Thursday, February 16, 2017

Conspiracy Theorists

Having shown, in the prior post, that we cannot trust psychiatrists to offer cogent analysis of political and judicial matters, we turn to Brendan Nyhan in the New York Times for a better and more sane view. Nyhan is a professor of political science at Dartmouth College. We will forgive him for not being a physician.

In a Times op-ed Nyhan argues that people who feel that they have lost control are more likely to latch on to conspiracy theories. One might add a point that I have made myself, that people who have undergone trauma, who have had their daily routines disrupted, are more likely to seek solace in narratives.

Nyhan points out that before the election, Trump supporters were more prone to believe just about anything, but that after the election Democrats have glommed on to just about any conspiracy theory— to avoid having to face the dire truth, that they lost.

We note that Nyhan offers a balanced and a rational view. Then again, he is a political scientist, not a psychiatrist moonlighting in an alien field. Any psychiatrist who wants to help their patients would do well to follow his example.

Nyhan compares:

Even as Democrats decry the false claims streaming regularly from the White House, they appear to have become more vulnerable to unsupported claims and conspiracy theories that flatter their own political prejudices. The reason isn’t just that a Republican now occupies the White House. Political psychology research suggests that losing political control can make people more vulnerable to misinformation and conspiracy theories.
And he compares this reaction with the gullibility of Trump supporters before the election:

Before the election, supporters of Donald J. Trump were the main audience for fake news stories. Mr. Trump  shattered previous norms against making easily disprovable falsehoods in his public statements (including that he opposed the Iraq war from the beginning and that President Obama was not born in this country), and he paid little political price among his supporters….

But since the election, there has been a noticeable increase in the flow of dubious and unsupported claims among liberals. One widely circulated post on Medium portrayed the Trump administration’s fumbling rollout of a travel ban in late January as an elaborate “trial balloon for a coup d’├ętat.” Brooke Binkowski, managing editor at the rumor-tracking site Snopes, recently told The Atlantic that she has been seeing more false reports aimed at liberals or from liberal sources — “a lot of dubious news, a lot of wishful-thinking-type stuff.”

Who would be dumb enough to believe such a conspiracy theory—that is, paranoid thinking? Why, none other than Allen Frances. Note these remarks from his Psychology Today post, quoted in my previous post:

Impending court decisions in this case may constitute a key turning point in United States history. Should the judges accept Trump's "national security" excuse for unconstitutional acts, it will embolden him to push for a much greater power grab. He can create a de facto dictatorship, eroding our precious civil rights, based only on his arbitrary interpretation of "national security."


Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

"Should the judges accept Trump's 'national security' excuse for unconstitutional acts..."

I am still waiting for an explanation of what was actually "unconstitutional" about Trump's executive order. He made no changes to law, but used his executive prerogative to how the law would be enforced in conducting his duties as POTUS. There is nothing unconstitutional about this. If you don't like it, fine... your preferences are noted. But it's not a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

I ask again: Who runs the country? Elected officials, or hysterical voices?

Sam L. said...

So many seem to prefer hysterical voices. The left is hysterical.

Anonymous said...

I dont understand Doc. If Brendan Nylan has a better or more sane view of a political matter, why is it in the New York Times?

Ares Olympus said...

Comic Scott Adams keeps trying to sow reason to the partisan madness. I see today he see Trump's failure as a sign of someone who is learning on the job, and surely if you're willing to make all your mistakes at the start, and if you can handle the heat, you'll look presidential sooner or later.
If you are comparing the incoming Trump administration to the smooth transfer of power that defines our modern history, that’s an irrational comparison. If the country wanted a smooth ride it would have elected Hillary Clinton.
My liberal friends are gleefully scouring the semi-fake news and sending me articles that show Trump is “incompetent.” That’s the new narrative on the left. The Hitler illusion is starting to fade because Trump refuses to build concentration camps as his critics hallucinated he would. And Israel likes Trump, which is making the Hitler illusion harder to maintain. So the critics are evolving their main line of attack from Hitler to “incompetent,” with a dash of “chaos.” You’ll see those two words all over the Opposition Media’s coverage. It isn’t a coincidence.

Persuasion-wise, focusing on incompetence and chaos is a strong play by the anti-Trumpers. One would expect the new Trump administration to have lots of growing pains. That means the Opposition Media will have plenty of fodder that they can frame as incompetence and chaos. Confirmation bias will make it all seem to fit the narrative.
If you step out of the Opposition Media’s framing of Trump, another frame that fits the data is that he’s learning on the job, just like he learned every other field that he entered and eventually mastered. I don’t know what you expected when Trump went to Washington, but it isn’t too different from what I imagined. I assumed there would be broken dishes. And I assumed it would take him months to get his systems in place.
Trump’s first few weeks do look exactly like “incompetence” and “chaos” if you are primed to see it that way. But they also look like a systems-thinker simultaneously draining the swamp and learning on the job.

Learning on the job is something we expect, but it isn't something you want to personally be in harm's way while it happens. Some people have the temperament to be student-driver instructors, but those brave souls also have their own brake pedals on the passenger side, just in case the young exuberant driver thinks he can defy the laws of physics.

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: Who would be dumb enough to believe such a conspiracy theory—that is, paranoid thinking?

Who needs conspiracy theory when Trump himself is one big factual conspiracy saying "look at me, I'm an idiot!"

Reading the transcipt the first "big lie" what on his YUGE electoral college win. My first complaint was small, the 306 is wrong, should be 304 since two electors from Texas defected. But the rest is just delusional.
We got 306 because people came out and voted like they've never [done] before, so that's the way it goes. I guess it was the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan.

Let's see:
2016 Trump 304, Clinton 227, Margin 77
2012 Obama 332, Romney 206, Margin 126
2008 Obama 365, McCain 173, Margin 192
2004 Bush 286, Kerry 251, Margin 35
2000 Bush 271, Gore 266, Margin 5
1996 Clinton 379, Dole 159, Margin 220
1992 Clinton 370, Bush 168, Margin 202
1988 Bush 426, Dukakis 111, Margin 315
1984 Reagan 525, Mondale 13, Margin 512
1980 Reagan 489, Carter 49, Margin 440

So Trump's victory margin is in fact the smallest by far, if we exclude GWB's 2 win. Perhaps we'll soon learn Trump's "Alternative facts", that Trump's 30 state win is the biggest, except for the fact Bush won 40 states in 1988, Clinton won 32 states in 1992, and 31 states in 1996. And Bush won 30 and 31 states in 2000 and 2004. But at least Trump beats Obama's 29 states/DC in 2008, and 27 states/DC in 2008 and 2012.

But I'm sure Kellyanne can explain why #TrumpFacts are the only facts that matter.

So you don't need conspiracy theory to predict that Trump will be in the dark about most of the negative consequences of his actions, and the actions of those under his charge. He'll dismiss anything he doesn't want to see as "fake news" and his babysitters will sooth him with lullabies until he feels better. That just can't turn out well.

I think Scott Adams is wrong. He says facts don't matter in politics, and that may be true, at least when things are ending and people are looking for scapegoats.

Trump's secret isn't that he does things no one else does. He just does them with proud shamelessness. There is no limit to what he'll convince himself is true.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares Olympus @February 16, 2017 at 4:57 PM:

"Trump's secret isn't that he does things no one else does. He just does them with proud shamelessness. There is no limit to what he'll convince himself is true."

Looks in the mirror.

Trump owns your mind, Ares.

Ares Olympus said...

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said... Looks in the mirror. Trump owns your mind, Ares.

I've always tried to be open-minded and considering many possible interpretations, even if I have a few I consider more likely.

And trusting people with power who can't keep the simplest verifiable facts straight seems like a bad idea in any world I've tried to live.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares Olympus: "I've always tried to be open-minded..."

About Trump especially.

Dennis said...


Thanks for the laugh at Ares expense. Ares is so controlled by TDS that he has lost all sense of proportionality and reason. There is not one statement that does not contain an obsession about Trump.
In generally I do not say anything because Ares unwittingly makes the points of those who disagree with him. It is some what like Trump playing matador to the bulls in the media. Being in the press does not give one a special place in history. It is the man or woman willing to stand astride in the arena who will earn that place in history.

Dennis said...


The famed journalist Howard K Smith stated, "We have a big thirteen ring circus going on here in Washington, and the main ring is always the presidency." Ike was happy to be in the arena. I would suggest that Trump is more Eisenhower than Andrew Jackson even though both loved being in the arena much as Trump does. It remains to be seen where that takes Trump given the forces allied agains't him.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Dennis @February 17, 2017 at 9:32 AM:

This may surprise you, but I actually think Trump is doing astonishingly well so far, given what he's up against. Even better, he is showing in real time what the Federal leviathan has become: a self-dealing, all-consuming monster. Trump just needs to keep plugging away. He's fighting a multi-front war: Democrats, bureaucrats, Narrative media and the Republicans in Congress.

Ares Olympus said...

IAC: Trump just needs to keep plugging away. He's fighting a multi-front war: Democrats, bureaucrats, Narrative media and the Republicans in Congress.

Indeed, I think that's exactly what he's doing. he's fighting a war against everyone on every side, on potential friends, rivals, and enemies alike.

If you look at the history of successful politics or warfare, I'm sure the cases of success by this approach are slim. But of course it all depends on what success looks like, and its totally unclear what success looks like in Trump's mission.

Cancer is probably the most accurate description of Trump's malignancy. And of course if you consider the body as whole itself cancer, you'll root for the minority cells who will destroy its host.

As Bannon says, all democratic institions are now targets, and only when they're all destroyed will peace come to the land.
“I’m a Leninist,” Bannon proudly proclaimed. Shocked, I asked him what he meant. “Lenin,” he answered, “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” Bannon was employing Lenin’s strategy for Tea Party populist goals. He included in that group the Republican and Democratic Parties, as well as the traditional conservative press.

You don't need TDS to think this is madness.