The American people are lost in the Trumpocene – and soon DeSantis World – largely against their own will. But their own bad habits, obsolete thinking, denial and hard-headedness got them there.
These failures include a belief in the myth of American exceptionalism and that America’s democracy and society are somehow immune from fascism, authoritarianism and other forms of illiberalism. Americans have also made the error of convincing themselves, contrary to the evidence, that “the institutions” and “the system” are strong, the country’s leaders will save us, and that the Age of Trump is just a deviation from the norm – as opposed to a crisis that will last long past that moment when Donald Trump, the man, recedes from public life.
In a particularly gross error, too many Americans still believe, contrary to the empirical evidence, that the many tens of millions of their fellow countrymen and countrywomen who are committed to Trumpism, and support the Republican fascist party and “conservative” movement more generally, are fundamentally good and decent people who will abandon such values if “we just listen to them”, and “find common ground” and “educate them” about “the facts.” Such an outcome will not happen. Such attempts are wasted energy.
Here is the “riddle”: Trump’s MAGA women still remain in thrall to him.
The rot in American society is much deeper than “polarization” and “hyper-partisanship.” American fascism and the larger culture of cruelty that helped to birth that abomination will likely only be corrected over time through generational replacement – and there is no guarantee of such an outcome.
There is a unifying theory for why so many of “the Americans” remain lost in the Trumpocene, unable to grasp the scale of the crisis and how to escape it: they have incorrectly convinced themselves that their values and beliefs are shared by most people including Trumpists and other Republican fascists and “conservatives.” This is an example of the fallacy that is known as “the false consensus effect” which the APA defines as, “the tendency to assume that one’s own opinions, beliefs, attributes, or behaviors are more widely shared than is actually the case. A robustly demonstrated phenomenon, the false-consensus effect is often attributed to a desire to view one’s thoughts and actions as appropriate, normal, and correct.”
Additionally, when confronted with evidence that a consensus does not exist, people often assume that those who do not agree with them are defective in some way. There is no single cause for this cognitive bias; the availability heuristic, self-serving bias, and naïve realism have been suggested as at least partial underlying factors. When faced with uncertainty and a limited sample from which to make decisions, people often “project” themselves onto the situation. When this personal knowledge is used as input to make generalizations, it often results in the false sense of being part of the majority.
The false consensus effect can be contrasted with pluralistic ignorance which happens when members of group privately vary in expectations or disagree with group’s norm but feel different from the rest of the group and publicly act similarly as them.
The false consensus effect helps to explain why so many Americans, and especially members of the mainstream political class, the mainstream corporate news media, and self-identified centrists and (white) liberals retreat to the proverbial fainting couch in a constant state of “shock” and “surprise” at the horrible things that Donald Trump and the Republican fascists and their forces have done (and continue to do) in their revolutionary project to end America’s multiracial pluralistic democracy.
The false consensus effect also helps to explain why so many of those same people actually believe that cries and complaints that the Republicans and “conservatives” are “hypocrites” and “mean” and “cruel” actually has any deterrent effect on the latter’s behavior.
In addition, the false consensus effect provides insight into why so many Democrats, and liberals and progressives as a group, engage in wish-casting, empty idealism, and other delusional and self-soothing behavior about politics in the Age of Trump instead of embracing the realities of how the fight against American fascism is actually a moral crusade against evil.
As is now obvious, Donald Trump is a sociopath if not a psychopath, who is now a confirmed sex predator that was found liable in civil court for sexually assaulting and defaming E. Jean Carroll. She is one of dozens of women who have credibly accused Trump of rape and/or sexual assault.
Here is the “riddle”: Trump’s MAGA women still remain in thrall to him.
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Yet most of the women voters who backed Trump in 2016 and 2020 aren’t walking away. In many cases, his behavior—and Democrats’ and the courts’ attempts to hold him accountable—only strengthens their support for him. Even those who condemn his misogyny often say it’s not a dealbreaker. At this point, eight years into the Trump era, the sexism is internalized by his supporters. And even shared by some of them.
Over the course of hundreds of focus groups, I’ve seen female GOP voters rationalize, compartmentalize, and defend Trump’s treatment of women. They say they “[don’t] like his lifestyle and the things he did personally,” but “believed that he could do the things he was saying because of his professional background.”
When it comes to Trump’s conduct, these voters tend to give a lot of leeway. “Does he respect women? No. But can he run the country? Better than Biden,” said Judith, a Michigan retiree who voted for Trump in 2016 and Biden in 2020. “If that’s all we have to choose from [in 2024]—Biden or Trump—I’m not going to choose Biden.”
After Trump’s indictment, Autumn—a Republican stay-at-home mom from Pennsylvania—dismissed the former president’s actions, saying of Stormy Daniels: “She was a fan. She was a groupie. She followed him everywhere. So she was asking for anything that she got.”
Was Trump at fault? What about Alvin Bragg’s indictment on 34 felony counts? “That just talks about him personally as a man, not as what he’s going to do for our country.”
“I’m sure he’s not an innocent person by any means,” Sandy, a mother of three from North Dakota, said about the indictment. “He’s done things. But I feel like it was just like a witch hunt.”
On the Carroll verdict, the opinions were similar. In a recent focus group prior to Trump’s conviction, just one out of seven had even heard of the case. (Her reaction: “It’s kind of stupid.”) Those who do closely follow Trump’s lawsuits usually take them as a sign of his strength.
“They’re making a huge deal of it because they’re afraid of him,” said Kim, a mother of five from Massachusetts. “They’re trying to get him the hell out because they can’t control him.” These women echo Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s line about the verdict: “It makes me want to vote for him twice.”
Longwell’s findings echo other data which has consistently shown that Trump’s support among his followers and other Republican voters endures despite, if not because of, his criminality, racism, white supremacy, law-breaking, treason, corruption, violence, and other examples of antisocial and antihuman behavior.
For those people outside of Trumpworld and the MAGAverse that white women would continue to support Donald Trump and his neofascist MAGA movement continues to be “shocking” and “unbelievable” when it really should not be.
There are a variety of reasons why Trump’s MAGA women continue to be so loyal to him and the neofascist movement which include identification with the abuser, as well as internalized misogyny and internalized sexism. The women who support Donald Trump and the Republican-fascists and “conservative” movement are also rational actors who have decided that sexism and misogyny and hatred of women more generally matter less to them than other issues – such as keeping and expanding white supremacy and white privilege.
There is another explanation for Trump’s enduring power that too many Americans, especially among the political class and news media, still refuse to accept even though they have now suffered through at least 7 years of the Age of Trump. As psychologists and other experts have repeatedly warned, Donald Trump is a cult leader, a fascist charismatic personality and a demagogue. Trump’s MAGA followers will not readily abandon him because to do so would cause them great emotional, cognitive, spiritual, and physical pain and harm. Many Americans give lip service to the reality of Trump as a fascist cult leader but they, to this point, still largely refuse to accept the implications of what that really means for the country’s present and future.
It’s very hard for relatively normal and mentally healthy people to truly understand how Donald Trump’s mind works, to empathize with his thought processes, because it is hard to empathize with someone who truly does not care if he’s killing massive numbers of children. Such an outcome does not upset Donald Trump. He is more upset by some idle comment made on Fox News. The deaths of children and other people do not have any emotional meaning to him.
It is also very hard for most people to understand how there’s a sinister way in which harming, degrading, destroying and, yes, even killing large numbers of people actually excites and arouses Donald Trump. It all makes him feel powerful. That excitement and arousal and empowerment is an antidote to the emptiness that he feels inside and to the humiliation and mockery that he is experiencing from his critics and the public.
The monumental challenge that Gartner described in 2020 continues in 2023. Moreover, I would suggest in many ways that the crisis has gotten worse as Trumpism and American neofascism have become even more normalized across huge swaths of American society – including its political class, news media, and other elites.
Wish-casting, denial, the false consensus effect and other errors in reasoning and thinking keep the American people trapped in the Trumpocene and fascist fever dream. To escape that horrible place and to save themselves and their democracy, the American people are going to have to let go of such childish ways of thinking and behaving.
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