Musing about law, books, and politics

How to talk to MAGA people

I’ve been getting lots of questions like this one:

So I consulted Prof. Karen Stenner (formerly Princeton and Duke), this paper, and her work on the Authoritarian Dynamic. Many of the quotations are from a private conversation. She’s on Twitter.

By MAGA I mean the part of the Fox-Trump-GOP who have what psychologists call an authoritarian predisposition. This isn’t the entire Fox-Trump-GOP.

From Stenner: about 1/3 of the population are inclined toward authoritarianism.

Authoritarians are different from what Stenner calls status quo conservatives. Authoritarians are averse to complexity. Conservatives averse to change. Non-authoritarians, on the other hand, are comfortable with nuance and complexity.

Authoritarians prefer obedience and conformity, “oneness and sameness over freedom and difference.” They like regularity. Authoritarians can’t [easily] change their personalities

They are who they are. Stenner says “it’s another way of being human.”

When authoritarians feel confident in their leaders and don’t feel threatened, they’re good citizens: They respect institutions. They follow norms.

The problem happens in an “authoritarian dynamic.” 

An authoritarian dynamic occurs when someone with an authoritarian predisposition is faced with a particular kind of threat. When faced with real or fabricated stories about social conflict or poor leadership, authoritarians become intolerant.

 They become fearful and angry, and inclined to reject difference and punish ‘deviants.’ At the extreme, they can be violent and tolerate cruelty to others.

An example of a such a threat is that “Mexicans rapists” are crossing the border to hurt them

FOX spent decades creating such threats, persuading people that they’re in danger and that “real” Americans are being displaced by dangerous “others.” Fox & Trump also persuaded their “base” that Democrats are their enemies because Democrats side with the “others.”

“Democrats” are loosely defined to mean anyone who opposes Trump. In the “us v. them” dynamic, Democrats are “them”

With the authoritarians in our population riled and angry, the U.S. is caught in an authoritarian dynamic. We’re having an authoritarian moment.

Of the three types, authoritarians are “the most readily malleable, the most easily exploited.” (Stenner)

The Trump-Fox-GOP are manipulating those with authoritarian personalities.

Dear People who Underestimate Trump: Notice how deftly he exploits their fears:

As Prof. Stanley puts it Trump is “cynically using fascist leadership techniques to gain and maintain power.” 

My point here is that the villains are the manipulators and the exploiters, not those who are manipulated and exploited.

When people attack Trump, MAGA people get more riled. They need to feel confident in the leader; attacking him makes them feel attacked. They “thrill at his fights with the establishment, seeing him as warrior” on their behalf. 

When we talk to MAGA people, the goal isn’t to use logic or arguments to try to change their minds. Mostly you can’t. It makes things worse. The goal is to reassure and calm them. Logic doesn’t work and confrontation can be dangerous.

Our goal is to “deactivate the dynamic.” “Authoritarians dislike politics and mostly just want to be reassured that all is well.”

When they’re not riled or afraid, they basically step down and stop “manning the barricades.” Quotes from @karen_stenner

This is why Fox and Trump must constantly stir them up.

“They like quiet, uniform lives. If they’re not riled—if they have confidence in their leaders and don’t feel threatened—the concern that they have for the collective can be channeled in constructive ways.” (Stenner)

Authoritarians also dislike troublemakers.

One way to talk to authoritarians is to “simply, calmly, subtly affirm the shared norm that contradicts Trump’s behavior, ideally without mentioning Trump.” (Stenner)

Based on these principles, I’ve come up with examples of how to talk to MAGA people. This was my first try. I expect others can do better.

Remember the goal: Deactivate the authoritarian dynamic.

MAGA person says: “Democrats hate Christmas!” Don’t try to explain why someone might prefer “happy holidays.” (They’re averse to complexity & nuance.) Instead try:

“Hate Christmas? Ridiculous! Why would someone say that? Someone’s trying to turn people against each other.”

MAGA person says: “I want a wall because I hate illegal immigration.”

You: “Me, too! We must sort them at the border! Those trying to sneak in illegally, Out With Them! The good family ones who have a right to come, let them in legally.”

Immigration judges, by the way, do exactly that. Immigration courts decide who can be here legally. (I’ve written about immigration law.) Trump says that Democrats want open borders and no laws, which isn’t true. The Democratic position has always been that we follow the law. Asylum seekers have legal rights. If they don’t meet the criteria, they can’t stay. So really, Trump’s opponents want to uphold the laws. But he isn’t going to say that, so he makes up a good story.

Will these kinds of answers get your MAGA neighbors and family to vote Democratic and stop watching FOX? Probably not.

But it may help decrease the dangerous polarization.

[View here as a Twitter thread]