Jean Stimmell: The delusions of Trump supporters

For the Monitor
Published: 11/12/2020 6:20:09 AM

According to the Cleveland Clinic, a delusional disorder, previously called paranoid disorder, is a serious mental illness in which a person cannot tell what is real from what is imagined.

The main feature of this disorder is the presence of delusions, which are unshakable beliefs in something untrue.

Delusional disorders can be the result of genetic or biological factors but can also be caused by environmental or psychological stress.

Karl Jaspers, a ground-breaking psychiatrist, showed how stress, resulting from “shattering, mortifying” experiences can profoundly affect a person’s sense of reality.

It can’t be denied that the Donald Trump voter has been buffeted by a series of shattering and mortifying experiences. I am well aware that it is patronizing and patently unfair to generalize about any group of folks. But for this tongue-in-check piece, I am going to do exactly that.

I am going to call my generic Trump voter Ken, based on some Trump supporters I am familiar with. His good-paying job is gone, transferred overseas. He now feels humiliated by his loss of status, forced to compete with immigrants for menial, low-paying jobs to support his family.

Rather than being at least tolerated as one more spoke in the big wheel of diversity that liberals celebrate, he feels scorned as an untouchable.

Meanwhile, black and brown minorities, soon to be the majority of the United States, threaten what he considers to be his principal identity, that of a white man. Good-paying jobs in oil and coal are disappearing as the world shifts to renewables to combat the calamitous effects of unrestrained climate change.

Regrettably, Ken has been duped by Republican and fossil fuel industry propaganda to believe human-caused climate change is fake news propagated by the liberal media – in the same way he believes COVID-19 is a hoax.

Ken was feeling dizzy and unsure of himself, cheated out of the American dream in the midst of unprecedented social change he didn’t understand.

It was too much to handle, but just when things seemed most bleak, the ground shifted under his feet. His mind exploded like fireworks on the Fourth of July as a new vision lit up the sky – choreographed by Trump and his allies – with the promise of an alternative reality: A version of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, where everyone is white, straight, prosperous, and above-average.

His vision, of course, is a delusion.

Just as psychology is discovering that trauma can be collective as well as individual, so it is with delusions.

Due to social media, Trump folks can effortlessly find and join forces with like-minded folks on the internet, strengthening their delusion by a process we call confirmation bias until they have constructed their own world that appears realer than real.

Like children huddled around the campfire on a moonless night at Halloween, they tell scary stories to each other about the dreaded Democrat bogeymen, relentlessly creeping closer: immigrant rapists, rights-robbing socialists, Black thugs, and blood-soaked abortion doctors.

Strangely, through this process, at least in the short term, the Trump base has been able to set themselves free, blaming everything on the Democrats. They have nothing else to fear: Coronavirus and climate change don’t’ exist, just more Democrat fake news.

Ken can drive his big, gas-guzzling truck all he wants with no guilt. It’s like breaking your diet: now you can binge because you don’t care anymore.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe Trump’s loss will break through Ken’s delusion; after all, more folks voted for Trump this time around than in the last election, despite his pitiful performance.

What will it take? For Ken’s father to die of COVID-19, for his coastal town to disappear into the ocean?

A popular slogan among Trump voters for this election has been: “Make Liberals Cry Again!” Unfortunately, by the time the day of reckoning arrives that does crumble the Trump delusion, we will all be crying.

(Jean Stimmell is a semi-retired psychotherapist living with the two women in his life, Russet the artist and Coco the Plott hound, in Northwood. He blogs at

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