The season premiere of BBC America’s Planet Earth II includes remarkable footage from the desolate Galapagos Islands. In one striking scene, baby marine iguanas race across the sand, desperately trying to elude dozens of snakes eager for their next meal. Although such stark life-or-death struggles are difficult to watch, it helps to remember that they reflect nature’s dynamic balance.
Far more disturbing — and unnatural — are the Trump Administration’s similarly ruthless predator-like attacks on whatever groups it chooses as its prey. Adding to their repugnance, several of these assaults over the past month — through a series of executive orders — are inherently racist, seemingly propelled by the ugly 14-word credo of white nationalists everywhere: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” Continue reading “The Predatory Presidency”
In recent days President Trump has, yet again, asserted that millions of people illegally voted against him last November. Lies of such magnitude and consequence from the White House certainly deserve the attention and scorn they’ve received. After all, once we move beyond the realm of “alternative facts,” the real evidence shows that a person is more likely to be struck by lightning than to impersonate someone else at the polls.
But to fully understand Trump’s complaints about “illegal voters,” we need to recognize that voter fraud and voter suppression are opposite sides of the same coin. By promoting beliefs about the former, the groundwork is laid for pursuing the latter. In this way, tales of unlawful voting have long been a pretext for obstructing the voting rights of U.S. citizens.
The mass manipulation at the heart of this strategy relies on what I call the “combating-injustice mind game.” With two steps, this psychological ploy preys upon the public’s acute and compassionate sensitivity to issues of right and wrong. First we’re bombarded with dire warnings that something terribly unjust is happening. These overwrought claims aim to spur broad outrage and demands for reform. Continue reading “Bait and Switch: Psychology and Trump’s Voter Fraud”
Smooth-talking con artists are familiar figures in American folklore. The well-dressed hustler arrives in an unsuspecting town. He pitches some miracle cure or get-rich-quick scheme, door-to-door or from atop a soapbox. Then before his customers realize they’ve been duped, he steals away in search of his next mark. It’s a risky vocation, one that demands quick feet, a keen understanding of human nature, and a talent for telling stories that both arouse and reassure.
But when it comes to profiting off people’s hopes and fears, by far the most successful purveyors of lucrative lies and false promises are some of the denizens of this country’s palatial estates, corporate boardrooms, and corridors of political power. And unlike their small-time counterparts, they’re never on the run — despite the misery they leave in their wake. Enter Donald J. Trump, soon to be the 45th President of the United States.
Continue reading “Resisting the Mind Games of Donald Trump and the One Percent”
Every day we face decisions that help determine what tomorrow will look like — for ourselves and for others as well.
In my work as a clinical, social, and political psychologist, I’ve found that the decisions we make are powerfully influenced by five core concerns. These concerns revolve around issues of vulnerability, injustice, distrust, superiority, and helplessness. Their impact is felt almost everywhere: at home, at work, in the community, in politics, and even in international relations.
Of particular importance, these five concerns shape our perceptions and actions by serving as persuasive yet imperfect guides to the world around us. In our pursuit of positive personal and social change, they can both illuminate the path forward and lead us far astray. Sadly, too often we fail to recognize the difference. Let’s briefly consider each in turn.
Continue reading “Imperfect Guides to Living: Our Five Core Concerns”
Stocks plummet on Wall Street. Home foreclosures mount across the country. Shameless finger pointing and disavowals swirl in the nation’s capital. And a recent Gallup poll finds that a record-low 9% of Americans are satisfied with the way things are going in the United States.
The frightening numbers and front-page headlines certainly cry out for immediate short-term solutions. But they also raise a crucial question with long-term implications: How is it that our country’s powerful and self-interested defenders of the status quo so consistently succeed at suppressing popular outrage and combating calls for broad-based, progressive social change?
In part, the answer can be found in the insidious use of psychological manipulation to build public support for status quo policies that benefit the few while creating hardship for so many. Some of today’s top peddlers have embraced a rigid ideology that seemingly blinds them to the tragic human costs of their agenda, while others are driven by a simpler unyielding pursuit of personal wealth and power. Regardless of their motivation, their persuasion strategy often depends upon exploiting specific psychological “soft targets”–namely, five core concerns that profoundly influence how we make sense of the world. These concerns, central to the daily experiences of individuals and groups alike, revolve around the issues of vulnerability, injustice, distrust, superiority, and helplessness. Let’s consider the manipulation of each in turn.
Continue reading “Selling An Indefensible Status Quo”
Many of us view the calendar’s turn from 2007 to 2008 as an opportunity to start anew and to improve upon the year just past. But despite this resolve, it’s easy to predict that 2008 will be another year filled with small slips and large blunders. As a psychologist whose work focuses on five core concerns–about vulnerability, injustice, distrust, superiority, and helplessness–that are especially powerful influences in our personal and collective lives, I offer this list of ten mistakes I’ll probably make on the way to 2009.
Continue reading “Ten Mistakes I’ll Probably Make In 2008”
In the mid-1970s the TV sitcom The Jeffersons portrayed the rags-to-riches story of a black entrepreneur living the American Dream. The pugnacious and overbearing George Jefferson (former neighbor of All in the Family’s Archie Bunker) becomes a dry cleaning magnate and leaves blue-collar Queens for swanky Manhattan. As the show’s theme song recounts:
“Well we’re moving on up,
To the east side.
To a deluxe apartment in the sky.
Moving on up,
To the east side.
We finally got a piece of the pie.”
But now fast-forward to 2007 and real world America. When it comes to those deluxe apartments in the sky, today’s exclusive penthouses sit atop much taller high-rises–but the chances of ever living in one (or even breathing its rarified air as a dinner guest) have shrunk considerably. And although the proverbial economic pie is much larger today as well, a relative handful of gluttons are gorging themselves while everyone else settles for leftovers and crumbs.
Continue reading “Sky Dwellers, Pie Eaters, and Their Political Enablers: Faithful Defenders of the Status Quo”
The Bush administration promoted the misguided and destructive war in Iraq by targeting five core concerns that often govern our lives—concerns about vulnerability, injustice, distrust, superiority, and helplessness. Looking ahead, the continued occupation of Iraq—-or an attack on Iran—-will likely be sold to us in much the same way. I examine these warmongering appeals—-and how to counter them-—in the new video above, entitled Resisting the Drums of War.
We have now learned that the outpatient conditions faced by some of our wounded returning soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center are truly shocking—rodent and roach infested rooms, mold and leaky plumbing, no heat and water, inadequate and unqualified staffing, and seemingly interminable bureaucratic delays in their treatment. But equally stunning is the fact that several high-level officials have actually lost their jobs as a result of this news—despite initial efforts to downplay and discount the reported negligence. After all, considering the Bush administration’s lengthy record of action and inaction worthy of public outrage and condemnation, we might wonder why this particular instance of wrongdoing and mismanagement has drawn such a strong, unified, and seemingly effective response from the American people. From a psychological perspective, one reason is clear: the discoveries at Walter Reed represent a near “perfect storm,” triggering all five core concerns—about vulnerability, injustice, distrust, superiority, and helplessness—that often govern the way we understand the world around us.
Continue reading “The Perfect Storm: Our Wounded Soldiers and the Flood of Public Outrage”
When respondents in a mid-February Pew poll were asked to use one word to describe President Bush, the single adjective offered most often was “incompetent.” Meanwhile, a recent Newsweek poll revealed not only that Bush’s approval rating has fallen to an all-time low, but also that a majority of respondents simply wish his presidency was already over. These rebukes cannot sit well with someone who has proclaimed himself “The Decider,” who has become infatuated with the title “Commander-in-Chief,” and who once told Bob Woodward “That’s the interesting thing about being the President…I don’t feel like I owe anybody an explanation.”
In short, the president and his conservative allies find themselves on very uncomfortable and increasingly shaky ground. They are beleaguered by transparent policy failures and by growing public and media scrutiny of their actions and motives. There is much irony to this current state of affairs. As I have described elsewhere, the Bush administration has thrived on manipulative appeals to our collective core concerns about vulnerability, injustice, distrust, superiority, and helplessness (an online video discussing this topic can be viewed HERE.). To promote their narrow agenda, they have sought to persuade the country that we should feel constantly fearful for our safety, aggrieved for injustices perpetrated against us, distrustful of outsiders, superior to others in our values and character, and powerful enough to accomplish anything we desire. This worked for a long time. However, as the polls noted above clearly indicate, for most of us these appeals have lost much of their persuasive power (perhaps because we’ve been fooled once too often). As a result, the White House and its propagandists are now most successful at persuading themselves. This is indeed a peculiar and limited form of success—but it still makes for a very dangerous brew. Consider the five ingredients:
Continue reading “Beware the Wounded Bear”