Holy cow. Where to start. I know this is “supposed” to be a blog concerned with atheism and religiosity, but how can I not comment on the ongoing sh!tstorm that is US politics? There are so many little areas to talk about that this piece could be 10,000 words (it isn’t, don’t worry!). Just the MSNBC interview with Lev Parnas is enough to fuel a series of posts.
I have spent a number of posts in the past considering the suitability of Trump for the role of POTUS (he is wholly unsuitable): his declining mental capacities, his lack of expertise and knowledge (or even interest) in the relevant areas, his moral compass, his insistence on everything as POTUS being transactional in nature, and so on. His performance over the last month has been firmly within this camp.
Many of these posts have been questioning how his supporters (in the general public) have been able to continue supporting him. Take someone like the ubiquitous commenter See Noevo here: a fervent conservative Creationist Catholic. He fits into all the usual demographic pigeonholes. His support for Trump has been unwavering and starkly lacking in nuance. He seems to, hilariously ironically (the difference between irony and hypocrisy is…?), employ consequentialism as a moral code in order to maintain that support. Where normally, in a religious context, he would eschew such a moral value system, here it is the dish du jour. He maintains support for Trump even given Trump’s moral shortcomings and some of his more obvious decision-making errors.
The question might be how much is explicit, conscious consequentialist evaluation, how much is intuitive and subconscious based on a deep loyalty to Trump, and how much is cognitive dissonance (wrapped up with the last idea)?
Most conservatives should hate Trump if they are to be true to their earlier words and positions. I mean, so many wanted Bill Clinton impeached when we were talking about an affair. Trump, thrice-divorced, accused of rape within one of those marriages (settled out of court), accused of sexual misconduct, harassment and rape by some 23 other women, with 43 more accounts published in the book All the President’s Women: Donald Trump and the Making of a Predator, is a whole different kettle of fish. And yet such conservatives still remain incredibly supportive. I mean, incredibly – they double down. We can talk of the Backfire Effect and we can talk of cognitive dissonance, but there is certainly something odd at play here. If you, absent of names and detail, five years ago said to these same conservatives, “What do you think of a man doing X, Y and Z?” and listed all of Trump’s moral misgivings (a far too soft a word for rape, but also including bribery, tax and employment issues – Donald Trump and his businesses have been involved in 3,500 legal cases in U.S. federal courts and state court, an unprecedented number for a U.S. presidential candidate), how do you think they would have reacted?
Now they react by donning red caps that talk of making America Great Again (you know, like in times of segregation) and turning up to political rallies to boo and holler like a pantomime.
Do they explicitly recognise these misgivings but compartmentalise them or weigh them off against the gains Trump gives or promises (I don’t know, tax cuts for those far richer than them)? Or is the ignoring of such dubious behaviour resulting from mental heuristics operating under the conscious radar? Is there a blind faith that obtains on a foundation of unknown mental contortions?
You see, if the President of some other less-relevant mature democracy was to do all the things this POTUS has done, was to have so flagrantly broken the law (as Trump’s own government agency, the Government Accountability Office, yesterday concluded) and committed impeachable defences, would these same conservatives be so obviously defending them? This is support of the highest cherry-picking order. Trump’s supporters really do continue supporting him because of who he is, not in considering anything he may or may not have done on its own merit. He really could have shot someone on Fifth Avenue and they still would have voted for him.
This is obvious because virtually every defence of Trump in terms of his impeachment has been procedural. Very telling.
But what of the Congressmen and -women, and of the Senators? These politicians seem to be tapping into the very same consequentialist well to draw up their strength to continue supporting him. Heck, when Ted Cruz has his family personally insulted by Trump, to come out to continually support Trump in the way he does takes monumental…something. There are some serious mental contortions going on there.
Will this spell the death knell for traditional conservatism? Has US politics entered a new era of personality and not policy, whereby truth matters not and likeability is paramount, but where the likeability is based on lies and single-issue promises (abortion, guns, religious privilege, etc.), and tawdry tackiness and playground insults and sloganeering? Is the GOP of old now transformed irrevocably and beyond recognition?
It is abundantly clear that Trump’s most fervent politician supporters, such as Devin Nunes (highest ranking GOP House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member), will lie to the hilt in order to keep that support bulletproof.
Lev Parnas, in that explosive interview on MSNBC, had one simple conclusion – Trump is lying. And if he so openly and obviously lies in public, why shouldn’t all his supporters? And this includes lying to themselves.
As Richard P. Feynman said: The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.
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