Using Words Against Us

| March 27, 2019

A powerful word.

On Monday, POTUS followed a familiar pattern. Upon his apparent exoneration of accusations of treason, he accused his accusers of “treasonous” actions.

President Trump went on the offensive on Monday a day after the special counsel investigation reported no conspiracy with Russia, suggesting that critics who pursued such suspicions were “treasonous,” guilty of “evil things” and should be investigated themselves. – NYT

This action follows his long-standing behavior of accusing his political opponents of having the same deficiencies they attribute to him. In other, the President’s retort is often the schoolyard taunt “no I’m not, but you are.” Is it any wonder he is often accused of behaving like a child?

This “strongman” behavior lacks civility, rationality, and charm while appealing to our cognitive biases—or what we might call our “reflexive pettiness.” Here’s a few examples:

  • Confirmation bias – If you thought the President was innocent all along—or believe in vast government conspiracies—you’re more likely than ever to believe the accusations against the President were fake from the beginning.
  • Mean World Theory – If you watch a lot of conspiratorial TV, you’re more likely to believe that the world is corrupt. In this case, that’s anyone who chooses to take legal action against the President.
  • Self-serving bias – Already a fan of the President? You’re more likely to attribute the actions of his accusers to faults in their character, and your ability to determine the facts as a result of your intelligence.

Though subtle, the battery of accusations that flows from the President often lands its intended affect. This seems especially true of his “base,” who generally support his worldview.

To ameliorate these effects of cognitive biases, we can reflect on the motivations behind our perspectives, judgments, and accusations. Are we being fair, just, and unbiased? (Or are we just piling on?)