Friday, January 27, 2017

Trump's lies and inability to acknowledge widely agreed upon facts that don't flatter his ego- Why we should be concerned

Guest post by Yehoshua

Sorry for the speech, but...

Many here have poo-poo’d Trump’s habit of stating falsehoods with a claim along the lines of “all politicians lie.” I would like to explain why the issue is a qualitatively different one here than with past presidents.

Let us contrast Trump’s reaction to two different claims: One, that the Russians interfered in the election on his behalf, and two, that there was overwhelming voter fraud in the election. With regard to the first claim, there is a fair amount of evidence that it is true. The intelligence agencies all agree that Russia did interfere in the elections, with the hacking and release of the DNC emails, as well as in other ways. There does seem to be some level of disagreement as to what degree of confidence there is that the interference was specifically to get Trump elected, rather than just undermining public confidence in democracy in general. Yet, even with regard to the unanimously agreed-upon assessment that Russia did intervene, Trump repeatedly refused to accept it as true. He famously said, several times, that it could have been China, or, as he said on another occasion, “some 400 pound guy in his parents’ basement” (forgive me if the quote is not exact.

Concerning the voter fraud claims, there is, in short, absolutely no evidence that there was any large-scale fraud in the election of 2016. There was a Pew report from years past showing that there is a lack of modernization of the voter rolls, which lead to deceased people not being purged as soon as they should be, or people being registered in two different states (Trump’s daughter being one example of that). But there was no suggestion that those inefficiencies have led to actual voter fraud, and certainly not on the scale that Trump is suggesting. Elections in the U.S. are run on a local level. Even in a Democratic-leaning state such as California, many many counties have Republicans on the local election boards, who are the ones to administer the elections. Not one of them (as far as I know) has suggested that there has been significant voter fraud, certainly not one the scale of “millions of votes.”

So why would Trump refuse to believe the reports of Russian intervention despite the great deal of evidence to it being true, yet believe in the voter fraud l=claim, despite there being no evidence for it being true?

There is a concept in psychology called “motivated reasoning.” From Wikipedia: “The processes of motivated reasoning are a type of inferred justification strategy which is used to mitigate cognitive dissonance. When people form and cling to false beliefs despite overwhelming evidence, the phenomenon is labeled "motivated reasoning." In other words, "rather than search rationally for information that either confirms or disconfirms a particular belief, people actually seek out information that confirms what they already believe.”

Trump seems to be subject to this fault as much as one can imagine.

Trump won the election. There is no question about that. Both campaigns ran their campaigns according to the rule that the Electoral College results are what matters. For Trump, this is not enough. He feels the need to believe that not only did he win, but that he is fabulously popular. Thus, his assertion that it was “a landslide,” when in fact, historically, it was a relatively close election. His need to believe that he is popular resulted in the ridiculous claims about how many people came to witness his inauguration, and that only through selectively changing the camera angles did the photos look like there had been more people there in 2009 (not true). Or that this was the first time that the grass was covered with a white covering, making it look emptier, (not true). Or that the Secret Service instituted new security measures, keeping people from attending (not true). Or that more people rode the Metro to downtown than in '09 and '13 (not true).

Presidents enter the office with certain beliefs. All do. It is inevitable that over the four years they serves, there will be times that the facts on the ground do not accord with their beliefs. When that happens, it is crucial that those surrounding the president inform him of the facts, and that the president be able to assimilate that information to change and act accordingly.

The first week of the Trump presidency has demonstrated that neither of those necessary elements are present here. Those who surround him are unable to convince him to stop claiming that there was widespread fraud in the election. This is despite his own lawyers stating as much in their briefs in the recount cases. His press secretary admits that he does not believe it, but that Trump believes what he wants to believe.

While the question of whose inaugural was better attended is a trivial one, and the ridiculous claims of voter fraud can be laughed off as well, the question is: What will happen when there is a similar challenge to Trump’s beliefs on issues of major importance? What if his rosy perspective on Russia is challenged by now aggression in Europe on the part of Putin? What if his economic team realizes that the tariff policy he wants to institute will lead to a recession? By all indications, it is difficult to believe that anything could change his views.

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