By Kim Michaels
In my previous article I said that in order to believe what Trump says about election fraud, you have to disbelieve what basically all institutions of society say about election fraud. I realize that some people will say that there is indeed massive evidence of fraud, and you can find evidence on the Internet. If I don’t agree with them that there was fraud, then it is because I haven’t looked at it and if public officials don’t agree with them, it is because they have also refused to look at the evidence. (This of course leaves an explanation problem, namely why especially the republican people in public institutions haven’t been willing to look at the evidence even though it’s part of their job.)
The statement that others would agree if they looked at the evidence is in my view based on an assumption, namely: “If all other people looked at the evidence that I am looking at, they would evaluate the evidence the same way I do and therefore they would agree with me.” Yet given the history of humankind, what basis is there for making this assumption? It is obvious to me that two people can look at the same “facts” and reach diametrically opposed conclusions. Just look at the age-old debate about God’s existence.
Furthermore, what basis is there for making this assumption in a democracy? Human beings have always had disagreements and before democracy they were usually dealt with through force, even violence. Democracy is therefore not a system that is aimed at eradicating differences of opinion. Democracy is aimed at increasing tolerance for different opinions by providing a system whereby conflicts can be resolved without force and violence. This is done by recognizing that all people have the same rights and that each person has one vote.
In a democracy, matters are not settled according to my opinion or your opinion. We vote on issues or elect officials and THEN we accept that the majority of votes determines the outcome. If you don’t accept the outcome of a vote, are you really respecting the democratic process? Are you really committed to peaceful resolution of conflict? Are you showing tolerance for different opinions?
What if there really was fraud?
What if there was massive election fraud? How could this be recognized by society and acted upon? One way is through the democratic institutions. In order for fraud to be recognized, it would have to be acknowledged by the officials that the democratic system has put into place. And how would they do this? Well, they would have to have evidence that lives up to the criteria established for their agencies.
The other way is to say that “we” cannot rely on these officials to do their job right. How would we then settle the issue? Should there be one group (such as those who believe Trump) who are allowed to impose their opinion upon society? Should it be decided by how many people believe in what is posted on the Internet? Should the view of Trump voters trump the view of Biden voters? What kind of society would we have if changing currents on the Internet would determine policy? Especially considering that Russia and China have troll factories aimed at weakening the United States by creating internal division and chaos? I think such a society would simply collapse.
I accept that somewhere outside my mind and the mind of anyone else, there is an objective reality in which there was either large-scale fraud or no large-scale fraud. I would want that reality to decide how society responds to the question. And if all public officials say that they have found no viable evidence of large-scale fraud, then I will accept that. However, this is because I believe that the United States still has a functioning democracy and I have faith in public institutions and officials.
I am of course aware that those who believe in Trump will strongly disagree, but my point is that this can only be because they do not have faith in the institutions of society. The consequence of what Trump has done since November 3rd, 2020 is to create a black-and-white situation where if you believe him, you must disbelieve all institutions of government. Trump has defined the situation so there is nothing in between. To me, this is clear evidence that Trump himself and those who believe his claims are affected by black-and-white thinking.
The epic mindset and democracy
I will go one step further. As I understand it, there are many people who think that Trump is the duly elected president and they also seem to think it is of critical importance that he becomes president again.
To me, those who believe it is either Trump or disaster have what I call the epic mindset. Trump himself has demonstrated this mindset on a number of occasions, including his speech before the event at the Capitol. He told his followers that if we don’t fight like hell, we won’t have a country left. I see throughout history how this epic mindset has been used to justify all kinds of things, but most importantly it leads to the view that the ends can justify the means.
What I see in at least some of those who believe in Trump is the following:
- It is of critical, even epic, importance that Trump becomes president again.
- If he does not, disaster will follow.
- Trump was actually elected, but the election was stolen from him.
- Who stole the election? Those other people, meaning all those who don’t validate Trump’s claim of fraud. Basically, all those who don’t agree with us.
To me, this means these people have lost respect for basic democratic principles. They have lost the tolerance for different viewpoints and they have lost the respect for the right of other people to disagree with them. The consequence is that if you believe Trump, you must believe the following:
- Even though the U.S. is a democracy, it is not a matter of who carries the vote. There is a right outcome that must be reached, and it is that our position wins the day (Trump must become president).
- If the system fails to validate our position, then the system is corrupt.
- In a corrupt system, it is necessary and justifiable to abort or circumvent democratic institutions and processes in order to get the outcome we want.
Yet at this point in time, how could the situation be changed so Trump becomes president? It cannot happen through the institutions of society because the constitutionally mandated process has run its course. So it can only happen by using illegal and unconstitutional means in order to circumvent the legal and constitutional process that failed to make Trump president. Just look at the theories of what Trump can do to still become president.
The fact is that there is no way within the Constitution or federal and state laws that Trump can become president on January 20th 2021. The machinery of the system has turned and Biden will become president. This means that if Trump would attempt something in order to still be president, he would have to do so with illegal and unconstitutional means, meaning force and violence.
If this was attempted by Trump or any organized group, what would happen? They would come up against the entire law-enforcement and military establishment. These people have taken an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. My sense is that most of them take that oath seriously and any armed uprising is doomed to fail.
People who believe in Trump are essentially saying that they have a higher authority than the democratic system. They should be able to overrule all governmental agencies and all voters who didn’t vote for Trump. To me it seems they are saying that we should replace democracy with a form of autocracy where Trump has the same power as when he was CEO of his own company. He could then, as he has said himself, run the government like a business.
Yet some of them wouldn’t agree with that assessment. They are advocating illegal and unconstitutional means with the belief that they are actually defending democracy. They believe that they can preserve democracy by circumventing the democratic institutions and setting aside the Constitution. What does it take to believe this?
You have one belief that says you believe in democracy. You have another belief that says it is necessary and justified to abolish democratic laws and principles in order to defend democracy. Yet once you abolish democratic laws and principles, how can the society you get still be a democracy? To me, these two beliefs are simply incompatible. Holding two incompatible beliefs while failing to see it, is what psychologists call cognitive dissonance.
I have studied this phenomenon for a long time, and history is full of examples of groups of people that have gone into cognitive dissonance. Many times two groups are in cognitive dissonance and see each other as enemies, seeking to eradicate each other. Here are some of the characteristics of this state of mind:
- People believe there is only one right viewpoint or truth and it has some ultimate authority. This means all viewpoints that don’t agree (or are simply different) have to be wrong in an ultimate way. Low tolerance for different viewpoints.
- It becomes of epic importance that the only right viewpoint is reflected in society. People can become obsessive-compulsive about convincing others that they are right because they fear a disaster.
- People become selective in what knowledge they look at. They tend to acknowledge only what seems to validate their truth. Any knowledge or viewpoints that don’t agree must be refuted. If they cannot be refuted, they will be ignored. You can “prove” any point as long as you discount enough contrary evidence.
- If a democratic society does not conform to their truth, such people can reason that democracy has failed or isn’t an effective form of government. Such groups have often become convinced that a particular leader should be allowed to rule society.
- If a group accepts a particular leader, they often have uncritical acceptance of him. They tend to think he has some special powers and therefore could never be wrong. They also think that they could never be wrong about their leader. This makes them very reluctant to consider anything that might prove the leader wrong.
- People’s emotions are stirred into an agitated state and they become very tense. People seem to feel threatened by anyone who doesn’t agree with them or their leader. They easily become angry and aggressive towards others. They have an “us versus them” mentality and in some cases this develops into hate.
- The strong emotions often make it difficult for people to think rationally. It also makes it difficult for others to reason or even converse with them. Peaceful conflict resolution becomes very difficult. Just look at how some Trump supporters feel it is justified for Trump to do something violent, such as declaring marshal law. And look at how many talk about violence or even a civil war.
- People project that the problem is outside themselves. “If you don’t feel you can talk to me, then it is not because of me, it is because you don’t agree with me. If you agreed we me, we wouldn’t have any problem getting along.”
- People often tend to reinforce each other and can develop a strong sense of belonging to a group. Because they are so convinced they are right, they often feel that “us” is superior to “them.”
- People often feel that the problems in society were created by a specific group of other people. This means they have a scapegoat that can be blamed and persecuted. They direct considerable anger at the scapegoat.
- People can believe that because they are right, their view should rule society. If other people will not accept this, then those people should be forced and in extreme cases killed.
- People often lose their respect for the democratic rights of people who disagree with them. Their viewpoints can be set aside and forced. In some cases they even see others as non-humans who should be killed for the epic cause of fulfilling the goal they have defined.
It is as if these people have been pulled into a mindset, spiral or vortex and once they are inside of it, there is a change and now it is difficult or impossible for family members or old friends to communicate with them. These people cannot communicate with those that do not agree with them. A publication called Buzzfeed recently asked their readers to describe their experiences with people who had been pulled into the QAnon vortex. Many reported that it had become impossible to talk to family members or friends they had known for decades.
I am well aware that those who believe in Trump will say that this doesn’t apply to them because they are not in a Trump vortex but are the only ones who know the truth. Yet if you look at history, you will see that all of the other groups would have said the same thing. When people have been pulled into such a vortex, they cannot see that they are in a vortex and will vehemently deny it. I have personally experienced that there are people I have known for 20 years and we share a background in spiritual movements, but I can no longer talk to them the way I used to. For them, Trump has become an all-important issue and they find it difficult to tolerate that I don’t look at Trump the same way they do. If I reject Trump, they must reject me.
I am well aware that many who voted for Trump have very legitimate concerns that they feel no other politicians have addressed. So I think there are some very important issues that need to be discussed. Yet my question is whether America can find a peaceful, democratic way to resolve them or whether the polarization will continue to get worse until a breaking point is reached?
How can people escape an energetic vortex
What can help people come out of such an energy spiral or vortex? Often only that the situation turns into a war and one side loses. Many Nazis did not snap out of their belief in Hitler until they lost the war and Hitler committed suicide. Many convinced Marxists didn’t snap out of the communist dream until the Soviet Union collapsed. A vortex is the School of Hard Knocks and it is a matter of how hard the knocks have to become.
There are examples of people escaping a vortex through rational reasoning. In other cases, some dramatic event, sometimes an undeniable mistake made by the leader, caused people to begin to question their decisions. For example, it seems obvious to me that for many republicans the situation in the Capitol building on January 6th was a turning point. Republicans I have known are very devoted to law and order, the Constitution and they have a deep love for democratic institutions, traditions and buildings. So I imagine that seeing the Capitol building overrun, with people showing such disrespect, must have been shocking for them.
I know it was shocking for me. I have been fortunate to visit Washington D.C many times, and I even lived in Arlington for two months back in 2009. Almost every day I would walk or bike to the National Mall and visit the buildings and monuments. I truly love the Capitol building, not just for its beauty but also for its symbolic meaning. It physically pained my heart to see people desecrating it.
In my observation, Trump and his followers have created an energetic vortex over the past four years. This of course has many components, but I think one effect is that it held the Republican Party in a bind. No one really knew how to deal with a person like Trump and I can understand the predicament. However, as long as Trump stayed within certain parameters, the situation was frozen.
When Trump failed to accept the election results, he created a situation that was black-and-white because either he was wrong or the institutions of society were wrong. I can see Trump pursuing legal options, but when the Electoral College certified the votes on December 14th, he should have said: “Enough is enough.” Instead, he made more and more extreme claims about fraud. Still, the situation was locked, but on January 6th Trump went too far and thereby made virtually inevitable his own exit from American politics.
In my observation the process has already started, but I think that as soon as Trump is out of office, the Republican Party will distance itself from him. I think this will happen for two reasons. One is that many republicans are committed to democracy and its institutions and they have personal integrity. Another is that Corporate America is distancing itself from Trump, even withholding contributions from republicans who voted against the certification of the Electoral College votes.
If there is one thing I have learned about American politics it is that where the money goes, the politicians must follow. It is very difficult to be a politician in the United States without having corporate contributions and it is impossible to run a political party. Americans currently have the best government money can buy and that applies to both parties. Thus, I think the most urgent goal for changing America would be to get the influence of big money out of politics.
NOTE added May 2021: I was obviously wrong about my prediction. As of right now, the Republican Party is not distancing itself from Trump but instead intertwining the future of the party with Trump. Ultimately, only the voters can decide how that turns out, which we will see in 2022.
Copyright © 2021 Kim Michaels