By Olga Khazan
Why do people still believe Donald Trump when he says things like, “Our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape they’ve ever been in before. Ever. Ever. Ever”? (Even setting aside slavery and Jim Crow, “Nationally, the black poverty rate is 24.1 percent, which is much higher than the 9.1 percent percent it is for whites. But that’s still lower than it has been in the past,” Politifact points out.) Or that there could be anywhere from 3 to 30 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., but “the government has no idea.” (The number is 11.4 million, Politifact says, and the government is quite sure.)
It could be because Trump, like many charismatic leaders, casts his arguments in ways that tickle the emotional parts of our brains while telling the more rational lobes to shush. That’s the process explored by Sara E. Gorman, a public-health expert, and her father, Jack M. Gorman, a psychiatrist and CEO of Franklin Behavioral Health Consultants, in their new book, Denying to the Grave: Why We Ignore the Facts That Will Save Us. “Persuaders might want to reduce the possibility of dissonance by constantly reassuring people that they have made the right choice … or that there is no viable reasonable alternative,” they write. (Remember “I alone can fix it?”)
In the book, the Gormans explain not just how people fall for the false claims of politicians, but also how intelligent people wind up in cults or why a nation wracked by gun violence continues to reject gun-control measures. They admit they do not support Trump, but they’re otherwise equal opportunity debunkers, taking on GMO fear-mongering and anti-vaxers along with the National Rifle Association. I recently interviewed the Gormans about why false information and charismatic people can seem so seductive. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.
Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.