2019-10-02

The Mind of the Trump Supporter

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by Neil Godfrey

This post is about propaganda and how it works, and how it is working today in an unhealthy way in the United States — as perceived by me, an Australian.

When I was struggling in my last days in a religious cult I picked up The Mind of the Bible-Believer by Edmund Cohen and I hated so much of what I read. My copy of the book is riddled with pencilled notes that do sometimes tick and underline stong agreement but at other times asterisk outraged disagreement. It was early days for me. Take the fourth chapter, The Evangelical Mind-Control System. Its first subsection is headed Device 1: The Benign, Attractive Persona of the Bible. I have a pencilled note against that heading:

No — Bible is an open book. In fact many without in depth study of the Bible say it is very unattractive.

I see now in hindsight that I was missing the point of the argument. But let’s get to the point. This post is a follow up to Characteristics of Trump Supporters. I once posted The Benign, Attractive Persona of the Bible. Let’s compare the mind-control methods that trap the bible-believer with the propaganda of Trump.

 

Device 1: The Benign, Attractive Persona of Trump

He’s a winner. He promises his supporter’s they’ll get sick of winning. And he’s an underdog, a mere outsider, and boasts that the outsider can change the system. And Fox cable TV is sexy.

 

Cohen began his discussion of the Bible thus,

The best things in the Bible are superficial. Another way of understanding the kindly, philanthropic, and surprisingly tolerant old-time religion we described earlier is to note that its proponents took the lovely surface impressions of Jesus in the Gospels and built a whole new religion out of them alone.

. . . .

What I mean by the persona of the Bible, then, is an apparent relevancy of teaching and promise of benefit that finally turn out to have totally different meanings from what the new inductee was led to think. We will encounter it many times, as our analysis unfolds. Little by little, newcomers are brought along to understand the teachings to mean something altogether different from what appeared on the surface—

(pp. 170, 171. My bolded highlighting)

What comes to mind here are points such as “draining the swamp“. That phrase once meant shutting down the ability of rich and powerful elites from using their wealth and power to catapult them to even more wealth and power. We have seen in the last few days how a President who has used his office to benefit his own companies and those of his family (Trump enterprises and those of his daughter and wife) while attacking political opponents (e.g. Joe and Hunter Biden) who appear to have been doing much the same.

 

Device 2: Discrediting “The World”

Edmund Cohen writes, p. 172:

We earlier covered representative biblical teachings requiring the believer to distrust and to disparage reliance on his own mind for knowledge.

Trump continually pounds the message that nothing said by his critics has any credibility. They are all making up “fake news”. The Democrats are motivated by an inability to accept that they lost the 2016 election and that’s why they continually look for ways to attack “your favourite president”. They even “make up fake sources” for their stories.

The message intends that you do not bother to take any notice of critics. You learn to scoff at and close your ears and eyes to whatever comes from the critics. Whatever you here you learn to interpret as emanating from a mental syndrome, the “Trump derangement syndrome”. Reporters and mainstream media are described as “scum” and “animals”, and Democrats as “savages”.

From Ben Garrison site

 

Device 3: Logocide

How far is it possible to go in misusing words—planting them in contexts that distort their meanings and draw their feeling tones and connotations too far into the foreground—to mislead people, confuse them, and mount a campaign of disinformation against them? . . . .

The proposition that totalitarian control over people could be facilitated by the debasement of the language itself has been most articulately expressed by George Orwell in the Appendix to 1984, “The Principles of Newspeak.” He explains the use of such a technique in the novel’s fictional setting, Oceania, as follows:

 

The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak [i.e., English] forgotten, a heretical thought—that is, a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc [a contraction of “English Socialism,” Oceania’s prescribed ideology] should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meanings and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and by stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meanings whatever. To give a single example. The word free still existed in Newspeak, but it could only be used in such Statements as “This dog is free from lice” or “This field is free from weeds.” It could not be used in its old sense of “politically free” or “intellectually free,” since political and intellectual freedom no longer existed even as concepts, and were therefore of necessity nameless. Quite apart from the suppression of definitely heretical words, reduction of vocabulary was regarded as an end in itself, and no word that could be dispensed with was allowed to survive. Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum.

. . . . 

To load a word (including synonyms, cognates and other contextually related words) so that it is no longer serviceable for making an idea conscious, just the right posture of artificial meaning for the word under attack, in relation to its established usages in the language it is part of, must be struck. In the key words of Christianity—which are also key words in human experience generally— we shall shortly see how words are so artfully overburdened that they are put out of commission entirely as vehicles for articulate thought or communication. The biblical assault on key words, loading them with ponderous, contrived, dissonant meanings I call logocide, the killing of words. 1 fully intend the sinister connotation I hope the term conveys. It stands for the Bible’s success at what the most vigorous political and commercial exploitations of our century have tried and failed. Language is resilient. Only in that unique transplantation and hybridization of traditions, from defeated Israel to Rome, was it perfected. One might well become convinced that its genius is beyond human capability. But the guile is all too human.

. . . .

We shall examine what key terms (such as life, death, truth, wisdom, righteousness, justice, liberty, bondage, love, hate, will, grace, witness and word) refer to in the Bible and in the intrapsychic life of the Bible-believer.

. . . . 

If asked to choose the most misleading phrase in the Bible, my selection would be the one where truth’ and freedom’ interact to express something utterly opposed to what the words, in their ordinary meanings, express: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”104

. . . .

In the New Testament, the notion of love undergoes the most radical transformation imaginable, compared with its precedents. . . . The focal point of love’ for others is not the persons themselves but rather acting toward them so as to comply with the commandments. . . . .

(183-84, 186, 187, 205, 211)

And so the word “witch-hunt” is now used to describe the functioning of legitimate Constitutional processes; “treason” is the word now for what was once something closer to a mocking paraphrase; “Do Nothing” Democrats is the word for blocking Democrat legislation from being addressed in the Senate.

 

Device 4: Assaulting Integrity

We detect impairment of integrity in one who believes what, based on the information of his faculties, he ought to disbelieve.

(235)

Compare the initial reaction: Trump released the transcript of his conversation with the Ukrainian PM and “there was nothing in it” that was blameworthy. It was a “perfect conversation”. We read it for ourselves.

With the subsequent events: discovering that lawyer had warned Trump against releasing the transcript; even Fox News is beginning to peep justifications for the mainstream media’s coverage of the phone call.

Further, the belief that Trump has “superior intelligence” ought to be questioned when he doubles down and repeats his liddle’ Adam Schiff ignorance; his insistence that China is paying tariffs against the most fundamental knowledge of economics, and many more.

And then there is the oh-so-obvious link between submission to the will of the NRA concerning gun legislation and mass shootings.

 

Device 5: Dissociation Induction

This device may have less of a carryover beyond the world of the religious fundamentalist. It is about the denial of one’s real nature and being while striving to live an artificial identity, “putting on” a “new man” (as the Bible says), that denies one’s real feelings, even condemning ones natural self as sinful.

If there is a similarity with the wider social-political arena it may be that it is surely well-known that not all immigrants are potential rapists and murderers.

 

Device 6: Bridge Burning

The discrediting of outsiders, the express prohibition against considering the possibility that an outsider might have something to say worth heeding, and the intensely taboo aura of bad conscience accompanying any thought that might undermine the doctrine, combine to counteract the effects of outsiders in close proximity, with whom the believer may have business. If someone disagrees, that only goes to prove that God has some inscrutible reason for blinding him, and there is nothing to be done. If someone says something that seems reasonable or appealing, that only goes to prove how wily and deceptive Satan is. If the Christian experience seems or feels wrong, that only shows that one has not yet gotten victory over the flesh’. It is expected that what seems right to the saved is topsy-turvy for the unsaved,”and vice versa.

The passages against family and against fraternization with unbelievers, those suggesting that believers are blind’, deaf’, and dead’ to worldly things, and all we have covered that militates against straight thinking about what disagrees with the Christian indoctrination, work powerfully and synergistically together to make the believer impervious to outside influences, even though he may continue to be exposed to them constantly and even though he may remain exposed to the same influences that were his whole cultural milieu before conversion. To keep people in line under such conditions requires something psychologically far more powerful than what suffices to attract a few susceptible people and keep them indoctrinated entirely within the ambit of the sequestered community’s group pressure. The dissociated state of mind, so different from any other that it does make the surrounding world seem discolored and distorted, and so different from that of outsiders that the believer can no longer empathically relate to them, is that powerful.

(339-40)

And so open discussion about the issues, and evidence, becomes impossible.

 

Device 7: Holy Terror

We know how this device works in the world of religion.

Compare: the threat of global financial collapse if Trump is not re-elected; the threat of civil war fractures if impeachment proceedings are permitted to go forward; the threat of banning hamburgers if the “New Green Deal” is implemented; the threat of “socialism”; the threat of being “invaded” by criminals and terrorists, and what else.

“Real power is, I don’t even want to use the word, fear,” Trump told Woodward and Robert Costa, national political reporter at the Washington Post.

 

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Neil Godfrey

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16 Comments

  • James Barlow
    2019-10-02 06:42:14 GMT+0000 - 06:42 | Permalink

    “In the New Testament, the notion of love undergoes the most radical transformation imaginable, compared with its precedents. . . . The focal point of love’ for others is not the persons themselves but rather acting toward them so as to comply with the commandments. . . . .”
    This distinction is so key, Neil. I well remember my short involvement with a biblebanger group in 1970. I went with the leader to hand out “4 Spiritual Laws” booklets at a high school getting out for the day. A retarded teenage girl approached me with a big smile and hugged me by surprise saying something about how God loves everyone then stepped onto a bus. The leader guy watched gravely from a distance. A little later on he said to me, “It’s really important to look like we really care about even those people so people will say we really do.”
    The remark was so tastelessly bereft of sincerity and ostensibly phony it literally blew me away!
    ….I can’t get beyond the first layer, the ‘benign, attractive persona of Trump’. I think that there is something in the American character—-call it a will to self-deception and how Trump’s personality evinces what William James called (in “The Will to Believe”) “worship of that bitch goddess SUCCESS” that renders Americans particularly susceptible to wishful thinking.
    In theology I believe it is called ‘hope’….

    • 2019-10-03 00:06:53 GMT+0000 - 00:06 | Permalink

      The worship of financial success in the US is something that I’ve noted too. Having money seems to make you a better, more worthy, person in the eyes of many.

      I’ve also long noted another thing about Trump supporters which I think supports what Geoffrey has to say. The crossover area of circles of his strongest supporters (that c. 38% who support him no matter what) and conservative Christians would leave few outside the crossover zone. Those people are already believing many things that defy logic in the face of evidence e.g. that evolution is a lie, the earth is less than 10,000 years old, we’re all descended from Adam and Eve, there was a planet-wide flood which only Noah and his family survived, and much more. They’re already primed to believe in Trump, especially when their leaders tell them he’s their salvation. They look to the authority figures in their churches to tell them what to believe, and Trump is an extension of that.

      I’m sometimes stupid enough to comment on articles in a conservative Catholic online magazine. The responses are always that the data I present refuting the articles are lies, even though I go out of my way to ensure they come from reliable sources, and link to those sources.

  • NS
    2019-10-02 06:43:32 GMT+0000 - 06:43 | Permalink

    Highly interesting take on Christianity.

    Guy’s definitely on to something: NT reads like a manual for brainwashing for sure.

    The methods are quite devious too, almost diabolical. How they begin by poisoning the mind of the believer against itself. Robs them of the ability to orient themselves and act ethically in the world by cutting off their emotional ties and by meaning-subversion. How it ends getting people to give up their place in the world. This makes it a form of evil.

    I’m not sure it’s fully deliberate though. Sure, Thoukydides and Plato played these elaborate mind-games with the reader too but in their case they seem to know what they’re doing. In the case of the NT, you get the sense they actually believe in their own bullshit. On the other hand, the Gospel of Mark is so carefully crafted for literary effect and psychological priming that you start to wonder. Who knows, maybe it was a pious fraud intended for a post-Temple, Romanized world. I’m on the whole inclined toward it being a tragic form of evil in the world. What do you think?

    Reminds me of Heinesen’s take on Kierkegaard: “As a spiritual type… [he] belongs to the Mephistopheles category… In fact, [he] goes on better than the devil… While Mephistopheles simply dissolves in a smoke of conversation… [he] is the dire sufferer of his own Satanism. He is, one might say, the tragic Satan” (in A. Hannay’s “Kierkegaard: The Arguments of the Philosophers,” ix.)

  • Weston
    2019-10-02 06:46:55 GMT+0000 - 06:46 | Permalink

    This post makes an awful lot of sense. Trumpism is a religious cult.

  • 2019-10-02 10:11:06 GMT+0000 - 10:11 | Permalink

    Just throwing this out there: Any discussion of “the mind of Trump supporters” is incomplete without a discussion of Robert M. Price. I don’t think its nearly so simple as all this. And, I think the fact that I grew up in the American South with lots of deeply Christian family and friends, and conservatives, gives me a different perspective. I understand where RMP is coming from and I understand what he’s saying. I disagree with him, but I get it, and I don’t think he’s an idiot or delusional or a racist or whatever.

    As for the NT and brainwashing. I’d say that 1 Corinthians is certainly a manual of brainwashing. Really, 1 Corinthians is pretty bad, maybe 2 Corinthians too. Any honest assessment of 1 Corinthians reveals it’s writer as a dominant cult leader exercising control over a submissive community.

    • Aaron
      2019-10-02 18:55:30 GMT+0000 - 18:55 | Permalink

      Compartmentalization. He just doesn’t apply the same skeptical criteria to political propaganda as he does biblical scholarship. He said as much in a podcast.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-10-02 22:01:26 GMT+0000 - 22:01 | Permalink

      My posts on propaganda and fundamentalism are all aimed at demonstrating that it is mistaken to think that “victims” are “idiots” or “delusional”. They are normal people, sometimes very educated and intelligent, and that it pays us to understand a little of the basic psychology of propaganda and persuasion.

      What I have posted here and elsewhere applies directly to Bob Price — the validity of this post here, for example, is surely so evident from his own statements about Trump and “liberals”. The Bible-belt mind set is not limited to the Deep South, and those part of that Bible belt are not unique or alien to the nature of humanity more generally.

      • 2019-10-02 22:45:32 GMT+0000 - 22:45 | Permalink

        I guess what I take issue with is the one-sided approach of putting “all the blame” on whatever the “other” group is. I mean I see this all the time across the spectrum with many issues.

        I think Roger Waters’ comments on this issue reflect my views as well.

        We need to be honest and acknowledge that while many of the views of Trump supporters or fundamentalists, anti-feminists, anti-environmentalists, etc., may be a bit off, they do have some valid points and there are people on the other side of those issues that make invalid claims.

        And I think often pointing fingers at how awful or mislead “the others” are is a means of avoiding reflection on what “we” are doing wrong.

        So, for example, on the issue of feminism in the US we hear this claim over and over again that women are paid only 75% of men for doing the same work. This is an entirely false claim. What the studies show is that full-time working women overall have average incomes that are 75% that of the overall average income of full-time men. But those same studies show that virtually all of this difference is due to the different types of jobs that men and women do. The difference is explicitly NOT related to performing “the same work”. And I’m a big Bernie Sanders supporter (actually I’m supporting Warren this time, but I still like Bernie), but I hear him repeat this falsehood all the time and I cringe every time.

        Now, when you look at the “anti-feminists,” they know this. They recognize this falsehood. So every time they hear Bernie or whomever repeat this falsehood (and we hear it a lot) it reinforces their view of crazy liberal lies and whatnot. So this is kind of what I’m talking about.

        When you hear someone like Taylor Swift or Beyonce talk about the plight and oppression of women and things like female incarceration, while ignoring the fact that 97% of people in the prison system are men and the impact that over-incarceration has had on men, etc. it can be infuriating for poor men and former convicts, etc. So that’s where a lot of these types of issues come from.

        And so my point is that, we’re all responsible here. Its not just the Trumps and cult leaders of the world that all the blame goes on to, we have to acknowledge what “we” have done to drive people into their arms. And I mean that. I mean that people like Trump or white supremacists, etc. can only thrive when there is something wrong in the environment to begin with. And yeah, we can blame FOX News, but FOX News wouldn’t exist if people were happy and not feeling overlooked and disregarded by the mainstream.

        And that’s the key, is recognizing that many of these people have been driven into these views. And this is also quite similar to cult and religious situations as well. I don’t know your personal situation, but I think generally, when you look at cults, gangs, etc., what you find is that the people in those groups joined those groups because of trauma they were already facing but no one was helping them with.

        So when I look at Trump, yeah I hate him and rail against him and hope he gets impeached as soon as possible, but I also recognize that the responsibility for Trump lies with failures of the culture that drove people into his arms to begin with. The people who are devotees of Trump like him because, lies or not, they feel like he takes their plight seriously while no one else does. That he cares about them may well be a lie, but that no one else does isn’t, and that’s why they are where they are.

        I guess it boils down to the need to acknowledge the legitimacy of the grievances and fears of many people like Trump supporters.

        • Steven C Watson
          2019-10-03 23:01:58 GMT+0000 - 23:01 | Permalink

          What exactly are you going to impeach him for? The Mueller Inquiry was an embarrasing nonsense; the latest impeachment shennanigins are fatuous: leaning on foreign goverments to prosecute people who coincidentally threaten your government and presidency – Julian Assange. Need I say more? Trump may be more naked about it but on examination he isn’t doing anything his predecessors haven’t done. In many cases they have done more and worse. The whinging of the American senatorial class and their clientage about Trump put me in mind of the Roman senatorial class and their clientage about “Bad Emperors”, most of whom similarly had the support of the proles.

          • Neil Godfrey
            2019-10-05 07:25:29 GMT+0000 - 07:25 | Permalink

            What are they going to impeach Trump for? I take it you rely on only pro-Trump sources of information and do not think it worth the effort to read and check out the sources for the other viewpoints. (I think your comparison with ancient Rome is more instructive than you might realize.)

            • Blenda Richter
              2019-10-10 20:52:22 GMT+0000 - 20:52 | Permalink

              “What are they going to impeach Trump for? I take it you rely on only pro-Trump sources of information and do not think it worth the effort to read and check out the sources for the other viewpoints. (I think your comparison with ancient Rome is more instructive than you might realize.)”

              Neil Godfrey, actually that comment is a total criticism of Steven C Watson’s person and an unfounded judgment of his discernment capability. In short, an ad hominem reply and to boot, irrelevant to his query. Now, you either forgot to answer his question, don’t have a workable, rational rebuttal or simply chose to ignore the question.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2019-10-11 00:50:38 GMT+0000 - 00:50 | Permalink

                What “they” have considered to be the grounds for an impeachment inquiry are well publicized so I do not understand any need to ask the question here. The only sources claiming there are no grounds for impeachment are those who follow Trump’s and his supporters’ claims. Trump and his supporters say there are no grounds for impeachment. But then I read the other sources and I see the grounds for impeachment are crystal clear. To ask the question that I responded to here is to suggest to me one is not interested in other sources of information. And that is consistent with my various posts on propaganda — that one learns to distrust and simply ignore sources of information that do not support one’s views.

                That is how propaganda works. It does not mean victims of propaganda are stupid. Many extremely intelligent people, for example, have been misled by the propaganda of the Bible itself and have conditioned themselves to distrust information from the broad consensus of the communities of scientists.

                I have attempted to make it clear that propaganda does NOT require stupid people. Far from it. Most of Trump’s supporters are not stupid. Most voters of all sides are not stupid. (Contrary to both Mitt Romney’s deploring of the “47%” and HRC’s dismissal of “the deplorables”.) But access to necessary information is a problem for most of us.

              • 2019-10-11 16:57:11 GMT+0000 - 16:57 | Permalink

                Neil, you may find this instructive: https://www.npr.org/2019/10/10/768785510/poll-independents-move-in-favor-of-impeachment-inquiry-gop-stays-firmly-against

                92% of Republicans and 71% of independents “Don’t trust the media”
                87% of Republicans Trust Donald J. Trump

              • Neil Godfrey
                2019-10-12 01:40:31 GMT+0000 - 01:40 | Permalink

                92% of Republicans and 71% of independents “Don’t trust the media”
                87% of Republicans Trust Donald J. Trump

                That’s what one would expect in the wake of the constant barrage of “fake news” accusations coming from Trump, Fox and other committed backers of Trump. It is also consistent with what I seem to have experienced with my own limited exchanges with Trump supporters: “they” simply don’t know much about what is actually going on in the conflicts between Trump, Congress, the judiciary, even the Mueller inquiry and outcome. So often it seems “they” can tell you nothing more than a few sound bytes from Fox and Twitter.

              • Blenda Richter
                2019-10-11 17:27:26 GMT+0000 - 17:27 | Permalink

                Neil Godfrey. That’s better and makes sense. Thank you.

  • Christine
    2019-10-02 21:39:56 GMT+0000 - 21:39 | Permalink

    Great post, thank you.

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