4. The Radical Right’s Narrative

Throughout his presidential campaign, Donald Trump told conservative voters exactly who to blame for their pain—people of color. He very vocally attacked Latinos and Muslims, and a bit more subtly attacked African-Americans and anyone else who is not White.

While Trump said this in the grossest ways, he was just expressing the right-wing narrative of grievance against nonwhites that has been repeated for decades and which greatly increased in volume during the presidency of Barack Obama.

What leaders of the right have been doing all these years is to encourage less-educated White voters to make political decisions, not based on policies that benefit them, but through the filter of their social identity.

Psychology tells us that a great deal of average people’s self-image comes from their social identity—the group or groups that they see themselves as a part of.

Social identity divides the world into us and them or the in-group and the out-group. The us can be something as unimportant as which football team a person supports. It can be about an individual’s social class or family, college or country. Being part of the group makes people feel good inside. It enhances pride and self-esteem, and usually there’s nothing wrong with that.

But people also enhance their self-image by denigrating them. Like the subjects in Drew Westen’s experiments (in Chapter 1), individuals can feel good emotionally by blaming, being prejudiced against, or discriminating against their out-group. Surely, Donald Trump seems to enjoy himself when he attacks his political opponents. And so do many of his supporters.

In a political debate, there are two possible groups to blame for the troubles of non-college educated Whites. The truthful and rational explanation is the rich have been and still are squeezing everyone else, making all of us relatively poorer. The phony emotional explanation is it’s the out-group, the non-Whites. Persuadable voters tend to hold both of these beliefs in their heads.

How can we direct them to the truth?