How Cognitive Dissonance Works: A Case Study

Cognitive DissonanceJust last fall, the percentage of Americans identifying as Republicans and Democrats was essentially the same. Now, after months of the party being represented in the media by ugly, boorish, violent, dumb, name-calling Donald Trump, and the necessarily messy GOP debates that were the direct result of a major participant whose modus operandi consisted of mockery, lies and ad hominem attacks, this is the current split:

Party affiliation

You see, it doesn’t matter that the Middle East is unraveling under U.S. fecklessness, or that the economy is stagnant, or that race relations have deteriorated, or that Obamacare has not lived up to its promises, or that support for autocracy and censorship is flourishing, or that the agencies and Cabinet departments have been mismanaged without accountability, or that more Americans than ever before are on public assistance, or that the Democrats have manipulated their nomination process into a horrible choice between a venal, conflicted, compulsive liar and a superannuated, deluded Marx-loving Socialist, or that the national debt has exploded,  or that the current Democratic President shows all the leadership competence of Franklin Pierce on a bad day. A significant number of Americans still would prefer to be aligned with any and all of this than be identified with a party whose face is that of a toxic asshole. Compared to Trump, the Democrats look good, and in relative terms, they are good….that is, they seem that way to many people who don’t really understand how their belief system is manipulated by cognitive dissonance.

You see, cognitive dissonance requires that disparities on that scale above must be resolved. If Donald Trump rates a negative 1000, and the Republican Party is a positive 50,  and Trump is strongly linked to the GOP, that difference between 1000 and 50 is unsustainable. To resolve it requires dropping the Republican Party deeply below the line, into negative territory. Meanwhile, even though the miserable policy results identified with Democrats have negative values on the scale, they don’t approach the depth of Trump’s miserable rating. That means Trump is enough, all by himself, to pull the Republican Party beneath the Democrats in national support.

This is why, months ago, I wrote that it was imperative for the GOP to reject Trump, repudiate him, and refuse to allow him to run for the nomination.

18 thoughts on “How Cognitive Dissonance Works: A Case Study

  1. Perhaps I am missing something, but it looks like on the chart you posted, that roughly the same amount of people identify as Republican now as they did in 2013 (actually there is a small uptick now). The fluctuations on the chart throughout the years seem relatively small, and well within the margin of error. I’m not sure if this is really making the case that Trump has had a large effect on people who identify as Republican.

      • Sure, now. But stepping back, and taking a look at the fluctuations over the past three years, this doesn’t seem to be anything unusual. The split was 7% Dem over GOP split in 2013, for example.

        • Not the point. The complete flop of the Obama foreign policy and his shocking arrogance regarding ISIS had properly eroded that, however, and nothing else has changed or improved.

          • Perhaps. But these aren’t huge shifts we are talking about here, basically only 3-4 points each, and it seems to naturally fluctuate within that range anyway. I think there needs to be a little more evidence than what is provided to indicate that this not-at-all-unusual fluctuation was due to Trump. I want it to be, but I don’t see it.

  2. I have a less charitable view. The GOP should have thrown Trump out, but they do not because — so many Americans love him and he is doubling down on our Dark Side by having Schizzy Palin renew her declarations of support. The problem with people who have a schizzy streak is that often don’t take their meds. That are convinced that the world is wrong.

    • They should have tossed him long before Palin made an ass of herself, again. So many love him? More Americans distrust him than distrust Hillary Clinton. Many idiots love him. Can’t win with just the idiot vote. Even Republicans are smart enough to figure this out.

  3. I suggest the “Mainstream” GOP is not and has not been mainstream for at least several years now. They keep pretending that Trump’s voters aren’t “real” conservatives.

    The simple truth is, a plurality of GOP voters are clearly supporting Donald Trump. If the GOP “leadership” had any brains, which apparently they don’t, they wouldn’t be trying to stop Trump, they’d be trying to figure out how to get his people back in the party.

    Hint: the plurality of GOP voters don’t give a flying fig about reducing corporate taxes, balanced budget amendments, free trade, and repealing Obamacare. What they REALLY care about is jobs, jobs jobs, and a demagogue is doing a better job of convincing people he understands than than a whole handful of Cruzes, McConnells, Ryans, Kasichs and Preibuses.

    The GOP would be a lot smarter to just take their lumps with Trump this year and figure out how to regain the spawn of the Tea Party and Trumpsters four years from now.

    The country can perfectly well survive four years of Hillary; it’s far less clear to me that the GOP can survive a contentious third-party walkout in Cleveland, no matter who does the walking – that would reverberate for several election cycles to come.

    • What brought THAT on? The issue to some is that TRUMP isn’t a conservative, he’s just a muddled big talking ignoramous who would be as bad a liberal as a conservative. Since a majority of Republicans don’t trust or want Trump, your trying to tar the whole party with a cultural anomaly partisan wishcraft at best. I’d say you have an obligation read and rebut—if you can— the post about the 11 forces behind Trump’s rise.

      I agree that the country can survive Hillary and maybe not Trump, but saying that the GOP would be smart to nominate someone who would lose the female vote for a generation or more, lose Congress, and be per se institutional suicide for the party is pretty cynical. When is it smart to nominate under your banner someone you know is unqualified to serve and a threat to your country? In fact, when is it even smart to recommend that a major party you detest do this, when there is the slimmest chance that it could result in Trump winning? You really want to bet the US’s welfare on Hillary winning any election against anyone? Wow.

      • Hey hey, I don’t disagree with analyses of how Trump rose, I’m not trying to tar the whole party with anything, and I quite agree about him not representing the GOP majority.

        What I AM pointing out is that he represents a plurality–that’s undeniable. I think we disagree on the implications of his nomination. You say he would poison the party’s standing with various groups, e.g. women, for a generation.

        I think he’d not win a single state, and would suffer the worst popular and electoral defeat in a century. He would instantly be relegated to the status of anomaly, along with McGovern and Goldwater, a drubbing so bad that Trumpism wouldn’t raise its head for another two generations, and the GOP would recover smartly with a more centrist candidate and–critically–some seriou plan to finally accommodate the unhappy plurality in the party instead of continuing to demonize them and hope you can buy them off with Kochs and Romneys.

        I think the GOP would recover in four years. By contrast, a bloody battle in Cleveland–in my humble opinion–is what would cause the much longer term inner turmoil without resolution.

        Remember what the Dems’ battle in Chicago in ’68 caused? Yet another disastrous run, in ’72. Unless you let the fever burn itself out, it’ll keep raging.

        • Yet the 1968 Democratic convention nominated Hubert Humphrey, a respectable candidate, and still he came within a hair of winning. If it had nominated George Wallace, your analogy would be apt.

          • I should have been more explicit. The 1968 analogy I was thinking of was not Wallace, but Eugene McCarthy, the fringe candidate of the Dems. He almost certainly would have gotten swamped by Nixon (as you note, even Humphrey couldn’t beat him).

            But my guess is that, if they HAD run McCarthy in 1968, the loss would’ve been so traumatic they wouldn’t have dared run McGovern (aka McCarthy Lite) in 1972. The McCarthy wing would have been discredited, and they’d have developed a more centrist candidate, against an absurdly beatable and unpopular Nixon.

            But they didn’t. They hadn’t exorcised the demons, they were still fighting the battles of ’68 by the time ’72 came around, and the nation got another round of Tricky Dick as a result (until he imploded on his own two years later). Even then, the Dems were confused enough that all they could come up with was a spaceshot from left field, Jimmy Carter.

            (I grant you there are problems with that analogy, notably RFK’s role and the impact of his assassination and that of MLK; still, my point is you can’t kill off idealogues – they have to defeat themselves. Trump getting smashed in a general election would be a lot more historically effective way of getting rid of Trumpism than having him rules-brokered-edged out in a convention; seems to me that will only stoke righteous anger amongst his fans).

            • Oh, I know you meant Gene. But Gene would still have been a respectable candidate—unlike Wallace or Trump, he wouldn’t have hurt “The brand.” The analogy has other problems: Democrats and the Democrat base will be demonstrating in Cleveland, and that will have unpredictable effects on the electorate. Hillary is a VERY good comp to Nixon, though—she is indeed a Democratic Nixon, except that Nixon’s credentials were much, much stronger.

  4. Jack, I think you are closer to the mark than Charles. I agree that some may see Hillary is the lesser of two evils relative to Trump, but conservative GOP voters like myself and those I know (who support a variety of candidates) do like the fact that he is willing to withstand the onslaught of righteous activist groups and not simply say what they want to hear.

    I like Cruz who is more likely to stand for Bill of Rights than any of the other political actors on the current stage. Do I agree with him on everything? No, but I am taking the long view. If our republic is to stand we must protect our inalienable rights for self determination.

    Like it or not many, if not most American voters have adopted the short run “what’s in it for me” psychology. It appears that there is a huuuuuuge market for a special interest group to represent virtually every different person in the U.S. Trump just represents a group that has just about had it being blamed for every social ill that exists. I am not saying just angry whites. Many other non-whites like his demeanor as well. Yes, he touts bring jobs back, building walls to keep undesirables out, and talks tough. That appeals to many who feel that price of paying for unjust past practices in which they played no part or reaped no benefit from is being dumped on their shoulders and shoulders of their children.

    Free speech is becoming an antiquated ideal if such speech might harm the fragile psyche of another. Freedom to practice religion as one pleases is ok so long as it takes a second position in commercial transactions. The overused Commerce Clause, whose original purpose was to protect states from unfair laws of other states to protect their local economy’s, is now used to regulate even individual decision making.

    I have long held the belief, because I was taught that the Constitution limits the power of government action and not my actions that I can choose to control my own destiny. If I am a baker and I want to deny service to an individual or not offer a benefit to all my employee.I can on religious grounds The power of government cannot compel me to do so. It should not matter whether my choice will benefit or harm me in the long run economically if I choose to do something stupid. If I have a Constitutionally protected right as enumerated in the first 10 amendments then government should not be empowered to force me to sublimate my right for another who has the ability to make their own economic decisions as well. Trump represents to many that he is the antithesis to the idea that special interests can employ the power of the federal government to get their own way. In our current balkanized state the use of the judicial branch by special interest groups to render moot any rights held by those with competing viewpoints has spawned the rise of Donald Trump.

    History shows that when the political dogma pendulum swings too far to either side it tends to swing back with a vengeance.

    • Like it or not many, if not most American voters have adopted the short run “what’s in it for me” psychology. It appears that there is a huuuuuuge market for a special interest group to represent virtually every different person in the U.S. Trump just represents a group that has just about had it being blamed for every social ill that exists. I am not saying just angry whites. Many other non-whites like his demeanor as well. Yes, he touts bring jobs back, building walls to keep undesirables out, and talks tough. That appeals to many who feel that price of paying for unjust past practices in which they played no part or reaped no benefit from is being dumped on their shoulders and shoulders of their children.

      It is not too hard to find quotes from activists who used the term “white male” in the same context that Adolf Hitler used the term “Jew”.

      But does the Democratic Party leadership blame whites (or any other group) for all social ills?

      Jack Marshall claimed that Democrats have been vilifying whites for eight years. And yet, if the Democratic Party was perceived as anti-white, it would be much worse (for them) than a mayoral candidate in Boston being perceived as anti-Irish, or a mayoral candidate in Los Angeles being perceived as anti-Mexican.

      If the Democratic Party, as a whole, adopted the ethos of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, I would like quotes and citations from the party leadership, not quotes from random crackpots.

  5. Donald Trump is a boor, an ignoramus, and a danger to our country and national security. He is NOT presidential timbre: he knows too little about almost everything, and by the way, is lending his name to a “get rich quick scheme off the Internet” — anyone gotten those e-mails? — proving he will do just about anything, or say anything, to keep his name in the forefront.

    I blame the media for giving him so much air time, and the morons who probably haven’t voted for 20 years suddenly showing up at the polls because they’re angry — at their personal situations, at 8 years of Obama, and at the political process in general — not because they think Trump is their hero or even as interesting as Ross Perot was (if they even know who he was). They are thrilled to have someone “acting out” they way they want to “act out,” and are too stupid to realize that if this man becomes the Republican nominee we are in deep, deep doo-doo, and for a long time to come.

    My primary depression comes from the candidates of both parties. This is the best we have to offer from “the greatest country in the world?” I can only hope that immigration reform (when it comes) will bring in some new Americans who have IQs above 80.

    • Elizabeth, I completely 100% totally agree with you about Donald Trump.

      At the same time, I think calling his supporters “morons” who are “acting out” and “too stupid” to realize their impact is dangerously elitist.

      –Dangerous because those “morons” have come to represent a plurality in one of the country’s two major political parties.
      –Elitist because for all their dysfunctions and ugliness of attitude, they have got a genuine case to be made that they as a group have been ignored, taken for granted, dumped on and insulted for a decade or two.

      It’s one thing to (rightly) criticize the demagogue that Trump is. But the proper lesson to learn from his supporters is not why they’re morons and jerks, but why in the world they’ve started to act that way, and what can be done about it.

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