Still DON’T GET Trump Supporters? This Might Help

by Jacob Hess

“How can so many people be supporting…HIM?!”  Either you’ve heard that or thought it yourself (or both).ANYONE_BUT_TRUMP_1024x1024

Psychoanalyzing Donald Trump supporters has become a kind of American hobby – ‘they’re mostly uneducated, you know’…’I heard they’re into that authoritarian thing’…from the insulting to the humorous, theories explaining ‘those people’ abound.

As fun as it may be to pick people apart and ‘figure out’ the dark shadows driving their very being, it’s a LOT more enjoyable trying to actually understand those-people-driving-us-crazy (at least a little bit more).

Sometimes that comes from a face-to-face conversation and sometimes from a written text. Nothing I’ve come across has given me more of an ‘aha-that-helps-a-little’ insight about Trump supporters than a random internet pass-along[1] called, “Get Rid of those Racoons:”

You’ve been on vacation for two weeks. You come home, and your basement is infested with raccoon’s.  Hundreds of rabid, messy, mean raccoon’s have overtaken your basement. You want them gone immediately so you hire a guy. A pro. You don’t care if the guy smells, you need those raccoon’s gone pronto and he’s the guy to do it! You don’t care if the guy swears, you don’t care if he’s an alcoholic, you don’t care how many times he’s been married, you don’t care if he voted for Obama, you don’t care if he has plumber’s crack…you simply want those raccoons gone! You want your problem fixed! He’s the guy. He’s the best. Period.

That’s why Trump is leading. Yes, he’s a bit of an ass; yes, he’s an egomaniac, but you don’t care. The country is a mess because politicians suck, the Republican Party is two-faced & gutless, illegals are everywhere. You want it all fixed! You don’t care that Trump is crude, you don’t care that he insults people, you don’t care that he had been friendly with Hillary, you don’t care that he has changed positions, you don’t care that he’s been married 3 times, you don’t care that he fights with Megyn Kelly and Rosie O’Donnell, you don’t care that he doesn’t know the name of some Muslim terrorist…This country is weak, bankrupt, our enemies are making fun of us, we are being invaded by illegals, we are becoming a nation of victims where every Tom, Ricardo and Hamidi’s have a special group with special rights to a point where we don’t even recognize the country we were born and raised in. “AND WE JUST WANT IT FIXED” and Trump is the only guy who seems to understand what the people want. You’re sick of politicians, sick of the Democratic Party, Republican Party…and you just want this thing fixed. Trump may not be a saint, but he doesn’t have lobbyist money holding him, he doesn’t have political correctness restraining him, all you know is that he has been very successful, a good negotiator, he has built a lot of things, and he’s also not a politician, he’s not a cowardly politician. And he says he’ll fix it. You don’t care if the guy has bad hair. You just want those raccoon’s gone. Out of your house. Now.

Anger is a powerful thing.  We know that intuitively when it courses through our veins or keeps us up at night with resentful ruminations.  But it’s harder to pin down exactly what it is about anger that gets in our blood, especially since it seems merely ‘emotional’ or even non-rational. As Jonathan Haidt has pointed out, most of us take for granted that simple “reason” and logic drives our experiences – dictating our choices and shaping the direction of our lives.

According to social psychological research, however, this isn’t how humans actually work.  As much as we love to tell ourselves that bare logic and reason guide everything we’re doing…something deeper appears to be at play (for all of us).  Specifically, once core desires or emotional commitments become cemented in place, it turns out they shape a whole lot of other things – cognition, reason, interpretation, narrative – like a magnet in a box of metal filings.

Out of that emotional ferment, we marshal confirmatory evidence, selectively interpret conflicting claims and adopt supportive beliefs and stories. As confirmed by various experiments, intellect is beholden to our emotions to a remarkable degree.  First comes the visceral reaction, then we have to justify it.

This comes as no surprise to anyone who has ever watched a divorcing couple.  What used to be a person meriting love, affection and even intense sexual appreciation, more often than not becomes an object of derision and scorn – sometimes one of the most ‘despicable’ beings on the planet. As a marriage falls apart, partners typically begin to collect and cling to evidence of the others’ wrong-doing.

According to C. Terry Warner, once anger or resentment takes hold, it’s force is strong enough that barring some kind of dislodging of the emotion, individuals literally (and predictably) distort and deform the world around them to justify and confirm what they are feeling…anything to reassure us that we’re RIGHT to feel that after all!

THAT, according to cutting edge philosophy and psychology is the typical direction of internal influence – from deep emotion to interpretation/reason – rather than the other way around.

If that’s true, then what does it mean for American politics – or the rest of our lives, for that matter?

Well, for one thing, maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised with the popularity of candidates like Donald Trump.  Remember the Racoon?  Americans are MAD at how things are going – and those emotions shape to a great degree what they see and think.

That is true not just for Donald supporters, but for all of us (some might see this point as underscoring Bernie Sander’s popularity – a campaign almost equally horrifying to conservative rationality, at least).

This doesn’t mean thoughtful people can’t support Donald or Bernie or Ted or Hillary.  (Isn’t it wearisome when people assume that the only reason we’re supporting a candidate or cause is fear – “so what are you conservatives so scared of?” –  or anger – “so why are you liberals so mad?”)

But it does mean that the political convictions we often come to are directly and intimately tied to whatever else is going on inside. What is suggests is simply being mindful of the power of anger, resentment and suspicion – especially at chronic doses – to powerfully influence the mind, the body (and the body politic).   The health of our democracy might well depend on this awareness.

The good news is that as long as we are attentive to this influence, we can do something about it. After all, if we’re conscious of the anger, we may be able to decide whether to adopt, accept and follow it.[2]  But what happens if anger and resentment drive our elections – just beneath the surface – with little to no awareness?

Look around…we’re about to find out.


Background for this article: After writing something critical of Glen Beck awhile beck, a mentor asked me, “so does dialogue and seeking understanding apply…even to him?”  Her comment profoundly challenged me – and made me want to try to understand (even a little bit) some of the people who are most BUGGING me…

[1] I’d love to find the author of this – no luck so far.  Anyone else know?

[2] Whether or not a particular instance of anger is helpful, accurate or worth holding on to will obviously remain a point of common disagreement across sub-sets of American society.  What may feel wholly justified-as-reflected-of-obvious-reality for a Bernie or Hillary or Donald or Ted supporter, may seem like delusion to someone on the other side.  Certainly, we can agree that there’s a time for justified, righteous indignation – and a time to follow it.  Maybe then, we can also agree there’s such a thing as unjustified, damaging anger – and a time not to follow it?

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