Donald Trump
Credit: Michael Vadon/Flickr

Here is one of my favorite scenes from The Big Chill:

YouTube video

I hadn’t watched that in a couple of years and was struck by how Jeff Goldblum’s character reminded me of a certain national public figure.

But the reason I went back to find it in the first place is because I’ve never forgotten the part about the importance of rationalizations. Having spent about 20 years of my life examining my entire world view, I am particularly attuned to how we as human beings build up layers of rationalizations to avoid having to incorporate information that challenges what we’ve already decided to believe. Goldblum’s character was being a smart-ass, but he nailed something that is even more rampant today in our tribalistic approach to politics. We all spend a lot of our mental energy rationalizing in a way that crowds out any sense of curiosity.

As Trump’s failures pile up, it will be interesting to watch the rationalizations emerge from the ranks of his base of supporters. One example comes from David Danford as he attempts to explain the chaos emanating from the White House over the last couple of weeks.

The White House is in flames, says the media. Everything is on fire. Chaos!

In other words, the administration is coming apart and the capital is burning. Trump is slaying sacred cows and, in the words of American Greatness Senior Editor Julie Ponzi, he is killing the gods of the city and no one knows what to do. The only thing anybody knows is that the things we are seeing have never been done before and Donald Trump is refusing to follow any of the proper conventions (if he even knows what they are . . . tsk tsk)…

Think of the glory of it all. This is the fight we have been waiting for. This is the turmoil we need.

The president is making common sense policy decisions that don’t need the backing of long reports authored by “experts” (backing that he wouldn’t have received, by the way). It is almost as if he thinks the people should rule, not supposed expertise. Kind of neat, huh? This will undoubtedly result in pushback from bureaucrats and “experts,” and timid culture warriors who apparently enjoy self-emasculation or have realized (incorrectly) that they have more to gain from maintaining the status quo.

As Tom Berenger’s character says, “Why is it that what you just said strikes me as a massive rationalization?” Because that’s exactly what it is. To admit that what is happening is due to Trump’s incompetence and mental unfitness for office would require a re-examination of everything Danford has come to believe about this president in particular and perhaps his worldview in general. That is the beginning of an excruciating journey that very few people are willing to undertake. As a result, rationalizations become more important than sex.

As you encounter rationalizations in Trump supporters—or even in yourself—here are a couple of antidotes to the trap they can become. The first is a quote from Bertrand Russell.

Men fear thought more than they fear anything else on earth — more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible; thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages … But if thought is to become the possession of many, not the privilege of the few, we must have done with fear. It is fear that holds men back — fear lest their cherished beliefs should prove delusions, fear lest the institutions by which they live should prove harmful, fear lest they themselves should prove less worthy of respect than they have supposed themselves to be.

Here is some great advice from author Jonathan Odell that is focused on how to have conversations that break down the barriers that feed racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.

There is an honest, open give and take, non-defensive dialogue: This may sound obvious, but a lot can go wrong when you are trying to prove you are not a racist, intolerant or even mildly prejudiced. Let it go. Defending your credentials deflects attention from the issue at hand.

The emphasis is not getting it right, just on getting it: You have to step out of the “right or wrong” dilemma. The point is not to agree or debate, or to win, but to understand. This takes an entirely different type of listening. Questions are vital, but they are asked out of sincere interest, not as a means to control, interrogate, embarrass or win a point.

There is a high tolerance for discomfort, especially your own: The more you try to act like you know what you are doing, the less likely you are to connect authentically. Don’t feign certainty to cover up ignorance. You cheat yourself out of learning.

Finally, for a shortened version, here’s a powerful quote from Nezua at the Unapologetic Mexican:

Being sure is but the borderwall we place around a heart to ward off the skinstripping wind of the next living moment.

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