This week Lesley Stalh, CBS journalist for 60 Minutes, was speaking to PBS NewsHour host Judy Woodruff and the audience at the Deadline Club of New York’s annual journalism awards at the Harvard Club in Manhattan. Stahl described what happened during a meeting with the newly elected Trump after the 2016 election in advance of a recorded sit-down interview for 60 Minutes.
While talking to Donald Trump, off camera the following occurred. Stalh said “At one point, he started to attack the press,” There were no cameras there. “I said, ‘You know, this is getting tired. Why are you doing it over and over? It’s boring and it’s time to end that. You know, you’ve won … why do you keep hammering at this?’ Stahl recalled. “And he (Trump) said: ‘You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so that when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.’
Right from the horse’s mouth comes the plan.
Ignoring Trump is the wrong approach. His cult accepts what he says in part because he daily reinforces what they have come to believe through propaganda and conspiracy theories. The propaganda has been pumped out of the conservative talk radio and Fox News for decades. For this past election, the propaganda appears to have been delivered directly to the people would accept it with the help of Facebook, Cambridge Analytic, the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.
Five personality traits have been identified in Trump supporters:
1. Authoritarian Personality Syndrome refers to the advocacy or enforcement of strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom, and is commonly associated with a lack of concern for the opinions or needs of others. Authoritarian personality syndrome—a well-studied and globally-prevalent condition—is a state of mind that is characterized by belief in total and complete obedience to one’s authority. Those with the syndrome often display aggression toward outgroup members, submissiveness to authority, resistance to new experiences, and a rigid hierarchical view of society. The syndrome is often triggered by fear, making it easy for leaders who exaggerate threat or fear monger to gain their allegiance. Although authoritarian personality is found among liberals, it is more common among the right-wing around the world. President Trump’s speeches, which are laced with absolutist terms like “losers” and “complete disasters,” are naturally appealing to those with the syndrome. While research showed that Republican voters in the U.S. scored higher than Democrats on measures of authoritarianism before Trump emerged on the political scene, a 2016 Politico 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.
2. Social dominance orientation (SDO)—which is distinct but related to authoritarian personality syndrome—refers to people who have a preference for the societal hierarchy of groups, specifically with a structure in which the high-status groups have dominance over the low-status ones. Those with SDO are typically dominant, tough-minded, and driven by self-interest. In Trump’s speeches, he appeals to those with SDO by repeatedly making a clear distinction between groups that have a generally higher status in society (White), and those groups that are typically thought of as belonging to a lower status (immigrants and minorities). A 2016 survey study of 406 American adults published this year in the journal Personality and Individual Differences found that those who scored high on both SDO and authoritarianism were those who intended to vote for Trump in the election.
3. Prejudice. It would be grossly unfair and inaccurate to say that every one of Trump’s supporters have prejudice against ethnic and religious minorities, but it would be equally inaccurate to say that many do not. It is a well-known fact that the Republican party, going at least as far back to Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy,” used strategies that appealed to bigotry, such as lacing speeches with “dog whistles”—code words that signaled prejudice toward minorities that were designed to be heard by racists but no one else. While the dog whistles of the past were more subtle, Trump’s are sometimes shockingly direct. There’s no denying that he routinely appeals to bigoted supporters when he calls Muslims “dangerous” and Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “murderers,” often in a blanketed fashion. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a new study has shown that support for Trump is correlated with a standard scale of modern racism.
4. Intergroup contact. Intergroup contact refers to contact with members of groups that are outside one’s own, which has been experimentally shown to reduce prejudice. As such, it’s important to note that there is growing evidence that Trump’s white supporters have experienced significantly less contact with minorities than other Americans. For example, a 2016 study found that “…the racial and ethnic isolation of Whites at the zip-code level is one of the strongest predictors of Trump support.” This correlation persisted while controlling for dozens of other variables. In agreement with this finding, the same researchers found that support for Trump increased with the voters’ physical distance from the Mexican border.
5. Relative deprivation. Relative deprivation refers to the experience of being deprived of something to which one believes they are entitled. It is the discontent felt when one compares their position in life to others who they feel are equal or inferior but have unfairly had more success than them. Common explanations for Trump’s popularity among non-bigoted voters involve economics. There is no doubt that some Trump supporters are simply angry that American jobs are being lost to Mexico and China, which is certainly understandable, although these loyalists often ignore the fact that some of these careers are actually being lost due to the accelerating pace of automation. These Trump supporters are experiencing relative deprivation, and are common among the swing states like Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. This kind of deprivation is specifically referred to as “relative,” as opposed to “absolute,” because the feeling is often based on a skewed perception of what one is entitled to. For example, an analysis conducted by FiveThirtyEight estimated that the median annual income of Trump supporters was $72,000.
If the data is accurate, the portrayal of most Trump supporters as “working class” citizens rebelling against Republican elites is more myth than fact. Instead, they are middle-class misanthropes who are unhappy with their lives and want to blame others for their failures.
The free press is, in my opinion, the only barrier between a Trump controlled authoritarian government and democracy. This week the Justice Department seemed to capitulate with Trump and his Congressional flunkies in the ongoing attempt to
One technique used to help a person recover from a cult – is exit counseling. It focuses on employing psychological techniques that get the cult member to voluntarily submit to debriefing. Exit counselors guide the family in the most effective ways to get a cult member to communicate with “outsiders.” Family members must be non-judgmental, calm and loving, or else they’ll only reinforce the belief that all outsiders are “bad” and dangerous. If they succeed, and the cult member agrees to participate in the process, what happens next is essentially long sessions that take place over a number of days.
Mueller’s investigation results can be the start of exit counseling. The rest of us need to be the family for those misguided individuals that have supported Trump. We need to be ready to provide some exit counseling as soon as it is available. Some Trumpers will never accept reality, but those who do will be able to rejoin the rational.