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“Why Do Some People Respond To Trump? It’s Biology 101”: Conservatives Respond To Fear-Inducing Stimuli

As humans, we are first and foremost programmed to survive. Millions of years of evolution through natural selection have sculpted instincts and intellect aimed at staying alive. Fast, sudden movements instantly capture our attention, and unexpected noises cause us to jump back reflexively. It only takes common sense to see that survival requires a certain degree of sensitivity to threat. A desire to feel safe is part of our hardwiring, and as such, we tend to want people and rules in our lives that are going to help protect us from harm.

For some people, Donald Trump and his policies are seen as that protection. Afraid of the radical Islamic terrorists who are out there plotting attacks? Don’t worry—Donald Trump is going to ban every single Muslim from entering the country. Do you fear the Mexican immigrants coming across the border that you heard were “drug dealers, murderers, and rapists”? Fear not, President Trump is going to build a wall to keep out all the bad guys.

It is clear that those politicians who are best able to exploit our most basic biological traits, like our instinct to survive, are going to occupy a timeless niche in the political environment. The effectiveness of fear mongering in politics is no real secret to anyone anymore. But there were many GOP candidates who were great fear mongers, like Ben Carson and Ted Cruz, whose success flailed in comparison to Trump’s. That is because fear mongering alone isn’t enough.

After you succeed in making them afraid, you must also convince them that everything will be A-OK if they have you on their side. First you create the need for a hero, and then you pretend you are that hero. Donald Trump is the candidate who is offering the most extreme measures for protection. He’s strong and the other candidates are weak or “low energy.” It is only he who can save the day.

So an obvious question is, why does Trump’s tactic work on some people but not others? Don’t we all want to feel safe? Why is it that liberals and progressives feel like Trump is the actual danger and not the protector? Neuroscience and psychology research supports one clear explanation: Conservatives are hypersensitive to threat compared to liberals, and thus respond more fearfully.

For example, a 2008 study published in the journal Science found that conservatives have a heightened physiological response to threatening stimuli. Researchers tested this by showing participants threatening images—like spiders on faces or car crashes—while they measured skin electrical conductance, and presented loud bursts of white noise while they measured the strength of their eye blinks. The data showed that those who held conservative values startled more easily and had increased electrical skin conductance, which indicates a heightened state of arousal. Those with liberal views did not seem to be affected by the stimuli.

Additionally, an MRI study published in Current Biology in 2011 found that self-described conservatives had larger amygdalas than those who identified as liberals. The amygdala is the region of the brain that is involved in threat processing. Generally speaking, as the strength of the electrical response of the amygdala increases, so does the sense of fear we feel in response to a stimulus. As a result, stimuli that might seem neutral to most people, like Muslims or Mexicans, might appear threatening to conservatives.

Trump is popular amongst the right because he can tap into irrational fears and amplify them. Then, when threat seems imminent, he offers the most drastic solutions. And when danger is on the doorstep, there’s not much time for rational thinking.

One might be inclined to point out that not all Trump supporters appear to be fearful. In fact, at Trump rallies many of the attendees are angry and aggressive toward anti-Trump protesters. But hostility is a natural response when one feels threatened, and the anger that fuels their behavior stems from deep-rooted anxieties.

It is also important to remember that we aren’t just programmed to survive. We are also hardwired to flourish. It is in our nature to vigorously compete for success. In essence, we are constantly trying to win. It’s part of the mentality that drove so many civilizations to conquer others.

As such, we shouldn’t expect all Trump supporters to be fearful or irrational people. Some are just Americans who acknowledge that all of the countries in the world are contenders in one big game of power, and that most of them are not going to play by the book. Are nations like North Korea, Iran, and Russia always going to follow the rules and act according to what is fair? Absolutely not, and to some it would seem unwise and even flat out foolish for us to do so when everything is at stake.

Trump told a journalist what he’s constantly telling the world: “I always win. Knock on wood. I win. It’s what I do. I beat people. I win.” For many, Trump is a president who is going to do everything in his power to ensure that we get ahead as a nation. He will be tough. He will wheel and deal. And he will definitely play dirty when the situation calls for it. Whatever shady dealings Trump does, he is doing it for us, and we should be thankful to be on the winning team.

The rise of Trump has defied almost all logic. But he isn’t appealing to logic. He is appealing to our most basic survival instincts. Those include fear and the natural tendency to thrive and conquer. This presidential election will be an important test for our nation. We will see if we are evolved enough for our logic to overcome our instincts.


By: Bobby Azarian, The Daily Beast, May 6, 2016

May 9, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Donald Trump, Fearmongering | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Taking A Shit On The Constitution”: Senate Republicans Make Donald Trump Look Good

When a presidency is winding down we start to think there probably isn’t that much to fight over. Yet here are the Republicans acting like it’s 2009 all over again, and more. These moves on the Supreme Court situation and Guantanamo Bay aren’t just obstructionist. They are certifiably insane.

No hearing for the nominee? Not even a courtesy call? They’ve really gone ’round the bend. Look, there’s hypocrisy to go around on Court stuff. Reverse the situation, and a lot of people saying A now would be saying Not A. I get that. Although I don’t get what in the world that 1992 clip of Joe Biden that everybody’s showing and re-showing has to do with anything. He was speaking hypothetically. There was no nominee. The one time in Biden’s tenure as Judiciary Committee chairman that there was a flesh-and-blood nominee, Anthony Kennedy, the committee and the full Senate passed him through unanimously, and in an election year.

But since you brought up the old days, let’s talk Robert Bork. Bork was a crazy radical extremist. He saw no constitutional justification for the civil rights bill. He also thought states should be free to criminalize the purchase of contraception by married couples. Off the charts, that guy. But he was the president’s choice. The Democrats gave him a hearing.

Say what you want, conservatives, but I feel pretty confident that if the situation were precisely reversed, the Democrats would be going through the process. At the end of the day, a majority of them would presumably vote against a conservative, balance-tilting nominee in a presidential election year. So, you might say, it amounts to the same thing.

No. It doesn’t amount to the same thing. One approach is called respecting the Constitution. The other approach is called taking a shit on the Constitution.

I suppose I could be wrong about what my hypothetical Democrats would do. But I don’t think so. Why? Because the liberal-left base, while certainly ideological and often choleric, just isn’t the same thing as the right-wing base. The right-wing base, led by Limbaugh and all those blowhards, is the reason McConnell said what he said while Scalia’s body was still warm. The liberal groups would not have demanded of Democratic leaders that they just shut the process down.

And if I am wrong about the Democrats, I can 100 percent guarantee you this: I would have written a column calling their behavior shameful. Vote against the person in the end, I’d have written, but for Chrissakes, respect the constitutional process, you bunch of morons. And I think every other prominent liberal columnist I can think of would have done the same. I don’t recall these last few days seeing any of our conservative counterparts calling out the Republicans.

Obama and the Democrats better find a way to make them pay. Nominate an unimpeachably qualified Latino or African American, and let Latinos and/or black voters watch as the GOP stonewalls this person for months, and run 3,000,000 attack ads on ethnic radio stations. (This is the paragraph where conservatives on Twitter will say “There goes that hack Tomasky making everything racial again.” Right. Whereas the guy who wants a brown-shirt police force to go in and break up Latino families, no, he’s not making anything racial. And the party that’s passing law after law to see to it that voting is made as hard as it can be for black people, no, they’re not making anything racial either. Just me. I get it.)

It’s such scandalous behavior. But because it’s them, and it’s all anyone expects out of them, it’s not even scandalous anymore. Which brings us to the Gitmo situation. If anything this is even worse.

Let me ask you this, reader. Do you have the slightest idea where the nearest supermax prison is to your house? Of course you don’t. Oh, a few of you do—you live in a town where it’s a big employer, your cousin works there, like that. But I’d wager that 98 percent of Americans have no idea where the nearest supermax prison is. There appear to be around 50 (some are wholly supermax, some partly). I bet thousands of people drive past one every day without even knowing it.

And of the 2 percent who do know, do they have any idea who’s in there? How many murderers, rapists, drug kingpins, Bernie Madoffs? Of course they don’t. And the reason they don’t is that the prisoners inside these prisons have zero impact on their lives. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Zacarias Moussaoui, and Mahmud Abuhalima, terrorists all, live in a supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. Do the good people of Florence ever see them? They don’t even see each other. They spend 23 hours a day alone in a cell the size of a typical upstairs-hallway bathroom. And almost nobody ever escapes from these places. You know how your chances of being killed by a terrorist as an American are one in 3.5 million? Well, the odds of you being killed by a terrorist who escaped from a supermax prison have to be considerably longer than even that. Anyone in Florence, Colorado and environs who sits around worrying that one of these guys is going to come pounding on their screen door is a paranoid lunatic or an idiot.

And that’s what the Republicans want us to be, a nation of paranoid lunatics and idiots, because paranoid lunacy and idiocy tend to benefit the Republican Party at the polls. So this is what we get stuck with. We keep open this facility (Gitmo) that’s notorious around the world—the Arab world and the entire world—that gives America a horrible reputation and whose very existence provides rhetorical fodder for our foes, so we don’t run the “risk” of putting terrorists inside facilities they’ll never get out of and where their movement the rest of their lives will be limited to maybe four rooms.

The Republicans won’t pay any political price for this, because the mere word terrorism turns most Americans into quivering little poltroons. But we as a country pay a price when an argument that is so galactically far removed from objective reality carries the day. And we pay a price when a constitutional norm is flouted and no one even cares because everyone has long since stopped expecting anything more. It’s not easy making Trump look good, but this week, Washington Republicans have pulled it off.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, February 25, 2016

February 27, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GITMO, Senate Republicans, U. S. Constitution, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We’re Not There Yet”: On This Martin Luther King Day, How Far Have We Really Come?

Martin Luther King Day honors the birthday of our nation’s 20th century conscience. MLK Day also serves as a benchmark against which to measure the extent to which three plagues cited by King — racism, poverty and war — have been eradicated.

Some judgments come easy. George Wallace’s cry, “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!” is a sound of the past.

The Martin Luther King-led civil rights movement changed the political landscape of the United States. When the landmark Voting Rights Act was enacted in 1965, seven months after King launched the Selma march that spurred its passage, African American political office holders in southern states were near zero. By 2013, the number of southern black elected officials had blossomed to more than 300.

Since January 2010, a president who is African American has delivered the State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress.

Without question, there has been change and forward movement in the political arena. But we’re not there yet. Yes, Wallace, is off the scene. However, today we have Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

There have been other achievements in the uphill struggle for equality. More African American students are graduating from high school and college since King’s assassination. The black middle class has grown. African American professionals are contributing to virtually every aspect of society.

Progress against racial oppression, however, does not equal victory over the inequalities that prevent African Americans from assuming a rightful place in this country. Glaring disparities exist. Academic achievement, graduation rates, health-care status, employment, incarceration — vast racial gulfs persist.

Then there’s war.

Vietnam broke King’s heart.

What would he think of the more than 6,000 U.S. military personnel and hundreds of U.S. civilians dying due to direct war violence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan between October 2001 and April 2015? How would he view our 21st century flooded with millions of war refugees? Could he come to terms with an Iraq war federal price tag of $4.4 trillion?

But I believe that man of peace would be most troubled by the extent to which our scientifically advanced world has outdistanced our moral values.

Sixty-two years ago, in a sermon at his uncle’s church in Detroit, King delivered a sermon in which he said the great danger facing us was not so much the nuclear bomb created by physical science, but “that atomic bomb which lies in the hearts and souls … capable of exploding into the vilest of hate and into the most damaging selfishness.” A perfect reference to the toxic violence of Islamic terrorists such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda — and haters here at home.

How far have we really come?


By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 18, 2016

January 18, 2016 Posted by | African Americans, Martin Luther King Jr, Racism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bearish Outlook On Trump’s Prospects”: Iowa Will Not Be Donald Trump’s Waterloo

The paradox of media coverage of the 2016 GOP presidential race is that the longer Donald Trump dominates the polls, the more insistent pundits are that the maverick candidate is headed for a fall. “Donald Trump isn’t going to be the Republican nominee,” Ross Douthat bluntly stated in a column for The New York Times last week, although he admitted that this flat prediction was becoming more difficult to argue with conviction. As Douthat noted, the conventional wisdom that Trump is doomed to fail is an assertion that increasingly “inspires sympathetic glances, the kind you get when you tell friends that you think your new personal-investment strategy is sure to beat the market.”

Yet Douthat is not alone in thinking that The Donald is going to go bust (politically, that is). A broad spectrum of pundits—ranging from Ezra Klein at Vox to Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight to John Fund in National Review—share this bearish outlook on Trump’s prospects. The pundit class has coalesced around the theory that Trump’s seemingly high level of support is a balloon ready to be punctured and that the Iowa caucus—now less than three weeks away—will be the occasion when the Trump campaign meets the pin that will prick its hopes. But these pundits might be underestimating how robust and intense the loyalty of Trump’s fan base is.

In late December, The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol predicted that when “Trump loses Iowa, the mystique disappears, [and] he’s just another candidate.” Writing in National Review, John Fund voiced a similar thought in an article titled, “Losing Iowa Could Be Trump’s Kryptonite.”

Yet attempts to explain how a Trump loss in Iowa could lead to the demise of his campaign tend to be cloudy and hand-wave-y. Consider Ezra Klein’s projection at Vox: “But there’s another model of failure. Trump could just … not win. He could lose the Iowa caucuses. He could fall short in New Hampshire. A loss in any early state might lead to a loss in every state. Losing a presidential primary is often like going bankrupt: It happens slowly, then all at once.” As Klein himself admits, “A lot of reporters and politicos believe something like this is going to happen to him. But the prediction is hard to talk through explicitly because it’s so maddeningly vague.”

In an attempt to flesh out this “maddeningly vague” sense that Trump will lose steam, Klein’s colleague David Roberts offers a theory of Trump’s supporters. Trump sells himself as a winner, Roberts contends, which makes his popularity brittle because it is subject to disenchantment if he ever loses. Like the proverbial rodents fleeing a sinking ship, Trump supporters will flee him once the stench of failure can be sniffed.

“If your value proposition is that you’re a winner, your value evaporates the minute you’re no longer winning. Losing refutes a winner, and no one wins forever,” Roberts argues. “Trump’s vulnerability (like his strength!) is that his appeal is entirely personal, entirely based on the expectation that he’s a winner who will win.”

There’s a smidgen of truth to this argument: Trump does ceaselessly talk about how he’s a winner. But he does so in the manner of a military leader like Patton or an athlete like Muhammad Ali, as a way of rallying his supporters and his own psyche for combat. Losing individual battles doesn’t refute such boastfulness; it only reinforces a sense that victory must be won.

To say that Trump’s appeal is “entirely personal” ignores the fact that Trump has won an enthusiastic fan base by taking hardline stances on immigration and terrorism. Pat Buchanan was on surer grounds when he told The New York Times that, under Trump’s influence, the Republican Party is likely to become “more nationalist and tribal and more about protecting the border.” Buchanan’s sentiments were backed up by Leo Martin, a 62-year-old machinist who told the Times, “The Republican Party has never done anything for the working man like me, even though we’ve voted Republican for years. … This election is the first in my life where we can change what it means to be a Republican.”

As these remarks make clear, Trump’s support comes not just from who he is, but what he stands for and what he promises to do. As Fund acknowledges, focus-group research shows that Trump’s supporters display “remarkable loyalty to the real-estate mogul and scant interest in other candidates.” This loyalty is best understood as devotion to the nationalist and tribalist policies Trump is putting forward, rather than simple enthusiasm for Trump as a man. And losing a few primaries isn’t likely to make such devotion melt away.

Trump, for his part, has some experience bouncing back from losses outside the political arena. He knows how to craft a comeback story for himself. In the field where he claims to have mastery (business), he’s declared bankruptcy four times, but has turned that into a narrative of his cunning in exploiting existing law. The need to overcome adversity doesn’t necessarily tarnish a winner, but can instead reinforce the idea that he or she is a fighter and a hero. If Trump were to lose in Iowa, there are any number of ways he could turn the narrative to his advantage, either by implying trickery on the part of his enemies or by selling himself as a “comeback kid” if he wins another primary.

On top of all this, it’s uncertain that Trump will lose Iowa, or if he loses whether the loss will be a significant one. Fund, like many others, points out that Trump might be weaker in Iowa because the caucus system, which requires not just casting a ballot but devoting hours to meetings, tends to weed out poorer voters (who lack resources to spend a day caucusing) and those who haven’t participated in the caucus before—both groups that skew toward Trump. But Byron York, writing in the Washington Examiner, reports that Trump is building a get-out-the-vote machine in Iowa that could overcome such hurdles.

As of right now, the polling we have doesn’t support the idea that Iowa will be the anti-Trump firewall that his opponents are hoping for. According to the aggregation of Real Clear Politics, Cruz has only a narrow lead over Trump: Cruz is at 28 percent and Trump at 26 percent. Marco Rubio stands third at 14 percent. The most likely scenario is a close three-way race as Rubio improves his position. But Trump could easily spin such a narrow race in a way to make himself the winner.

It’s easy to understand why both the Republican establishment and many liberals want to see Trump disappear fast. He’s a toxic presence in American public life. But scenarios of a quick solution to Trump—some silver bullet or Kryptonite to finish him off in Iowa—simply don’t have plausibility.


By: Jeet Heer, The New Republic, January 12, 2016

January 15, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Iowa Caucuses | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Marco Rubio, Angry Young Man”: In Order To Get Real Attention, He Has To Become A Little More Trumpian

With the Iowa caucuses just 27 days away, the Republican race for president is getting more intense by the day. You can see it in the way the candidates are all shifting their focus to whatever they think is going to make voters more fearful, as Matea Gold documents in today’s Post. My favorite quote comes from Chris Christie, who says that the world “is a dark and dangerous place right now. In every corner that we look.”

That’s the optimistic spirit that Americans are yearning for! It’s also coming through in the candidates’ ads, which are filled with grainy images of terrorist hordes and immigrant hordes and anything else that looks sufficiently frightening.

There’s a tone of desperation to it all, as though the candidates are saying, “Not sure about voting for me? Well what if I told you that you and your children are all gonna die — how about now?” And nobody is sounding more desperate than Marco Rubio, who’s adopting a newly angry and personal tone that seems decidedly out of character.

Yesterday, Rubio gave a speech on foreign policy that was brimming over with contempt, as though he’s not just afraid of what’s happening in the world, he’s disgusted with both Democrats and Republicans for not seeing things his way. Let’s begin here:

It’s now abundantly clear: Barack Obama has deliberately weakened America. He has made an intentional effort to humble us back to size. As if to say: We no longer need to be so powerful because our power has done more harm than good.

This idea — that Barack Obama is intentionally harming America as part of his diabolical plan to exact revenge for the sins of the past — is nothing new. It’s been the topic of a hundred rants from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. But it’s usually the province of those media figures who spew their hateful bile out over the airwaves every day in an attempt to keep their audiences in a state of perpetual rage, not people who want to be president of the United States.

But that’s not all. Here are some more excerpts from Rubio’s speech:

We saw this clearly with [Obama’s] despicable speech after the terrorist attack in San Bernardino. When America needed a bold plan of action from our Commander-in-Chief, we instead got a lecture on love, tolerance, and gun control designed to please the talking heads at MSNBC.

The result of all of this is that people are afraid. And they have every right to be. To make matters worse, candidates for president in both parties cling to the same plan of weakness and retreat…

Not only is Hillary Clinton incompetent, she’s also a liar… She lied to our faces. No one in the mainstream media has the courage to call her out for it. If I am our nominee, voters will be reminded of it time and time again.

On the other side of this election is the party of Reagan, the party of strong national defense and moral clarity, yet we have Republican candidates who propose that rulers like Assad and Putin should be partners of the United States, and who have voted with Barack Obama and Harry Reid rather than with our men and women in uniform. We have isolationist candidates who are apparently more passionate about weakening our military and intelligence capabilities than about destroying our enemies. They talk tough, yet they would strip us of the ability to keep our people safe.

Rubio then went on to attack Ted Cruz, while describing the American military as a weak, degraded, pathetic force utterly incapable of defeating ISIS. Really:

Words and political stunts cannot ensure our security. ISIS cannot be filibustered.  While some claim they would destroy ISIS, that they would make the sands of the Middle East “glow in the dark,” my question is: with what? Because they certainly can’t do it with the oldest and smallest Air Force in the history of this country, or with the smallest Army we’ve had since World War II, or with the smallest and oldest Navy we’ve had since 1915. Yet these are what we will have thanks to the cuts these candidates have supported and even tried to deepen.

One might argue that if Rubio thinks the reason defeating the Islamic State is a difficult challenge is that we don’t have enough planes, soldiers, and ships, then maybe he doesn’t understand quite as much about the military as he claims. As for the jab about ISIS being filibustered, Ted Cruz does indeed describe his filibusters as an achievement of the highest order. But Rubio, who  has been a legislator since he was 29 years old, now seems to have nothing but disdain for the very idea of legislating. Asked today why he has lately missed more votes than any other senator, he said:

“I have missed votes this year. You know why? Because while as a senator I can help shape the agenda, only a president can set the agenda. We’re not going to fix America with senators and congressmen.”

Yeah, to hell with those guys. I guess if you’re worried that voters won’t like a candidate like you who serves in Congress, the way to handle it is to say that you think Congress is even more useless than they do.

What’s the explanation for Rubio’s newly sour rhetoric? The logical place to look is the frontrunner, Donald Trump. It’s usually the case that the really personal, nasty language is left to surrogates, who can get down and dirty while the candidate himself finds more subtle ways to reinforce the attacks without sounding bitter and mean. But Trump has no surrogates, and gets as means as he pleases — and of course it has worked. Perhaps with the clock ticking down to the first votes being cast, Rubio concluded that he had no choice but to do the same, that in order to get real attention for what he’s saying he has to become a little more Trumpian.

He might be partly right — but only partly. It’s always been true that going negative attracts attention, and the more personal and strident the attack is, the more attention it gets. The trouble is that this kind of rhetoric doesn’t fit with the rationale for his candidacy that Rubio has presented until now. He has argued that he’s the candidate of a new generation, with fresh ideas and a hopeful vision of the future. Yet despite all the smart people saying Rubio ought to be the party’s nominee, the idea has yet to catch on with enough actual Republican voters. With time growing short, he’s willing to try something else. But it’s hard to see how this will be all that much more appealing.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, January 5, 2016

January 6, 2016 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, GOP Primaries, GOP Voters, Iowa Caucuses | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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