Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Trump - What He Says Vs. What He Does

Published in HuffPost
August 1, 2017 - 02:54 pm ET
By Rich Weissman, Black Butte Ranch, Oregon (www.richweissman.com)

We scratch our heads in disbelief. Trump promised and continues to promise everything under the sun to his base. But let’s be honest, none of these promises have or will see the light of day. Do Trump supporters know that? Do they feel fooled by his lack of accomplishments for all the plans for which they voted? Do they know that his wall will not be built, his complete repeal of the ACA will not materialize, his dismantling of NATO will not happen, his wild tax plans will not come to be? Do they know that there is an extremely low probability that these and the myriad of all the other insane ideas that he suggested will ever come to fruition, because they aren’t possible, require leadership that Trump does not possess, are unaffordable, are illegal, or simply have no general support? All his rhetoric and tweeted promises and rally speeches will result in no action. It seems like the rest of us know that, but what about his core base?

Certainly, some grandstanding by politicians running for office is part of the calculus. The electorate understands that there will be over-promising. But Trump is in a different solar system, and it seems so incongruous that he can promise everything, including the most absurd ideas (and frequently off-the-cuff as the thought-of-the-moment), and deliver on nothing. Remember his secret 90-day plan to eliminate ISIS, his promise to eliminate the EPA first thing, his promise to fix the Middle-East in a matter of days, his assurance that he would deport millions of illegal immigrants within 24-hours, his assertion that he would immediately create job-ready infrastructure projects?  (And, of course, his promise that he would release his tax returns.) These are just a few of the many “bigly” promises he made, all to happen day-one. Things were going to happen so fast that our heads were going to spin. Right?

But they didn’t happen and Trump can’t get past go, let alone collect $200. One would think that his base would find this scenario egregious. After all, any psychologist can tell you that this kind of a situation would produce such incredible cognitive dissonance, that his base would certainly be leaving him behind in droves, angry droves. But they’re not. And it’s most confusing to rational people who expect others to reasonably deliver on what they promise. So what is going on? How does his base reconcile these disconnects?

Is it that they are patient and simply expect that he’ll get to it at some point (although he promised to get all these things done within the first 90 days)?  Is it that they blame others (although who might they blame since the GOP controls Congress)? I don’t think so, even as he now tells his base that things are harder than he thought (who knew that running a nation isn’t easy?). I think there is another deeper phenomenon that presents itself, and understanding it will help us to better understand how Trump got elected and how he retains support from his base.

We have to understand that there is a psychological paradigm that requires us to recognize that what we say and what we do are often two different things. It’s how we deal with the disconnect that reflects on our ability to behave as rational people. Sure, we plan on saving for retirement, but we don’t; we promise to attend to the household repairs, but we don’t; we are sure that we will start getting to work on time every day, but we don’t. What we want to do and what we actually do are often at odds. For most people, this creates cognitive dissonance as they view themselves as rational people wanting to feel in control of their lives. For these people, such dissonance indeed creates the discipline needed to follow-through. That’s how it’s supposed to work. That’s how human beings manage to accomplish things and move our lives forward in positive directions. Cognitive dissonance is a wonderful mechanism to help humanity progress.

For some, however, the need to be rational and in control of their behaviors is of less value, and so the discipline required to ensure follow-through is of less importance. Whereas rational people look at their behaviors and the behaviors of others as the measuring rod, those for whom rational thinking is of less value look at intentions as the measuring rod. The former works on insisting on tangible outcomes and ensures that things get done; the latter works on believing in intentions and allows things to slide.

For Trump’s base, what matters is what he intends to do, not what he actually does nor accomplishes. It’s about having faith in his intentions, and not an objective assessment of his performance. It doesn’t matter if the wall never gets built. All the matters is that he said he wanted to build it and he said it with the best intentions and will full faith in the idea. For his base, that’s enough. He had the right intentions, bless his heart. Because faith is never about actions results; it’s always about intent. And with that, his base can accept his sexual behaviors, crudeness and rudeness.

And the rest of us are baffled. It’s a cognitive structure that we don’t comprehend. It’s alien to our fundamental driver of cognitive dissonance. Moreover, we have difficulty accepting that nothing anyone says will change this cognitive structure among his base. No laundry list of unrealized promises; no critiques of his inability to produce; no analysis of incompetence; no pointing out all of his vile behaviors. None of these matters.

Most rational people want to see the checklist of promises and what has or will be delivered from our leaders. We want the to-do list, with dates and deliverables. And pity the leader who doesn’t produce. We think in term of the road to hell as being paved with good intentions. When my children were young and insisted that they would clean their rooms, I was not impressed. When beds were made, clothes picked up and put away in drawers or laundry, and toys put back in their place, only then were they given praise. Not a moment before. That’s the rational approach.

But with Trump, there’s a catch. Rational people can point out all of the unkept promises and debacles (the beds are still unmade and the floor is still littered with clothing and toys). It doesn’t matter to his base. What matters are his statements, what’s in his heart, and what he believes. If he tweets that Planned Parenthood should be eliminated, then that’s enough, even if he fails miserably at getting it done and even if it will hurt women who voted for him and even if it has nothing to do with the abortion issue. If he tweets that he wants to eliminate transgender people from the military, then that’s enough, even if the military tells him that there is a process to follow and that this makes for poor military policy. Nothing matters other than intentions.

The problem is that this kind of approach has not shown its face in sufficient numbers in recent political history. It’s always been there, but never so strong. In the past, the primary and Presidential debates mattered, and the candidates all strove to be prepared and methodical in their statements, and to talk about past accomplishments and to lay out highly specific plans. A rational model prevailed. But we now face a different set of rules, and the thinking of the Trump base makes it near impossible to debate. It goes against the rational mind. It makes the rest of us feel frustrated because it makes no sense. And that’s the point: his base isn’t looking for things to make sense; they are looking to believe and have faith in his promises and nothing more.

So, what do we do? Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do, other than understand that talking points of incompetence and poor performance have no impact on his core base. The talking head pundits sure don’t get this. They say that maybe he’ll pivot, maybe he’ll reset and become presidential, maybe his base will erode. But no, neither will happen, and we have to accept that he and his core base are a lost cause, and trying to convince them of their misplaced faith is a waste of time. As hard as it is to accept, we need to understand that the rational mind is not present among Trump supporters, and attempting to debate with those who are not interested in rational thinking is an act in futility. Instead, we need to build a larger and stronger rational base that is driven by behaviors and outcomes, and not by intentions and beliefs. We need to spend our energies on developing political participation among rational people who have not yet fully engaged in the process. In the end, uncovering and energizing those who come to the table with rational thinking, rather than attempting to convince the irrational core Trump base of his shortcomings, is the only path to overcome Trumpism.