Lately, there’s been a whole gaggle of political pundits trying to figure out how Donald Trump still has so much power over the Republican party when his every utterance is a blatant and shameless lie. In fact, the cultish, and tragically large, adherence to Trumpism defies logic and has become a dangerous and undemocratic embrace of the absurd. Yet, the question remains, “How can so many Americans still be willing to follow Trump despite the mountain of glaring, incontrovertible evidence that exposes him as nothing more than a compulsive grifter, obsessive liar, and repulsive narcissist?
The answer to this seemingly unsolvable riddle regarding the bizarre mass hypnosis of Republicans may reside in an old theatrical concept know as “the willing suspension of disbelief.” For those unfamiliar with the phrase, it is used to describe the intentional avoidance of critical thinking or logic in examining something unreal or impossible in reality, such as a movie or a play, to temporarily believe it for the sake of becoming immersed in it an alternate reality.
The Republican suspension of disbelief has been around for quite some time, but it has intensified exponentially in the era of Trump. From arguing that the Civil War was fought over “states’ rights” to the wholesale denial of climate change to the belief in Reagan’s infamous “welfare queen,” Republicans have been suspending their disbelief for some time before Trump’s carnival barker bombast brought it to a whole new and loathsome level.
As I’ve spoken with some Alabama Republicans regarding Trump’s Big Lie that the election was rigged, they all have grudgingly admitted that Biden won legitimately. Still, they also claim without any significant evidence that widespread voter fraud is a huge problem. They know the truth that there was no widespread fraud, and they are keenly aware of reality. Yet, they deliberately choose to suspend their disbelief because “owning the libs” is the contentious reality they prefer. That’s why they came to see the Trump show in the first place because it was an outlet for their hostilities, prejudices, fears, and insecurities. It’s never been about reality, reason, facts, or logic. It’s all about the show, and it explains the cognitive dissonance and abnormal psychology of its members like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, and Mo Brooks, to name a small few.
What makes this phenomenon so toxic and insidious is that it’s an informed and deliberate choice. For example, Greene doesn’t really believe in Jewish space lasers, and Brooks doesn’t honestly believe rocks falling in the ocean are responsible for rising sea levels. Yet, they both suspend disbelief because they know it’s what their base is craving, and they absolutely love how it drives liberals crazy. It’s like a political version of pre-adolescent playground taunts like “I know you are, but what am I?”
Republicans aren’t even bothering to develop policy ideas anymore because they’ve all suspended their disbelief from participating in their self-produced alt-reality show about how they have become the Victims of a Godless Queer Liberal Conspiratorial Cabal whose only mission is to destroy Democracy, Americana, and Christmas!
That’s why bipartisanship is almost impossible right now. Republicans are more interested in fueling imagined controversy than they are in addressing any of the critical issues facing our nation and our state.
Unfortunately, like many who suspend their disbelief to become engrossed in fiction, reality always has a way of making its presence known. It’s like really getting into a movie and then forgetting about the pizza that’s now burning in the oven. Eventually, that stinking anchovy bonfire is going to have to be extinguished.
In the meantime, Democrats must mobilize and increase voter turnout. Reason and persuasive arguments are no match against those who have suspended their disbelief. It’s time for the rest of us to get engaged, and it’s time to make sure that our people show up to vote. In reality, that’s all that’s going to matter.