From Reagan to Trump

From Reagan to Trump: How Liberals Aren’t Staying Current

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Qualifications for President? That’s so last millennium. If you want to stay ahead on the political curve today, you need to focus on celebrity. B-movie actors were it in the 80s, but now, anybody who’s anybody is on reality TV. Trump starred in one of the more successful reality shows of the last decade. How can Hillary compete with that? Former Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, more political experience than any presidential candidate in U.S. history? Meh…That won’t go very far with today’s voters. Of course, Hillary was First Lady, kind of like the former “queen” of America, but that was before the Millennials had the right to vote. Nobody cares now!

"Bread and Circus" is the new name of the game. If you’re entertaining and if you look like celebrity, I’ll vote to keep you in front of my gaze. It’s classic Jungian psychology—people project their ideal selves upon their heroes and then they need those heroes to succeed in order to feel successful themselves. We do it with our sports heroes, with our daytime TV stars, and our nighttime crime drama characters. But no one is more “real” than our reality stars. We love to see their human foibles, scandals, setbacks, and their successes. The more reality TV we watch, the more we get used to assholes as the star of the show, and we even like them.

So here comes Trump, an arrogant, unapologetic, outspoken, swaggering celebrity. He says whatever comes into his head, be it racist, sexist, misogynistic, xenophobic, anti-elitist or pro-elitist, because that always worked on reality TV to boost the ratings. The surprise was that it worked in a Presidential race. We are no longer distinguishing entertainment from reality. Reality TV has conditioned us to follow the most boisterous and offensive celebrity who will step up to the mic.

That may be overly simplistic. Human instincts alone make us attracted to the decisive person in the room, even if he is condemning people to their death. It gives us a little shudder, not of fear alone, but of respect for the alpha male; some liken it to sexual attraction. Women can command this too, but our unconscious biases tend to label them as “bitch” when the same behavior from a man gets us to rollover in aroused respect.

Narcissism is not necessarily a handicap in the popularity contest that elections largely tend to be. Ego draws people to you like the pied piper. The biggest ego in the room, if wielded confidently, can draw others to it, and all egos, as if operating independently from their host bodies, bow to that superior ego in allegiance. Trump basically did that during the primary and the egos that couldn’t get behind his were deflated by their poll numbers.

Are we aware of how manipulated we are? Of course not. We wouldn’t be manipulated if we were. But most of this manipulation is not clever sleight of hand, or some convoluted conspiracy theory; it is just psychology 101. That means you don’t need to get a PHD to see through it, just a bachelors degree. Most of Trump’s supporters didn’t have that.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t smart. There are all different kinds of intelligence, and frankly, a lot of the educated people in this country don’t show evidence of their credentials in action. The Trump supporters we see on TV are the ones singled out by our “news” media to be most entertaining, just like in a reality show. What’s the last reality show you saw where your favorite character was brilliant and articulate and nuanced in their understanding of the issues? They don’t make the cut because they take too long to say things for our attention span, or before commercial break, and because they aren’t as as amusing, or as charismatic, as the asshole. So of course we never see an intelligent Trump supporter on TV. Our default conclusion is that “they’re all idiots.” Guess what the news shows about educated liberals?—the same sampling, from the bottom of the group. So everyone now assumes everyone unlike them is an idiot, because they’ve got proof—reality TV… I mean news.

I’ve met plenty of people with bachelor’s degrees who didn’t know how to think critically, let alone be aware of their own psychological failings. A college diploma doesn’t make you smart. You have to care. You have to want to understand why you make assumptions, why you hate this person irrationally, why you cover up that irrational leap with rationalizations. You have to want to look up “confirmation bias” and “self-fulfilling prophecy” and other psychological tendencies we all have. Aren’t you curious? Just a little?

Shaming people for their lack of understanding is the stupidest thing an educated person could do. (Just like I did there – an illustration if you will.) If you had a student in front of you do you think telling them how stupid and uneducated they are is going to motivate them to listen to you? We have teaching moments every day where people don’t have our information and we don’t have theirs. Sharing that information, cross-pollinating like the flowers, would be advantageous to all of us. But as soon as you determine that you have a monopoly on the truth and the other guy is ignorant you have closed the door on that teaching moment and begun an ego battle. It takes a lot of work to soothe an ego once triggered and trigger it too many times and that person will never trust or listen to you again.

To open others up to listen to you, you must start by listening to them. It’s reciprocal, like the golden rule (or the commutative property of mathematics if you want to be an educated elitist about it.) Listen; they have a different perspective. Be curious; it could bring you new insight. Then, once the trust is established, the other may be receptive to hear your viewpoint. Trigger them by slamming their ideas and you put their armor up which guarantees they won’t listen or respect what comes out of your mouth.

As it goes on TV, so it goes now in reality. We see asshole celebrity, and we imitate it. We are creatures of habit and until we see how conditioning works we won’t be able to get out of the group-think; a herd of sheep following one charismatic wolf. Liberals have it just as bad as conservatives—they just rationalize it better. It isn’t going to stop with the election of a leader or passing some new law. Change must start at the individual level and leaven the culture. We have to be curious again. We have to find educating ourselves about one another to be pleasurable not painful.

I’m lucky. New information gives me joy. I can get overwhelmed by it, like anyone, and that happens more than ever in this information age. But I adjust to the overwhelm and put my blinders on to analyze one set of data at a time, frequently pulling back for the big picture and making a note to cover the other areas when I’m done so I don’t have a lopsided perspective on the subject. My joy comes from connecting dots, like a puzzle, and from seeing the irony in reality—the dark shadow of the brightest ideas, and how it corrupts. The Soviet revolution was built on the bright ideals of equality, but when followed blindly to extremes, the dark shadow of communism replaced their freedom with tyranny. Capitalism is built on the bright ideals of self-interest driving ingenuity of the human mind, but when left unchecked, the dark shadow of greed creates mortgage backed derivatives and other financial instruments that shuffle wealth up to a few private hands who can then control government. We have to be able to see the shadow in our own ideas in order to safeguard against our complicity in evil. That is what is required of us as stewards of this country.

Can you see both sides of abortion? Can you see both sides of socialized medicine? Can you see both sides of immigration reform? If so, good. Now look for the third side. Black and white thinking is easy but incredibly inaccurate in most situations. It’s what allows a two-party system to give us candidates that don’t truly reflect our values and be confident that we will still vote for one or the other.

It’s tricky to take in new information because your paradigm often has to shift to integrate it. If your entire worldview is changing, you may no longer see eye-to-eye with your family or your spouse, or your children, and that can be painful. It’s hard. You have to learn to live with discomfort if you want to align yourself to the ideal of unadorned truth, of factual reality. I have a floating paradigm, like a globe with puzzle pieces, always expanding to make room for new ones. It has no pins in the ground because if it did, there wouldn’t be room for big new insights. You’ve got to be like Atlas to hold that globe up on your shoulder day after day and allow it to shift. Or you can stick it into the ground and let it collect dust while you get back to the couch to watch your favorite new reality TV show: Trump in the White House.

Like Trump or hate Trump, whichever; we’ve got him. Are you going to complain about it for the next four years, adding more dissension and division to the American political system? Are you going to celebrate and wait for him to “make America great again?” Are you going to panic and wait for him to “push the button”? Or are you going to work at mending our culture? Are you going to work on educating yourself and others so that we are better equipped to challenge injustice when it arises, to fend off the shadows of our ideals, to listen better, to communicate with each other?

Are you going to stop thinking in black and white, red team and blue team, and start rooting for someone who actually reflects who you are? Like Oprah. After all, if qualifications mean nothing, we might as well be voting for celebrities we actually like.