I got issues: Why did people vote for Trump? Terror management

Reason Three Why Someone Might Have Voted for Trump: Terror Management Theory

This one seems logical but doesn’t particularly excite me. Nor does it explain why some people can be driven to terror by a demagogic fool, a cartoon character.

Unless you want to combine this theory with Reason One (know-nothings) and Reason Two (conservatives have a bigger amygdala).

Here’s an explanation:

Terror management theory (TMT) attempts to explain a type of defensive human thinking and behavior that stems from our awareness and fear of death. According to TMT, death anxiety drives us to adopt worldviews that protect our sense of self-esteem, worthiness and sustainability and allow us to believe that we play an important role in a meaningful world. Our survival instincts, and the need to reinforce our cultural significance in the face of death, often result in displays of prejudice, or the belief that the group with which we identify is superior to other groups.  In this way, we confirm our self-importance and insulate ourselves from our deep fear of merely living an insignificant life permanently eradicated by death. TMT proposes that we are motivated to develop close relationships within our own cultural group in order to feel immortal, to convince ourselves that we will somehow live on, if only symbolically, after our inevitable death.

Oh, really? Problem with this is is all of us face mortality and, presumably, some sort of fear about it. But not all of us “manage” our fear by dwelling on it so assiduously we need to “reinforce our cultural significance,” or display prejudice, or think our group is superior to others. Or cling to a god.

What does it say about a political party that gets votes by scaring people into nationalism, bigotry and acts of aggression?

More than half of us faced existential terror by voting not for Trump.

Indeed, more than half of us see Trump as existential terror.

But, as I said, if you’re too ignorant to know you’re ignorant, and you have an enlarged amygdala, maybe you’re prone to let some creature manage your terror thusly.

Me? I think, I write, I read, I love family, I have a cold, I laugh a lot, I watch too much TV, I listen to music. I don’t remember a time when I was terrified, not even on the day the Twin Towers were brought down, not even on the day I was told I had cancer.

And I never, never have been made to feel terror by a bigoted demagogue.



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I got issues: Why did people vote for Trump? Hypervigilance

We’ve done Reason One — The Dunning-Kruger Effect. Now let’s do…

Reason Two Why Someone Might Have Voted For Trump

The study underlying this reason is the most exciting and soothing thing I’ve found. If you, like me, have been writhing and suffering over the big question — why did people vote for Trump? — take careful note about this. For me, I find it’s relieved me of the great liberal burden of our time: how do we understand, respect, empathize with, converse with and bring back to sanity people who voted for Trump?

The answer: we can’t. One of their brain parts, the amygdala, is like this.

I have a couple of questions a further study might answer. First, is it only nature that creates this kind of amygdala? Is nuture, perhaps in infancy, a contributing factor? And — aside from the pretty radical procedure that can change the brain (read on, curious folk, but a warning to men: you’ll wince) — is there any way in which the amygdala can be affected in adults?

Hypersensitivity to Threat

The conservative brain is constructed to react in an exaggerated way to anything perceived as threatening.

Notice the word “perceived.” (And the word “exaggerated.”) They’re important. The threat is not necessarily real but the conservative brain reacts as if it is real.

Here’s the abstract of the study analyzing this from the journal, Science. It’s a pretty amazing read:

Political attitudes vary with physiological traits.


Although political views have been thought to arise largely from individuals’ experiences, recent research suggests that they may have a biological basis. We present evidence that variations in political attitudes correlate with physiological traits. In a group of 46 adult participants with strong political beliefs, individuals with measurably lower physical sensitivities to sudden noises and threatening visual images were more likely to support foreign aid, liberal immigration policies, pacifism, and gun control, whereas individuals displaying measurably higher physiological reactions to those same stimuli were more likely to favor defense spending, capital punishment, patriotism, and the Iraq War. Thus, the degree to which individuals are physiologically responsive to threat appears to indicate the degree to which they advocate policies that protect the existing social structure from both external (outgroup) and internal (norm-violator) threats.

Isn’t that something? I highlighted the most “something” part of it.

Even more. A study published in Current Biology shows that conservatives’ brains have a larger amygdala!* This is the explanation that just knocks me out. “He couldn’t control voting for Trump: his amygdala is larger than mine.”

No need to argue, to present facts to someone who voted for Trump. No need to accuse them of having allowed their minds to be invaded and possessed by Fox. Just say, “Oh, you can’t help yourself, you poor thing. Your amygdala is swollen.”

I’m sure they’ll deeply appreciate both the condescension and the erudition.

Here are the highlights from the study:

  • Political liberalism and conservatism were correlated with brain structure
  • Liberalism was associated with the gray matter volume of anterior cingulate cortex
  • Conservatism was associated with increased right amygdala size
  • Results offer possible accounts for cognitive styles of liberals and conservatives

Trump’s endless fear-mongering of the “other” has a hypnotic effect on the conservative brain. It hits the amygdala big time.

So a larger amygdala isn’t anything to brag about. Indeed, it’s become my fave reason for everything I shrink from in distaste and horror. “I’m pointing the finger at you, distended amygdala!” “Puffed up amygdala!” “Trump owns your amygdala!”

Love it. Well, no, I hate it. But there it is.

Have any scientists figured out how to shrink amygdalas to normal, i.e., liberal size?*

On the other hand, have scientists paid for by the Koch Bros, et al, found a way to enlarge amygdalas, say, before birth?

Oh goody. Let’s start a lovely conspiracy.

*Almost as if to answer my question, the link says that after castration the male amygdala shrinks 30 percent. Take that, all you nutcases bearing heavy firearms.


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I got an issue with Trump’s financial lies

And — virtually the instant Trump released his financial disclosure forms — so did CREW:

Washington—Following the release of President Trump’s 2018 public financial disclosures, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) today filed a criminal complaint against the president, calling for an investigation into whether he knowingly and willfully failed to report Michael Cohen’s payment to Stormy Daniels as a liability on his 2017 public financial disclosures.

Which he did.

So keep your spirits up. The Mueller investigation is not the only aggressive truth-seeker in this mess. And I like the sideswipe aspects of all these slammin’ specific suits against Trump. Maybe I’ll try to count them, although it’ll be really difficult if I need more than my fingers and toes.

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