Believing Anything

  • A long opinion piece by Dana Milbank at WaPo shows *how* Trump supporters will believe anything, without explaining (despite the headline) *why* they do;
  • My thoughts about what has brought about the loss in consensus reality;
  • And short items about … xenophobia, treason, violence, and suppression.

A skim of this shows no one line answer. Let me read it more closely now and see if we can learn anything new.

Washington Post, Dana Milbank, 12 Apr 2024: Opinion | This is why Trump supporters will believe absolutely anything

Trump compares himself to Nelson Mandela, and Jesus. And Abraham Lincoln. Which is appropriate, given that, at least in Arizona, “the rights of American women have just been returned to where they were 160 years ago.” And: “Now, Arizona has restored women’s health care to an era when bloodletting and mercury pills were the standard of care and patients had limbs sawed off without anesthesia.” (Again, an example of how conservatives think moral values are fixed for all time, that nothing learned over the centuries might update them. Do they also object to anesthesia?)

After several sardonic comparisons between Trump and Mandela the writer remarks “In that struggle of our time between democracy and its opponents, Trump is heir not to Mandela but to his jailers.”

Followed by examples of Trump’s xenophobic remarks — his preference for immigrants from Northern Europe (who wouldn’t want to come here, someone noted; their countries are better than the US) — as opposed to “dangerous, dark-skinned invaders.” His remarks are both xenophobic, and racist. But this is what we expect from Republicans.

No matter what Trump says, no matter how ludicrous, “a significant proportion of his followers will believe it.”

As Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler and pollsters Scott Clement and Emily Guskin report, Trump’s supporters have become substantially more persuaded by disinformation than they were six years ago. They are more likely to say today that the 2016 election was marred by millions of fraudulent votes and that Russia did not interfere in that election — both demonstrably untrue. A majority of strong Trump supporters today believe his provably false assertions that Joe Biden won the 2020 election because of fraud, that the United States funds most of NATO’s budget and that global temperatures are rising because of natural, not human, causes. Though only 28 percent of Americans believe Trump’s false claims on average, those who list Fox News as a primary news source are 13 percentage points more likely to accept the disinformation as true.

OK, this establishes *that* Trump voters will believe anything. But *why*?

The writer gives an example of a radio host who’s “even more bonkers” than Trump. Everything you hear about inflation, jobs, crime, and the border is a lie, this guy says.

If this is your news source, is it any wonder that you have no idea what’s going on? Trump, doing his best to keep up with the crazy, decreed that “any Jewish person that votes for Biden does not love Israel, and, frankly, uh, should be spoken to.” Trump went on to say that “thousands” of Hannibal Lecters — the psycho killer in “Silence of the Lambs” — have crossed the border illegally and are “now in our country.”

Needless to say, not a word was true. But much of it will be believed. Trump’s most faithful supporters will also undoubtedly believe what Trump said on Wednesday: that Biden proposes to “quadruple everyone’s taxes.” And they’ll accept that, as he posted Wednesday, it is a sign of “Communism at its worst” that he will next week “be forced to sit, GAGGED, before a HIGHLY CONFLICTED & CORRUPT JUDGE.”

Continuing with more examples of Trump stating outright lies. Disinformation. And how maybe his lies are catching up to him.

Well, OK, I think this is an example of a headline that over-promises the content of the article. (The writers of news articles and opinion pieces don’t get to write their headlines.) It shouldn’t have said “This is why …”, it should have said “This is how…” Because there’s no explanation, psychological or otherwise, for why Trump supporters believe anything he says. That they do, we can all agree on.

I would say that this is clearly an example of tribal thinking, the extreme end of that spectrum, in which what matters is only that everyone in a tribe agrees on a common mythology, and/or whatever the current leader asserts is true. A running theme here, which I’ll summarize soon.


The big picture here is that there seems to be a loss of consensus reality. (My biggest interest: what is real? And how short are humans in apprehending that?) I think the ideas from Joshua Greene’s book, summarized a couple days ago here, clarify how this has happened. Tribal beliefs and myths that helped humans survive for hundreds of thousands of years on the African savanna have, in the past 10,000 years, come into conflict as the world’s population has grown and these formerly small tribes came into contact, and have to live with one another. With tribal values and myths that conflict. … I’ll expand on this in a later post.


For now, shorter items.

Slate, Ben Mathis-Lilley, 15 Apr 2024: Trump, Mike Johnson Announce Intention to Make Noncitizen Voting, Which Is Illegal, Even More Illegal. Homepage title: “Donald Trump and Mike Johnson Are Teaming Up on a Fantasy Bill for a Fantasy Problem”

More tribal expression of hostility toward outsiders, without evidence. Despite evidence, about immigrants.


Media Matters, 12 Apr 2024: Trump ally Laura Loomer: “Nationalism keeps you safe. Profiling keeps you safe. Discrimination keeps you safe.”

Basic xenophobia, and conservative paranoid fears about harm. Try traveling the world, Laura.


Robert Reich, 16 Apr 2024: The Big Picture: Trump’s ongoing attempted coup, subtitled “His presidential campaign is treasonous”

Many of us see this, yet many don’t.


Salon, 16 Apr 2024: Republican Senator Tom Cotton urges followers to attack pro-Palestine protesters who block traffic, subtitled “The Arkansas Republican has a record of encouraging violence against left-leaning protesters”

Another example of how Republicans are comfortable with violence.


NY Times, 16 Apr 2024: Book Bans Continue to Surge in Public Schools, subtitled “More books were removed during the first half of this academic year than in the entire previous one.”

Anything that challenges the prevailing tribal mythology — which Christians assume must be their own — must be suppressed.

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