.

    The justification was that with limited media coverage in a market, all the media outlets need to provide coverage of all views. This view was upheld by the USSC in 1969. With the proliferation of cable news, and now the internet, the FCC and then Congress decided that there isn’t limited media coverage in any market, so the Fairness Doctrine, the Equal Time Rule and the Zapple Doctrine when away.

    Could the Fairness Doctrine be restored? Probably not. There are hundreds of sources of media in every household these days. This blog counts for one. So that reason is invalid. Then the first amendment to our federal constitution prohibits restrictions on speech (without a compelling public interest, as the courts have ruled). Finally, as is so often argued on the web, freedom of speech does not mean freedom of access to any platform to speak from.

    So what could be done? Arguing that there is a compelling public interest that all media outlets provide opposing views is a no-starter. That would mean FTB would have to allow skinheads to join and pollute this network.

    It may be easier to argue that there is a compelling public interest for media outlets with a commanding share of a market, like Fox News, Google News, the only newspaper in a city, radio stations with >100,000 listeners, that type of thing, need to provide opposing viewpoints. Defining the thresholds would be difficult, but probably manageable. I doubt that there is enough political will to try this, and you know that Fox News (and their viewers) would see this as an attack directed at them (and they would be right).

    Some people feel that eliminating consolidated media ownership in a market would help the situation. I don’t, simply because people already choose to ignore media sources they don’t like.

    I like the approach John Oliver has taken of buying ad time on Fox to help educate viewers. Fox can’t refuse to sell this ad space without getting into a rather nasty lawsuit about discriminatory trade policies. I don’t know how effective it is, but it’s something and it’s funny.

    In the end, we in the US need to find a way to educate ourselves, the electorate, more effectively. I’m open to suggestions.

  14. Henry Gale says

    Sounds like the host is suffering from early onset cognitive dissonance.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance

    In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. The occurrence of cognitive dissonance is a consequence of a person performing an action that contradicts personal beliefs, ideals, and values; and also occurs when confronted with new information that contradicts said beliefs, ideals, and values.

  15. Erich Nutter says

    After many discussions in Facebook groups I, a German, finally found an excellent way to cope with the most ardent of Trump supporters.
    I just mention that all those mechanisms 45 employs when dealing with the public are quite well known to us Germans from our history in the 1930’s.

    Defamation of the organ controlling the government, the »fourth estate« –the media–, as unreliable (»Lügenpresse«, or »fake news«), blaming and shaming of minorities, nepotism, defamation and destruction of institutions, defamation and silencing of critics, encouraging vigilantes, changing language and suppressing free speech, emphasizing that everything is just done »for the cause«, etc.

    Any argument produced by my opponents in the discussion are encountered by me with the simple statement that, according to my grandparents, those are same arguments we Germans used 80 years ago, in part even using a simple translation of the exact same words which were in use then.

    In the end of the discussions I simply state that I am »so glad« that my opponents in the discussion experience exactly what –according to my grandparents– the Germans experienced 80 years ago.
    The funniest thing about this is that all this is happening to a nation which taught Germany democracy again after the war. But I am really »so glad« that now, at last, the once proud winners of the war fully understand the mindset of the Germans at that time.

    This works like a charm.
    Every time.

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