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Psychology of a Radical Trump Supporter

Last week, I created a #TrumpRecession IGTV that was also posted on the @lataco Instagram page, a source of news and information related to food, culture, and community for the metropolitan area. It’s safe to say all hell broke loose in the comment section, as it should for any video pertaining to politics.


One guy commented “Broke people telling rich people how to make money moves” and “Global economy advice from...please, tell me when you make a billion or have a degree in the field in which you’re acting as an expert.”


I wanted to politely let him know that a) I am not a broke woman, b) I offered no advice in the video so he clearly didn’t watch it, and c) it’s pretty hard to fact check market trends and interviews with actual economists.


Another guy wrote:


“This is the stupidest post you've had yet. If you want to talk politics, that's your right. But if you say something, THINKING before speaking is a good rule of thumb. We are NOT in a recession. We are not headed for a recession. And there is no common sense reason for thinking otherwise. If you hate Trump, no problem. Again, that's your right. But facts are facts. Our economy is as strong as it's ever been.”


On August 24, CNN put out an article called Trump’s China trade war spirals as 2020 looms, where Craig Allen, president of the US-China Business Council states “This has become a process without a clear objective and without a clear strategy and without a clear endpoint. And it’s being played out in much worsening global economic circumstances. It is more uncertainty heaped upon already existing uncertainty.” I suppose there really is “no common sense reason for thinking otherwise”.


Of the 117 extremely opinionated comments, my favorite one had to be:


“That's a good thing you're good looking and pretty cuz I know you're not that f****** smart who's riding that's script for you. Want to talk about tacos maybe it'll be more interesting”.


I’m really happy to be both good looking and pretty. But I’m most grateful to have an advisor that calls me out when I’m being lazy with my grammatically incorrect essays, like the gentleman’s grammatically incorrect comment. I also don’t have much to say about tacos, except that I like them spicier than anyone can comprehend, with shrimp, and with a lot of creamy tangy sauce. I’m all ears for recommendations, because I’m clearly not that fucking smart.


But back to Donald.


My problem is that when I think of Donald Trump, I don’t think of politics. I think of a sick, erratic narcissistic man-boy, xenophobe who disregards the norms of adult behavior with his extreme rhetoric.


When I started my third Project Period for Grad School, I proudly showed off how I was able to handle both constructive criticism and personal attacks online. After all, for every personal attack I received, there were about ten comments agreeing with me. That was the yin and yang balance on my page, which, by the way, is mostly an international-Trump-hating audience. Turns out, there are a lot more Trump supporters in Los Angeles than I thought, so I decided—why not look at their comments from a more psychological perspective with studies from…Psychology!


America voted for a man who said he could ‘stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters’. They voted for a man who said he can ‘Grab them by the pussy’ and ‘oceans are very small’. Just a side note, oceans cover a good 70% of the earth.


Point being, real life humans voted for crazy. And while we have dozens of psychological analysis on the man himself, there’s also some great research on his protective supporters. His protective supporters who seemed to say anything and everything in order to put me, a grad student in my place.


A lot of this essay’s research will come from the 2017 review paper Journal of Social and Political Psychology by UC Santa Cruz professor and psychologist, Thomas Pettigrew, and publications from Psychology Today. Now I’m not saying that all Trump supporters are bad people. But the way some go on to defend the guy—it’s hostile, and feels like a crazed alliance.


In a nutshell:


Conservatives are more sensitive. Yes, this is an actual study. The conservative mind has an exaggerated fear response when faced with stimuli that they assume is threatening.


Conservatives actually have a stronger reaction to a startling noise or graphic images compared to liberals. This is because they have a larger amygdala—the structure that is active during fear and anxiety. So it makes sense that I triggered conservatives when I said ‘based on research, we’re headed toward a recession,’ because that’s a scary to admit.


Donald Trump supporters overestimate their political expertise. There’s something called the Dunning-Kruger effect that explains how the brain is unaware that it is misinformed. Kind of like the anti-vaccine movement where people like to start dangerous medical movements that are detrimental to communities when they are not medical professionals themselves. There’s a study where if you lack expertise in some area of knowledge, there might be some cognitive bias going on which prevents you from realizing your lack of expertise. This goes for liberals too, but is more apparent in the extreme cases of both.


The Brain Pays More Attention to Trump. There’s a study that monitored participants to watch 40 minutes of political ads, and Trump had one hell of an ability to keep both attention and emotional arousal high.


America also has an obsession with entertainment and celebrities. Turn on the news, it’s like a reality television show on its own. A lot of people don’t care Trump said that he can grab women by the pussy, because he’s amusing to watch. You’re happy if you’re entertained.


Some people prefer chaos in the political system because they have a distaste for it. A lot of people think politicians are full of shit, and Donald Trump not being a politician is super appealing. They also like to troll others who talk about politics. That’s why it was hard for me to respond to anyone because I was getting either personal insults or adult men telling me I didn’t do my research or that I’m “pretty sharp for a Californian”.


Death reminders increase nationalism and influence voting habits in favor of conservative presidential candidates. In a study with American students, scientists found that making mortality important increased the support for American military interventions that could kill thousands overseas. But the effect was only present in conservatives.


Entitlement. Not even going to explain this one.


Narcissism. Another study in the journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science found a direct link between support for Trump and collective narcissism. The left usually aim at achieving equality while the right aim at being superior.


Dominance/Submission but not the sexy kind. The authoritarian-personality kind that is triggered by fear.


Psychologists also explain Trump supporter’s fragile masculinity.


Eric Knowles, social psychologist at NYU, studies group identity and political behavior, did this super interesting study profiling men who are uncertain in their masculinity and support for Donald trump. Knowles looked into a phenomenon called fragile masculinity. Fragile masculinity is when men feel anxious that they aren’t living up to standards or ideals of manhood they have in their environment. Meeting these standards usually involves proving your strength, and being dominant. Interestingly enough, this has some political ramifications.


Knowles findings was that there’s a clear correlation between Trump supporters and men who experience fragile masculinity in a specific environment.


Before you make a personal attack on my appearance, assume how broke I am, or what little knowledge I’ve retained from Grad School, thank you in advance because your comments will be used as the fact check for this entire video and essay.

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