Triggered (2)

The Sam Harris podcast interview with Scott Adams was an eye opener for me when it comes to understanding peoples’ reactions to the election of Donald Trump. For those who cannot invest two hours to listen to it online I will try to summarise Scott’s key points.

In the run up to the 2016 elections the American public was divided into those who wanted to see Trump win (or at least considered this possibility) and those who viewed this outcome as unthinkable. The polls consistently indicated that the latter group was right – the odds were overwhelmingly is Hillary’s favour. Additionally, all the mainstream media (CNN, NYT, WaPo) had run a relentless campaign demonising Donald Trump as a racist, homophobe, misogynist and so on. Bombarded by this deluge of propaganda coming from the media outfits people used to trust, approximately one half of the Americans considered Trump unelectable and Hillary’s win the only possibility.

On the election night the unthinkable happened. Trump’s win split the US society into two camps. Those who had voted for Trump (or at least considered him a serious contender) took a deep breath, had a beer or two and moved on. Most viewed Trump as someone who, while unconventional, should be good for the economy, tighten up the borders, confront the inbred Washington elites etc. For this section of the American society the life carried on – albeit with a colourful, polarising and unpredictable occupant in the White House. Their worldview was not upended by the Electoral College results.

Before we look at how the other camp reacted to Trump’s win we need to introduce the concept of cognitive dissonance. This is what individuals experience when they find themselves in a situation so unexpected that it challenges their deeply held beliefs. One way of dealing with cognitive dissonance would be to change one’s views so they fit the unfolding reality. However, with the way human mind works, a different reaction is much more common. Faced with a situation considered absurdly unthinkable we tend to re-define the reality – essentially creating an imaginary version thereof in which things make sense to us.

According to Scott Adams, this is exactly what happened to the Hillary voters on the night of 8 November 2016.

Triggered (3)



2 Responses to “Triggered (2)”

  1. VK Says:

    That about sums it up, but listening to the entire interview with Scott Adams is a real treat. I gave up on 1hr 35th minute last night and intend to finish it today and perhaps repeat the experience.

    Coincidentally, also yesterday, I read the latest Tony Alexander’s weekly commentary on new reality after Labour’s election “win”.
    He commented as follows:

    “Experience tells us that at a time of change like
    this many people will over-extrapolate or
    misinterpret the change. Maybe they will talk
    about things such as an intergenerational war
    starting, dominance of greenies, death of
    capitalism and return of socialism/Muldoonism
    and so on. Offshore the commentators have no
    idea of how to reasonably interpret what is
    happening here. According to The Australian
    newspaper we are reverting to socialism.
    According to USA Today we have elected a
    Trump character. Idiots”.

    Either idiots, or just lazy, thinking is hard work after all.
    In some cases lazy idiots.

  2. da-boss Says:

    Thanks for your comments. Scott’s interview is the best piece of social analysis I have come across in many years. I also rate Tony Alexander, he should write a book.

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