Wajahat Ali: ‘Reach Out to Trump Supporters,’ They Said. I Tried.

Still better to reach out and listen.

Dialogue doesn’t have to lead to agreement but should improve understanding of the issues and perspectives if entered in good faith on all sides and a willingness to look at the evidence and facts (not “alternative facts”).

But agreed given some of the cultish aspects of Trump followers, hard to break through:

73 million Americans voted for Donald Trump. He doubled down on all his worst vices, and he was rewarded for it with 10 million more votes than he received in 2016.

The majority of people of color rejected his cruelty and vulgarity. But along with others who voted for Joe Biden, we are now being lectured by a chorus of voices including Pete Buttigieg and Ian Bremmer, to “reach out” to Trump voters and “empathize” with their pain.

This is the same advice that was given after Trump’s 2016 victory, and for nearly four years, I attempted to take it. Believe me, it’s not worth it.

The Quran asks Muslims to respond to disagreements and arguments “in a better way” and to “repel evil with good.” I tried. “You might not like me, and I might not like you, but we share the same real estate. So, here’s me reaching out across the aisle. American to American,” I said in a video message to Trump supporters published the day after the election.

I really thought it might work. Growing up, I often talked about my Islamic faith with my non-Muslim friends, and I like to think that might have helped to inoculate them from the Islamophobic propaganda and conspiracy theories that later become popular. So I assumed I could win over some Trump supporters whose frustrations and grievances had been manipulated by those intent on seeing people like me as invaders intent on replacing them.

So in late 2016, I told my speaking agency to book me for events in the states where Trump won. I wanted to talk to the people the media calls “real Americans” from the “heartland,” — which is of course America’s synonym for white people, Trump’s most fervent base. Over the next four years I gave more than a dozen talks to universities, companies and a variety of faith-based communities.

I reminded them that those who are now considered white, such as Irish Catholics, Eastern European Jews, Greeks and Italians, were once the boogeyman. I warned them that supporting white nationalism and Trump, in particular, would be self destructive, an act of self-immolation, that will neither help their families or America become great again.

And I listened. Those in the audience who supported Trump came up to me and assured me they weren’t racist. They often said they’d enjoyed the talk, if not my politics. Still, not one told me they’d wavered in their support for him. Instead, they repeated conspiracy theories and Fox News talking points about “crooked Hillary.” Others made comments like, “You’re a good, moderate Muslim. How come others aren’t like you?”

In Ohio, I spent 90 minutes on a drive to the airport with a retired Trump supporter. We were cordial to each other, we made jokes and we shared stories about our families. But neither of us changed our outlook. “They’ll never take my guns. Ever,” he told me, explaining that his Facebook feed was filled with articles about how Clinton and Democrats would kill the Second Amendment and steal his guns. Although he didn’t like some of Trump’s “tone” and comments, he didn’t believe he was a racist “in his heart.” I’m not a cardiologist, so I wasn’t qualified to challenge that.

In 2017, I was invited by the Aspen Institute — which hosts a festival known for attracting the wealthy and powerful — to discuss racism in America. At a private dinner after the event, I was introduced to a donor who I learned was a Trump supporter. As soon as I said “white privilege,” she began shooting me passive aggressive quips about the virtues of meritocracy and hard work. She recommended I read “Hillbilly Elegy” — the best-selling book that has been criticized by those living in Appalachia as glorified poverty porn promoting simplistic stereotypes about a diverse region.

I’ve even tried and failed to have productive conversations with Muslims who voted for Trump. Some love him for the tax cuts. Others listen only to Fox News, say “both sides” are the same, or believe he hasn’t bombed Muslim countries. (They’re wrong.) Many believe they are the “good immigrants,” as they chase whiteness and run away from Blackness, all the way to the suburbs. I can’t make people realize they have Black and brown skin and will never be accepted as white.

I did my part. What was my reward? Listening to Trump’s base chant, “Send her back!” in reference to Representative Ilhan Omar, a black Muslim woman, who came to America as a refugee. I saw the Republican Party transform the McCloskeys into victims, even though the wealthy St. Louis couple illegally brandished firearmsagainst peaceful BLM protesters. Their bellicosity was rewarded with a prime time slot at the Republican National Convention where they warned about “chaos” in the suburbs being invaded by people of color. Their speech would have fit well in ”The Birth of a Nation.”

We cannot help people who refuse to help themselves. Trump is an extension of their id, their culture, their values, their greed. He is their defender and savior. He is their blunt instrument. He is their destructive drug of choice.

Don’t waste your time reaching out to Trump voters like I did. Instead, invest your time organizing your community, registering new voters and supporting candidates who reflect progressive values that uplift everyone, not just those who wear MAGA hats, in local and state elections. Work also to protect Americans against lies and conspiracy theories churned out by the right wing media and political ecosystem. One step would be to continue pressuring social media giants like Twitter and Facebook to deplatform hatemongers, such as Steve Bannon, and censor disinformation. It’s not enough, but it’s a start.

Or, you can just watch “The Queen’s Gambit” on Netflix while downing your favorite pint of ice cream and call it a day.

Just as in 2016, I don’t need Trump supporters to be humiliated to feel great again. I want them to have health insurance, decent paying jobs and security for their family. I do not want them to suffer, but I also refuse to spend any more time trying to understand and help the architects of my oppression.

I will move forward along with the majority who want progress, equality and justice for all Americans. If Trump supporters decide they want the same, they can always reach out to me. They know where to find me. Ahead of them.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/19/opinion/trump-supporters.html?surface=most-popular&fellback=false&req_id=943976581&algo=bandit-all-surfaces&imp_id=846925651&action=click&module=Most%20Popular&pgtype=Homepage

The Mentality That Explains Trump’s Dead-Enders

Possible cult thesis:

In 1954, social psychologist Leon Festinger embedded himself in a cult called The Seekers, whose leader, Dorothy Martin, preached that a UFO would rescue them before destroying the planet on Dec. 21 of that year. When that didn’t happen, many sect members left. But most of the inner circle remained, inventing all kinds of rationales for why the prophecy didn’t come true (e.g. their faith persuaded the aliens to give Earth a second chance) and redoubled their devotion.

From this research, Festinger developed the theory of cognitive dissonance: that human beings will do just about anything to resolve contradictions between our deeply held beliefs about the world and the reality of the world itself. Cognitive dissonance is so unpleasant, so disordering and catastrophic for the ego, that no amount of absurd, tortured reasoning is worse than reality contradicting a deeply held belief.

Sound familiar?

I first encountered the concept of cognitive dissonance as a grad student in religious studies (I ended up writing my dissertation on a failed messianic movement) but it’s become a cornerstone of contemporary psychology in a variety of contexts. It applies to much more than religion: it is, I think, the best explanation for today’s political and ideological divides, and for the mind-blowing fact that 70 percent of Republicans say they think the election Trump lost was not “free and fair.”

All of us try to resolve cognitive dissonance, but the Trump movement has been a years-long exercise in it. Election denial is its latest manifestation. But before that came COVID denial, science denial, climate denial, ‘alternative facts,’ the inability of Trump’s most devoted fans to see him for the obvious con man that he is, and, at the movement’s very core, denial of the social and demographic changes that are transforming America.

In all of these cases, developments in history are contradicting deeply held beliefs—in fact, not mere “beliefs” but organizing principles of the world that create one’s sense of place within it. If Donald Trump legitimately lost the election, most Americans can put up with Socialism or Black Lives Matter or the Liberal Media or whatever else. If America is really, legitimately changing, then the white-, male-, straight-, and Christian-dominated world is gone and will never come back. If climate change is real, then the way I’ve been living my life has been causing harm, and has to change, even if that means government regulations and restrictions. If the Republicans are just duping me into supporting massive benefits for the ultra-rich, I’m a stupid mark. If Trump really is a con man with a bad weave and even worse makeup, then I’ve been deluded for four years. And so on.

Again, these aren’t mere beliefs; they are how people understand themselves and their communities. That’s what’s challenging about cognitive dissonance. It’s pointless to argue facts with someone in the throes of denial, because no twist of facts is too preposterous to entertain if the alternative is letting go of one’s entire worldview and sense of self.

Cognitive dissonance is also a primary reason that people resort to conspiracy theories, which Trumpworld increasingly resembles, not only in fringe manifestations like QAnon but in the allegation of widespread fraud in the presidential election, which, of course, has no factual basis whatsoever and is, at this point, simply a conspiracy theory writ large.

Conspiracy theories explain phenomena too difficult to simply accept: Plandemic explains how COVID-19 could upend the world, Trutherism explains how 9/11 could upend the world, QAnon explains how Trump has “not yet” uprooted the profound evil among American elites. And for believers, however horrible the conspiracy is—Cannibal pedophiles! Reptilian aliens!—it is less horrible than the possibility that no one is minding the store, that bad things happen to good people, that life is filled with randomness, chance, and change, and that most people actually don’t agree with your ideas, all of which are cognitively dissonant for human animals trying to find security in the world.

“Plandemic explains how COVID-19 could upend the world, Trutherism explains how 9/11 could upend the world, QAnon explains how Trump has “not yet” uprooted the profound evil among American elites.”

In this light, QAnon isn’t some weird, fringe phenomenon with no connection to populist politics. It’s a logical extension of the populist worldview. If “the people” are actually the majority, then a sinister minority—Jews, ‘coastal elites’, the media, the Satanic pedophiles, whoever—is actually in control. It’s a short jump from that to full-blown conspiracy madness. And when the anointed messenger of “the people” turns out to be a buffoon chiefly interested in his own enrichment, well, that must all be a ruse. Or a media conspiracy. Or whatever.

In fact, of course, America is changing not because of manipulation by shadowy elites, be they coastal, Semitic, pedophiliac, or reptilian, but because of demographics and social change on questions like sexuality, gender, race, and religion. The numbers are incontrovertible. But that would mean that the populists are actually wrong about what “America” even is. That would mean they are wrong about who they are; they’re not the “real Americans,” they’re just one subset of real Americans, and a dwindling one at that. That is intolerable.

To be sure, denial as a means of avoiding cognitive dissonance exists across the political spectrum. Plenty of progressives have been 9/11 Truthers, anti-vaxxers, and COVID deniers. Plenty more believe in astrology, pseudo-science, and the quackery of the “wellness industry” despite contrary evidence. In the phenomenon known as “conspirituality,” many have even co-opted right-wing conspiracies like QAnon and grafted them onto a New Age worldview.

Nor is right-wing cognitive dissonance new. Drawing on the McCarthy period, historian Richard Hofstadter coined the term “paranoid style in American politics” to describe the populist worldview, as alive now as then, that sees real America as simultaneously a beacon of strength and a citadel under siege by nefarious outsiders (communists, Jews, Muslims, immigrants, whoever). Someone is always out to destroy America, and it’s always five minutes to midnight.

Likewise today. Trump can’t be defeated fairly—that would mean that America isn’t what the “America First” crowd says it is, and that the identities of tens of millions of Americans are in need of serious revision. So it must be the fault of some ‘Other’: the media, the Democrats, the Jews, the great Satanic conspiracy.

The human aversion to cognitive dissonance is widespread, powerful, and connected to our core conceptions of the meaning of life and how to survive it. It is as primal as it gets. So no, my numerous data-filled articles about Trump’s lawsuits will not persuade a true believer.

Don’t worry, though; cognitive dissonance is so strong a motivator that it will eventually triumph over its current manifestation. When the facts are incontrovertible, all but a small hardcore of Trump’s supporters will simply tweak their meta-theories. God works in mysterious ways, after all. Or maybe Biden’s election was punishment for our sins. Or maybe, for those more secularly inclined, we were getting complacent under Trump, and now we’ll have to wake up.

Whatever it takes, Trump’s devoted base will find a way to preserve their beliefs in the face of his eventual loss. I suppose that’s a good thing: eventually they’ll figure out a way to explain that, too.

Source: The Mentality That Explains Trump’s Dead-Enders

Can Trump’s Hard-Core Fans Be Deradicalized?

Interesting question and framing:

President Donald Trump’s rally in Greenville, North Carolina, this week made scholars of fascism sit bolt upright. Trump spouted racist conspiracy theories about Somali-American Rep. Ilhan Omar to his fans, who chanted “Send her back!”

Trump has long stoked bigoted grievances among his followers, but the Greenville rally saw him act as a more overt radicalizer than ever before. And with a portion of Trump’s fanbase now openly clamoring for the physical removal of several prominent Democrats of color, experts are questioning whether the country can repair the damage—even if Trump loses in 2020.

“He’s always embodied these sentiments,” Zoé Samudzi, author of As Black As Resistance and a scholar studying genocide said. “But I do feel like there’s a feedback loop: he’s both animated by and responsive to the base that is eager to discipline a black Muslim immigrant woman. His long held racial animus fuels his supporters (who never need permission for their virulent racism but are emboldened by him all the same), and their enthusiasm energizes the president who in turn keeps ratcheting up his rhetoric.”

While extreme actions like the “send her back!” chant, and the presence of fringe conspiracy theorists have drawn attention to his rallies, it’s unclear how many of his supporters subscribe to those individual beliefs.

“Some people might be there because they genuinely believe in this ideology,” said Mary Beth Altier, an assistant professor at New York University specializing in radicalization. “Some may be questioning those beliefs. They’re toying with them, and they go because a friend brought them or they think it’d be cool to go. They go and get swept up. People start chanting, are you going to be the only one standing there not chanting?”

Wednesday night’s “send her back!” chant followed similar rhetoric by Trump directed at Omar and fellow lawmakers Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib. All four are freshman congresswomen of color, who have broken with Democratic House leadership to promote a more progressive agenda, in part over wanting to confront Trump more aggressively.

In a series of Monday tweets, Trump laid the groundwork for Wednesday’s “send her back!” chant.

“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run,” Trump tweeted of the four congresswomen. “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough.”

Though the tweets were indistinguishable from white nationalist talking points (and all but one of the congresswomen were born in the U.S.), Trump’s popularity with Republicans spiked after his racist tweets, a Reuters poll this week showed. It’s possible very little will bother his most devoted fans, Janja Lalich, a professor studying cults and totalitarian leadership, said.

“There’s this intense devotion and the inability to question or criticize or doubt,” Lalich told The Daily Beast.

“They seem to be in a state of what we call cognitive dissonance, where what they believe doesn’t match reality,” she said. “People in that state tend to cling to their beliefs over reality. They dig themselves even deeper. I think the things we see at the rallies, where people get into these cheers and adore everything he says, is very typical of what we see in run-of-the-mill cults. There’s what we might call blind obedience or blind followership.”

Trump’s rallies offer a strong sense of community for fans. That’s critical to the people chanting for Omar’s removal, said David Neiwert, author of Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right.

Neiwert defines eliminationism as a community-based mentality that promotes “purity” by demonizing its opponents and demanding they be purged from society.

“What they’re doing is participating in a community of hate. This is actually key to a lot of its power and its attraction. It’s almost ritualized,” he told The Daily Beast. “This is how hate crimes work. Hate crimes are always message crimes directed at targets who are seen as corrupting influences and bad for the community. Hate-crime perpetrators see themselves as defending their communities while doing it. There’s always a communal aspect to this. It’s very much the mob.”

Lalich offered a similar perspective.

“Having an us-versus-them mentality is what keeps people strong in their beliefs,” she said. “It creates paranoia, it creates a kind of fighting atmosphere. That kind of mentality is one we typically see. By feeding into that, the leader creates a separation. It also creates a sense of elitism and specialness.”

Trump’s rhetoric has already inspired violent attacks. During a March 2016 rally, Trump asked fans to eject protesters, calling on them to “get ‘em out of here.” Matt Heimbach, a neo-Nazi who was later instrumental in 2017’s deadly white supremacist rally in Charlotteville, complied, assaulting a black protester. In October, a Florida man sent 16 pipe bombs to politicians, news outlets, and public figures who have been critical of Trump. The bomber had attended Trump rallies and described them as “like a new found drug.” Trump’s election has coincided with a marked spike in hate crimes, and a rise in overt white supremacist action.

Trump’s attacks on the four congresswomen are an extension of the racist appeals he made to voters during his first campaign.

“The language about the congresswomen fits into nativist language around a racial purity of citizenship, and inherent to that is an idea of ethnic cleansing either through deportation policies, restrictions on entry, or violence against racialized communities,” Samudzi said.

“The problem isn’t simply that three of the four women are US-born: the problem is the insinuation that there is an idea of birthright citizenship that could be revoked (as well as the de-naturalization of citizenship) in an attempt to actualize a vision of a white America.”

Experts who help people escape intense groups like cults or hate movements say dialogue with people outside the movement can help deradicalize adherents.

Christian Picciolini, a former white supremacist who now helps extremists leave hate groups, said his method involves talking and identifying sources of grief and trauma that might underlay hate.

“I listen for those potholes that detoured their life’s journey and then try to fill (repair) them,” he told The Daily Beast via email.

Lalich cited the case of Derek Black, the son of a prominent white nationalist, as an example of how deradicalization can sometimes works.

“What seems to have worked is really just engaging in dialogue, individual by individual,” she said. Black renounced white supremacy after going to college and meeting people of differing viewpoints.

But some of Trump’s most die-hard fans might be removed from dissenting opinions, Altier said.

“Establishing alternative social bonds and networks where they can interact with people with other views” could help, she said, but “we’re not seeing that on social media. We’re seeing more polarization in society on both sides.”

Instead, dedicated fans might turn inward, engaging with more pro-Trump communities.

“I don’t listen to Fox, I don’t listen to CNN. I don’t listen to any of ’em,” Allicyn Steverson, a Florida teacher told HuffPost at the Wednesday rally. “I listen to Trump’s tweets and his QAnons.” (QAnon is a deranged online conspiracy theory that accuses Trump’s opponents of sexually abusing and sometimes eating children.)

A choose-your-own reality media environment might keep people from challenging their beliefs, Lalich said.

“Because people are so divided right now, those folks are mainly watching Fox and listening to Alex Jones,” she said. “They’re not going to get any kind of education that might tap into their critical thinking. That’s what works when we try to do exit intervention: we try to reawaken the person’s critical thinking and get them to see the reality of who their leader is and what their beliefs are. In this case, because this is on a national level, we’ve never quite experienced this before in our country. I think any kind of public education would be very difficult.”

Picciolini stressed that outright confrontation over bigoted beliefs might not help a person abandon them.

“Ideology is usually formed, or led to, by trauma or grievance. If we continue to confront ideology by trying to change it, we will fail,” Picciolini said. “We must instead focus on repairing the motivations that lead to hate-and they are seldom someone else’s skin color or religion. Self-hatred or uncertainty lead to hate. Let’s fix that.”

Altier also cautioned that some Trump supporters might act out should his rallies stop.

“While people saying these things is awful and they may radicalize other people, if we quash their ability to say them, my research shows they may become more violent because they can’t express those grievances. It’s a catch-22,” she said.

And even if Trump leaves office, it’s no guarantee that Trumpism will end. “I think it’s only going to intensify,” Neiwert said, citing fears that Trump would not lead a peaceful transition.

It’s a concern Lalich shares. “I think he can still remain their leader. He doesn’t need to have office,” she said.

“He’s already threatened that it’s going to be rigged and that his people will rise up. I think that’s not going to change very much because he has reawakened such hatred in this country.”

Source: Can Trump’s Hard-Core Fans Be Deradicalized?

Pro-Trump Canadians Throw ‘Million Deplorable March.’ Right-Wing Media Counts 5,000. Cops Say Hundreds.

Getting noticed in US media with usual inflation of crowd claims:

Although it was dubbed the “Million Canadian Deplorables March,” both The Daily Caller and Breitbart claimed about 5,000 people showed up in Ottawa to protest Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and to show favor for Donald Trump, whom protest organizer Mike Waine called a “smart man.”

“Most Canadians are asleep because fake news is telling them stories that just aren’t true,” Waine told The Daily Caller in its article “Thousands Of Canadian ‘Deplorables’ March To Support Trump And Oppose Trudeau.”

Ironically, Ottawa police now say there weren’t thousands, let alone 5,000 or a million, protesters at the March at all.

“We average about two or three (demonstrations) a day. It would be like Washington D.C. for you guys,” said Ottawa Police Constable Marc Soucy. “This one would be on the small side for sure.”

Soucy said that, while the Ottawa Police doesn’t officially provide crowd estimates, there were not 5,000 people at the rally’s “gathering point” in Ottawa’s Confederation Park.

“There were less than 100 [at the park],” he said.

A spokesperson for the Parliamentary Protection Services estimated to Canada’s iPolicy, who first reported on the discrepancy, that 300 to 400 people in total went to the rally in at the Canadian capital.

Still, a Breitbart headline blared “5,000 Canadians March in Support of Trump, Against Liberal Trudeau Administration” on Saturday. Meanwhile, 504 people RSVP’d to the event on Facebook, where the protest was labeled as a “march against Trudope and his tyranny.”

This isn’t the first time Breitbart has inflated crowd sizes of pro-Trump events. The website, whose former CEO Steve Bannon is now a Senior Advisor to President Trump, posted a photo of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ NBA Championship victory parade in a story titled “Trump’s Jacksonville Rally draws 15,000” last August.

And in March, The Daily Caller published an article arguing in favor of Donald Trump’s incorrect claim that the media had downplayed the size of the crowd at his January inauguration, arguing that “context has been severely lacking.”

The Daily Caller article about the Candian march, written by David Krayden, quoted organizer Waine saying a recent motion in Canada could “lead to the implementation of Sharia Law in Canada.” The text of that motion, M-103, condemns Islamophobia and “all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”

Waine appeared happy with the turnout, according to the Caller.

Source: Pro-Trump Canadians Throw ‘Million Deplorable March.’ Right-Wing Media Counts 5,000. Cops Say Hundreds.