October 22, 2020
Patrick Kahnke, in his recent book, MAGA Seduction, helped me understand my frustration when trying to have a reasonable discussion with some Trump supporters. In my own conversations with them there quickly comes a point where reason no longer seems to be relevant. Julian Sanchez (https://twitter.com/normative) calls these points “epistemic closures.”
Kahnke quotes Sanchez in his explanation of what he means…
I bring this up now, because the Trump ecosystem has developed a pretty sophisticated set of epistemic closure mechanisms that work to reject new information that might otherwise pose a problem…
It is extraordinary, and as far as I know unprecedented, how many of Trump’s own former appointees & senior officials have come out to say “this guy is unfit for office, and in fact a serious threat to U.S. national security.” You’d think people might find that hugely alarming.
This doesn’t seem to give supporters much pause, though. Not (just) because they don’t become aware of it, but because there’s a mechanism that enables supporters to reject this sort of testimony out of hand: The “Deep State.”
If the “Deep State” is part of your belief system, the testimony of these officials doesn’t affect your confidence in Trump’s competence; it proves how threatening he must be to the wicked network determined to undermine his presidency.
Ditto “Fake News.” Plenty of news every day calls into question Trump’s honesty, competence, decency, etc. But if “Fake News” is part of your belief system, the sheer volume of this actually works to validate his claim that media elites are hopelessly biased against him.
Ditto “The Swamp.” If people who were once widely respected conservative thinkers or elected officials are appalled by Trump, their statue is converted from a reason to take them seriously into a reason to discount them: They don’t want their cushy position disrupted.
I think these overlapping mechanisms are pretty critical to the resiliency of Trump support among his admirers, despite a constant flow of new information that, to the rest of us, counts as overwhelming and ever-clearer proof of his radical unfitness.” (Kahnke, p. 23)
When my own conversations crash head-on into deferrals to “The Deep State,” “Fake News” or “The Swamp,” it essentially comes to an end. There’s no way to “verify” those three mechanisms. They’re deeply held “beliefs.” Or conspiracies, depending on your point of view. You either hold them to be true, or you don’t. But there’s no way to prove them or disprove them, at least short of a full-scale government investigation, which, of course, would lead right into another example of “The Deep State” skewing whatever negative results might surface.
Trump essentially confirmed one of these mechanisms--"Fake News"--back in 2016 while Lesley Stahl was interviewing him. He told Stahl, “You know why I [attack the media]? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you."
It’s convenient: The “Deep State” is an imagined Enemy that is the cause for all things critical of Trump, that can’t be proven or disproven. And—it’s a perfect solution. “Fake News” invalidates any media stories that are critical of Trump. And--Trump's "critics" are regarded as simply part of “The Swamp” that Trump rallied against in his 2016 campaign speeches, which is still alive and causing as much trouble as it was in 2016! (Never mind asking why Trump has not apparently “emptied” The Swamp during these last four years.)
History will certainly give full credit to Trump as a master communication manipulator, if nothing else.
*you can follow the above conversation of Julian Sanchez on Twitter.