August 21, 2020
For half a century I would watch Republican conventions and feel reminded of what my Republicanism meant.
This week’s Democratic convention reminded me of everything my Americanism means. And how Republicans endanger it. What a contrast with them was Biden’s superb, uplifting speech.
During President Obama’s searing evisceration of Trump’s unfitness,
Trump was busily at work corroborating the indictment with a disgorgement of disgraceful deranged tweets.* All this made me wonder what next week’s Republican convention will be like. How can they defend this monster and his vile record?
They can. They have their story to tell. A false one, but it will be told very slickly, and with the fervent conviction of true believers. How Trump is making America great again after all the Democratic failure, how he stands up for the little guy, for law and order, stands up to China, strengthens our military and border to protect us, rebuilds our international standing. Doing a great job battling Covid-19. While Slow Joe and Phony Kamala and the corrupt Democrats, tools of socialist radicals, want open borders, a weak America, abolishing the police, want our cities destroyed. They hate America, hate God, will take away your guns, and kill babies. (Maybe eat them, as QAnon conspiracists — lauded by Trump — now literally assert.)
A total inversion of reality. The whole Trump project a tower of lies. The mind reels at their ability to convince themselves.
One commentator on PBS, Sarah Smarsh, said that such people can actually be “psychologically rational.” What they see as true is a matter of what information they’re exposed to. They are outside the ambit of genuine information.
Another commentator, Gary Abernathy, disagreed. He said Trump supporters get access to the full spectrum of news sources out there, and take it all in, but they just evaluate it differently from others, and reach differing conclusions.
Smarsh wasn’t buying it. She responded that a person’s outlook is powerfully shaped by how they’re raised and acculturated. Citing a telling example: herself. Brought up in a conservative milieu, and accepting all the intellectual software thusly installed into her brain. Until she left that environment and was exposed to a whole new universe of information, changing her perspective entirely.
Hers is not an unusual case. Look how so many people just run their culturally pre-installed religious software. Oblivious that if they’d been born into a different culture, their faith would be radically different. Christians believe Christianity is true, with one god. A billion Hindus believe Hinduism is true, with 33 million gods. They can’t both be right. But that gives neither side pause.
I often discuss confirmation bias — the proclivity to embrace information confirming pre-existing beliefs, while creating rationalizations to dismiss dissonant information.
Smarter people are indeed more adept at this. Abernathy’s picture of Trump supporters scrolling through all sorts of news sources, as though with pristine objectivity, ignored the huge impact of confirmation bias, and pre-installed cultural software filtering the information they see. It’s not a search for truth, but for comfort.
Meantime they’re actually bombarded with a blitz of seeming “information,” much of it Foxian, manipulative or bogus. Sipping news from a firehose; many aren’t fastidious about what gets through. Often it’s a witch’s brew that fails to include some of the most basic facts about what’s actually going on in the world (let alone what they might mean). How many people have a grounding understanding of such realities. equipping them to sensibly evaluate the “news” they see?
This is how people can live in one country but on two different planets. But both are not equally “psychologically rational.”
*Michelle Obama’s speech, taped early, mentioned 150,000 covid deaths. Insane Trump mockingly tweeted that it’s actually 170,000!