One significant casualty of the Trump candidacy might arise from massive cognitive dissonance among well-meaning early supporters, like the primary voters who made this all possible, and people like them who told their friends and family and/or local news crews that they planned to pull the lever for Trump in the general election.
It is well-established that people will unconsciously go through all sorts of mental gymnastics to avoid admitting in the face of new evidence--even to themselves--that they have made a serious error in judgment. See the Wikipedia article "Cognitive dissonance" for an overview of the details:
In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time; performs an action that is contradictory to one or more beliefs, ideas, or values; or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.
A key tenet of cognitive dissonance theory is that those who have heavily invested in a position may, when confronted with disconfirming evidence, go to greater lengths to justify their position....
Dissonance is felt when people are confronted with information that is inconsistent with their beliefs. If the dissonance is not reduced by changing one's belief, the dissonance can result in
- restoring consonance through misperception,
- rejection or refutation of the information,
- seeking support from others who share the beliefs,
- and attempting to persuade others.
So let's review what we have got out there. Unless you assume that most Trump supporters (instead of a small fraction) consciously relish the notion that girls and women are objects, seethe with more-than-implicit contempt for minority groups, and argue that Constitutional checks on executive power are part of the problem --
-- and I don't think that's true --
-- there's a large bloc of people out there who are being faced with numerous pieces of evidence that they have judged very, very poorly, but are already "invested" in that judgment.
A population experiencing cognitive dissonance.
Some of them undoubtedly will walk back their support. A number will do so in the privacy of the voting booth, and then will hope that their mistake will just go away. Some will renounce their former support even publicly. They will admit that they were taken in -- they might come up with some way to save face, to insist that given the information they had at the time, it wasn't such a crazy idea (the past, even the 1990s, is a foreign country). Those people will attempt to start fresh.
Good for them.
But some fraction of this well-meaning voting bloc, faced with the choice of either accepting evidence that shows they chose poorly, or of forcing the evidence to fit their own unconscious desire to avoid that discomfort --
-- some as-yet-unknown fraction of what is a pretty large chunk of the electorate --
-- some of those are going to adapt by a psychic doubling-down on the notion that "what America needs is someone like Donald Trump."
For a number of this fraction of the electorate, the doubling-down is on "Trump is objectively bad, but the spectre of a Clinton presidency is probably worse." This development is not what I would call surprising, given the state of political discourse; America has already demonstrated, in spades, that we are willing to think and believe massively terrible things of even decent people in the Other Party. And because it maintains some hold on the evidence, it isn't quite as alarming -- "who will be worse as president" is, technically, a matter of opinion and prediction of an unknown future -- even as the question is sidestepped: How bad would your candidate have to get, anyway, to change your mind?
I'm concerned about the fraction who can't comfortably think of themselves even as reluctant supporters of an objectively bad man, or who are already invested in the notion that Donald Trump is the leader that America positively needs.
A number of people will not be able to deny that Trump said the things he said and did the things he did, but they also will not be able to divest themselves of their enthusiastic early support. And these people have only one refuge: to maintain that what Trump evidently is...
... is what America really needs.
This population, nudged by our common human need to not be wrong, is going to become invested in the notion that we need exactly what Trump is dishing out.
America needs, e.g., more honest talk, of the sort that goes on in locker rooms, where deal-making men don't have to worry about political correctness. (link)
America needs, e.g., to be tough on crime, not soft like that New York DA who let those five confessed black rapists out of prison just because of some so-called DNA evidence. They confessed, didn't they? (Link)
America needs, e.g., someone who will order U.S. troops to commit war crimes... what do people in faraway Geneva know about American interests? America needs someone who isn't afraid to offend people -- no, America need someone who takes visible pleasure in offending people. America needs someone who will stand up to obstruction in Congress, who won't let legislation or advice and consent stop him. America needs a strong man, a proud man, a man whose gospel glitters with prosperity, smells of it.
America needs to call evil good, and good evil.
That's what we will hear, because a number of formerly well-meaning Americans will need it, at a deep level, and they will need the rest of us to approve of it too.
They are going to say it out loud, and it will take an effort to fight this notion, because the more people are invested, the harder it is to cut their mental losses. It will also take more than a little self-discipline for the rest of us to fight it without sinking to that level ourselves, and to fight it effectively -- because what effectiveness requires is for the rest of us to craft a way that initially-well-meaning Trump supporters and endorsers can save some kind of face, emerge with their tattered dignity intact. And that means forgiveness, something that is hard for every human, because forgiveness itself requires overcoming cognitive dissonance of our own.
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To sum up: This is on the GOP leadership. By signing on enthusiastically, by squelching voices of principled dissent --- I watched the convention feed with my own eyes, don't tell me they couldn't see what I saw and hear what I heard -- by throwing their weight behind this man -- they legitimized a bad, bad candidate. They gave voice to ugly ideas. And they've harnessed human psychology to assemble an army of people whose easiest mental exit from the discomfort of what they've created is via 1930s-level nationalism.
We are going to be fighting this army with one hand, the other held out in an offer of peace-through-repentance, for a very long time.