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  • Reverend James Squire

Trump, Lies, Adolescents and Peer Pressure

 Photo by Brett Jordan

I tuned in to the press conference given my Trump and Johnson to see how many lies were told. It is why a fact checker must be nearby whenever they make public declarations. But I also did it to address the larger question of why do people believe in the lies that are told by Trump and his minions?


Johnson indicated that there is a great deal of concern about non-citizens voting in elections. He was going to solve this serious problem. (This was done to remind people of the fiction that the 2020 election was stolen, and elections aren’t safe.) The conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, said that in our history of voting “there have been only 100 examples out of many millions” of this so-called major threat so it is another big lie. Johnson wanted to make an issue where no one was to be had.


Trump went on about the abortion issue which he is proud that he could make it happen by putting three conservative judges on the court. He said most of the American people are in favor of no abortions. He went on to say, “that even legal scholars support his view.” Nothing could be further from the truth on all his comments about that issue.


Trump went on to lie about his claim that his upcoming trial has been the work of the Biden Administration. There were other issues that fact checked as lies but it would be easier to indicate what is the truth about what he had said. That’s easy.  There are no examples.


But here is the issue. 70% of Republicans believe that Biden did not win the election to be President. That is a big disconnect from the reality of Biden’s winning.


As I taught in my ethics course, the truth shall set you free, but it may make you miserable in the short term. People fear the short-term consequences. Once people buy into any lie, they are very reluctant to admit that they made a mistake. The title of the book that highlights this dynamic is Mistakes Were Made But Not By Me by Tavris and Erickson. When was the last time that you or I indicated that we make a mistake? Was it easy to admit our mistake? At the heart of lying is self-justification (come up with what you think is a valid reason for the lie). When we do something wrong and lie about it, we must have self-justification which is in tension with cognitive dissonance (the inability to put two things together that don’t go together or the way we want to be perceived conflicts with our actions). In other words, we don’t want the lie to shed light on how we don’t want to be seen.


Trump lies so that he can continue the lie about losing the election. He has Johnson make his statements about how elections are easily tainted to add to the false reality. Ultimately lying is based on how we want to be perceived. Self-justification and cognitive dissonance are seen when we employ confirmation bias. That is what Johnson’s role was standing next to Trump at the press conference. We also want to believe that a person would not lie to us.


A desire to have a world where people don’t lie is a strong motivation for a core issue in our moral evolution where we as human beings have evolved and survived because of telling the truth and not lying. It was part of the development of our moral code for survival.


My own personal approach in working with students was to take what they said at face value. However, I had enough situations where students lied usually to protect how they wanted to be seen which meant that I was open to them lying if the proof was present.


One of the things that you learn when working with kids is that, like the rest of the world, they lie particularly to parents. If there was a serious discipline matter at EA, I would be involved usually to follow up with the student and parents after a disciplinary punishment had been handed down to them. The same dynamic is present of cognitive dissonance and self-justification. There were times when a student would admit that they lied to me but not to their parents. There were also occasions when they were helped by admitting their lies.


I invertedly taught my ethics students how to get away with lying to their parents. When we studied group dynamics in the course, I covered the phenomenon of how people in groups can do things that they normally would not do on their own. That is what makes groups so powerful. It makes good intentioned people better and bad intentioned people worse. As I was teaching that part of the course the students taught me one of the most powerful approaches that they employ with their parents that has gotten them out of a lot of trouble at times. Welcome to kid culture!


They asked me if I knew the two most helpful words in dealing with their parents when they were caught doing something wrong regarding parties and alcohol use. They informed me that the two helpful words were “peer pressure.” Kids go to parties to be together and drink. Nobody forces them to, but parents still fall for the story that “mom and dad, it was peer pressure.” They fall for it every time.


But this explanation can’t be repeated and for a lie to stick it must be repeated until it becomes a cultural norm. That is why 70% of Republicans believe Trump’s lie. That’s why Trump continues to keep his lie alive in the culture. He could never admit the lie for it goes against his greatest fear. That fear is that he is a loser. If he is a loser, he would be rejected. How do we know this is a psychological foundation for his lying, self-justification, and cognitive dissonance? Have you ever heard Trump say that he made a mistake? There is a direct correlation between those who can’t admit that they made a mistake and those who lie.


The truth will set us free, but it may make us miserable in the short term. It can be a hard but important lesson to learn, and it is never too early to learn.

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