In our lesser moments, we have all accused our political opponents of being crazy, foolish, ignorant, or just plain stupid. Such tactics do nothing to advance the culture and minimize the chances of finding common ground. Plus, it’s just not very nice.
So we should never refer to our political adversaries as lunatics or hate-filled ignoramuses. Unless, of course, we have scientific studies that verify our insults.
Fortunately — or more accurately, unfortunately — a recent synthesis of psychological research has revealed that all those negative thoughts you have about Trump supporters are, to a disturbing degree, pretty damn accurate.
You see, the magazine Psychology Today has looked at the reasons for Trump’s political invincibility among his staunchest supporters. Or in the words of the researchers, “those supporters who would follow Trump off a cliff.”
The psychologists point out that “not all Trump supporters are racist, mentally vulnerable, or fundamentally bad people,” which is just the kind of disclaimer that puts your mind at ease — right?
The researchers state, however, that it is “harmful to pretend that there are not clear psychological and neural factors that underlie much of Trump supporters’ unbridled allegiance.” The authors warn us that the list of these motivations start with “benign reasons for Trump’s intransigent support,” but that “as the list goes on, the explanations become increasingly worrisome, and toward the end, border on the pathological.”
Again, I’m very relaxed reading that statement. Aren’t you?
On a most basic level, hardcore fans of our president tend to “put their practical concerns above their moral ones.” To such individuals, as long as the president delivers on tax cuts and keeps pushing through right-wing judges, “it does not make a difference if he’s a vagina-grabber, or if his campaign team colluded with Russia.”
Remember, this trait is regarded as one of the more innocuous rationales for supporting Trump.
Moving up the list, we see that “the loyalty of Trump supporters may in part be explained by America’s addiction to entertainment and reality TV.”
Or it could be that “fear keeps his followers energized and focused on safety.” Because when people are scared of, for example, Latino immigrants, they look for a protector, and subsequently “become less concerned with offensive and divisive remarks.” Indeed, who cares about insulting a few easily offended liberal snowflakes when there are hordes of “illegals” raping and pillaging at will?
Now, the researchers drop a few academic phrases and psychology buzzwords here and there while discussing Trump supporters. That’s why the article lists “power of mortality reminders and perceived existential threats” as motivators. It also explains the truly awesome term “terror management theory,” which would be a kick-ass name for a punk band.
In actuality, terror management theory refers to fearmongering, which provokes people to “more strongly defend those who share their worldviews and national or ethnic identity.” Of course, we haven’t seen any of that among Trump supporters… nope.
In any case, as we climb the list of motivators, we see old favorites like the Dunning-Kruger effect, as well as “a misguided sense of entitlement.” We also run into “growing evidence that Trump’s white supporters have experienced significantly less contact with minorities than other Americans.”
The researchers don’t really get cooking, however, until they point out that many Trump supporters “suffer from psychological illnesses that involve paranoia and delusions, such as schizophrenia, or are at least vulnerable to them, like those with schizotypy personalities.”
And in case you’re wondering, the researchers believe that “Donald Trump and media allies target these people directly.”
That can’t be good.
But hold on — we still haven’t gotten to “collective narcissism,” which is an “unrealistic shared belief in the greatness of one’s national group.” Collective narcissism occurs when a group believes it represents the “true identity of a nation — the ‘ingroup,’ in this case white Americans,” who also perceive themselves as being “disadvantaged compared to outgroups who are getting ahead of them unrightfully.”
Go ahead and ask a Trump supporter if he believes immigrants are stealing our jobs, or if certain “urban types” are sponging off of their hard work.
I’ll wait here.
Things get more ominous when we reach “social dominance orientation (SDO).” This refers to people who clamor for a society in which the “high-status groups have dominance over the low-status ones.” Americans who score high on SDO are “typically dominant, tough-minded, and driven by self-interest.” And they were more likely to vote for Trump.
Finally, we get to the top of the list, which features the one-two punch of authoritarianism and bigotry.
The researchers point out that authoritarians prioritize “strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom,” and often display “a lack of concern for the opinions or needs of others.”
In case you’re wondering, authoritarian personality “is more common among the right-wing around the world.” Trump’s speeches “are naturally appealing to those with such a personality.” In fact, a 2016 survey found that “high authoritarians greatly favored then-candidate Trump, which led to a correct prediction that he would win the election, despite the polls saying otherwise.”
As for racism, the researchers say, “it would be grossly unfair and inaccurate to say that every one of Trump’s supporters have prejudice against ethnic and religious minorities,” before adding that “it would be equally inaccurate to say that few do.”
After all, a recent study has shown that “support for Trump is correlated with a standard scale of modern racism.” And about forty bajillion other studies have found that bigots tend to support the small-fingered con man in the White House.
Still, before you get too depressed looking over this list of, shall we say, less than admirable behaviors, keep in mind that this research applies only to Trump’s hardiest fans, the ones who would support him no matter what.
Of course, many studies put that number at about 20 percent of the American population.
Yes, that’s a whole lot of deplorables.
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