5 Common Trump Stories That Are Based On Junk Science
Many of us take pride in being all about logic, science, and skepticism, and also kind of hate Donald Trump. This combination has created a booming market for headlines and studies that insist they have scientific evidence that everyone who disagrees with us is, scientifically, shit. But junk science is still junk even if it supports your ideas. So let's hold ourselves to a higher standard and note that ...
No, You Can't Psychoanalyze Trump Supporters Via Polls
We believe that only total morons could've voted for Trump, and now we apparently have proof. "Yale psychiatrist explains how devotion to Trump is based on emotional patterns most people grow out of by age five" went viral, and the headline says it all. You know it's credible because it has the word "Yale" in it. If that's not enough to sway you into retweeting while commenting "This" or "Duh," there have been big stories on how Trump appeals to voters who want authoritarian rule, that the men who voted for him are "secretly insecure about their manhood."
Let's take a closer look at the juiciest of those, the insecurity one. That was widely shared (or more accurately, a headline about it was, usually with some sort of snarky comment), but how did this study arrive at that conclusion? Well, terms like "erectile dysfunction" and "hair loss" were more prevalent in areas that voted Trump, and those terms are associated with fragile masculinity ... based on The Washington Post's survey of 300 anonymous men looking to make beer money on Amazon Mechanical Turk.
If you're really trying to psychoanalyze the relationship between millions of Americans and a complicated subject like masculinity, that approach is about as representative as augury. Maybe people searching for "Viagra" are just, you know, old? Voters 65 and over swung for Trump, and while I'm sure that their views on masculinity could stand to be modernized, searches for "testosterone" probably say more about someone's health concerns than their foreign policy stance. The Post did mention the limitations of their study ... at the very end, after you'd already skimmed the first paragraph and posted to Facebook alongside a joke about how Trump voters can't get it up.
Any headline that claims to have unearthed the deep-seated psychological roots of Trump support via a poll is by nature bullshit. If an expert wants to uncover immature emotional patterns or innate submission to authority figures in a population, they'd need to actually go in-depth with those individuals, one on one, over time. That is, if the goal was to actually study them and not just toss out spiteful red meat for people eager to see them put in their place. But that brings us to how ...
Trump Can't Be Diagnosed With A Mental Illness By People Who Have Never Met Him
OK, so we can't draw any sweeping conclusions about Trump's supporters, but Trump himself is a certifiable lunatic, right? Just look at what he says and does. One psychologist and former Johns Hopkins professor thinks it's obvious, arguing that Trump is maybe "on the boundary of psychosis and reality." In a interview as terrifying as it was full of viral potential, he made the case that Trump is a "malignant narcissist," "antisocial," and a man who will "do anything to get and keep power."
Elsewhere, a psychiatrist opined that Trump can't be trusted with nuclear weapons. (Remember those couple of weeks when we were all terrified that Trump was going to start a nuclear war with North Korea, and then it dropped out of the news cycle completely?) Here's a letter to The New York Times from 35 mental health professionals concerned about Trump. Here's a former Harvard professor of psychiatry calling Trump a sociopath. Here's a psychiatrist saying, "Yes, we should be scared," because Trump is infantile, tyrannical, and incapable of love (and is erotically fixated on his daughter and has a fascination with feces, burn).
All of those stories went viral because they justify our immense loathing of Trump with some vague form of science. But one story that didn't get frantically shared was of a psychiatrist who helped write the DSM explaining how wildly irresponsible it is to diagnose someone you've never met with a mental illness. If you want to criticize Trump, criticize him for his cruel policies and awful behavior, not by using his body language to lump him in with people who are certifiably ill. It's no more conductive to stopping Trump's policies than calling him fat. It's just a thin veneer of credibility to make name-calling feel intellectual.
This isn't a new phenomenon, by the way. Psychiatrists have the "Goldwater rule," which states that it's unethical, and also idiotic, to diagnose a public figure they've never personally examined. That rule was put in place after the 1964 presidential election, when the magazine Fact polled psychiatrists about whether Barry Goldwater was fit for office, then ran a cover that screamed "1,189 Psychiatrists Say Goldwater Is Psychologically Unfit To Be President!" Then Goldwater successfully sued Fact for libel, because the headline was about as accurate as publishing "1,189 Proctologists Say Goldwater Has Stick Up Ass!"
"Trump Anxiety Disorder" Isn't A Thing
Living under the Trump presidency sucks. Every day it seems like some terrible new thing happens while Trump does something outrageous solely to anger and sadden his critics. It's no wonder that psychologists are now seeing patients suffering from Trump Anxiety Disorder -- anxiety induced solely by having to live in the hellworld Trump is creating.
The symptoms are "increased worry, obsessive thought patterns, muscle tension and obsessive preoccupation with the news," which you may recognize as applicable to everyone reading this. Maybe you're worried about your career, or that we're all going to die. Whatever Trump is making you fret about, it's ruining everything from friendships to sex lives. How can you even be justified in focusing on anything but Trump? Don't you care about the fate of the nation?!
Meanwhile, we have stories of individual therapists seeing more patients, a phenomenon explained with rationale like "Authority figures represent the parent, [so] President Trump seats [sic] in the seat of parent for all Americans. So now, my 'father figure' is a bully, is an authoritarian who doesn't believe in studying and doing homework." Sounds vaguely credible. You certainly don't like thinking about Trump, so there must be some truth to this.
The truth is that anxiety is on the rise, but before Trump, the cause was attributed to lingering effects from a recession and the poor mental health services available to many Americans. The WHO was studying anxiety as a growing problem before Trump even showed up on the scene. Hell, we even wrote about it months before Election Day.
Trump may be a factor, but so are concerns about the economy, housing, health, and everything else that makes up the complicated morass of modern life. Genetics and loneliness contribute too. Blaming it all on Trump is part of the problem, because it spreads the idea that if we just get rid of him, we'll all be happy again.
But if you are anxious -- really, clinically anxious, not just "I don't like reading about this jerk" anxious -- there is no quick fix. If Trump returned to his home planet tomorrow, all of the infinite other sources of stress will still be there, and you'll still have to figure out how to deal with them.
Trump Can't Be Solely Blamed (Or Credited) For The Economy
Every personal opinion about Trump aside, the man is clearly terrible for the economy. The professionals are saying as much, with worrying stories about Trump being "bad for the economy" and even an "economic traitor." His "impulsiveness" and "vanity" could tank America, and once he's done destroying us, he could "derail" the entire planetary market. Trump's claims to the contrary are nothing but more of his nonsensical bluster. We're lucky we haven't reverted back to a barter economy.
Oh, but just a few months prior to all those stories of doom and gloom, Trump apparently deserved some credit for turning the economy around. He had "set economic growth on fire," and was the "unsung hero of the world economy," which you probably only heard about if those stories were forwarded to you by your grandma. Even today, we're told that while voters don't like Trump, they like his economy. Of course, according to experts, the real credit for a booming economy goes to policies introduced by Obama ... unless you prefer to read the other experts who insist that actually, we really do have Trump to thank.
So the economy is doing great, unless it isn't, and it's all because of Obama, unless we should really be crediting/blaming Trump. Does that clear things up?
In reality, economies are hugely complicated beasts, and they can be measured in all sorts of different ways to make a president look good or bad. The president, in fact, has much less power over the economy than people think, and the impact they do have can't truly be analyzed until years or even decades after they're out of office. Remember, the economy is global. Your financial fortunes are partly decided by events in China, Europe, and other places that Trump not only doesn't control, but may not understand or even know about.
There Is No Single Definitive Reason That Trump Won
Immediately after Trump's election, the narrative was that he was carried to power on the backs of poor white Americans frustrated with their economic lot in life. But a recent study swept aside that bullshit with the obvious truth: Trump voters are a bunch of well-off sexists and racists! Trump voters were terrified that white men would no longer be relevant in a changing America, and they voted accordingly. This study went viral because it vindicated what every Trump critic had been insisting for years: His supporters are bitter, hateful people motivated by spite and rage, and now we have the data to prove it.
Except another study associated Trump's victory with declining health in rural areas. A third attributed the results to fake news demonizing Clinton. A fourth said that Trump appealed to authoritarian tendencies. A fifth placed the blame solely at the feet of third-party voters. Remember that narrative, that your one hippy friend who voted for Jill Stein was somehow responsible for throwing America into four years of darkness and should be thrown under the bus accordingly?
You see the obvious problem here. Five different studies each naming one definitive reason that Trump was elected can't all be correct. Voter behavior is in fact often irrational, often contradictory, and always complicated. Lots of people voted for Trump because they just always vote Republican (the opposing candidates will count on some blind party support too). Lots of people voted for one reason and then lied to pollsters about it later. Lots of people didn't have any single clear reason in mind, but came up with one when a pollster asked the right leading question.
The problem is that polls just record answers, they don't read minds, and society would look a lot different if something like racial resentment was that easy to detect and quantify. Only a small fraction of these people march with swastikas, and many of the ones who are racists don't think of themselves that way. If you're interested in actually winning the next election, you have to deal with, for example, the six million or so voters who voted Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016 ... and the fact that they had about six million different reasons for doing so.
Stories that try to boil this all down to a simplistic battle between the good/rational and the hateful/deranged make for entertaining reading, but judging our information purely by how much it entertains us is terrible for the world. That will be true no matter who wins in 2020.
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