Friday, November 6, 2020

Are Trump Voters Delusional?


Outdoor Mural in Portsmouth NH 
CC Jean Stimmell 10/14/18

Are Trump voters delusional?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, a delusional disorder, previously called paranoid disorder, is a serious mental illness in which a person cannot tell what is real from what is imagined. The main feature of this disorder is the presence of delusions, which are unshakable beliefs in something untrue.⁠1

Delusional disorders can be the result of genetic or biological factors but can also be caused by environmental or psychological stress. Karl Jaspers, a ground-breaking psychiatrist, showed how stress, resulting from “shattering, mortifying” experiences⁠2 can profoundly affect a person’s sense of reality.

It can’t be denied that the Trump voter has been buffeted by a series of shattering and mortifying experiences. I am well aware that it is patronizing and patently unfair to generalize about any group of folks. But for this tongue-in-check piece, I am going to do exactly that!

 I am going to call  my generic Trump voter, Ken, based on some Trump supporters I am familiar with. His good-paying job is gone, transferred overseas. He now feels humiliated by his loss of status, forced to compete with immigrants for menial, low-paying jobs to support his family.

Because Ken is still held captive to his old-fashioned, straight male world, his mind is blown by the very idea of feminism and GLBTQ. On top of that, he feels picked on by the “liberal elite,” who, he believes, look down at him for driving a big gas-guzzling truck and dismiss him as a knuckle-dragging troglodyte because he likes guns and hunting. 

Rather than being at least tolerated as one more spoke in the big wheel of diversity that liberals celebrate, he feel scorned as an untouchable.

Meanwhile, black and brown minorities, soon to be the majority of the U.S., threaten what he considers to be his principal identity,  that of a white man. Good-paying jobs in oil and coal are disappearing as the world shifts to renewables to combat the calamitous effects of unrestrained climate change. Regrettably, Ken has been duped by Republican and fossil fuel industry propaganda to believe human-caused climate change is fake news propagated by the liberal media – in the same way he believes Covid-19 is a hoax. 

Ken was feeling dizzy and unsure of himself, cheated out of the American dream in the midst of unprecedented social change he didn’t understand. It was too much to handle, but just when things seemed most bleak, the ground shifted under his feet: His mind exploded like fireworks on 4th of July, as a new vision lit up the sky – choreographed by Trump and his allies –with the promise of an alternative reality: A version of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, where everyone is white, straight, prosperous, and above-average.

His vision, of course, is a delusion.

Just as psychology is discovering that trauma can be collective as well as individual, so it is with delusions. Due to social media, Trump folks can effortlessly find and join forces with like-minded folks on the internet, strengthening their delusion by a process we call conformational bias until they have constructed their own world that appears realer than real.

Like children huddled around the campfire on a moonless night at Halloween, they tell scary stories to each other about the dreaded Democrat bogeymen, relentlessly creeping closer: immigrant rapists,  rights-robbing socialists, black thugs, and blood-soaked abortion doctors. Their fear level ramps up so much, they almost pee their pants.

Strangely, through this process, at least in the short term, the Trump base has been able to set themselves free, blaming everything on the Democrats. They have nothing else to fear: Coronavirus and climate change don’t’ exist, just more democrat fake news. Ken can drive his big, gas-guzzling truck all he wants with no guilt. It’s like breaking your diet: now you can binge because you don’t care anymore.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe Trump’s loss will break through Ken’s delusion; after all, more folks voted for Trump this time around than in the last election, despite his pitiful performance. What will it take: for Ken’s father to die of Covid-19, for his coastal town to disappear into the ocean, for his daughter to marry a black lesbian?

 A popular slogan among Trump voters for this election has been: “Make Liberals Cry Again!” Unfortunately, by the time the day of reckoning arrives that does crumble the Trump delusion,  we will all be crying.






Jim Schlosser said...

Jean--this sort of generalization is not helpful, even damaging. It's like saying all Blacks are x, or all Latinos are Y, or all Vietnam Vets are Z. I would hazard to say that the diversity among Trump voters is greater than the diversity between Trump and non-Trump voters. We need to unpack this diversity and engage with people for who they are. All of us hate to be type cast ("you have a Biden sign in your yard so I know everything about you..."). See the thoughtful comments by Giridharadas at, especially the comment by spinbackwards.

"The way out of this cold civil war is a politics that is thrilling, inclusive, substantive, visionary, galvanizing, empathetic, tolerant of different degrees of on-board-ness, and deft at meeting people where they are."

psychos capes said...

Jim, you make a valid point. I do, however, have empathy for the Trump voter which I tried to convey as in this sentence:

"Rather than being at least tolerated as one more spoke in the big wheel of diversity that liberals celebrate, he feel scorned as an untouchable."

Thanks for commenting, Jean

psychos capes said...

Jim, please note that I have taken your criticism to heart and, as a result, made changes to this piece.

Patty said...

But how do we fix it? Even after events at the Capitol on Jan 6th, trump followers, including those on the fringe, still believe the delusion. What will it take?