Missing the Point: Believing Donald J. Trump

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First of all, for those of you who think the results of Monday’s Iowa caucuses are meaningful, don’t worry about it.  They’re not.  They may have made sense in a small town, in rural Iowa over a hundred years ago, but have long ago outlived their usefulness.  The caucus process is not a primary of the sort they’re going to have next week in New Hampshire and eventually everywhere around the country.  At best, it has the validity of a poorly conducted poll.

There is no early voting.  No voting by mail.  Almost all voting takes place, in-person, during a few hours in the early evening of election day.  The process discriminates against anyone who, for whatever reason, can’t get to his or her precinct during that brief window.  What the caucuses do is favor the most committed people who make it a point to get there come hell or high water.

Given the ardent commitment of Trump’s most dedicated followers, it’s no wonder he got a majority of the votes.  Polling of incoming voters indicated that roughly two-thirds of caucus voters would support Trump even if he were a convicted felon and didn’t believe the 2020 election of Joe Biden was valid.

Good news, in a manner of speaking…  Even with all of Trump’s true believers, he got only 51% of the votes.  It’s hardly an impressive majority for a beloved former President in friendly territory.  49% of the caucus voters wanted some other Republican to run for President.  More importantly, there are 719,000 registered voters in Iowa.  Even assuming no crossover voting, that all 110,000 were Republicans, that’s a turnout of only 15.3%.  84.7% of registered Iowa Republicans didn’t bother or weren’t able to show up.  Did they believe Trump didn’t need their votes to win?  Was it the weather?  The only thing we know for sure is that Trump needs more than the support of the 56,000 Iowa Republican caucus votes he got on Monday to win the general election.

My best guess is still that he doesn’t run, that he isn’t nominated because Republicans want to beat Biden in November, keep the House and win the Senate.  And they’re not going to do it with Donald Trump as their standard bearer.  The Republican Party leadership knows this.  The reality for their party is a bitch who will not be denied.

The question is still out there…  “Why do so many people, not just in Iowa but elsewhere too, believe that Donald Trump’s indictments are politically motivated and not the result of his being a fraudster?”  Why would anyone, let alone millions of voters, think that the judicial systems in various states and the federal government are somehow united in a conspiracy to prevent the former President from being re-elected?

What these judicial authorities do all have in common is that they believe Mr. Trump has been involved in criminal misbehavior.  Other than that, there is no plot.  The only thing of which Donald Trump is a victim is his – narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and paranoid personality disorder” to quote Psychology Today  – and subsequent, disregard for the law.

The answer to the question is that all these people believe him because he said so.  Donald Trump is an authority figure who lies to mislead people for his own advantage.  For many people, there’s a logic to believing his lies.  Why would an authority figure, with whose feigned frustration and persecution by “the system” they identify, lie to them?  About a government they already distrust?

Think about it.  As humans, we tend to believe what people tell us.  Trusting what we see and hear is fundamental to all communications, without which society would be in a constant state of chaos.  A constant state of chaos.  Can you imagine, for example, growing up as a child and not believing what your parents and other adult family and friends told you?  Or in a home where your mother presents one version of the truth, your father another?  Telling the truth has to be the essential rule for society to work, for our species to survive.  Otherwise, how would our brains know what to do in any particular situation, however minor or profound?  It’s why lying is a bad thing – and why being a pathological liar is a form of mental illness.

Trump knows this – that we tend to believe what we hear and that he can create chaos by confusing people who respect his judgment – not because he’s thought it through.  No.  He’s completely instinctive.  For whatever reasons – no doubt a combination of upbringing, mental illness and a desperate need to compensate for his various shortcomings – he’s been raised and has learned that lying can work to his advantage.  That’s why he does it so frequently.

He basically has two modes of operation.  If you accuse him of something, he denies it and claims he’s the victim.  If an opponent makes a point that resonates with people whose support he needs, he adopts the same sentiment and claims his opponent is the problem.  Like when he pretends to be sincere about bringing us all together while complaining that it’s Joe Biden who is tearing us apart.

You’d think that exposing Trump for the liar and cheat that he is would be easy.  Truth, after all, can be verified.  Lies don’t hold up as well.  But then verifying whether or not it’s dark out is one thing.  Confirming the existence of a political conspiracy is far more difficult.

It used to be that you could trust the media.  On television, it was Walter Cronkite on CBS and Huntley & Brinkley on NBC.  Now it’s the major network news and CNN and MSNBC.  Maybe the New York Times and Washington Post.  They all see Trump for what he is, but then Fox cable news and other alternative media agree with Trump.  Who do you believe?  Why would a whole network and other fake news outlets lie?  And we’re back to the fact that we want to believe what we see and hear.  There’s no way for us to verify Trump’s comments that doesn’t require that we believe whoever is commenting on what he’s said.  At a minimum, the result is confusion.  At worst, it’s chaos.  And there’s that word again.

This is where Trump lives.  Confuse us, scare us, and then offer to save us from the non-existent threat he has warned us about and, in many cases, has created.

He also understands, instinctively, the way a lie works.  First, he’s accused of something.  His response is that he’s innocent and, that the charges are bogus and politically motivated – and that, even if he did it, he can’t be prosecuted.  He makes these statements understanding full well the power and other advantages of his platform.  Three things mitigate in favor of his rebuttal…

1.Our instinct is to believe he’s telling the truth. It is the natural and essential tendency of people to believe what they hear that we’ve been talking about.

2. The brevity of the modern news cycle is a real problem. His rebuttal goes out, but clarification of the truth takes time – and becomes increasingly faint, overwhelmed as it is by the onslaught of other breaking news.

3. And then there is the imbalance of “coverage.” What Trump says in his defense finds the front page of every newspaper and becomes the lead story on electronic media nationwide.  All of it at no cost to his campaign or person.  His lies are what everyone hears.  No way does any opponent have the resources to effectively fact-check Trump’s denial fast enough and on a comparable scale.  Particularly when the respondent, the fact checker has insufficient authority.  Either his followers believe Trump or they don’t know who to believe.  Our legal system will get him eventually, but that takes time.

So, how do you stop this guy?  This prominent authority you trust and/or with whom you identify in some ways, but who is lying his ass off?  The answer is that his opponents – both high-profile and ordinary people like you and me – need to overwhelm his rhetoric with their own.  For want of a better way of putting it, it’s all about marketing.

The people who support a third Trump candidacy need to start questioning his future value differently than they have been so far.  Forget about the validity of his specific statements.  What his opponents – including other Republican candidates and President Biden – need to focus on is the noise and chaos on which Trump thrives – and without which he evaporates.  Tell his supporters, that he’s taking advantage of their good will.  Tell them, they’re right about no one listening to them, but that he’s not the solution to their problems.  Empathy is something they’ll appreciate.

Tell his supporters – not his groupies who are a lost cause, but mainstream Republicans and thoughtful independents – the truth, but not about the specifics of what he’s done.  The legitimate media and our system of justice will do that for us in due course.  In the meantime, be dismissive of the hot mess he brings to our personal lives and country – and that, thank goodness, we no longer need to suffer.  He’s so predictable.  Anticipate and get out in front of his reactions.  Call him out for what he is, the great waste of our time.  Minimize him as the “Yada, yada, yada” candidate.  Be the serious alternative and the next sound you hear, politically speaking, will be the former President gasping for attention.