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Trump Supporters: Are They Gullible?

Welcome to From Insults to Respect. I hope all is well in your neck of the woods.

Recently, I wrote a post titled “On Being Gullible,” the goal of which was to guide gullible people we care about toward more discerning ways. We focussed on three sets of skills that people use to avoid being gullible–Plausibility Checking, Trust Calibration, and Assessing Argumentation. In my earlier post, I sought to deepen our understanding of these skill sets by applying them to an example of a rumor that was being spread in a work setting. Today I thought it would be useful to apply these same three skill sets to a topical issue, President Trump and his supporters. To that end, we’ll utilize a parable about a supporter of President Trump having a discussion with someone who thinks the supporter is gullible.

Before we go directly to the parable, I think it’s only fair to bring out an essential point. Although I based the Trump supporter characterization on some Pew Research Center data (see HERE) and several discussions with supporters of Trump that I personally have had, along with some interviews that I’ve seen on TV, no single parable can claim to accurately characterize all of his supporters. So the arguments made in the parable by the two people having a discussion is best viewed as an interesting way to illustrate some principles regarding being gullible, rather than being a way to view all of those who are Trump supporters.

The Parable

Ann, a nurse from Rochester, NY, has come to visit her sister, Judy, and brother-in-law, Bob, in their small town of Lawrenceville, PA. Upon her arrival, she glimpses a Trump sign on Bob’s car and experiences a bang in her heart.

“I’m not going to get into a political conversation with Bob,” she says to herself. “I’m here to spend a pleasant weekend with my sister. Talking with Bob about Trump will do nothing but aggravate me.”

But after dinner, the picture of Trump above the fireplace begins to stir up angry embers, and finally Ann is set aflame and lets out, in as pleasant a voice as she can muster, “Bob, are you still a supporter of Trump?”

“Oh, yes!” he cries enthusiastically. “He’s great!”

“I just don’t see what you can possibly see in him,” Ann replies.

“Oh, he’s great, and don’t let all the fake news tell you different.”

“Gee, Bob, you grew up in a very modest few rooms above your father’s gas station. With little more than a public high school education, you managed to save a little money to open your own small convenience store. From your background, isn’t there anything indicating to you that Trump is not out to help people like you and those in your family and community?”

“Someone with good business sense, that’s what we need running the country, and Trump has a billion dollars worth of good sense in that department.”

“Donald Trump, who was born rich, went to the finest private schools, was set up in the real estate business by his wealthy father, has always associated with rich people. He was over 70-years old when he began to run for president, and prior to that never showed any passion to help people like you and me. In fact, he has a long history of screwing people like us. You really think Trump cares one bit about people like you? Sure, he’ll say anything to get your vote, but we’ve seen him lie over and over again.”

“I don’t care about any of that,” Bob replies. “I like Trump because he’s not a politician ― he’s a real American not corrupted by Washington, and he’s not beholden to no one. Besides, “Trump loves America, he’s a good businessman, and he’s too rich to be bought by the Washington power elite.” 

“You are right that he was not a politician, at least not until he began running for office,” says Ann. “Now he is a politician, and if he wants to get something done, he’s going to have to work with the other politicians. Instead, he’s alienating them. And what the hell do you mean, ‘he’s a real American!?'”

“He knows how to get things done. If he doesn’t, how in the world did he end up making billions of dollars? Answer me that?”

“He certainly knows how to get some things done for the millionaires he associates with, though he has had plenty of business failures. His Trump University project ended up costing 30 million dollars to settle charges of fraud. You say he’s not beholden to anyone, but he and his associates are beholden to their own enormous financial interests. That’s why he has put the richest people he could find in top political positions.”

“Ann, you don’t know what you are talking about! Those rich people are solid business folks who know how to get things done. Trump has great plans to fix this country and make it great again. We are already seeing job growth and lower unemployment under his great leadership.”

“What plans? The national economy is currently running under the plans put in place under the Obama administration. Under Obama, unemployment went from 10 percent to 5 percent, and the economy was improving steadily while he was in office. The fact that it has slightly further improved the first few months under Trump was during a time when there was not a single congressional bill passed designed to aid the economy. Despite this, you are completely convinced that the improvement, slight as it is, has to do with Trump?”

“Oh, you are listening way too much to fake news, Ann. Trump has set the tone for great improvement in business opportunities.”

“OK, if that’s what you believe. Let’s move on to health care. Trump vaguely said when he was running for president that he had a great health plan he would enact as soon as he is elected. He said he will repeal and replace the Affordable Health Care Plan, and his own plan would be great and cover everyone. It turned out that he had no plan of his own. The plan he first supported came out of the House of Representatives, a bill that cut coverage for millions according to the Congressional Budget Office, so he plainly lied. Then, when the bill went to the Senate, they didn’t like it and so Trump ended up saying that the House bill was really mean. Then he supported the Senate bill that also cut services for millions of Americans. Nothing got passed, and he antagonized in the process the very people he has to work with if he is to get anything of his agenda through the congressional process. Why do you remain so gullible that he knows what he is doing and trust what he says?”

“He says the things I believe in. Like we have to build a wall to secure our borders, and we got to get rid of the illegal immigrants who aren’t true Americans.”

“Bob, he said he was going to build the wall and have Mexico pay for it. He now has backed off of the idea of Mexico paying for it and says instead he wants the money to come from the American budget. And surely you must understand why there is enormous resistence to the wall. It would cost billions of dollars. The plan he is calling for is to make sure that you can’t build any tunnels under it for at least 6 feet deep. But everyday grave diggers dig graves six feet deep by the tens of thousands in a few minutes using easy to access digging machines. Digging a few feet more is no enormous engineering feat. So, in time there will be numerous tunnels. And people can climb over walls using rope ladders or cherry pickers. Drilling a little hole in the wall and sticking a stick of dynamite in it will blast a hole in the wall that will allow people to walk right through it. In a matter of a few years the wall will look like Swiss cheese. Maintaining the wall will cost tax payers like you and me billions and billions of dollars. His arguments for the need for the wall makes absolutely no sense.”

“We have to stop the flow of illegal immigrants, that’s all I know,” Bob replies. “And we have to send back the illegal immigrants that we have already.”

“It’s one thing to say, we have to stop the flow of illegal immigrants and have to send 11 million people already embedded into our economy back to Mexico, it is another thing to present a reasonable plan to do it.”

Discussion

Now that we looked over today’s parable, let’s see if we can determine how well our Trump supporter utilized the three sets of skills that help to keep us from being gullible–Plausibility Checking, Trust Calibration, and Assessing Argumentation.

A simple way to understand what “Plausibility Checking” means is to imagine your reaction if I told you that there was a green elephant in your yard. Chances are that you would think that I was probably pulling your leg. After all, you have a set of background information and you have never heard of a green elephant unless someone decided to go through the enormous bother of painting one, and what would any elephant be doing in your yard? Comparing what you know to be true, or at least very likely to be true, with what someone is telling you is the first skill that prevents us from being strongly gullible.

In the parable, the only evidence I can see that Bob used any plausibility checking occurs when he says Trump is a business man. Apparently that is enough for him despite the fact that the practice of business pits some business interests with other interests. When Ann points out that Trump’s business interests lie in big business and Bob’s business is a small business, this has no apparent effect on him.

The next set of skills involve “Trust Calibration.” In the parable, we get a sense that any argument or piece of evidence that Trump might not be a trustworthy person is discounted because it is nothing but fake news. Trump’s lack of interest in doing anything to help people like Bob until he ran for president, the fact that he has clearly lied about having a health care plan that would insure everyone, and his other lies as well, has no impact on Bob’s trust for the president.

The final skill set that helps to prevent people from being strongly gullible is “Assessing Argumentation.” In the parable, Bob does mention that Trump’s rhetoric appears to have led to the economy improving. But he does not explain why he is convinced that Trump’s rhetoric is the reason for the improved economy. Moreover, Bob’s support that somehow building a wall on the Mexico border makes sense is backed up with nothing more then declaring that we have to stop illegal immigration. There is not a single argument that he provides to defend that the wall would be a reasonable way to accomplish what he desires.

Well, there you have it, a little exercise in assessing someone’s use of the three sets of skills to prevent being strongly gullible. As I mentioned above, other supporters of Trump may have a completely different set of reasons for their support and perhaps they are more justifiable than Bob’s. In any case, this post can’t really decide if all the people who support Trump are particularly gullible. What it can do is to help people to think about what skills to look for in deciding if someone is, or is not particularly gullible.

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Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.

On Being Gullible

About the Author

Jeffrey Rubin grew up in Brooklyn, received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and has taught conflict resolution there as well as at a psychiatric clinic, a correctional facility and a number of public schools. He has published articles on anger and conflict resolution and has authored three novels.

2 Comments

  1. Ann and Bob actually had a very good political discussion. Neither side resorted to name calling. It is sad that so few people are interested in facts. They have solid opinions that they refuse to change. I have repeatedly pointed out errors of the Clinton administration – The Telecommunications Act of 1996 which resulted in a media controlled by a few wealthy corporations, the Crime Bill which filled our prisons, The Welfare Reform Act which cut off our most vulnerable citizens from the support they need, the stripping of protections under the Glass Steagall Act. The Clinton years were one scandal after another. The Clintons fired White House employees, and sold access to the Lincoln bedroom. There was Whitewater, Vince Foster’s suicide – the list goes on and on.
    On Facebook, I pointed out the many problems of voting for Hillary Rodham Clinton. I was called uninformed. Two people asked me what I was smoking? It’s difficult to find anyone capable of arguing facts. They prefer insults. We have the government we have because too many people put party loyalty over principles and they keep voting the same crooks into office. I voted for Jill Stein, the only sane choice last year.

    • Hi Mary Ann Slavcheff,
      Thanks for your comment. Like you, I was not a supporter of Hillary. She supported the Iraq war, which seems to me the height of gullible decision making. There are other reasons as well, including the ones you mention. I felt we voters were given a forced choice–either Trump or Hillary. A vote for Jill was, in my opinion, a vote for Trump even if that was not your intention. In the end, while not supporting her, I voted for Hillary seeing her as a better choice than Trump. She had far more White House and congressional experience and was less likely than Trump to nominate judges that would support the disastrous “Citizens United Decision.”

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