Confirmation Bias and President Trump


A few weeks ago I wrote about the tendency to ignore facts and accept our preconceived ideas regardless of evidence to the contrary, a phenomenon known as “confirmation bias”. We all tend to fall in to that trap, but that tendency has never been more clear than  among those who continue to support President Trump in spite of all his paradoxical and contradictory behavior. And yes I do know that this is fairly common among supporters of the political class and it was absolutely true of President Obama’s supporters, but in my opinion the supporters of the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have taken it to a new level. To be clear before I begin, I WANT President Trump to be successful. To wish otherwise is unpatriotic and counterproductive. And remember that the title of this blog is “Fiercely Independent” because I take great pride in my independence.

I absolutely understand why people voted against Hillary Clinton and I discussed that issue a few weeks back. I voted against Secretary Clinton in the primaries, choosing instead to support a Republican candidate even though I disagreed with him on a large number of policy issues. And on election day I held my nose when I voted for Secretary Clinton. I wished with all my heart other options had been available.

What I cannot understand is how about 35-40% of the population still offer unyielding support for President Trump. It appears that his main goal was winning the election and that he had absolutely no idea what actually holding the office would require. Of course I thought things he said before and during the campaign were offensive enough to warrant rejecting him as a candidate. Mocking a handicapped reporter, bragging about molesting women, refusing to release his tax returns (which he promised to release later but now refuses), referring to a reporter’s menstruation period to explain her challenging questions during the debate, stating that John McCain was not a war hero because his plane was shot down and he was captured (stated by a man who avoided Vietnam with college and medical deferments), mocking the Muslim family of a son who died serving our country, the scandal over the failed Trump University, hinting that returning soldiers with PTSD might be weak, stating again that he was not sure President Obama was a natural born citizen (he finally did admit that fact later), bragging that he could kill someone and still not lose supporters, saying that Mexico sends rapists across the border, and criticizing a federal judge who just happened to have a Spanish sounding name as a “hater of Donald Trump” were all good reasons to reject Donald Trump as a candidate. I would add that as a candidate he was on his third wife, he had been unfaithful to the previous two, and he bragged about sleeping with other men’s wives.  And before you say something about Bill Clinton, any students taking my classes in the mid 1990’s and any friend from that time will remember that I offered scathing criticism of President Clinton’s inexcusable infidelity and I did not vote for his reelection. I’m pretty darned consistent on that issue.

And, by the way, this is only a partial list of his gaffes and failures. I’m not even going in to President Trump’s previous unethical business dealings.

But perhaps the expectations I have for my presidents are just too unrealistic. Probably so. In the end I had to choose between someone with experience but who had made numerous mistakes in her public life and someone who was totally uninformed, unethical, inexperienced, and who offered not one single concrete policy idea.

I wonder how many of the 40% still offering strong support for President Trump would have been as forgiving of President Obama (and remember that I also did not vote for him) if he had said or done even one of the things I listed above or if, after becoming president, President Obama:

  • Was unable to push one piece of legislation through Congress in his first three months even though his party controlled both houses. Remember that candidate Trump  promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act on his first day?
  • Had said things like “nobody knew that health care was so complicated”.
  • Had accused his predecessor (George Bush) of wiretapping his phones.
  • Had filled his administration with corporate executives and lobbyists (almost all of whom were men) after promising he would  “drain the swamp”.
  • Complained that he missed his former life after being in office less than 100 days.
  • Had spent about $3 million of the taxpayers’ money every weekend by flying to one of his private properties while proposing budget cuts to agencies serving the poor. President Trump has spent more than $80 million in travel just in the first three months in office. He criticized Obama for traveling at the taxpayers’ expense but is far outpacing the former president’s travel expenditures.
  • Had played golf nineteen times during his first 100 days after criticizing his predecessor for doing just that.
  • Had refused to turn over documents related to the relationship his first national security adviser (Michael Flynn) had with Russia thus delaying an FBI investigation.
  • Had a daughter whose company received trademarks from China on the same day he met with the president of China.
  • Had supported a healthcare bill that would have harmed a large number of the people who voted for him.
  • Made money off his weekend taxpayer-funded travels by having guests stay in his private resorts.
  • Had reversed positions on China, the wall (thank goodness; it is a silly idea), NATO, the Paris Climate Accords, and more.
  • Embraced dictators and despots such as Egypt’s el-Sisi, Turkey’s Erdogan, and Duterte from the Philippines while offending traditional allies like Australia and Britain.
  • Tweeted incessantly about being mistreated by the media, his predecessor’s failures, bragging about his IQ (a certain sign of insecurity), etc.
  • Signed 25 or 30 executive orders after criticizing his predecessor for bypassing Congress using such orders.
  • Confused Andrew Jackson as a president relevant to The Civil War and actually said people have never considered that war’s causes. There are only about 10,000 books on the subject but reading is also hard.

I somehow doubt most current supporters of President Trump would have forgiven President Obama even one of these failings, and that is the definition of confirmation bias.

Yes, President Trump has had successes such as the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice, bombing a Syrian airstrip in response to their horrid treatment of their own citizens, and installing possibly the most intelligent and thoughtful national security team of all time. He has also fulfilled a few other campaign promises.  I’d still say the gaffes and mistakes far outweigh the successes.

We need meaningful tax reform. We need meaningful healthcare reform. We need meaningful infrastructure funding. We need so much more but those needs will never be met until the country’s leader learns to focus and installs good advisers around him and listens to them.

By now I’m sure diehard supporters of President Trump have stopped reading this and have unfriended me on Facebook (it won’t be the first time since I started this blog). I encourage civil response to the evidence presented here, but it cannot be “well at least we don’t have Clinton or Obama”. I understand concerns my fellow citizens have about those Democrats, but that in no way justifies blindly supporting our current president. And the response also cannot be “well…we need a change” because I absolutely agree. We just need thoughtful and constructive change.

The only way President Trump will change is if people STOP ignoring his failures and his approval ratings fall even further. He thrives on support and approval. Why else would he still be holding large public rallies after winning the election or giving almost everyone who visits the Oval Office a copy of the electoral college map while ignoring the fact that he lost the popular vote by a large margin.

I’m not very optimistic about the next four years, and many Republicans are very nervous about the 2018 Congressional elections because their current leader is hurting their chances for reelection. It won’t be long before his own party begins running away from him.

NOTE: There are only a couple of linked sources because research wasn’t required to compose this post. If you find that anything I posted is false I will accept responsibility and apologize.