Cognitive biases rise up to bite us at the worst times, don’t they? Often we feel like others will agree with us once they know what we know. Further, many of us assume that others share our way of looking at the world. And then we have to learn the hard way that neither of those assumptions are true when it comes to terrible people. Today Lord Snow Presides over why Donald Trump hasn’t lost his popularity with fundagelicals.
Cognitive biases are quirks in human thinking that help us get through our days with as little fuss as possible. These mental shortcuts and quick-categorization tricks happen behind the scenes without us even knowing they did–and they help us maintain group cohesion, recognize patterns and act upon them, and make snap decisions. However, they also lead us to a lot of incorrect conclusions and drama.
Anybody can fall prey to a cognitive bias. They’re about as universal to the human situation and experience as anything ever could be. As woke as someone might think they are, they’ll always have to watch out for them. Hell, one reason why the scientific method is so powerful is that it helps us to eliminate those biases to find explanations for why the world looks and works the way it does.
No wonder fundagelicals hate the scientific method as much as they do. Look at the full list of cognitive biases. Tell me it doesn’t look exactly like a recipe for a fundagelical!
So a lot of folks–like even me sometimes–think that if we can only make a given fundagelical understand something, we’ll gain their agreement. We think that if we can only present our case in a rational, easy-to-grasp way, then they’ll totally change their minds. We assume that they only believe incorrect things because they don’t know what we know. We assume that everyone values accurate information as much as we do.
In reality, people who become involved with a really delusional and toxic ideology don’t reason themselves into it. Generally speaking, they won’t be leaving that way either. If anything, they just switch one wrong idea for another and keep leap-frogging that way through their entire lives.
“If They Only Knew.”
So we have to be really careful about assuming that Donald Trump’s fanbase only supports him because they have no idea what he’s really like. We can’t delude ourselves into thinking that he’s somehow managed to hide his true colors from fundagelicals.
They know exactly what he’s all about. They just don’t care.
That’s the whole point.
That’s the main reason why their unholy allegiance to this cretin is destroying their credibility to the extent that it is.
A tweet I ran across today from Fannie Wolfe really illustrated the reality we’re facing:
White evangelicals get abortions in secret, cheat on their spouses, fuck people of the same sex in secret, rape people, abuse their kids, and hate women. Trump is a reflection of their secrets, not some aberration. Stop acting like his base will abandon him “if they only knew.”
And I just sat back and thought to myself, Yes, that’s why it doesn’t matter how many scandals we learn about. That’s why it doesn’t matter how many times we find out he’s done something ghastly.
There’s more to it than even that, though.
In a broken system, power protects itself.
People who have power in broken systems care only about keeping it and growing it. They’ll do absolutely anything in service to those goals. And that means that they are willing to commit any crime you can imagine. (Remember when Josh Duggar’s supporters all acted like everyone’s been there, why are y’all overreacting like this?)
At the top levels of leadership in broken systems, hypocrisy isn’t an unfortunate aberration. It’s baked into the culture. That culture leads to great benefits for a few at the expense of the many. So people in that culture will go to extreme lengths to rationalize their hypocrisy to preserve that power structure.
So let’s say that some top-level fundagelical leader got a wild morality-bee up his butt tomorrow. Let’s say he declared that adultery was completely, totally, unacceptable. Let’s say he declared that nobody in his group would ever again support a known adulterer in any capacity. Let’s say he completely meant it.
Donald Trump would be rejected, yes.
But so would most of that leader’s pals.
Presented with clear evidence of adultery in the life of a person they support, they’re going to go all-out to deny that evidence. To hand-wave it away. To rationalize it.
They must. They can’t take the risk of an indictment of one to become an indictment of all.
But that isn’t even the only reason why fundagelicals love Donald Trump.
An “End of Life Agreement” with Donald Trump.
He is not only an expression of their own secret inner selves.
He’s also the last and best hope they have of achieving their political goals before they become too weak to do anything.
Before Donald Trump had even won the Presidential election, USA Today expressed an initial sense of confusion over how he’d managed to gain and keep such strong support from white evangelicals in America. Despite a never-ending wave of scandals and exposes, he maintained that support steadfastly all the way to the polls.
They gave him their support for one simple reason. He promised to help them regain their fast-fading dominance.
The writer at USA Today concluded that white evangelicals had made an “end-of-life agreement” with their savior. It’s a conclusion that seems inescapable:
. . . thinking about the white evangelical/Trump alliance as an end-of-life bargain is illuminating. It helps explain, for example, how white evangelical leaders could ignore so many problematic aspects of Trump’s character. When the stakes are high enough and the sun is setting, grand bargains are struck. And it is in the nature of these deals that they are marked not by principle but by desperation.
Oh, but there’s more to it than even that!
(NEVER) Being Wrong.
I’ve often said that the worst possible thing a fundagelical can do is to be proven wrong about anything. Being wrong leads to more than a bit of simple embarrassment!
More than any other Christians, fundagelicals think that their god talks to them. This communication is both two-way and constant. They think he leads them in every single decision they make. He tells them what to wear. He tells them where to eat lunch. He tells them who to marry. He tells them what’s going to happen next in the world. And he tells them who–and what–to support politically.
That’s why it’s so hilarious to see them on the wrong side of every single issue of our day. As Michael Gerson writes in a profoundly revisionist piece for The Atlantic, they’ve turned evangelicalism itself into “a national joke.”
But what else can they do at this point?
Fundagelicals have been very loud about saying that their god totally told them to support Donald Trump. For them to reject him now, they would need to find an explanation to square that error. They’d need to explain why their god told them to support someone who is so morally reprehensible and bees-headed. They’d need to concede that they were totally wrong about him.
And once that door opens, it doesn’t close again till the whole party has passed through it. Wondering what else my tribe was wrong about led me straight out of Christianity, and I’m sure I’m not alone there.
So Goes the Tribe.
We could easily define fundagelicalism itself, not just its end-of-life bargain, as being “marked not by principle but by desperation.”
As the religion continues to decline (the latest reputable survey has them dropping a little further this past year), fundagelical leaders are going to keep lashing out and flailing to find something that helps to stop or reverse that trend. They’re willing to say and do anything–as long as it means not having to change anything they’re doing or thinking now.
Donald Trump is “the Primal Scream of The White Moron,” as someone said so well. He functions not just as the embodiment of their entire culture, but as its hoped-for Crusader-King.
Fundagelicals can’t reject him. Not now. They’d be rejecting themselves. They’d also be losing whatever chance they still have of seizing back their onetime dominance over America. And they’d be unequivocally wrong about something they’ve asserted, repeatedly, is a divine revelation.
None of that is even remotely possible in their culture. They have completely painted themselves into a corner, and everything they’re doing to reverse their problem only makes it worse.
Today Lord Snow Presides over fundagelicals’ impossible situation: their frantic desperation is turning into the exact mechanism of their own decline.
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Lord Snow Presides… is our weekly off-topic chat series. I’ve started us off with a topic, but feel free to chime in with whatever’s on your mind! Lord Snow is my sweet, elderly white cat, who keeps an eye on us so we don’t forget to brush.