Trump Voters and Trump Supporters
In the 1950s, a psychologist named Leon Festinger introduced the world to the idea of cognitive dissonance. According to Festinger, humans experience a tension between their commitments and their experience of the world, and they are motivated to resolve this tension. One of the forms of dissonance Festinger studied is called “postdecision dissonance,” in which a person makes a difficult decision and then has to find a way to live with the consequences of that decision.
Say, for example, a person has to decide between buying an uncomfortable, ugly, affordable car or a nice, eco-friendly, expensive car. No matter which car the person decides to purchase, there are good reasons to have made the opposite choice. These reasons linger in the person’s mind, creating cognitive dissonance. They may try to reduce this dissonance, Festinger observed, in a few different ways:
Several months into President Trump’s time in office, I’m seeing postdecision dissonance in some of my friends who voted for Trump back in November. Since the election, Trump has not acquitted himself very well. He has continued to lie unabashedly, failed to pass substantive legislation, demonstrated no real understanding of diplomacy, tried to interfere with a federal investigation, been hypocritical about his vacation time, been consistently self-obsessed and churlish, and—most recently—threatened war with North Korea. Even if there are things to like about Trump’s presidency, these negative elements emerge in people’s minds, and people who voted for Trump in November have to resolve this dissonance one way or another.
With this in mind, let’s make a distinction between a “Trump voter” and a “Trump supporter.” A Trump voter is someone who, in November of 2016, cast a ballot for Donald Trump. A Trump supporter is someone who has to some degree taken option #5 above and is continuing to stand by Donald Trump, defend even his hard-to-justify actions, and trust that he is making America great again. 
This is almost too obvious to even mention, but Trump voters do not have to be Trump supporters. But given the pressures of cognitive dissonance, the nature of political polarization, the use of shaming rhetoric in America, and the faults with many of Trump’s critics, we can understand why Trump voters who might otherwise reject some of Trump’s policies feel pressured to be Trump supporters. There is a pressure for Trump voters to refrain from publicly criticizing Trump because it would increase rather than decrease postdecision dissonance, because it might give aid and comfort to political rivals and international enemies, and because it might alienate one from one’s colleagues and friends.
It is to Trump voters, then, that I make my appeal, and it has to do with each American’s decision whether to support or protest the possible nuclear war with North Korea.
If you voted for Trump because he was the Republican candidate and you felt like you had no choice,
I understand. You have a choice now. There’s a long history of responsible conservatives opposing unjust and unnecessary wars, and you can choose take a stand against war with North Korea.
If you voted for Trump because he said he would install pro-life Supreme Court justices, or because he promised to promote job creation,
I get that. Remember, though, nuclear war with North Korea is a completely different issue and no one expects you to support it simply because you agree with President Trump on another topic.
If you voted for Trump because you strongly disapproved of Hillary Clinton,
Okay. The election is over, though, and this is not about Trump versus Clinton or Republicans versus Democrats but about international order and the morality of war.
If you voted for Trump and you don’t think the election mattered that much,
You might have a point there. But nuclear war definitely matters.
Regardless of how one voted in the last election, we can all recognize that provoking a nuclear war with North Korea is a bad move. Many Trump voters recognize this and are distancing themselves from Trump's rhetoric. Whatever decision you made in November of 2016, I urge us all to think carefully about the decision to support Trump’s threat or distance ourselves from it.
Whatever car you bought last year, let’s not drive it off a cliff this year.
 Of course, there are presumably also people who consistently stand by Trump simply because they agree on principle with everything Trump has done. There are reasons for standing by any single Trump action besides the pressures I describe in this blog post.
8/11/2017 10:36:24 am
Thanks for the article.
8/11/2017 10:37:46 am
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8/11/2017 10:57:01 am
As a Trump supporter I agree with Beltrami 100% on perception. I think a lot of people get lost in the media war of words over Trump's actions. I also think there is a case to be made that all his post-election moves have been fundamentally rational and for the most part beneficial. Cognitive bias makes that case easy for some of us to believe and unthinkable for others.
8/11/2017 01:22:47 pm
Thanks for the response; this is an insightful counterpoint. I completely agree that the effects of cognitive dissonance apply across the board, and your analysis of NeverTrumpers is spot-on.
8/14/2017 04:33:01 pm
Thanks for the link to your other post on Trumpism. I agree with most of it. It's right, as you point out, to emphasize the ironically benevolent side of your first point on his selfishness. And so in my mind that does actually put it an markedly different category than "Ayn-Rand-style," since the selfishness is applied to the collective/national level, not the individual.
8/14/2017 04:34:14 pm
8/14/2017 04:46:49 pm
Last thing regarding the foreign policy discussion, I just thought I'd share this Trump quote from his foreign policy speech during the campaign, which is what cemented my vote for him:
8/11/2017 04:45:18 pm
I think a piece you're missing here is that Trump isn't acting on his own.
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