Looking forward to Jan. 20, we need to do some soul-searching in order to understand how so many people in America became vulnerable to so many lies.
No, this is not “the race” talk. Though certainly race plays a part in the reason Donald Trump’s lies gained ground in 2015 and over the next four years — at least until he was so filled with lies that he couldn’t even bring himself to be honest about a deadly virus.
This is the lies talk. What does it mean that 73.8 million Americans voted for Donald Trump — even when most of them said they didn’t trust what he said about COVID-19 as it ravaged America?
What does it mean when polls find that 77% of Trump supporters said they believe another Trump lie — that Biden’s win was due to fraud. Fraud that clearly didn’t exist in any measurable amount great enough to change the outcome of the election. Joe Biden received more than 80 million votes — 51% of all the votes cast.
Even if you assume that only 40% of the 47% of Americans who voted for Trump are his die-hard supporters, then we’re still looking at roughly 29 million people who believe the lies Trump repeatedly spun that the election was “rigged.”
These same supporters believed Trump four years ago when he said “only I can fix it.” And they believed him again this year when he told them in different words that he couldn’t.
Now they stand in front of state capitols in Georgia and Pennsylvania and Michigan with their “stop the steal” signs and their MAGA hats perched above their maskless faces.
What does it all mean? How did we get here?
New York Times opinion columnist Jamelle Bouie says “it started with birtherism.”
That’s the “race” answer, and Bouie, who is Black, makes a strong case that it did begin there — as Trump racheted up his signature fear-mongering
“Donald Trump is exiting political life much the same way he entered it, pushing conspiracy theories for personal gain. Now, as then, these aren’t just any old conspiracy theories, but ones that hinge on the fundamental illegitimacy of a whole class of Americans. It was a public expression of Trump’s belief that citizenship is tied to blood and ethnicity — that some Americans are Americans, some are less so and some just aren’t.”
Trump himself and his most cult-like supporter Rudy Giuliani have falsely pointed to “mass electoral fraud,” in swing states.” And only then in swing states’ cities with sizable Black populations, specifically Atlanta, Detroit, Milwaukee and Philadelphia.
So, the easy fix (by the Trump campaign’s calculation) was to get the votes in those cities tossed out. Just invalidate hundreds of thousands of Black votes to give a win to the president who falsely accused Barack Obama of being born outside of America. (Spoiler alert: Obama was born in Hawaii.)
Of course racial disenfranchisement didn’t begin with Trump, nor will it end with him. Gerrymandering districts is decades old. Why else did Tennessee’s majority Republican legislature redraw Chattanooga state house districts to lump two into one, forcing long-time incumbent Black Reps. JoAnne Favors and Tommie Brown into one district and a primary election against each other?
But race still doesn’t answer our basic question. What does it mean that so many people believe Trump’s lies? Lies that a grifter like Trump used to his advantage. He even told us this himself: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK? It’s, like, incredible.”
Yeah. It is. And it’s based in fear. Plain fear.
Psychology Today in September 2016 offered this bottom line for Trump supporter gullibility.
1) The Dunning-Kruger Effect: The problem isn’t just that his supporters are misinformed; it’s that they are completely unaware that they are misinformed, creating a double burden for anyone trying to help them.
2) Hypersensitivity to threat: (Did we say fear?) And not just normal fear. Conservative fear.
A 2008 study in the journal “Science” found that conservatives have a stronger physiological reaction to startling noises and graphic images compared to liberals. A brain-imaging study published in “Current Biology” revealed that those who lean right politically tend to have a larger amygdala — a structure that is electrically active during states of fear and anxiety. And a 2014 MRI study found that it is possible to predict whether someone is a liberal or conservative simply by looking at their brain activity while they view threatening or disgusting images.
“Psychology Today” wrote: “As long as Trump continues his fear mongering by constantly portraying Muslims and Mexican immigrants as imminent dangers, many conservative brains will involuntarily light up like light bulbs being controlled by a switch.”
That, according to Psychology Today, has been Trump’s magic sauce. Fear mongering.
3) We all fear dying. That’s normal. Some conservatives apparently fear it more, and hundreds of studies have confirmed the “terror management theory” which predicts that when people are reminded of their own mortality, which happens with fear mongering, they will shift toward the right.
We liberals, of course, have our own personality triggers: Optimism, openess, and a tendency to seek negotiation not war, all lead our Republican friends to label us as the gullible ones. We’re not afraid enough, they argue.
Well, maybe that is the answer to our question. Maybe this president plied fear-mongering just one or 1,000 times to many. Perhaps his bullying and bull finally turned liberals toward conservative fear, and at long last pushed conservatives’ panic buttons to full-throttle anger. Whatever the answer, it was just enough: 51% of a record number of American voters have fired Donald Trump.