If you talked politics over the last few days with Trump supporters, you probably got a good lesson in how they have become inoculated against information that contradicts their assumptions about the president.
Jeffrey Goldberg’s article in the Atlantic about how Trump referred to Americans who have died in war as “losers” and “suckers” was published last Thursday—just in time to ruminate over the three-day weekend. It included three to four sources per quote and was eventually confirmed by the Associated Press, the Washington Post, Fox News, CNN, and the New York Times. As David Frum documented, the reports seemed plausible based on all of the other times Trump attacked members of the military. The silences are also resounding.
Amid the clamor, it’s easy to overlook those who are not yelling, those who are keeping silent. Where are the senior officers of the United States armed forces, serving and retired—the men and women who worked most closely on military affairs with President Trump? Has any one of them stepped forward to say, “That’s not the man I know”?
How many wounded warriors have stepped forward to attest to Trump’s care and concern for them? How many Gold Star families have stepped forward on Trump’s behalf? How many service families?
The silence is resounding. And when such voices do speak, they typically describe a president utterly lacking in empathy to grieving families, wholly uncomprehending of sacrifice and suffering.
It wasn’t long before Trump responded with attacks against Goldberg, The Atlantic, and Laurene Powell Jobs, the magazine’s majority owner.
Most of the president’s supporters didn’t need the prompt, however. It quickly became labelled “fake news.” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who had been preparing to launch a book tour this week, defended Trump by describing a president most of us have never seen.
These were some of the moments I witnessed the President show his heart and demonstrate how much he respects the selfless and courageous men and women of our military. I am disgusted by this false attack.
— Sarah Huckabee Sanders (@SarahHuckabee) September 4, 2020
While Sanders says that she has witnessed Trump showing heart and demonstrating respect, we’ve never actually witnessed that kind of behavior from him in public. It makes her denial much less plausible. But her description of the president is something his supporters desperately want to believe. So they utilize the closure mechanisms Trump has provided for them by calling The Atlantic report “fake news,” which automatically makes the president a victim. It is exactly the process described by Julian Sanchez in his explanation of the term “epistemic closure.”
Over the weekend a chorus arose asking for John Kelly, who was present during most of the discussions cited by Goldberg, to address what happened. Underlying that call is the assumption that the former White House Chief of Staff could actually clear things up. While I think that he should do so for the sake of his own conscience, it is absurd to think that Trump supporters would listen to him any more than they did when former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called the president a threat to our Constitution.
The president’s supporters are not going to change their minds about the most dishonest and corrupt man to ever occupy the Oval Office. While it remains important to document his incompetence and malfeasance, it isn’t likely to have any impact politically. Trump has one vaccine that actually works: He’s inoculated his supporters against anything that might threaten their loyalty to him.