Don’t Argue With The True Believers

A recent column by Frank Bruni addressed an issue to which I often refer: the growing gap between GOP rhetoric (and presumably, belief) and that fact-based thing we call reality.

Bruni wrote:

When it comes to manipulating the information space, getting inside people’s heads, creating alternative realities and mass confusion — he’s as good as anyone since the 1930s, and you know who I’m talking about,” said Jonathan Rauch, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of the 2021 book “The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth.” Rauch characterized the stolen election claims by Trump and his enablers as “the most audacious and Russian-style disinformation attack on the United States that we’ve ever seen” and questioned whether, under a second Trump administration, we’d become a country “completely untethered from reality.”

A post to Daily Kos elaborated on that lack of a tether, quoting Stephen Colbert for the often-repeated line that “Reality has a well-known liberal bias,” and pointing to the myriad ways in which reality deviates from the preferred Republican version.

Trump really did lose in 2020. But it goes far beyond Trump and and his 30,000+ lies. Slavery really was an unredeemable horror for Blacks. Anti-abortion laws really are killing women. Gender dysphoria really exists. Same-sex marriages really work. Racism really is systemic in the United States. Jews really don’t control the world (if we did, we’d do a better job!). The economy really is doing much better under Biden than under Trump. The Earth (which really is 4.5 billion years old, give or take) really does revolve around the sun.

The post also linked to an article in the Atlantic–behind a paywall–in which the author, son of a preacher, told of the congregation’s outrage when his father’s successor preached a sermon about Christians’ obligation to protect ‘God’s creation’ from climate change. Although many Christian denominations acknowledge the reality of climate change and the need to address it, in churches like his father’s, climate change denial is part of being a “real” Christian.

Fundamentalist Christians used to avoid politics. No more. In fact, in a very real sense, for many of them, being Republican has become their version of being Christian.

The reverse is equally true: large numbers of dyed-in-the-wool Republicans have transformed what was formerly a political identity into a quasi-religious one. Political lies and conspiracy theories have morphed into something akin to theological doctrine. The absence of proof–the lack of any empirical or factual support–is irrelevant. (You can’t prove the existence  or non-existence of God in a laboratory, either.)

I asked a psychiatrist friend to tell me what happens when such people come face to face with well-documented evidence debunking their beliefs. Evidently, the four most likely reactions are: denial (true believers simply deny the facts or dismiss them as false or biased); cognitive dissonance (they experience the discomfort that arises when a person holds conflicting beliefs); resort to confirmation bias (true believers seek out information that supports their original beliefs, or provides an excuse to discount the evidence before them); and what is called the “backfire effect,” in which they become even more entrenched in their preferred version of reality.

Least likely is a change of opinion to accord with the evidence.

Instead, these “true believers” perceive the contradictory information as an existential threat to their identities or world-views, a threat that is much more likely to trigger a defensive response than a change of opinion.

Recent headlines report that some 25% of Americans now believe that the FBI was responsible for the January 6th insurrection. Those Americans are the true believers;  I would characterize such a political opinion–a conviction so divorced from reality and contrary to all available evidence– as quasi-religious. However we characterize such departures from reality, however, we need to understand that those who cling to these beliefs are unmovable. Time spent arguing with them, or showing them evidence to the contrary, is time wasted.

The only way Democrats will win elections in 2024 is by voting in sufficiently large numbers. Poll after poll shows that large majorities of voters agree with Democratic policy positions, and that rational Americans outnumber the true believers.  The problem is: far too many of the inhabitants of the real world–for one reason or another–fail to vote.

We don’t need to waste time trying to convert the denizens of never-never land. We need to put all of our efforts into getting out the vote.


  1. Democrats seem to be the only party capable of governing America, but at the same time the (neo- republicans) have captured the media, and the center stage before Americans.
    And yet the neo-republicans have no policy, no platform, only revenge, mass firing of our human public service workers, destroying our structure of law and order. The fall of the GOP’s common sense is no more.
    What worries me about a Trump Presidency is, pRemember Trump does not need the military he has hundreds of thousands heavily armed militia ready to carry out his orders to extract his vengeance against citizens and illegals by just deputizing them and pardon any action that may take.

  2. Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.
    M. Scott Peck
    It is especially hard for MAGA Christians.
    This world is full of demons and even worse Democrats.
    Ignore the True Believers and the Socially / Politically diseased.

  3. This reminds me of the Republican stance on “Obamacare:” they are against it. It’s dogma; a case study of this problem. However, if you just ask them about various small features of the policy (without mentioning Obamacare specifically), they are generally for all of them. 🙂 It’s much like the reaction to individual ideas surrounding firearm reform. By large margins, people favour them.

    In any case, I suspect the “backfire effect” is the most common reaction. Presentation of evidence may be done calmly and with good will, but it’s not argument to them; it’s an attack. And the typical reaction to an attack is to harden one’s defences. Faux constantly tells them any cognitive dissonance they feel is our side trying to dishonestly and sneakily undermine their worldview, so it’ll lead to the same result: hardened defences.

    Unfortunately–and I truly hate it–discussion and argument are not feasible.

  4. I would add to this message to GOTV, that a vote for a third party is the same thing as voting for MAGA.
    As important as voting for Biden is to vote D down ballot. The President needs a Congress that will work with him to restore democracy.

  5. We need a list of key words that trigger the Christian right, if we’re going to talk to them at all. FYI, I’m one of those who fear November 2024, regardless of who wins. Unless tfg is defeated by a landslide, he’s liable to deny the result and call out “his people” to try again. I’m afraid many people would be dead or injured, all to stroke the ego of a narcissistic sociopath.

  6. Those of us who live among the ‘true believers in never never land’ (ie: rural America) are counting on those of you in the cities and urban areas to get people to voting booths.

  7. Nancy. Remember that rural votes for President count just as much as urban votes. There are never Trumpers in even the reddest areas. Please try to connect with them and encourage them to vote.

  8. Yeah, but 25% of Americans will believe almost anything. Big Foot, ghosts, lizard people running the world… they all get 25%. Might as well ad “all republican” beliefs to that list while we’re at it.

  9. Well, we’ve analyzed the intellectual dwarfs again. True believers have failed to exploit the elasticity of their brains and reverted to the lower reaches of fear and basic survival.

    Bottom line: We can’t survive with a government of intellectual dwarfs like Greene, Gaetz, Boebert, Gosar, et. al.. Vote them all back to their narrow-minded closets.

  10. Reality, opinions, lies.

    That’s what humans tell each other.

    Education is the only vaccine against getting misled in life.

  11. @James Todd – Your last sentence is so true – “The President needs a Congress that will work with him to restore democracy.”

    If GOPs have a majority in either chamber, we can see from these past two years in the House, that NOTHING good will be accomplished. Instead, we will only get more shrill, angry posturing, and an even bigger avalanche of lies from the MAGA-ruled Republicans.

    Everyone who is not part of the cult MUST vote blue in every race, especially for President Biden.

  12. @Pete – I agree that education is essential to a well-informed populace able to make intelligent (or at least sensible) voting decisions. Very important to bring back civics classes in both elementary school, and again in high school as part of graduation requirements; include studying the Constitution and taking the US citizenship exam. Itʻs ridiculous that so many Americans are less knowledgeable about their own country than Naturalized US Citizens.

  13. For the most part, people do not vote for “policies”; they vote by emotion. An exception is when policies are on the ballot, such as abortion constitutional amendments. This will not be the case in most places this November.

    We are more and more a culture of “emotion”. Think about the mass engagement in a movie, Barbie, or a singer, Taylor Swift. This is Trump – not Biden. Biden is the embodiment of the institutions (especially politicians, especially DC) that hold little trust.

  14. Sharon – those of us that are active in the local D party have worked hard for years to connect with the people you mention and we also work to register voters. However, many, if not most, of them don’t bother to show up at the voting booth.

    Please don’t make suggestions about how we just need to work harder to reach people because we are basically worn out. No matter how hard we work and no matter how hard D candidates work, the Rs win by 70+% every election.

  15. Peggy — I agree totally with your assessment.

    And it is not a new phenomena — it’s happened many times, world-wide. We are are not immune from the perils of human evil. So get ready, people — it won’t be pretty.

    And Sharon — go back and read Nancy’s comment again. You misinterpreted it.

    An Nancy — you can help from your rural setting — by phone banking, post card writing, etc. Google it.

  16. From the get-go “…untethered from reality,’ brings images of “1984” and the supposedly unceasing war the gov’t was fighting.
    In HCR’s new book she details how the use of emotion on the part of the R strategists has been intentionally used…to such great effect. It is no secret that this is the tactic that has been used by authoritarian demi-gods for a lot g time.
    In her book, HCR posits the idea that the country’s “Awakening” began when tfg presented the upside-down bible in Lafayette Square.
    As Voltaire said, and I keep going back to, one can not reason another out of a position/belief that he/she was not reasoned into, in the first place. The True Believers have it all on faith, however they got there.
    Vote you asses off, and, yes, not for 3rd party spoilers!

  17. If you live in a very conservative rural area, there is something else at work too. If all you see are Trump election signs, if all the local leaders are conservative Republicans, if all your family and friends despise Democrats, if nearly all the local churches are Evangelical, and if you don’t personally know anyone who is anything else, then giving up the MAGA lies will make you a pariah in all your social circles.

  18. Lester is on to something. We in the past have been “voters of our pocketbook,” but with the advent of Trump who has successfully substituted and personalized poor me tactics for policy we have millions voting for “how wronged I have been” as a governing philosophy demonstrated by a party which has no platform. The coming election is from a Republican viewpoint not about WHAT policies one party or the other will select (other than tax cuts); it is about WHO will govern, aka a power play.

    There were once vigorous debates of policies by politicians vying for your vote. No more. We now do not even agree on what the Madisonian design of government was intended to accomplish, and dismiss such pretended design as institutional haze or mere “politics.”

    Yes, Biden is an institutionalist, and a good one, but if we are to choose our governors based upon emotion we will get what we vote for, as we did in 2016, a psychopath who is busily destroying Madisonian democracy in favor of what? Emotion and tax cuts for those who keep them in power? This is a far cry from the comprehensive policy details FDR outlined in his New Deal, a plan that brought us from the depths of the Great Depression to forty years of unparalleled growth ended by Ronald Reagan and his tax cuts who, parenthetically, is one of Nikki Haley’s heroes.

    I like to think more than emotion is involved in the choices of our governors, but today’s Republicans in thrall of Trump and sans a platform leave me (as an institutionalist) little choice but to agree. To do > Save our democracy from authoritarianism – at all costs.

  19. Nancy – something that my group has been successful with…”peer-to-peer” campaigning. Find a few local conservative non-MAGA/unaffiliated folks who are respected in your area (eg. business leaders, non-profit leaders, education leaders, faith leaders and who are sympathetic to the importance of non-MAGA voting. Ask them to reach out to their “rolodex” via email/phone/text/etc. with that message in their own words and with the P.S. for those they contact who agree to do the same thing.

  20. Gerald and all – it is tricky to make people get “emotional” about Biden, so we must make this NOT about Biden. It must get “personal” about what might happen to everyday people/lives should MAGA take over. The examples must be scary, but not nazi, and involve impacts on kids/grandkids, social security, etc..

  21. Nancy. I apologize if I misinterpreted your post. I reread it and am not sure how I gave offense, but I meant none. I, too live in a rural area but know I am not alone out here in my support for Democrats.

  22. Kathy M – please read my 9:24 comment where I mentioned that those of us who are already active in the party don’t need suggestions for what we can do to work even harder than we already work. Working hard for the D party in a rural area is exhausting and the last thing we need is for someone to suggest we do things that we already do.

    There are quite a few commenters on this blog that seem to never miss an opportunity to tell others what kind of activities/work they should be doing to help D candidates get elected. Instead of assuming that we aren’t doing anything other than spending our time reading this blog, how about telling those of us who are already very active and working hard for the D party and candidates exactly what work You are doing to help the party and candidates?

  23. Lester – we have been doing that locally for a the past several elections. The area I reside in is far too infested with maga creatures.

    To those of you on this blog that seem to think it is your right and duty to instruct other readers/commenters on what they should be doing to get more D votes, when are you going to realize that you are preaching to the choir?

  24. Nancy – WADR, you and (likely) those you are working with are DEMs and/or “libs” in the mind of the rural GOPers. As I stated, those are NOT the folks to be contacting non-MAGA GOP and/or uncommitteds who dislike both parties (and likely are unenthused about Biden. Just trying to help…

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