The Trump phenomenon has evolved my view of the human mind even further. We are masters not only of deceit, but also of self-deceit. We actively work against the truth by spinning the most plausible yet specious arguments possible. The implications are almost impossible to bear. Ordinary, functional, everyday citizens are capable of balkanized brains that foster division, delusion and denial. This is not an outlier situation, but rather a pervasive norm.
These conclusions are based on the phenomenon of millions of Americans bowing down to the ignorant, lie-spewing, messianic bravado of Trump. They accept it as fact. They are throwing away the ideals of their country, democracy and freedom, and even pushing the risk of world war, while chanting for the construction of a great wall, and the banning of all Muslims. These are people who, outside the context of politics, are kind and funny, hospitable and giving. They are you and me. And they are also the muscle working to foment a great catastrophe.
How can the soul-splitting power of fear and hate be neutralized?
As a lad, I thought it was as simple as using reason. Reason, I believed, was efficacious; that once things were explained in transparent terms, people would ‘see the light’ and alter their behavior. Although I must have been disabused of the pure notion relatively quickly, I clung to the postulate that rational arguments could win the day, if presented in earnest, at least in relation to most people.
The ‘smart’ part of the human mind outweighed the stubbornly psychological. This was my root. A lot of social paradigms are built on the concept of the ‘rational, autonomous person.’ Democracy rests on the good sense of individuals to make choices that foster the common weal. Economic theory embraces ‘rational, self-interested agents’. And so on. I was spurred in my assumptions by the theoretical paragons of our time.
It’s all a lie. This paean to human clarity, embodied in our ideals, is hideously wrong. Trumpism epitomizes what I should have known already. Even a casual study of fascist states reveals it. Humans are far more psychological than rational. They can be drawn under the banner of a “great lie” at certain critical times, when currents of frustration and fear merge into a seething undertow.
What this means is that the truth can be right before us, even the most basic empirical evidence, and we won’t see it. We can’t see. The psychological bends perception and reason to its preferences. In bland professional jargon: confirmation bias occurs.
Denial of such magnitude takes vast internal machinery. What I have come to realize is that we are all far more like those with multiple personality disorder than we think. Minds split into warring internal factions. Mental balkanization allows us to know the truth but also to lie and embrace, not the truth, but the lie.
It follows that humans can be rational in some ways and irrational in others. We are selective, subconscious and stubborn.
There even can be awareness of the contradiction. The addict knows their behavior is wrong, and yet just can’t stop. One part of the mind sees a cliff ahead; another weaves counterarguments, injects exemptions--and pushes down on the pedal.
Consider dreams. The mind spins scenarios much larger than the individual self. It creates dream people, dream places, quasi-realities and moods. Dreams demonstrate that the mind is much bigger than the self. It forms alter-selves, cousins of the “alters” that affect those with dissociative disorders.
It is not that the followers of Trump are stupid. One part of their mind knows he is a snake oil barker, a narcissist without conscience, a virulent racist, a trafficker in fear. This part of their mind knows he could start a world war, one likely to end civilization as we know it. They know all this. But another part of them shuts down this discernment. It keeps truth out of the spotlight. It holds the keys to the penitentiary of repression.
The mechanism of this denial is evolutionary. If fear is great enough, the focus of that fear becomes extraordinarily important. I suppose this worked well when humans were commonly threatened by sabretooths and cave bears. It worked absurdly and slaughterously during the thousands of years in which city states and nations warred against each other. In the nuclear age, it won’t work at all.
Somehow, people have to learn to embrace the truth, even if it is intensely painful. We have to stop blaming and scapegoating others. When contradictions are exposed in our belief systems, too often the resultant ‘cognitive dissonance’ fosters prejudice, sweeping self-doubt and self-loathing into the darkest, most untouchable depths. The sensitive ego flees from the agony of real understanding.
As millions of people line up behind Trump, sacrificing their freedom, dignity, and democracy to his complete lack of virtue, his bottomless and destructive need for attention, his addiction to endless, escalating conflict, it exposes, in a monstrous way, not only the fragility of the human grip on wisdom, but also a propensity to capitulate to fear. The Trump spectacle is the most tragic example of human folly I have witnessed in my lifetime.
I understand that politicians like Clinton and Bush are incredibly corrupt. And it is intensely anger-provoking to watch them lie to us with pleasant faces, offering fake assurances, while channeling more and more money to the richest one-tenth of one percent. Under Bush, the economy crashed worse than it has since 1929. People are suffering due to entrenched oligarchic avarice. I’m hornet-hive mad about this. We all should be, and yet--
The answer is not Hitleresque fascism.
In other circumstances, it would be intriguing to ponder the mind’s plasticity, its ability to split into various houses. But right now this compartmentalization is a national menace: the dominant part of the Trumpite mind is immune to reason. It also thrives on any misery inflicted on liberals. Fear and hate reign in such a psyche. That part which could hear has withered like a flower without sunlight.
Although I don’t believe in Biblical Revelation, if there were a Satan, wouldn’t his surrogate be someone positioned at the head of an Empire, someone capable of destroying all humanity by fire? Someone who lacked any virtue, who debauched hundreds of millions of hearts, co-opting them into a crusade of violence, despair, and murderous abandon?
I haven’t even mentioned the anti-science of the Republican view that global warming is just a hoax.
I’ve never seen anything like the Trumpian descent before. I feel I am watching the end unfold quite rapidly. It’s very sad.