July 28, 2023


Why Do So Many People Still Support Donald Trump? (Bob Altemeyer, May 2023, The Authoritarians)

Compared to most people, experiments have shown that people highly likely to support Trump have a limited tendency to think for themselves. Instead they have adopted the opinions of others, especially persons they consider the "proper authorities." Almost everyone does this during childhood, but most people eventually develop some independence in their thinking. Trump's supporters, by and large, have not. [...]

Maintaining your beliefs by restricting your contacts to people who agree with you will definitely increase your certainty that you are right, but it also means the whole pack of you can be wrong but never find out. A good example of this occurred in March 2023 when Chuck Callesto tweeted three misleading stories about the January 6th attack on the Capitol that exonerated Trump supporters and blamed Antifa instead. With Elon Musk's endorsement these were viewed up to 58 million times. When fact-checkers pointed out each story was false https://www.cnn.com/2023/03/16/politics/fact-check-january-6-videos-musk/index.html Callesto acknowledged his mistakes. But the correct information was seen at most by about 150,000. Obviously, the agreeable messages spread like wildfire within the "echo chamber," but very few of its sounding brass were interested in relaying a disagreeable truth. 

This fits in perfectly with Trump supporters' attitudes toward group cohesiveness. They believe more than most people that members owe extreme loyalty to groups they belong to. One should never criticize them and their leaders, and nothing is lower than a group member who does. So belief that left-wingers staged the January 6th insurrection, that the election was stolen, that climate change is a liberal hoax, that gays have an agenda to make other people gay, that injections against COVID actually put the virus in your veins as well as microchip tracking devices, and that a secret cabal of Jewish financiers and high-ranking Democrats run a white-slavery operation out of a Washington pizzeria and eat babies--these beliefs fly around the Internet among Trump supporters virtually nonstop and unopposed, picking up energy like protons swirling around a nuclear accelerator. And the people who get bombarded by the absurdities and in turn bombard others thrill at being so tightly immersed in the In-group--almost totally, dogmatically beyond the reach of evidence and reason. Where they have been most of their lives.

We know these things about Trump supporters, and much, much more that you can find on this website, because as a group they score very highly on a psychological test that measures one's tendency to be an authoritarian follower. Research in this area began in the early 1940s as an attempt to understand the psychology of Nazi supporters. If you look back on what we have covered in these few pages, you will probably see the similarities with Trump's followers, if you did not spot them already. This is a striking, dreadful thing to say about so many of one's fellow Americans. But can there be any doubt by this time that everything our democracy is based upon, down to the Constitution and the rule of law itself, is at risk?

But we are not doomed. America was well-served by its free press, by its judicial system, and by its military leaders in the recent battle, and by the tens of millions who fought their way through all the Republican roadblocks to exercise their right to vote.

Recall the Editor's Preface to the Time-Life Books edition of The True Believer: [H]offer's hero is 'the autonomous man,' the content man at peace with himself, engaged in the present.  In Hoffer's book, this hero, nourished by free societies, is set off against 'the true believer,' who begins as a frustrated man driven by guilt, failure and self-disgust to bury his own identity in a cause oriented to some future goal.

Posted by at July 28, 2023 8:52 AM