It’s a reality we all have to face, though not many of us can. A universal truth in life is that we’re all going to make mistakes and poor decisions. None of us are exempt.
The question becomes, can we accept it when we do?
Admittedly, it can be hard to accept mistakes. So in response, rather than owning up to our errors, we double down on them. We immediately retreat to any biases and confirmations we hold in an effort to reinforce what we believe, even if that belief puts us in error. While this can apply to virtually ANY situation, let’s examine this concept through the eyes of your typical Trump supporter. In this example, for instance, instead of recognizing Trump’s clear flaws – flaws they would have crucified a person like Obama for, supporters will retreat back to the flaws of Hillary Clinton, the media, liberals, etc. It becomes a defense mechanism as more and more of Trump’s unsavory antics and characters are coming to light.
I suspect that many Trump supporters are experiencing some level of cognitive dissonance, the idea where a person can subscribe to two contradictory thoughts, beliefs, opinions or attitudes at one time. For example, they may consider themselves decent, fair and very “American” people. So when they support a person like Trump – who represents everything they would detest in an opposing candidate – they learn to cope with his shortcomings. That’s how a people who are so pro-(fill in the blank with anything “American) can support a man who did one of the most sacrilegious things you can do in disrespect to a POW. Or to a fallen soldier. Or to a disabled reporter. Or to women. For them, in order to deal with the mistake of voting for him in the first place, it helps to first deny their error, followed by insisting that it absolutely wasn’t their fault. They’ll note that the other candidates should have been better, how they appreciate Trump’s ability to “tells it like it is”, or any number of other rationalizations to justify the their support, even if they know in their heart they made the wrong choice.
Just to show that I’m not making this up, research supports this idea. A fascinating 2012 study suggested that participants found it much more pleasant to stand firm in their beliefs, no matter how wrong they were. Those who did not apologize after a mistake generally had more self-esteem and an overall feeling of control than those who did apologize. And that makes sense. Apologies make a person feel vulnerable. On the one hand, you have to own up to your shortcomings, which is difficult enough by itself. But then you have to relinquish power to the person to whom you’re apologizing; allowing them to decide whether your mistake will be forgiven or if they’ll make you pay for it with shame, ridicule, or any other kind of negative ‘consequence.’ Four deadly words people HATE to hear are “I told you so.” That’s especially true in the touchy-feely world of politics.
Although refusing to own up to ones mistakes can give them a certain sense of power in the short-term, the long term affects can be dire. On an interpersonal front, that stubbornness can lead to contempt, mistrust, and broken relationships between people who would have otherwise been close. It creates an environment where ____. Worse yet, it gives us leaders like President Trump. Now, am I imply that every Trump supporter fits this model? Of course not. Many of them truly believe Trump is a quality president, was a quality candidate, and don’t find anything wrong with his character. But I suspect a greater number of his supporters recognize his flaws – the same flaws many others of us were pointing out months ago – and just don’t want to admit they were wrong in their support.
So what do we do? What’s the solution? What’s the best way to get people to not only own up to their mistakes, but to help them not make the mistake in the first place? There are a few things we do…besides simply expecting them to apologize.
The first step I think is to make even a small attempt to understand where they’re coming from. I have news for my liberal friends: not everybody who cast their vote for Trump did so in support of his wall or his Muslim ban, his lack of social refinement, or his childlike temperament. No amount of preaching from your pulpit is going to change their minds. Guffawing them about their lack of education won’t help either. Bill Maher is notorious for doing this. Despite repeated warnings about the dangers of voters and hurt feelings, he continues to be amongst those who mock and ridicule Trump supporters (throw in conservative voters, religious people, and anyone else he detests). That’s a very dangerous strategy and will likely hurt more than it helps. Believe it or not, some people actually considered Trump and not Hillary the “lesser of the two evils.” Some of them wouldn’t think twice about a clown like Trump if the electoral system we have didn’t reduce our viable candidates to “poison or a gun to the head.” Some people held a populist belief that – his brashness aside as a politician – Trump’s promise of change in a status-quo world of politics was refreshing (sure, they were deceived. But they didn’t know that at time and, honestly, neither did we opponents). Some people thought he heard their concerns and offered solutions that seemed less like mere band-aids on gunshot wounds. But as long as we refuse to relate to them on some level, count on them to stick to their guns for as long as possible. Trump 2020, anybody?
Secondly, it’s important for the rest of us – tempted as we may be – to suppress our need to gloat about their ‘wrongness.’ As I mentioned before, no term is more harmful in making people see the error of their ways than the dreaded “I told you so” line. In the face of that gloating, people will go to great lengths to protect themselves from those feelings of embarrassment. That’s where liberals, putting it mildly, suck. They’re smug, arrogant, and condescending. While preaching about ‘tolerance’, they’re quick to loft themselves in their ivory tower, looking down at all Trump supporters with disdain; usually referring to them as “racists”, “bigots”, “idiots”, etc. Yep. Not helping. We almost have to create an environment – a true environment of acceptance, diversity of thought, limited (or no) judgement, and, yes, forgiveness. In short, it’s our job to provide them the very “safe space” they themselves like to ridicule.
There’s an awesome account on Twitter that retweets posts from current and ex Trump supporters, each expressing their regret in voting for him. While it’s soooo tempting to make them the subject of my ridicule, I also realize that doing so could potentially push them farther away. When that happens, instead of realizing the reality around them, they’ll continue digging their heels into the truth that makes them feel comfortable.
Michelle Obama was on to something with her “we go high” tagline. But that not only applies to how we respond to low attacks. It also applies to how we should respond to people who are at their lowest and most vulnerable points. In time, Trump’s destructive policies will catch up to him with voters. We need to do whatever we can not to block the #MAGA exodus that’s sure to come.