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Political Mind Games: The Kavanaugh File

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When it comes to preserving their extraordinary wealth and power, the 1% count on manipulating the public's understanding of what's happening, what's right, and what's possible. My research shows that their favorite "mind games" often target our doubts and concerns in five domains: vulnerability (Are we safe?), injustice (Are we being treated fairly?), distrust (Who can we trust?), superiority (Are we good enough?), and helplessness (Can we control what happens to us?).

One-percenters are most accustomed to using deceitful yet psychologically persuasive appeals to control the narrative about big-picture issues ranging from domestic policy to national security. But in recent days, we've seen them turn to the same playbook in an effort to quell the controversy generated by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's credible allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Let's consider several examples.

Vulnerability. The 1%'s "It's a False Alarm" mind game is typically used to downplay the societal harms caused by their self-serving priorities. Regardless of the evidence, they insist that adverse events--such as the ravages of climate change--are greatly exaggerated. So too in the Kavanaugh context. For instance, GOP operative Gina Sosa dismissively argued, "Tell me, what boy hasn't done this in high school?" Similarly, conservative evangelist Franklin Graham claimed, even if the allegations are true, "There wasn't a crime that was committed."

Injustice. With the "We're the Victims" mind game, one-percenters assert that they're targets of mistreatment rather than perpetrators of wrongdoing. This artful role-reversal is witnessed whenever economic inequality takes center stage. That's when they complain about receiving unfair criticism for billionaire tax cuts and no appreciation for the hard work that supposedly made them so wealthy. GOP Senators have employed this turnabout tactic in their defense of Kavanaugh. Lindsey Graham referred to the allegations as "a drive-by shooting" and Bob Corker lamented, "I can't imagine the horror of being accused of something like this."

Distrust. Another recurring mind game of the 1% is "They're Devious and Dishonest." Here, they assert that those who oppose their agenda--low-wage workers, prison reformers, anti-war activists--are deceitful and unworthy of the public's trust. Their efforts to discredit Kavanaugh's accuser are no different. Senator Orrin Hatch claimed that Dr. Ford's allegation "reeks of opportunism"and President Trump tweeted: "If the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents."

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Superiority. In this domain, a favorite mind game of one-percenters is "Pursuing a Higher Purpose." They insist that tainted actions--such as the torture of war-on-terror prisoners--must be evaluated within the context of the greater good and America's enduring exceptionalism. In similar fashion, Kavanaugh's defenders insist that his behavior from decades ago should be taken in stride. Conservative columnist Dennis Prager contended that the charges should be ignored because he's "led a life of decency, integrity, commitment to family, and commitment to community that few Americans can match." And Senator Hatch argued,"I think it would be hard for senators to not consider who the judge is today" Is this judge a really good man? ...By any measure he is."

Helplessness. Finally, with the "Resistance Is Futile" mind game, the 1% send a clear message to friend and foe alike: We're in charge and that's never going to change. Sometimes they drive this point home with threats; at other times, they turn to naked assertions of authority. Powerful defenders of the status quo regularly rely on this appeal when their policies--or their preferred candidates--are challenged. So it's no surprise that Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell offered this reassurance to a Values Voters Summit audience: "In the very near future Judge Kavanaugh will be on the United States Supreme Court"Don't get rattled by all of this. We're going to plow right through it."

Other manipulative mind games also tap into issues of vulnerability, injustice, distrust, superiority, and helplessness. But these five examples should be sufficient to demonstrate a key point. There are striking and disturbing parallels between the 1%'s broad, ongoing assault on our democracy and their targeted maneuvers aimed at overcoming serious, legitimate questions about Brett Kavanaugh's suitability for the Supreme Court. In both the war and the battle, they know that psychologically compelling appeals to our core concerns can carry the day--even when they're as flimsy as a conman's promises. That is, unless we're ready for them.

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Roy Eidelson is a psychologist who studies, writes about, and consults on the role of psychological issues in political, organizational, and group conflict settings. He is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, a member of (more...)
 

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