Imagine you are one of the anti-Trump folks who believe we just elected a racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-semitic, science-denying dictator. Let’s say that’s the movie playing in your mind. That’s some scary stuff.
Now imagine watching the news as Trump reveals in slow-motion that he’s flexible and pragmatic on just about everything. Thomas Friedman at the New York Times just reported that Trump is – as of yesterday anyway – open-minded about climate-change science, and Trump is no longer in favor of waterboarding terror suspects.
You also watched Trump move to the middle on his immigration policies. And you watched as Trump said he plans to keep the good parts of Obamacare instead of jettisoning it whole.
The areas in which Trump hasn’t budged in his opinion seem to be where states’ rights are involved. Trump would leave it to the courts and to the states to decide on abortion, legal marijuana, and gay marriage. You might not like the fact that Trump wants the federal government to stay out of those decisions, but it isn’t very dictator-like to leave big decisions to the states.
As Trump continues to demonstrate that he was never the incompetent monster his critics believed him to be, the critics will face an identity crisis. They either have to accept that they understand almost nothing about how the world works – because they got everything wrong about Trump – or they need to double-down on their current hallucination. Most of his critics will double-down. That’s how normal brains work.
And that brings us to our current situation. As Trump continues to defy all predictions from his critics, the critics need to maintain their self-images as the smart ones who saw this new Hitler coming. And that means you will see hallucinations like you have never seen. It will be epic.
The reason this will be so fun to watch is that we rarely get to see a situation in which the facts so vigorously violate a hallucination. Before Trump won the presidency everyone was free to imagine the future they expected. But as Trump continues to do one reasonable thing after another, his critics have a tough choice. They can either…
1. Reinterpret their self-images from wise to clueless.
2. Generate an even stronger hallucination. (Cognitive dissonance.)
If Trump’s critics take the second option – and most of them will – it means you will see a lot of pretzel-logic of the type that is necessary hold onto the illusion that Trump is still a monster despite continuing evidence to the contrary.
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Prediction: Expect the anti-Trump press to continue asking Trump surrogates this question: “Why do you think the KKK and white nationalists support Trump?”
The question makes sense if you don’t think about it for too long. But once you realize that Trump has repeatedly and publicly disavowed those groups, you have to hallucinate extra-hard to make the racist narrative work. That’s where the “top-secret-racist-dog-whistle” comes in. You need a theory to explain why the supposed Racist-in-Chief keeps disavowing racists. How does that make any sense?
This is where cognitive dissonance comes in. In order to explain Trump’s disavowal of White Nationalists and the KKK while holding onto the hallucination that Trump is a dangerous monster, you have to hallucinate that he is playing a clever game of pretending to be against racists while secretly planning to purge the earth of all non-orange people.
That feels unlikely to me. I think Trump just wants to do a good job for the country, thereby bringing money and glory to his family name. And he won’t get any of that by being a racist monster. He only gets that happy ending by being pragmatic and flexible, exactly as we observe him now to be.
I think the total number of KKK members is a few thousand people sprinkled across the country. But what matters more than the absolute number is the trend. The group once numbered over a million. Now they are a few thousand. Did Trump’s election cause a spike in recruitment that will have a lasting impact on the long term trend toward zero membership? I doubt it. But in any case, you have to wonder why the press isn’t reporting KKK membership trends. Every other part of the story is meaningless without that one piece of data.
Anyway, enjoy the show. And enjoy Thanksgiving too.