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How many more canaries must die?

April 2, 2017

dead-canary

How many more canaries must die in the coal mine that is Donald Trump’s administration before America realizes that this president is toxic to the very fabric of what truly makes America great – fairness, equality, and diversity? The reality is that, for some people, no amount of metaphorical, avian carnage will result in that realization.

Most people can probably absorb one or two bad decisions or dubious behaviors by a president by considering them aberrations. But, surely there must be a tipping point where the aberrations become so frequent and so egregious that they can no longer be rationalized as outliers, and they must be recognized for what they are – the immature, aberrant, destructive behaviors that define the essence of the current president.

The backfire effect

For the majority of voters in the 2016 election, that tipping point had already been reached as evidenced by Hilary Clinton winning the popular vote. However, there is a segment of emotionally entrenched Trump supporters, nay zealots, for whom no amount of fact-based information will diminish their passionate support of Trump. There is a name for that phenomenon. It is known as the backfire effect that was first described in a paper by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler titled “When Corrections Fail: The persistence of political misperceptions.” [1]

The backfire effect is succinctly summarized in a posting [2] by David McRaney – “When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.” The same article also cites the 2006/2007 work of Nyhan and Reifler where they demonstrated the backfire effect by measuring people’s response to fake news articles. [3] Yes, “fake news.”

I doubt Nyhan and Reifler could have realized the impact fake news and the confirmation bias of the backfire effect would have in the 2016 election. I doubt anyone did, with the exception of Vladimir Putin and his cyber warfare experts at the FSB, a.k.a., Федеральная служба безопасности Российской Федерации – (ФСБ).

What to do

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, the solution is to recognize that responding to Trump supports with facts will likely never change their mind. It is a waste of your time to engage in fact-based discussions unless there is an acknowledgement by all that they may be wrong. Since that is unlikely to happen with emotion-based beliefs, there are three things everyone should do.

  1. Engage with your representatives in Congress and let them know your opinions. Every member tracks calls and emails to help them know the pulse of their constituents.

To call your Member of Congress:
US Capitol Switchboard (202) 224-3121

To locate your Member on-line:
U.S. House of Representatives: www.house.gov
U.S. Senate: www.senate.gov

  1. Vote! Not just for the presidential horse race every four years, but in off-year elections. Congress is one of three equal branches of government and is worthy of your ongoing attention.
  2. Don’t waste your time on social media trying to convince a Trump supporter that they’re wrong. It won’t work and may well backfire.

 

[1] https://www.dartmouth.edu/~nyhan/nyhan-reifler.pdf

[2] https://youarenotsosmart.com/2011/06/10/the-backfire-effect/

[3] http://www.uky.edu/AS/PoliSci/Peffley/pdf/nyhan-reifler%202007%20When%20Predictions%20Fail.pdf

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