For some people facts have become the enemy to beat. "Facts" and "experts" are viewed as threats because they threaten an entire world view. Creationists, for example, dispute the evidence for evolution in fossils and DNA because they are concerned about secular forces encroaching on their religious faith. Anti-vaxxers distrust big pharma and think that money corrupts medicine, which leads them to believe that vaccines cause autism despite the inconvenient truth that the one and only study claiming such a link was retracted and its lead author accused of fraud. Immigration opponents believe that those entering the country will threaten their job security and the entire health of our economy while studies like the one done by NASEM found that "immigration enlarges the economy while leaving the native population slightly better off on average."
All of us have known people who will loudly profess their deeply held beliefs while dismissing conflicting evidence within the same breath in order to keep their ideology safe and their egos even safer. This does not make them bad people, it makes them human. They are our uncles, our teachers, our grand parents, and our friends. Even those who value research and logic when constructing an opinion will often refuse to admit that they too have the same knee- jerk reaction when presented with conflicting facts. No one likes to be wrong.
This phenomenon of rejecting clear evidence is not new. In the book When The Prophecy Fails, psychologist Leon Festinger described what happened to a UFO cult when the mother ship failed to arrive at the appointed time. Instead of admitting their error, “members of the group sought frantically to convince the world of their beliefs,” and they made “a series of desperate attempts to erase their rankling dissonance by making prediction after prediction in the hope that one would come true.”
This is called cognitive dissonance and it can be a powerful thing. It is the reason why most people won't even try to change someone's political view because they know nothing they can say will change their mind. There is little you can do to make a die-hard Democrat vote for Donald Trump and it is the reason why there is little you can do to convince a passionate conservative to vote for Hillary Clinton.
Dartmouth College expanded on this problem with a study that sought to illustrate the problem with "facts" in politics. Subjects were given fake newspaper articles that confirmed widespread misconceptions, such as that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. When subjects were then given a corrective article that WMD were never found, liberals who opposed the war accepted the new article and rejected the old, whereas conservatives who supported the war did the opposite ... and more: they reported being even more convinced there were WMD after the correction, arguing that this only proved that Saddam Hussein hid or destroyed them.
This study showed that facts and evidence can cause a "backfire" where groups and individuals will often make ad-hoc justifications in order to defend their deeply held beliefs. After the 2016 election it should not be controversial to any of our readers to say there is no group in recent American politics that "backfired" more than Donald Trump's supporters. Routinely his supporters would ignore the most basic of facts if those facts casted their candidate in a negative light.
Donald Trump is a billionaire who built his wealth on bankruptcy, using the expensive and time consuming legal system to his advantage, and exploiting loopholes and injustice whenever possible. Despite all of his business failings, his supporters will often point to his business acumen as one of his strongest attributes. Even as he fills his cabinets with those promising large tax breaks and government subsidies for the rich and the politically well-connected, they still believe he is going to put the little guy first despite every bit of evidence suggesting otherwise.
This is why one of Trump's prominent TV surrogates, Scottie Hughes claimed we were living in a post-truth society on “The Diane Rehm Show” on NPR saying that the "one thing that’s been interesting this entire campaign season to watch is that people that say facts are facts. They’re not really facts. Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth or not true. There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts.”
Unfortunately for America, there are still things called facts in this world. It is a fact that the global concentration of CO2 is at 400ppm and that is creating a climate shift on our planet. That is the reason why 2014 was the hottest year on record until 2015 happened and now 2016 is expected to beat both. It is a fact that we have 2.2 million people behind bars in America and that 60% of those prisoners are either black or Hispanic. It is a fact that the richest 0.1% of our country owns as much wealth as the bottom 90%.
It is also a fact that we will need Donald Trump's supporters on board in order to fix a lot of these problems. Society needs to agree on basic facts especially in the face of climate change, racial justice, and when America now has more wealth and income inequality than any major developed country on earth. These problems threaten to divide and conqueror us if we do not come together and at least recognize that these are the facts and these problems exist.
If corrective facts back fire and only embolden their incorrect beliefs, the question then becomes, what can we do to convince people of their error? From my experience, you have to listen more than you speak, and be willing to accept baby steps instead of a quick and fully-charged embraced of the facts. Many of you will be meeting with relatives and friends over the holidays, so I put together 6 steps to converting a Trump supporter who doesn't believe in these facts. Remember, if you don't try to change their minds, who the hell will?
1. Keep Emotions out of the Exchange
2. Discuss, Don't Attack
3. Listen carefully and try to articulate the other position accurately
4. Show respect
5. Acknowledge that you understand why someone might hold that opinion
6. Show how changing facts does not necessarily mean changing world views.