Quick Tips for Evaluating a New Story

Since clearly a lot of people are struggling to differentiate between reliable news and bullshit, let’s talk about something called a primary source. You can think of a primary source as original documentation. So if I’m studying Abraham Lincoln’s relationship with Mary Todd, letters between them would be a primary source. A book written about their relationship which quotes those letters would be considered a secondary source. The further removed from the original documentation your information source is, the less reliable it is considered to be. (And for my friends in academia who are sputtering right now, yes this is an incredibly reductionist, simplistic explanation. Wipe up your spittle.)

The same basic idea can be applied to the information we get from the news. The closer to the actual event the report is, the more accurate it will be. For example, if you want to get a feel for what’s happening at a protest, unedited video from a facebook live feed is more trustworthy than edited video presented in a cable news story. It’s also more reliable than official police reports. If you want to know what white supremacists are saying about Donald Trump, going to their websites and reading their endorsements and statements is more reliable than reading a story which describes what they are saying. An unedited interview is better than an edited interview (although probably more boring) and an edited interview is better than a report of the interview. Reading an official statement is better than reading the story about the statement. So on and so forth.

A good news story will provide links to this sort of primary source material. Be suspicious of any news story which provides links to other stories about the material rather than to the material itself. Also pay attention to when quoted material contains elipses (” . . . “). This means that there are words which got left out and you should find the original statements before trusting what you are reading. When you do get to the source material, be sure to pay attention to how it was edited by your news source and if the source material has been accurately represented. If you take the time to do these things, that will let you know how trustworthy the information you are getting is regardless of whether the news source itself is biased one way or the other. Biased news sources are perfectly capable of reporting accurate information because facts do remains facts, regardless of the filter they are passed through.

This whole thing where people refuse to accept facts because they are being reported by what they think is a biased news source is ridiculous and making us all dumber. Stop it. You look like an idiot when you do it. And don’t watch cable news. Ever. For any reason. Not even a little. Not even with the sound turned down. Not even when you’re on the treadmill at the gym. Cable news is terrible and exists to serve the devil.

Trump’s Responsibility to Avoid the Appearance of All Kinds of Evil

A few years back, I looked out the window and saw my then 6 year old daughter riding her bike in the driveway while my tweenaged son ran after her, swinging a baseball bat at the back tire of her bike. My daughter was laughing while my son wore an angry scowl on his face as he just missed the back tire of her bike. Since this isn’t actually the sort of behavior we encourage in the Trotter household, I immediately called to my son to stop and come explain himself to me.

He came over and assured me that they were just playing and he was being very careful not to actually hit his sister or her bike. He explained the he had worked out the timing of his swings so that he could make his fake baseball bat attack look realistic without running the risk of actually hitting her. Being a tweenager, the possibility of error or accident hardly existed in his mind, of course. So far as he was concerned, there was nothing to worry about because he was actually being very careful as he staged his faux “I’m going to beat my sister with a baseball bat attack”.

Rather than focusing on the safety issue, I pointed out something rather obvious to him: if he is deliberately creating the false impression that he is trying to beat his sister with a baseball bat, how does he suppose anyone who sees him will react? Will they say, “hey, look at that kid with amazing timing and gross motor skills playing harmlessly with that little girl”? Or will they say, “oh my gosh, it looks like that kid’s trying to kill that little girl with a baseball bat!”

I could see a little light bulb going off in his head. I pointed out that his father, who has PTSD from growing up in a violent home where people actually had been hit with baseball bats from time to time, would have had an automatic, unthinking and extreme reaction to the sight of his son swinging at baseball bat at his sister. Which was unlikely to turn out well for any of us. More lightbulbs.

I pointed out to him that being safe is important, of course, but it’s not the only issue for him to concern himself with. He needed to be aware of how he appeared to people who may not even know him. You can’t expect people to see someone engaged in behavior which has every appearance of being dangerous, aggressive and violent and not react as if that person was dangerous, aggressive and violent. In fact, it would be irresponsible for someone who witnessed an adolescent kid swinging a baseball bat at a 6 year old to assume the best about the situation or wait to evaluate what’s going on before responding. It was his responsibility, I explained, not just to be safe, but also not to engage in behaviors which will cause alarm and panic in people who witness them.

Obviously this issue hadn’t been on his radar, but as I explained it to him, he caught on because even a tweenager can understand this pretty simple basic idea. Don’t create the impression that you are dangerous or people will respond to you as if you are dangerous and when they do, it will be your error, not theirs.

Unfortunately, it seems that many Trump supporters are no more aware of this concept than my son was prior to our conversation. They believe that the onus is on Trump’s critics to give him a chance and view those of us who are responding to Trump as if he is dangerous as paranoid and overreacting. They think it’s ridiculous that we won’t just wait and see what happens before jumping to the conclusion that Trump is dangerous. They are certain that Trump isn’t dangerous so, like my son who knew that he wasn’t actually going to hit my daughter or her bike with a baseball bat, it seems not to have occurred to them that this isn’t the only thing that matters about the situation.

There’s a reason the bible says to avoid the appearances of all kinds of evil. People aren’t required to wait for definitive proof to respond to the appearance of evil. If you aren’t dangerous and evil, it shouldn’t be that hard to take some responsibility for not creating the impression that you are dangerous and evil. Unfortunately, Trump seems to be going out of his way to create the appearance of all kinds of evil while his supporters act incredulous that anyone would think the man is actually dangerous.

But of course, in the real world, if you’re not racist, you don’t choose the leader of a flagrantly racist white nationalist movement to be your closest adviser and you don’t appoint a man known for his racism and opposition to civil rights to run the department charged with enforcing civil rights. If you’re not a tyrant in the making, you don’t continually threaten to sue and shut down the press when their reporting doesn’t please you. If you’re not a wealthy leach looking to enrich himself, you don’t refuse to release your tax records or take appropriate measures to eliminate conflicts of interest. If you are ethical, you don’t refuse to cooperate with the ethics oversight or threaten the person in charge of ethics oversight with investigation if he criticizes you. If you’re not a conman you don’t deny saying things you literally just said and lie continually.

I could go on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on, but I think you get the point. Even if Trump really and truly is a good guy who wants to do right by the country, the fact remains that at every step of the way, Trump has been behaving exactly the way a dangerous, racist, unethical, despot rising to power behaves. It is not the responsibility of the public to withhold judgment when they witness something which appears dangerous. It is the responsibility of Trump to avoid creating the impression that he is dangerous. And it is both wrong and ridiculous for Trump supporters to continue to insist otherwise. Just because they are fools doesn’t mean the rest of us are obliged to follow suit.

Why Discussion and Reasoning Have Failed

Want to know why communicating with people on the other side has become so difficult? Well, everyone focuses on the outrageous things Rush Limbaugh says, but if you listen to his show, you can see that underneath all the nonsense, what he’s doing is teaching people the dirty tricks of rhetoric and debate. He’s been showing his listeners how to trip people up with manufactured double binds, sentences crafted to allow you to believe something other than what is being communicated, gaslighting, diversion, red flags and other tactics which are used to turn communication into a weapon for dominance.

Which leads us to the core conflict that many people seem to have missed. The issue is that Trump supporters and the radical right are playing a power game, pure and simple. The rest of us are out here talking about issues, right and wrong, what’s best for the country, etc and can’t figure out why things like facts, morality and reality don’t mean anything to these people. Well, that’s because they are concerned with dominance, period, amen, end of story. Their dominance has been threatened by the rest of us and they want it back. There’s really nothing more to it than that.

Obviously, this is a big problem that we’re going to be working to change for a while, but in the meantime I for one am done playing this game where I try to reason with people whose only real concern is maintaining the dominant position. Aren’t you tired of playing the game? What’s going on in the world is not a game. We aren’t moving chess pieces on a board to determine who gets to be dominant. It’s bullshit.

If you’re tired too, just stop playing. Stop explaining every freaking thing you say, answering every objection and taking the bait for every diversionary red flag. Refuse to engage unless they are willing to do in a genuine way and not just with an eye towards domination. Because ultimately, this is how we beat their stupid, pathetic, childish game: you stop playing it with them.

Your Simple Act of Resistance for the Day – Friday, January 13th

Obviously there are an overwhelming number of unacceptable things going on, but I’m going to be trying to offer near daily, simple instructions for one act of protest/resistance that will take very little of your time. Today’s target is Marco Rubio. Sen. Rubio has indicated some reluctance to approve Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. Tillerson is a long time oil executive who has been given awardsby the Russian government. Further, during hearings on his nomination, he was blatantly dishonest regarding his company’s lobbying activities and attempts to influence government policy, including sanctions against Russia which interfered with a planned oil deal his company was seeking. If you are like me and believe that the oil industry and dishonest wealthy people are a good part of what’s gone wrong with this country, this is not someone you want as Secretary of State.

Marco Rubio is one Republican Senator who is on the fence regarding Tillerson. If he withholds approval of the nomination, that will delay but not necessarily stop him from being approved. But having a Republican lawmaker refuse to go along with Trump’s plans may create some cover for others to follow suit. So, today’s assignment is to contact Rubio and ask him to oppose the Tillerson nomination. There are three possible ways to do this:

  1. Call Rubio’s office at 202-224-3041. All you have to do is say, “I wanted to ask Senator Rubio to oppose the nomination of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. He is not suited for the job and an alternative should be found.” You do not have to give your name, but you will be asked to provide your zip code.
  2. You can send a message to Senator Rubio via Facebook saying the same thing.
  3. You can direct this tweet to Senator Rubio on Twitter:

@marcorubio Please do right by our country and #REJECTTILLERSON for the job of Secretary of Stat. The American people will stand behind you.

And one more thing you can do is pass this blog post on using the share buttons below.

Any of these will take you less than 5 minutes. I know that there’s a lot of noise right now, but don’t think your voice doesn’t count. A friend in a small state recently shared that she had called her Congressperson about an issue and the person answering the phone commented that they had gotten a lot of call about the issue. My friend’s call was # 18, in fact. 18. Your call will make a difference. We’re dealing with a situation where we have too many people railing on social media, but then not voting, not showing up and not speaking out to the people who need to hear our voices. Which is the grave mistake. We the people have lost control of our government and it is up to us to take it back. So . . . ready, set, go! We can do this!

 

Stop Arguments Online Like a Mom

My husband is completely convinced that there are Jews somewhere in my Polish lineage. Because three of my great joys in life are being thrifty, complaining and arguing. I tell him that this must mean that there are Jews somewhere in his Irish lineage. The Irish filtered out the cheap part, I explained. But he thinks it must come from somewhere around Ethiopia on his African side. Which would explain his reluctance to embrace the fine stereo-typically Jewish trait of thrift, that part of Africa being home to long lines of kings and priests and all.

So we wait with anxious anticipation to see if our children will inherit our likely fictitious Jewish heritage in rudely stereotypical ways. So far, the one thing we can say with absolute certainty is that 4 of the 5 have definitely have a love of arguing. Which could be genetic or could be a fulfillment of the mother’s curse – “I hope that one day you have children just like you!” (Don’t use the mother’s curse, btw. It’s not a nice thing to say to your children. You’re telling them you don’t like them. Unless you’re cursing them over things like repeatedly unrolling the toilet paper into the toilet. Then, you know . . . the universe understands. And so will your kid one day.)

Our kids are kind of strangely spaced. We had our first two 4 years apart, so they mostly argued with us instead of each other. In fact, my older son told me recently that when he was little he was convinced that his dad and I were the smartest people in the world. Because he’s very perceptive, of course. So he decided that if he could outsmart one of us, that would make him the smartest person in the world. So basically like Hollywood and award shows, he made up an award in his head that he intended to bestow on himself. And I was like, “wow. Your childhood is suddenly making much more sense to me now.”

But then we had two girls 17 months apart. Which is a fairly common spacing for kids, for reasons that I’m not sure entirely justify the actual experience of having two children 17 months apart. I mean, it has its positives, certainly. But it’s not without difficulties. As is to be expected when your body grows two little humans in parasite fashion so close together. But there are certain common relationship dynamics you see more often with children who are 17 months apart. In fact, once you know the signs, you can recognize children who are 16-19 months apart just by watching them out in public together. It’s true. On more than one occasion, I have approached a parent and correctly identified their children as about 17 months apart myself.

All you have to do is look for two children who are similar or the same size who will not stop arguing dramatically with each other and a parent who is just barely keeping them under control. Sure, all children argue, but kids 17 months apart seem to have a particular affinity for arguing incessantly. It’s a thing. And of course my daughters are Trotters, so they argue incessantly with great gusto, creativity and commitment.

I have literally witnessed conversations where they have all but come right out and said, “I’m bored. Would you like to argue with me?” To which the other responded with “sure! Let me say or do this incendiary thing that always gets you going! Will that work?”

Once, my middle daughter came to me in tears holding her little fist in front of her. She wailed, “Michaela broke my pretend pinwheel!”

I suggested that since it was a pretend pinwheel, she should pretend to fix the pinwheel. She scrunched up her little face with concentration and then announced (screamed) that she didn’t know how to fix it. It was still broken. So I suggested that she imagine herself a new one. Again, the concentration and then more tears. “Now it’s the wrong color!”

On many occasions I witnessed them arguing over who got more of the pretend soda or cookie or cake. These girls put their all into this shit. They don’t do it as often as they did when they were younger, but we’re expecting that to change when they hit their teens. It should be quite a show. Maybe we’ll put cameras all over the house and turn it into a show. Make it a pay-per-view thing. Pay for their college tuition.

As you can imagine, this incessant arguing can get old. Even for someone who can literally write essays with a small child sitting on her head. And because they’re Trotters, they are also extremely passionate. People can get hurt if it carries on too long. PTSD triggering screaming, hitting and bumping around may ensue. And sometimes someone does veer into out-of-bounds territory which is never pleasant or easy to recover from. Stopping them from arguing is impossible. I mean, kids need to have their fun too. But being able to consistently bring an argument to an end quickly, on demand, without escalating the situation or subjecting yourself to their bullshit is a necessity.

I have a super simple method for doing just that, even when your kids are incredibly stubborn (another stereotypical Jewish trait all Trotters share). Not only will it work on your kids (maybe. They’re all different, apparently), it can easily be modified work when dealing with arguments you’re invited to on social media. Here it is: I tell them to shut up. And then I make loud, ugly noises every time they continue trying to speak. And when they continue trying to argue, I chase them off, waving my arms wildly around them, in different directions, while making loud, ugly noises.

Eventually they harrumph and move on to doing something else that doesn’t involve arguing. Or they continue arguing with the air while exiling themselves to someplace where nobody has to hear them. And the whole time, I refuse to consider or reply to any of their arguments or attempts to turn me against their sister. Because I don’t care about their stupid argument, I just want them to shut up and I will not allow them to get a word in edgewise until they stop with the arguing. Completely.

So, how does this translate into arguments online? Well, your best bet is to ignore them; especially when you’re not directly involved in the disagreement already. Don’t go getting into arguments just because you can’t resist the urge to join in an argument. But when someone is insistent on arguing with you and you no longer believe that they are working in good faith or just don’t want to have to deal with stupid right then, make them shut up. Delete their comment if it’s on your wall. Refuse to be baited into responding. Don’t even engage with their arguments, which have been addressed many, many, many times before. Insult them and then turn off the notifications. Tell them you’re going to turn off the notifications before you do it too. Be so weird, obnoxious, rude or outrageous that they use your behavior as an excuse to disengage and shut up. Let them think you’re a jerk and a lunatic. Because let’s face it – we are dealing with people who think that good is bad and bad is good. So who cares what they think of you? It does get to the point where arguing is leading nowhere good AND you don’t really care about their stupid arguments. You just need them to stfu in your space.

And you know what? People who like to argue can take it. It’s not going to scar them for life if you’re rude or weird or just delete everything you can and ignore the rest. You’re dealing with full grown adults or at least people who are pretending to be full grown adults. I mean, yeah, it might seem rude to just make people shut up, unilaterally. But if they like to argue that much, they’ll probably just move on to complaining about you. It’s another of life’s great joys, after all. I always encourage my kids to complain about me with each other and to their friends. You should expect the complainers you deal with to do likewise. So, really, you’re doing the person who won’t stop arguing a favor by giving them something to complain to their friends about and bringing them closer together.

A Few Facts About That Press Conference Yesterday

As you have probably heard, Trump gave a press conference yesterday. Which is actually a very normal thing for presidents to do. Except Trump doesn’t engage in normal behavior. His conflict with a CNN reporter where he refused to take a question because he claimed that CNN is “fake news” got most of the headlines. Especially since he went straight from that to taking a question from a Breibart reporter. Just in case anyone was under the impression that Trump was actually concerned about fake news.

But this press conference had several other unusual features which I want to call attention to lest we miss the depth of what is going on while distracted by the spectacle.

First, Trump had staffers fill the back of the press room, forcing actual reporters to listen from the hallway. During the press conference, these paid staffers cheered and jeered on cue, much like the audience at one of his rallies would. Some of this may have been for the benefit of Trump who obviously enjoys having people who clap, cheer and holler at the sound of his voice. Some of this is part of his ongoing intimidation campaign against the press. Can you imagine trying to do your job while someone stood there jeering at you? And some of it is because many of his supporters are gullible and live in a bubble where Trump is victorious, admired and in the process of changing the world, so hearing the sound of cheers and jeers coming from a room of reporters will affirm their perception that Trump is winning everyone over. staff-clapping

Second, during the press conference, Donald Trump had a table piled with papers in folders next to the podium. He claimed that these folders contained the paperwork for every one of his companies to be put into blind trusts, thus addressing questions of conflicts of interest. Problem is that the folders and papers appeared to be blank. There were no page numbers, headers, notes or tabs of the sort which can be seen on the edges of real legal paperwork visible. And the papers were the wrong size for legal work; they were regular 8×11 papers rather than the standard legal paper used for such things. They didn’t even bother putting labels on the folders holding the “paperwork”. So it appears that the table was filled with blank sheets of paper shoved into folders and piled on a table rather than with actual paperwork. Which is rather apropos seeing as according to legal experts, the measures he announced don’t actually qualify as blind trusts, nor do they  do much to address conflicts of interest. So gaslighting and deception all around. 

Third, this press conference – the first one he’s held since last July – was scheduled for the same day as the Senate had scheduled hearings for SIX of Trump’s most questionable cabinet nominees AND on which the Senate was taking up bills repealing the Affordable Care Act. Oh, and the ethics committee responsible for running background checks and vetting the nominees haven’t been given the time or information they need to do their jobs yet. This is classic Trump. He throws so many things at the media at once, each more outrageous than the last, that they simply cannot keep up. There simply aren’t enough reporters to have someone covering all of these events at the same time. And really, even if there were enough reporters and they were able to report intelligently on each and every thing going on, the public doesn’t have the time, energy or attention to devote to all of it. Add in a rather spectacular outburst towards the media and you have a fail proof plan for making sure the public doesn’t know what’s going on. Unless they read The Upside Down World, of course. 😉

Why Donald Trump Talks the Way He Does – and Why It Works

Back in college, I made some halfway decent money selling high end knives in people’s homes. One of the perks of the job was that the company provided us with some pretty high quality training in sales, time management, motivation and the like. The managers were big fans of people like Tony Robbins, Dale Carnegie and Steven Covey and took turns giving talks sharing what they were learning from them with us. While the company’s business model was actually kind of bullshit, the training has served me well over the years.

Like at one of our training events, a manager explained that human beings have these things called mirror cells in our brains. And these mirror cells cause us to instinctively imitate each other. This is why small children imitate the people around them and why we are so susceptible to peer pressure – our brains are programmed and have special cells dedicated to the task of imitation. Further, these mirror cells are closely associated with empathy which in turn leads to bonding and a sense of closeness with another human being.

And then he explained a little trick which we could use to exploit this feature of human neurology/psychology in order to gain control of a situation with another person. If you match a person’s emotional energy levels, this tends to activate their mirror neurons. Because you’re mirroring their energy. Once you’ve done this, you have activated the brain’s automatic impulse to imitate and can actually lead the person into the emotional state you want them to be in. So if a person comes in panicking and you initial response is to match their state of panic, you can then gently de-escalate your own emotional energy to a calmer state and the person will usually instinctively follow your lead and calm down much more quickly than if you try to calm them down directly. It’s a nifty trick if you’re a decent person simply looking to help someone in distress, encourage someone or otherwise positively influence them.

Or you can, as my manager explained, use this trick to sell people knives. All you have to do is match their emotional energy and they will instinctively respond positively to you and more easily follow your lead. Nod when they nod, smile when they smile, mirror back their body language and everything in their instinctive brain will be telling them to like and trust you. The trick is particularly helpful when dealing with objections since you start by agreeing with the objection which is unexpected so any defense they have prepared will be sidestepped while the mirror reaction is activate. Then you can often lead them from that point of resistance to the point of saying yes.

Like I said, nifty trick. Unless you don’t actually want or can’t afford high end knives. Then you might think it’s a dirty trick. But probably not. People really hate to admit when they’ve been manipulated into acting against their best interests. So more often than not, customers who bought knives they didn’t actually want or couldn’t afford will set about justifying their decision to purchase knives to themselves and anyone who attempts to chastise them. They will recall the times they meant to start cooking more and decide that the knives are perfect for making that happen. They will admire the various features I pointed out to them and repeat the benefits I showed them to themselves while using them. In fact, everyone in the house will know why the handle is shaped the way it is because the person who bought them will tell anyone who will listen about it. They will push away any thoughts of the expense by reminding themselves that these knives are a once in a lifetime investment that they will use everyday if they actually start cooking like they always meant to. And they will remember all the items they wanted but didn’t purchase to assure themselves that they were actually quite restrained and frugal when in fact I had just sold a $70 knife to people who literally didn’t own furniture.

So what does this have to do with the way Donald Trump talks and why it works? Well, the thing is the dynamic I describe above is well known to most sociopaths. In fact, it’s a tactic that the most skilled of them uses at all times. People who have spent time close to or studied sociopaths often note that they seem to be acting all the time. The reason is that these people habitually mirror the emotional states of people around them in order to maintain their control over their interactions with them. Because there is literally nothing more important to a sociopath than being in control. Nothing. So they use this little hack to influence the people around them, except because they are sociopaths, they don’t really care if they are using it for good or ill. Their only objective is to cultivate their influence over others. Which will sometimes line up with what is actually good for the people around them and sometimes not. It doesn’t particularly matter to someone like Trump, just so long as he gets what he wants which is control.

Donald Trump talks the way he does because the point of his speech isn’t to convey information or make an argument. On occasion he may flirt with doing those things, but the real purpose of their speech is to activate those mirror neurons. He basically made a bet that he could use this strategy to gain the support of a particular type of person (what my husband calls the NASCAR nation – relatively affluent, proud redneck or wanna be redneck types who revel in being defiant). Yes, he’s telling them things they want to hear, but even more he’s reflecting their emotional state back at them and then manipulating it for his own purposes. Basically, the purpose of his speech is to create an emotional experience in the people he is speaking to.

The thing is that when we are “in our emotions”, our hippo-campus isn’t fully engaged. Our bullshit meter goes offline. Same thing with our problem solving skills. Our short term memory is altered, as is the process for creating long term memories. We are literally in an altered mental state at that point. So by basically pushing the buttons to put people into their emotions and then rambling in a way that makes it hard for his audience’s hippo-campus to find something to latch onto, he’s using a classic conman’s trick to gain control over his audience without them even realizing what happened.

And lest you think I’m exaggerating, making things up and attributing ill will to harmless behavior, I can personally testify to this effect. I’ve inadvertently done it myself with public speaking and training where have I caught myself momentarily rambling and not making sense and nobody even noticed. I would catch myself spewing out gibberish, talking in circles and look out into the audience and realize that no one looked confused or doubtful. And if I actually stopped and corrected myself, very few people would even remember the details of any of the rubbish I had just spouted. They were just on the emotional roller coaster I was creating for them.

Anyways, I think Trump has been practicing this form of manipulation for his own ends forever. Not everyone is prone to falling for it, but many people are. Those who are prone to falling for it think he’s a good guy because he makes them feel good. Those who aren’t think he’s a lunatic because he’s clearly talking gibberish. But those who are falling for it are in the same position that the people who didn’t actually want and couldn’t afford fancy knives were. They’re not going to admit that they’ve been emotionally manipulated. They’re busy shoring up their own evidence and justifications for what is the political equivalent of buying a $70 dollar knife while living in a house with no furniture.

And, it must be said that often the difference between those who are vulnerable to this kind of manipulation and those who aren’t lie in the types of buttons being pushed. One person is vulnerable to flattery and another is vulnerable to tough guy talk. Sociopaths are very good at recognizing the difference so they can push the right buttons with the right person. Trump went for easy targets whose foibles he understands quite well, but don’t be so sure that if he had decided that some other audience – possibly one that you belong to – would give him what he wanted, he wouldn’t have been able to do the same thing to them (or you).

So, how do you protect yourself from being manipulated by a sociopath (or a sales person) like Trump? First, you take signs that there’s something shady going on seriously rather than writing them off. Plausible deniability is the last refuge of the sociopath. They count on you ignoring red flags because you’re giving them the benefit of the doubt. So be sparing with the benefit of the doubt. People who genuinely deserve the benefit of the doubt are quite willing to provide evidence to support their claim to it. People who are trying to manipulate you will behave as if they are entitled to the benefit of the doubt. They will accuse you of being a bad person or uncharitable if you attempt to withhold it from them. Again, this is markedly different from how people who actually deserve the benefit of the doubt typically behave.

Second, get your own boundaries really clear in your head and don’t let yourself make excuses for walking past them. Be stubborn up front rather than on the back end after you’ve already fallen for some bull. For example, if you believe in equality, remain committed to equality even in the face of evidence which can be interpreted in such a way that it undermines equality. Trust that there is a better explanation for what you see than one which undermines equality. Give yourself credit and trust what your own judgment says when you’re not in the presence of someone who is trying to influence you. Which leads to my 3rd tip . . .

Don’t just tell yourself that you won’t fall for someone’s influence – you will. We are all susceptible at some level to influence. It’s part of our design – remember the mirror neurons? And it’s not a bad thing that we are able to be influenced by others. But get really clear on your own beliefs, values and principles so that once the thrall has worn off, you have a baseline you can return to. Once you’re back at your baseline, you can consider the arguments that made sense to you and adjust if appropriate. But you want to do that when you’re not “in your emotions” and your hippo-campus is fully engaged. (Interestingly, people who focus on social justice are less emotional in their thinking than people who are unmoved by injustice. So if you want to be sure you’re not just “in your emotions”, focus on helping those down the ladder from you. It will snap you out of it.)

As to what to do about those who have fallen for Trump’s mind games, well, they are likely beyond our influence, much less our control at this point. I’ll explain more on that later. They’re just not playing the same game that we are, so to speak. You can try the nifty trick of matching their emotions on them. It’s not fool proof. And everyone’s busy re-assuring themselves that they really did make a very good decision that they totally do not regret. But it does tap into something pretty innate in us. So it will likely work as well as anything else, although it does take some practice to do well.

“I am sending you out like sheep surrounded by wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” ~ Matthew 10:16

About Trump and That Disabled Reporter

So, odds are good that you’ve heard about actress Meryl Streep’s speech the other night where she said politically charged things like “disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.” OK, that’s not quite a fair depiction of the matter. Her speech actually did constitute an attack on Donald Trump. I didn’t watch the it, but I heard about it in real time from friends on Facebook who felt like she was speaking for them.

At the same time, the speech was given from a very particular perspective – that of someone ensconced in the entertainment industry, a world which works rather differently than the world which the rest of us live in. I have some of the same criticisms of the content of the speech as Trevor Noah. (“Don’t make your point by shitting on someone else’s thing.”) Of course, there was the expected backlash from people who resented “being lectured” by a Hollywood celebrity. But those folks were by and large the same people who voted for a reality TV star for president, so they can really just stfu now.

Anyways, Streep’s speech highlighted an incident from 2015 in which Donald Trump apparently mocked reporter Serge Kovaleski’s physical disability. True to form, Trump has insisted that he did no such thing and that the media was just being mean and unfair. Streep’s speech has lead to a resurrection of videos claiming to prove that Trump did not actually mock a reporter’s physical disability, one of which I’ll embed below.

Now, clearly I and a good number of other people have decided that it is necessary to take an oppositional stance to Trump, but obviously we don’t want to become monsters ourselves in the fight. So it’s wise to actually look at the evidence from the other side in order to avoid being dishonest or unfair in ways that amount to being unjust. So, let’s look at the evidence against the claim that Trump mocked a reporter’s physical disability and evaluate it. (Trigger warning: video of Donald Trump, including audio of his voice. My sincere apologies.)

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So here’s my take on the evidence, such as it is. First off, the mocking of the general from that same speech didn’t look remotely like the spastic display he put on when talking about the disabled reporter. The clip of him mocking Ted Cruz happened after Trump had already come under fire for apparently mocking a reporter’s disability and was probably him just creating cover for himself. The clip from 25 days before the incident in question bears only the vaguest resemblance to the incident in question. And the one from Larry King live (that they had to go back 11 years to find) is somewhat similar, but not nearly as animated as the incident in question. I’m thinking the fact that they have 3 clips from prior to the outrage, spanning over a decade’s worth of time is kind of the opposite of compelling evidence that Trump was not mocking a reporter’s disability.

However, even if we accept as an absolute fact that Trump occasionally imitates spasticity to mock people (including himself), there’s still the reality that a normal, decent person would not use that particular gesture to mock someone who actually suffers from spasticity. Ever. In fact, I’m pretty sure that people who suffer from spasticity would very much appreciate it if we’d stop using an imitation of their disability as visual short hand for “idiot”. If you really want to get down to it.

But even those of us who aren’t all that sensitive will still go out of our way not to create the appearance of mocking someone’s physical disability. And we’re horrified and embarrassed if we happen to do something which causes someone to think that we’re  mocking a person’s disability. It’s the sort of thing we have nightmares about doing. In fact, I knew a guy back in college who was born with a deformed arm and hand who would reach out to shake with that hand when he wanted to be a jerk just because he knew the person would be embarrassed by their own reaction. Because again, most of us put a lot of stock in the value of not appearing to make fun of someone’s physical disability.

So, did Donald Trump make fun of a reporter’s disability? I would say yes. But even if his defender’s arguments are 100% correct, the fact still remains that Donald Trump, true to form, does not behave anything like a normal, decent person behaves. Not even in situations with a really low bar like not using an imitation of spasticity when making fun of someone who suffers from spasticity. Duh.

Snowy Day Play

I love videos of animals playing. This one from the Oregon Zoo showing animals in the snow is particularly cute. Isn’t it weird how we’ve been indoctrinated to see animals as unthinking creatures, devoid of relationships and driven only by the instinct to eat and reproduce? Why do we even think that’s the sort of world God would create? Silly.

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Your Simple Act of Resistance for the Day

Going forward, I’m going to try and share one simple action with detailed instructions which you can take each day to push back against Trump and other politicians who are hell bent on destroying our country. Today’s action was passed on to me by a friend on facebook and all it takes is a tweet. In his press conference today, Donald Trump made the claim that the public doesn’t care about his tax returns. He claimed that only the press was concerned with such things and, contrary to what he said repeatedly, he has no plans on releasing his tax returns.

So, if you are one of the people who does care about Trump’s tax returns and you are on twitter, here’s your simple act of resistance for the day. Just copy and paste this tweet and send it:

Release your tax returns! I’m one of millions of American citizens who DO want to see your #taxreturns as you promised

And once you’ve done that, you should go ahead and follow me there too. My handle is @upsidedwnworld.