Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Friday, January 18, 2019

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.


Do you ever find yourself wondering what the story is with those thrilled faces behind Donald Trump at his rallies?

Unlike us, they’re not spies in a house of horrors. That sea of Make America Great Again hats doesn’t give them the creeps. When Trump cues them, as he did in Phoenix on August 22, to jeer John McCain, they have no ambivalence about belittling a war hero battling brain cancer. When Trump whines about the coverage his Charlottesville rant got, they realize, and don’t care, that he’s rewriting what he said—they heard him confer moral equivalence on neo-Nazis and anti-Nazis. But his act entertains them, and their complicity in his edits adds a perverse pleasure to the press hatred he rouses in them.

They can’t all be the 9 percent of Americans who believe that holding white supremacist or neo-Nazi views is acceptable. Who are these people?

There’s a decent chance they’re among the 62 percent of Trump voters who think millions of illegal votes won Hillary Clinton the popular vote; the 54 percent of his voters who say the most oppressed religious group in America is Christian; the 52 percent who believe Barack Obama was born in Kenya; the 46 percent who believe Clinton ran a satanic child-sex ring in the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor; the 45 percent who say the racial group facing the most discrimination in America is white people; and the 40 percent whose main source of news is Fox News.

I get that Trump’s base feels marginalized, left behind by a minimum-wage economy, powerless to control their futures, dissed by urban elites. I know why they’re fed up with partisan gridlock (so am I); I see why they’d favor a business brand over a political name as president. They’re disgusted by the corruption in Washington (ditto); no wonder they’re drawn to a bull who’d break some china and a bully who’d break some heads.

But after seven months of lies, sleaze, impulsivity, laziness, vengeance, arrogance, ineptitude, ignorance, nepotism, self-love and Putin love, how can three out of four Republican voters still be sticking with him? How come those faces I see on TV don’t see the nightmare I see? (I don’t mean that bizarre “Blacks for Trump” guy; I mean the rest of them.)

That’s what I’m wrestling with. Here’s what I got:

It’s not because they’re stupid. It’s because they’re human. It’s not because they’re so different from me. It’s because they’re so much like me.

But here’s what makes that hard to swallow: I can’t muster the humility to believe we’re both wrong, and I can’t summon the relativism to believe we’re both right. But believing that I’m right and they’re wrong, as I do, gets me laughably crosswise with everything I know about human cognition.

Homo sapiens has refined a method of study and understanding—science—that’s reaped powerful knowledge about the world. But the more we’ve used science to study ourselves, to probe the neurobiology of how we think and what we feel, the more inescapable it’s become that “rational” is too flattering a term to describe what makes humans tick, even when we’re at our best.

It’s not pretty to admit, but no matter how practiced we are at critical thinking, how hip we are to the social construction of reality, how savvy we are about manipulation and framing, we still conflate what we want to be true with what actually is true. Our minds unconsciously invent retroactive rationales—we reverse-engineer justifications—for what our bodies already have made us think, say and do. What we call reason turns out to be a byproduct of our addiction to feel-good chemicals like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin.

Human cognition is a captive of confirmation bias: We seek out and believe information that reinforces what people like us already believe. Confronted by evidence that contradicts what we think, we double down; confronted by chance, we confect necessity. Instead of changing our minds, we tell ourselves stories and cling fast to our tribal identities. A universe that’s run by luck is terrifying, but a good narrative imposes causality on randomness, finds patterns in chaos and purpose in lives. Our hunger for knowledge isn’t as strong as our yearning to belong, to defeat fear and loneliness with affiliation and family. We may call the baskets into which we sort facts “true” and “false,” but at bottom they’re euphemisms for “us” and “other.”

And yet my awareness of the limitations of logic, my appreciation for the ways human hardwiring privileges feelings over facts—they don’t inoculate me from maintaining that Trump is objectively unfit for office. I can’t let neuroscience discount my claim to truth-value: I don’t think calling Trump a liar illustrates confirmation bias at work. The reason the people I see at Trump rallies on my TV screen believe the psychopath at the podium is telling the truth may well be their membership in Tribe Trump. That explanation may nudge my empathy for them upward, but it doesn’t dampen my conviction that I’m right and they’re wrong, and it doesn’t make their belief in the falsehoods he spews any less scary.

Science may be humbling, but humility doesn’t make me feel like a dope when I call out dopiness when I see it.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at


  • Share this on Google+0
  • Share this on Linkedin0
  • Share this on Reddit2
  • Print this page
  • 124

29 responses to “Why Trump Supporters Just Can’t Help Being Fools”

  1. Dominick Vila says:

    Trump supporters love The Donald because they see themselves in him. He looks and sounds like they do, they hate ethnic and cultural minorities as much as he does, they fear foreigners as much as he does, they are as ignorant of world affairs as he is, they know as little about how our government and democracy works as he does, they are as greedy as he is, they are as narcissistic as he is, they hate intellectuals, they love his fake patriotic harangues, and they all interpret his braggadocio and arrogance as signs of strength. After 8 years of seeing an African-American in the Oval Office, Trump is their last best hope to preserve the privileged rights they consider theirs, and only theirs.

    • Eleanore Whitaker says:

      There are not really as many Trump supporters as he likes to imagine. First off, most are people who are on welfare because they are fat gut, beer swilling high school drop outs.

      Trump’s biggest problem is that he cannot control the US media, hard as he tries to reach that goal.

      More of his imagined power comes from his spending too many years reading Hitler’s speeches as his first wife, Ivana, once told the NY Daily News.

      Trump operates on the same level as Hitler for several reasons: He tries to attract those who refuse to get off their lazy bum asses and help themselves. So, they look for a savior who will rally for them and garner sympathy for their deplorable lives that are self created.

      Force these mongrels to get real 2017 jobs and they’d last 5 minutes before they were all fired. Notice how they have time to travel from Florida to AZ for a Trump rally? Only because Trump Organization is using our tax dollars to pay them to do that.

    • The lucky one says:

      Well said.

  2. FireBaron says:

    “It’s not because they’re stupid. It’s because they’re human. It’s not because they’re so different from me. It’s because they’re so much like me.” Actually, Marty, they are stupid. They believe whatever they are told without bothering to think about the incongruities and contradictions of just about everything that comes out of Teflon Donnie’s mouth. Anyone who actually listens to him for more than 15 minutes knows he has contradicted himself multiple times during that period.
    The problem is they still want to believe they are higher up the social ladder than anyone with a darker skin tone than a bottle of Coppertone can provide. They want to believe in the songs “Dixie” and “The Old Folks at Home”, even though the writers of those two never made it south of Philadelphia. In short, they want a country where people not like them “know their place”, and Teflon Donnie has promised that to them.

  3. Eleanore Whitaker says:

    Once you tally Lard Ass’s record so far, you see how he “operates” as the US First elected CEO. He puts only his campaign donors who paid the RNC the most to elect him with Russian hacker assistance in cabinet positions and then like the typical CEO snake, he fires them when he is “done” with them.

    As for his supporters, you know that black guy you all keep seeing cheering Trump on? He’s a paid supporter who lives in Florida but shows up at every rally outside of Florida, not because he is a loyal supporter. He actually is a former cult member who claims Cherokees are destroying America. REF:

    When this became public, Trump fired the AZ rally organizer because Trump realize the jig was up on his so called “supporters.” Most of whom are paid to appear or wait for welfare checks to roll in that the rest of us pay for.

  4. CrankyToo says:

    Note to author:

    You’re overthinking this, Squire. It ain’t rocket surgery. Those people really ARE stupid.

    • The lucky one says:

      Desperation can make people stupid. That’s the only way I can understand how people astute enough to see the duplicity of both parties in serving the corporate and 1% agenda thought that Trump would be an exception and a savior when EVERYTHING in his history indicated otherwise.

  5. Although a previous comment suggested that the author is overthinking the Trump crowd abnormality, and that they are just “stupid”, ignores the importance of why humans behave the way they do.
    A couple of things the author pointed out are worth a further look:
    1) “Perversity” is an appropriate word to describe the obscene fascination for the macabre and bizarre in human behavior, as exhibited by Trump rally attendees. Their aberrant giddiness at watching a clown wildly gesticulate like a knave on LSD, while foaming at the mouth as he utters a stream of lies, is more than just “stupid”. Their fascination goes beyond a single word or insightful phrase. Something deep down, psychologically, has metastasized to encompass entire groups of these Trump supporters.

    2) “A universe run by luck is terrifying…”. Indeed it is, because the universe isn’t run by luck. There is an Unseen Entity at work, imposing order on what would be utter chaos if the universe was left to its own devices. Einstein was partially correct in his refutation of Quantum Mechanics, referring to a fundamental principle called Quantum Entanglement, as “spooky action from a distance”, when Bohr and Hiesenberg, etc. suggested that particles are capable of influencing other particles, even when separated light-years apart. That randomness is fundamental to QM was vehemently opposed by Einstein, yet experiments later have confirmed on a limited scale that there is an unseen connectivity between subatomic particles at play.

    But in randomness, mathematicians noticed a pattern in the randomness. And so the concept of fractals and chaos theory took form, which allows us to use computer power to iterate complex number expressions to show patterns emerging from what at first appears a random distribution of points output after each quantity of iterations, and patterns arising according to a starting point in the complex plane.

    • Karen says:

      Understanding our human nature is the first step toward correcting our base nature . It is intelligence that takes us on that journey of recognition and change away from self- absorption and toward a deeper understanding of our interconnectedness and the harmonious patterns of the Universe. Using the term “stupid ” gives us a quick vehicle for venting frustration when the process moves slowly

  6. Thoughtopsy says:

    I see the trolls have finally gotten so embarrassed they’ve gone elsewhere.
    Poor Snowflakes… and SO Predictable.
    I wonder if tiny “mike” still feels he’s “winning”?… LOL

  7. yabbed says:

    Gimme a break. It’s because they are stupid.

  8. TCarlucci says:

    Marty – great analysis. The only slight exception I take is that you labelled Trump a “psychopath”. Of the many definitions for his abhorrent behavior that I have seen, the one that I see fitting best is “narcissistic sociopath”.

  9. 788eddie says:

    Make America Grate Again! Trump does.

  10. 788eddie says:

    Make America Hate Again! Trump does.

  11. stsintl says:

    Trump Supporters belong to a cult:

    • Cult members are “focused on a living leader to whom members seem to display excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment.”
    • Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged, and there can be pressure or social punishment when there is disagreement with the “boss.”
    • Members are taught to “rationalize” the conduct of the leader in matters they have always “considered unethical before,” under the guise that the “end justifies the means.”
    • The cult leader always takes the major credit for the movement’s accomplishments. Members become psychologically dependent upon him. “What would we ever do without our leader?” is the cult mentality.
    • The cult leader generates within his members “a polarized” mentality. His people evolve an us-versus-them outlook. Little by little, he criticizes other groups with which his members might tend to associate, undermining confidence in them, attempting to discredit anyone who could have influence over his flock.
    • The cult leader has a clearly defined anti-authoritarian disposition.
    • The cult leader will constantly criticize preachers, particularly those whose knowledge of the Scriptures eclipse his own. Members must be made to feel that he is the chief authority in all matters.
    • Cult members are seen occasionally to take on a new personality. They begin to act differently. They become increasingly antagonistic to family members and long-time friends. They may even boast, “I am not the old [name] that you used to know; I am a new person now.” And indeed they are. They have become strangers to those who knew them well. They have been transformed into the image of their leader.

  12. Richard Prescott says:

    I believe that the curiosity factor has become stunted on many people. when some hear a statement that they think may be baloney, they look into it. Others though, accept it as fact. This is nothing new. Old folks will remember the backyard over-the-fence gossip. Some may even remember the teachers who tried to get us to think by using the “the green frog has black spots” phrase to the first student and have it passed whispered around the class. Many funny final frogs have come out of that.
    Do they even do that cognitive example any more?
    The disrespecting of science, “Nah, I will never use it…”, or math, has been going on for a while as well. Both disciplines require asking more questions, not less. So these disciplines have languished, with those who do not see a use for them totally forgetting that their cell phone, tablet or TV (which shows them the idiotic Fox News) was created from science and math and applied into engineering.
    Brietbart News evolved into Fox News (modern day, not that of last century). People heard the outlandish stories, would rather believe them flat out than actually use their devices to find the real truths.
    So yes, we have crowds behind Trump who worship the ground he walks on. Who hang at his every word. Who believe all the half-truths and lies and fairy tales he spins.
    And that they are Republican for the most part should be shocking to the GOP.
    But hey, their continued enabling of Trump because it has benefitted their places just reinforces the lies. And their complicity.

  13. Beethoven says:

    I have a clear conscience. I supported Hillary from the beginning of the campaign, and voted for her. From the beginning I recognized that Trump was a compulsive liar and could not be trusted in any way. I also read enough to discover that most of the bad things said about Hillary were lies created by people who wanted her defeated in any political campaign, and read enough to have strong suspicions that Trump had ties to Russia that he was trying to hide from the voters. I tried to convince some of my acquaintances that voting for Trump would be a terrible mistake, but they simply wouldn’t listen.

    As stsintl said below, these Trump followers are like members of a cult; the same can be said for the evangelical “Christians” who have been a major source of Trump support. They believe a certain set of beliefs because they have been told that those beliefs are true, and they are unwilling to question the validity of those beliefs, because of peer pressure. If they dare to hint that they are in any way indecisive about those beliefs, they risk being ostracized by the other members of their circle, whether it is a club circle, a religious group, or simply a residential neighborhood. Someone can present a perfectly rational proof, backed up with proven facts, that their belief is irrational and flies in the face of reality, and they will still cling to their belief and reject the proven facts. As some commenters have said, it is because they are stupid. But more than stupidity, it is because they are afraid–afraid of being ostracized by their group, whatever that group may be.

    • Karen says:

      I think their fear is of the ambiguous……There seems to be a need to have definitive answers where I can know I am right and therefore you must be wrong

  14. Wayne Anderson says:

    Simple…they’re ass hats.

    Our media/TV culture has a really hard time making rational decisions.
    It’s sooooo much easier to just “feel” your way to a safe place.

    Until we begin to teach logic in schools and society, we’re stuck with whatever this is.

  15. Rain says:

    I very much enjoyed your reference to humanity. We are all human beings. I am no more and no less than any other human being. . . but there is the rub. We have a government crammed with individuals who feel more than, smarter than, more deserving than, more able than. People, as a whole, seem lost in a miasma of deceit, disrespect and dishonesty . . . it feels like an unending temper tantrum by a mass of two year olds. Until we all accept our own humanity, equality and responsibility; things won’t change for the better.

  16. prenestino says:

    I see Trumps rallies as religious revival meetings. People are unified by faith and devotion, and they are now in the physical presence of their great leader. Like religion, Trumpists are not subject to reason or intellect – they are in a state of blind faith. Just look at what they say when you question them about…..anything.

  17. I of John says:

    Interesting introspection. We tend to spiral ahead instead of just advancing forward. We tend to make the same mistakes in a slightly different way. We clot in rarified clumps of the like minded, then fight each other for dominance. I suppose we are not as far from a herd, pack or flock as we like to think.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.