Cognitive dissonance and gaslighting aren’t the half of it

Dear President Trump,

I’m not sure how I missed them both over the last couple of days, but this morning I saw two rather stale Op Ed’s that were pretty interesting to read as companion pieces. The first was by Kathleen Vohs who dove into a detailed explanation of cognitive dissonance. I’ve explained it to you before, but as a refresher, cognitive dissonance

“occurs when conflict emerges between what people want to believe and the reality that threatens those beliefs. The human mind does not like such inconsistencies: They set off alarms that spur the mind to alter some beliefs to make the perceived reality fit with one’s preferred views.”

So, in the recent situation where legions of your supporters have done mental backflips to avoid seeing your Tweets telling the Squad they should go back to where they came from as evidence that you are racist, they have convinced themselves that such statements aren’t racist and that they therefore do not support someone who is racist. For those who went that route, it’s a neat trick – the judges are flashing all 9’s and 10’s for difficulty and audacity.

The second piece was by Eric Beerbohm and Ryan Davis and it set out their sense that Mueller’s testimony on Wednesday is highly unlikely to change the minds of many of your supporters because it’s incredibly hard for people to become ungaslighted. They go on to explain that:

“A deceiver distorts evidence with the aim of making you form a false belief. Expose the distortion, and voilà, all is right and true again. A gaslighter, by contrast, works at a more foundational level, trying to make you doubt your understanding of the world and undermine your confidence in your reasoning.”

Basically, gaslighters really mess with people, to the point where they are unable to think for themselves and end up looking to the gaslighter for a bead on reality, not able to see that the gaslighter is feeding them distortions and purposely keeping them off balance so that they question their own ability to think critically.

(They) “have quit the pretense of looking for any evidence to inform their reasoning. Trump has mastered the art: “Stick with us. Don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news. . . What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” His followers need only keep their eyes trained on him.”

Beerhom and Ryan go on to talk about how one might help a victim of gaslighting by finding points of agreement, acknowledging times the helper has been tricked into taking a mistaken position, and asking questions about how they’ve felt misunderstood. I was curious about how people leave cults and in all of the articles I read, this same basic approach was suggested, along with a strong warning not to argue with the person or tell them how badly mistaken they are since that is likely to have them digging in even more. Sadly, every one of the ungaslighting and unculting remedies offered is time consuming, painstaking, and focused on one individual at a time, which absolutely sucks because what we have is on a scale so immense that it would be impossible to go through and release each person from your spell one at a time.

Then, of course, we must not ignore the fact that not all of your supporters are doing mental gymnastics to cope with cognitive dissonance or are victims of gaslighting. No, hundreds of thousands of them know damn well that Russia helped you win and that you and yours did all you could to keep that under wraps – and they don’t care. Many of these same supporters know that what you said about Squad was racist, they know you are racist, and they are perfectly ok with that too. In fact, they relish having a white nationalist POTUS, so there’s no damn cognitive dissonance for them; they are down with you and your hateful ways.

May we be safe from being led astray, either unwittingly or wittingly.
May we be willing to do the hard work of thinking for ourselves.
May we be mentally healthy and strong (and not weak and puerile).
May we navigate this mess peacefully and with integrity.

Tracy Simpson

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