Trump’s Method, Our Madness

have experienced a form of disorientation and anxiety that bears a striking resemblance to the clinical situation I have described. And recent events indicate that this feeling is not going to abate any time soon.

.. Just as disorientation and bewilderment tell analysts something significant about what they are experiencing in the clinical setting, so too our confusion and anxiety in the face of Trumpism can tell us something important about ours.

.. it entails a systematic — and it seems likely intentional — attack on our relation to reality.

.. anti-fact campaigns, such as the effort led by archconservatives like the Koch brothers to discredit scientific research on climate change, remained within the register of truth.

.. To assert that there are “alternative facts,” as his adviser Kellyanne Conway did, is to assert that there is an alternative, delusional, reality in which those “facts” and opinions most convenient in supporting Trump’s policies and worldview hold sway.

.. Surkov has a background in avant-garde theater and is a devotee of postmodern culture, and has adopted theatrical and artistic techniques of “subversion” to unleash a full frontal attack on Russian society’s sense of reality.

.. his “fusion of despotism and postmodernism” comprises “a strategy of power based on keeping any opposition there may be constantly confused,” creating “a ceaseless shape-shifting that is unstoppable because it’s indefinable.” To keep his opponents off-balanced and powerless, he might, for example, sponsor “nationalist skinheads one moment” and “human rights groups the next.”

In a similar vein, Surkov could have provided the seating arrangements for the N.S.C., where Bannon, a right-wing white nationalist who has provided a platform for anti-Semites, sits on one side of Trump, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, an orthodox Jew, sits on the other.

.. By continually contradicting himself and not seeming to care, Trump generates confusion in the members of the media and political opposition that has often rendered them ineffectual, especially in speaking to those outside the liberal base. They were slow to realize that he was playing by a different set of rules.

.. He has proved adept at deflecting well-intentioned fact-checking, regardless of how often it has caught him in a contradiction, and rational counterarguments, which can bounce off him like rubber.

.. there has recently been a robust and energetic attempt .. to call out and counter Trumpism’s attack on reality.

.. work with more disturbed patients can be time-consuming, exhausting and has been known to lead to burnout. The fear here is that if the 45th president can maintain this manic pace, he may wear down the resistance and Trump-exhaustion will set in, causing the disoriented experience of reality he has created to grow ever stronger and more insidious.

The Economic Anxieties That Motivate Donald Trump Loyalists

The president’s backers often cite the trade imbalance, federal debt and the cost of foreign wars—not health insurance or immigrants

Yet there is a solid cadre of Trump supporters who aren’t turned off by the turmoil, but rather see it as a sign that something is happening. They remain loyal; for them, the Trump message is more important than the messenger.

 .. an estimate of the total cumulative cost of military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere over the last 15 years, which runs north of $1.5 trillion.

.. In a January Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, for example, addressing trade unfairness and keeping jobs from going abroad far outranked deporting illegal immigrants or building a border wall as top priorities among Trump voters.
.. the fact that Mr. Trump has effectively tapped into these sentiments doesn’t necessarily mean his policies will resolve the underlying problems. In fact, they actually could make them worse.
His desire for a big tax cut, his defense buildup and his reluctance to trim Medicare or roll back Medicaid growth may grow the debt further. His pledge to wipe Islamic State “from the face of the earth” could add to the costs of overseas adventures. His trade policies could set off trade wars that would undermine the economy without ending that trade deficit.
.. They are told, for example, that budget deficits and debt don’t undermine the economy, but don’t buy it.
.. Mr. Trump may not have the answers, but, as the entertainer he once was, he knows his audience.

Why We’re Living in the Age of Fear

This is the safest time in human history.  So why are we all so afraid?

.. According to Lewis & Clark College president Barry Glassner, one of the country’s leading sociologists and author of The Culture of Fear, “Most Americans are living in the safest place at the safest time in human history.”

.. Around the globe, household wealth, longevity and education are on the rise, while violent crime and extreme poverty are down. In the U.S., life expectancy is higher than ever, our air is the cleanest it’s been in a decade, and despite a slight uptick last year, violent crime has been trending down since 1991.

.. “we are living in the most fearmongering time in human history. And the main reason for this is that there’s a lot of power and money available to individuals and organizations who can perpetuate these fears.”

.. For mass media, insurance companies, Big Pharma, advocacy groups, lawyers, politicians and so many more, your fear is worth billions. And fortunately for them, your fear is also very easy to manipulate.

.. If it senses danger, then the neurons start firing, signaling the central amygdala to activate a defense response in the body.

.. Fear, then, according to LeDoux, is actually experienced in the conscious mind – the cerebral cortex – where we assemble the experience and then label it as an emotion

.. “What we’re talking about is anxiety, not fear,” LeDoux says. Where fear is a response to a present threat, anxiety is a more complex and highly manipulable response to something one anticipates might be a threat in the future. ”

.. anxiety is, in LeDoux’s words, “an experience of uncertainty.”

.. And that uncertainty is the exact lever that politicians regularly use to try to influence your behavior.

.. What’s occurring in this meet-up group right now is what social psychologists call the “law of group polarization,” which states that if like-minded people are concerned about an issue, their views will become more extreme after discussing it together

.. If there is a crack in human psychology into which demagogues wriggle, it is by offering psychological relief for the anxiety created by uncertainty. Because when people are unsure – or made to feel unsure – and not in control of the safety of their finances, families, possessions, community or future, their natural inclination is to grasp for certainty.

.. This is where a good scapegoat comes in. “That’s something Trump creates very well: There’s us – real Americans – then there are Muslims and immigrants,” Bader says. “Fascist governments have risen in times of economic change because they offer simple answers to complicated personal questions. And one of the most popular ways people can have certainty is by pointing to a villain to blame things on.”

.. The crucial combination of uncertainty with perception of an escalating threat has led historically, according to Bader and other researchers, to an increased desire for authoritarianism. “A conspiracy theory,” he continues, “brings order to a disordered universe. It’s saying that the problems aren’t random, but they’re being controlled by a villainous group.”

.. “political conservatism, right-wing authoritarianism and conservative shift were generally associated with the following: chronically elevated levels of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, desire for revenge and militarism, cynicism and decreased use of humor.”

.. To manage this existential anxiety, we embrace a cultural worldview that provides us with order, meaning, importance and, ultimately, self-esteem.

.. Meanwhile, the existence of other people with beliefs and values that differ from our own can subtly undermine the protection this worldview provides. So, according to the theory, when these beliefs are threatened, we will go to great lengths to preserve and defend them.

.. when people are reminded of their mortality, whether through questions about what happens after death or bringing up tragedies like 9/11, they can become more prejudiced and more aggressive toward people with different worldviews.

.. And after being asked questions about their own death, liberals fed conservatives twice as much “painfully hot salsa” as they did to fellow liberals, and vice versa.

.. Pyszczynski’s colleague Sheldon Solomon found that college students, after being asked to reflect on their own deaths, were more likely to support Trump, regardless of their political affiliation.

.. “As human beings, when listening alone for long periods of time, we are susceptible to being swayed by a confident voice speaking authoritatively, especially if it’s the only thing you consume,” she says. “So they would say things that provoked my dad to anger and indignation, and once that got going, he’d stop thinking rationally.”

.. “The more we see dramatized and traumatic events, the more common we believe them to be,”

.. In an era in which so many news programs, radio shows and websites look like news and sound like news but are actually just theater sets for partisan advocacy groups and commentators, anyone can create a digital ring of fire around his or her belief system that doesn’t allow other information to enter.

.. “These sorts of associations form pretty easily but are hard to undo,” says Huberman of Stanford. “Campaign strategists and certain media are taking the opportunity to engage us in a form of strategic neurobiological warfare. They know that it’s very easy to take a symbol or a face and link it to a specific negative outcome, and eventually it moves from the conceptual areas of the brain to the stria terminalis to the amygdala.”

.. “We rarely found the race of the officer to be a factor: Everybody shoots black people,” Correll observes. “It looks like a cultural-stereotype thing, as opposed to an in-group/out-group thing. If you stop and look around, you will see these patterns everywhere. In newspapers, they’ll show pictures more often if the subject is black and mention race more often if the subject is black. So your brain starts to think that black people commit crimes.”

.. “We rarely found the race of the officer to be a factor: Everybody shoots black people,” Correll observes. “It looks like a cultural-stereotype thing, as opposed to an in-group/out-group thing. If you stop and look around, you will see these patterns everywhere. In newspapers, they’ll show pictures more often if the subject is black and mention race more often if the subject is black. So your brain starts to think that black people commit crimes.”

.. “learn to have a degree of acceptance around uncertainty and ambiguity, learn to feel comfortable with change, and seek to understand things you may be afraid of rather than withdrawing from them.”