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  • Reverend James Squire

Why There Wasn't A Red Wave

I always believed that we can tolerate something (meaning to move forward) once we understand it. The Dunning-Kruger Effect which was named such by two psychologists who did research at Cornell is unfamiliar to many people in our nation. It was particularly unknown to the talking heads at Fox News, certain members of the Republican Party, and those mental giants such as Boebert, Green, Walker, Hawley, and Trump. People who don’t know about this social psychological truth usually have the most to say such as Cruz and McCarthy. I have watched a segment of Fox News that was a collection of people such as Hannity and Ingraham recounting with much excitement about laughing in the faces of others when the returns from the midterms came in. They were like kids at Christmas waiting to open up their packages of wins. Think about these folks as I describe the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

Some background is important. This phenomenon was a result of a study done in 1999 after Justin Kruger read about two robberies in which the perpetrators wore lemon juice instead of masks thinking that it would make them invisible to cameras. They discovered many instances like this. Stupid actions that resulted in people not knowing what they didn’t know. Their actions were based on these people in the study who were know it all(s).

The Dunning-Kruger Effect occurs when a person’s lack of knowledge and skills in a certain area cause them to overestimate their own performance. Think Trump whose know it all style has permeated the Republican ranks as well as Fox News (Opinion).

An article in a recent Wall Street Journal article summarizes the Dunning-Kruger effect with the following words: “Trump has led the Republicans into one political fiasco after another. The electoral defeat flopped in 2018, 2020, 2021, and 2022.” The editorial board condemned Trump in direct words. What has happened in the Republican party is that they have too many who have modeled a “know it all trait” that is found in “performance politicians” as opposed to “policy directed politicians.” The conclusion and cause of the wave becoming a trickle is that Americans are tired of a do-nothing Congress with emphasis on getting elected, committed to party before nation, and fringe politicians spouting conspiracy theories and lies about the 2020 election on mostly the Republican side. The red trickle was made such by Know It All(s) who thought that Americans would keep putting up with this nonsense. Trump even says that he is the smartest guy on the planet and his minions imitate that posture.

But the Dunning-Kruger Effect has another aspect to it. The people who seem to have the right view of things are people who seem to self-identify as your average American. But that requires one important thing that Trump doesn’t have and the Republican Party is now seeing it clearly. It requires humility. The American people by and large are humble. The politicians are not. They have been held captive by their own sense of self-importance. I think that is why people such as Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney standout so much because they have their egos in check. They want what is best for the nation. They have paid a price for their political perspective.

Let’s turn to kid culture for that is where you can see the Dunning-Kruger Effect very clearly. If there is one person or group of people who will receive the wrath of an adolescent, it is those who think and act as though they are the smartest person/people in the room. The hand is raised and you can see the eyes of their classmates roll around in their heads. And here is the thing. The smartest kid in the room is so limited in social/emotional intelligence that he or she doesn’t pick up on the signals. Contrast that with the class leaders who emerge. The class leaders are unofficially chosen by their peers in a natural way. They have something to say that is going to enrich the discussion and are supported by the others. It is all about attitude. The class leader communicates that he or she also can listen carefully to the contributions of others and believe that everyone has something important to say.

Now for the moment picture Trump, Marjorie Taylor Green, Lauren Boebert, Ted Cruz, and Josh Hawley in your classroom. What would that be like? But here is the difference. My students would have them for lunch where they couldn’t spend one moment in self-aggrandizement. Kid world wouldn’t put up with that nonsense either.

I think of that when the politicians open their mouths and have nothing to say! We will see if the message of the Wall Street Journal gets through to them. There are only three power positions in a group or relationship. One down, one up, and one shared respect. Being one up on others isolates you from others. No student wants to be around a know it all. It is a lonely position. I wish that was the case for our politicians. Normally people who have to be one up or the smartest kid in the class are people with the lowest self-esteem. I know that to be a fact after teaching in that microcosm of society, the classroom, for a long period of time.

I can’t tell you how many know it all (s) I have had in my office who when they felt that they were accepted for who they are and had nothing to prove, were relieved to shed that façade of being a know it all because ultimately it is painful and isolating. Sometimes I was successful. Sometimes not. Now if only our politicians could learn that lesson!

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