You may remember a few weeks ago I asked readers to let me know if they knew of anyone who had finally turned on Trump. I wanted to write a blog post describing the journey of such a person.
I got no responses to my question, and personally, I don’t know anyone who supported Trump who has changed their mind. I gave up finding such a person.
But they do exist! Granted, they’re rare as snow in Mississippi, but they are out there. Yesterday I came upon an article written for Forward (an online magazine focusing on issues related to Judaism and Jews) by a New Yorker named David Weissman.
He colorfully describes his days as a hardcore Trump supporter and Internet troll. Everything you might expect, he did it or said it. He was all-in on bullying liberals and Democrats (and RINOs — “Republicans in Name Only”). He mainlined on Fox News. He went to Trump rallies and owned a MAGA hat. He willingly soaked in Trump’s hateful rhetoric and dismissed anyone who was offended by it as “snowflakes.”
It took one woman to change his views. One day the comic actress Sarah Silverman responded to one of his inflammatory comments on Twitter. He describes the way she engaged him in conversation and debate without putting down his beliefs or attacking him. She remained patient and doggedly kept replying to his tweets in a civil and engaging way, explaining why she felt the way she did about things like healthcare, immigration, racism, and many other topics — and why she believed Trump was wrong for America and the world.
I have also tried to engage Trump supporters with the truth, but eventually I give up, because most Trumpists I meet online waste my time with straw man arguments, what-aboutism, straight-up gaslighting, and even personal attacks. If they realize they’re losing the argument, they always fall back on their old standby, “it’s fake news.” Or, “well, Hillary would have been worse.” I began to block them because it was just easier than the frustrating and seemingly futile experience of trying to get them to think outside their comfort zone or handle the resulting cognitive dissonance. Patience is not one of my greatest virtues. Maybe if it were, I might be able to eventually get through to a few of them. Maybe.
Mr. Weissman seems like a man who might have been receptive to a different viewpoint anyway. One of the things that worries and saddens me is that many Trump supporters seem to show signs of sociopathy themselves — or are attracted to a “strongman” type of leader who tells them exactly what to think because they don’t want to or don’t know how to think for themselves. Trumpism has been compared to a cult, and it really is one. Its followers respond to Trump as they do to a cult leader, and like Jim Jones’ followers, they willingly, even eagerly, drink his poison Koolaid even though it might eventually harm or even kill them (Trump is doing nothing for the average working class white person and is fact is doing a lot of damage to his own supporters).
As with all cults, it’s almost impossible for someone on the outside to deprogram a believer; it really is a form of mind control. Trump supporters are literally in thrall to their golden calf. Reality and facts get trampled under the hooves.
Maybe Mr. Weissman was less brainwashed than most other Trump supporters, or had just enough insight or self-awareness for reason and facts to begin to sink in. Maybe it’s because Ms. Silverman, a fellow Jew, was perceived as sympathetic. But it doesn’t matter why Weissman could be redeemed from Trumpism, while so many others seem impermeable to the truth and facts. What matters is that it’s possible.
It didn’t happen overnight. His deconversion happened over a period of several weeks or months (he doesn’t give an exact timeframe of how long it took), mostly by continuing his online conversation with Ms. Silverman. He decided to read the links to articles she gave him instead of attacking them as “fake news.” By reading and educating himself about the facts, he began to question what he’d believed (or wanted to believe) about Trump. He became willing to deal with the cognitive dissonance all the new information was causing him. (Cognitive dissonance is extremely uncomfortable for most people, who will do almost anything to avoid experiencing it). Weissman describes how welcoming the “liberals” were, and the way they did not judge him. Some of his Trumpist buddies began to bully him and call him a traitor. They were incensed that he and Ms. Silverman — a liberal — appeared to be friends. Weissman began to see his fellow Trump supporters in a new light – as ignorant people embracing a narcissistic bully (or even being bullies themselves) and willfully shutting out the truth.
Here is his story (which also gives tips on how to engage with Trump supporters):