I frequently refer to the recurring discussions among sane Americans–the ones that begin with incomprehension: what do Trump’s supporters see in him that they find attractive? What evidence can they cite to suggest that he is even minimally competent? How do they explain away the copious, constantly-growing evidence of his corruption, his ignorance, his childish and unhinged behaviors?
Clearly, the ability of voters in the age of the internet to rely on sources of “information” that confirm their desired “facts” has played a major part.
A recent post by a friend of mine suggests that the purveyors of cyber-disinformation rely on the civic ignorance of their audience; he posted a copy of a story from a Trump site about four Democratic Senators who have announced they were switching parties in response to impeachment. There were pictures of the Senators, and they were identified by name. One small problem: None of them were real. They don’t exist.
Presumably, those who created the site were confident that visitors wouldn’t know that there are no Senators with those names (or faces).
That’s what my people call chutzpah, and Kellyanne Conway would call “alternate reality.”
I’ve seen a number of articles either penned by or interviews of psychiatrists, and in most of them, like this article from Raw Story, the professionals identify traits common to Trump supporters: authoritarian personality syndrome, social dominance orientation, and a connected group of diagnoses that revolve around bigotry. Studies following the 2016 election found a significant relationship between racial resentment and support for Trump; studies also found that Trump voters have fewer interactions with people of different races or religions, and are more likely to exhibit “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.
I was intrigued by an article focusing on the opinion of a long-time conservative named Tom Nichols (full disclosure, I have no idea who he is–hadn’t previously come across him). Nichols says that “being nuts” is Trump’s “superpower.”
If Trump were not able to convince his cult that reality isn’t real, we’d be arguing about who’s really doing well and who isn’t – just as we did under Obama and every other president. Farmers would be up in arms,” Nichols said in a Twitter thread. “When Trumpers say they’re better off, there’s no evidence for it other than that they *feel* better off. Factories aren’t reopening. Dead small towns are not being reborn. The cities? Doing fine, thank you. But Trump says: ‘This isn’t true,’ and being *nuts* is what sells it.”
Nichols noted that Trump’s ridiculous behavior was on full display in the bizarre letter he sent to Nancy Pelosi. He pointed out that the tone and absurdist quality of the letter —not just Trump’s usual lies and numerous exclamation points —have led many observers to genuinely question Trump’s mental health.
I don’t question it. I have long been of the opinion that Trump is significantly mentally ill. Others are finally coming to that same conclusion.
“I’m only 2 1/2 paragraphs in to Trump’s letter and it’s clear to me that our President is unwell, unfit and very uninformed about our government & our legal system. And that fills me with a profound sadness that we’re at this point. It’s time to fix this,” wrote legal analyst Joyce Vance.
Lawfare Executive Editor Susan Hennessey wrote: “This is not a letter authored by someone of sound mind or in full command of his mental faculties. The implications of that are obviously immense and quite scary but how long can we really continue to ignore it?”
As Nichols pointed out, Trump’s supporters celebrated that letter. (“He tells it like it is…”)
How much do people have to lie to themselves, and for how long, before we can conclude that they aren’t just uninformed, but mentally unwell? How much do people have to hate and resent various “Others” in order to reject the evidence of their own eyes and ears?
And most important of all, as we approach November of 2020, how many of these people are there?