The Great Disappointment

On October 22, 1844, followers of the Baptist preacher William Miller waited for Jesus to return, ending the world as they knew it. Some had left their possessions behind, abandoning their fields or giving away what they owned. When midnight came, and the world didn’t end, they were naturally confused, distraught, afraid. What went wrong?

Miller had calculated the date of the apocalypse based on Scriptural references and real-life events, such as the French Revolution, that were supposed landmarks on the road to Christ’s return. The obvious explanation of what became known as The Great Disappointment was that the calculations were wrong. There was nothing wrong with the thesis, of course. It was just that Jesus needed to do some preparatory work on October 22 before the big event that the Millerites had expected too soon. Rather than abandoning their faith, most of Miller’s followers stuck with it, gathering new adherents in what became the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

Aside from formalizing this new Christian sect, The Great Disappointment became a prime example of what Leon Festinger termed cognitive dissonance, the human mind’s astounding (and more than a little frightening) power to resolve obviously conflicting beliefs.

Cognitive dissonance has always been a part of politics, and it won’t stop on November 3, 2020. Many die-hard Trump supporters have already resolved many contradictions in their minds — the billionaire who is really just like them, the corruption fighter who is massively corrupt, the manly man who is also an aggrieved whiner, to name but a few. If he loses this election, they will not be forced into a re-evaluation of their beliefs, especially since there is a huge formal media and social media apparatus already in place to sustain their worldview. In their minds, the forces of darkness will have won this battle, but the war goes on. They will still be the real Americans, and perhaps their electoral loss will be further proof of that. If they weren’t, then the diabolical armies of liberals and Antifa hooligans would not have stolen the election from them, through whatever means fits their current conspiracy theory.

A contributing element to this cognitive dissonance is the political version of the green needle/brainstorm phenomenon. It’s not merely that die-hard Trumpites have different facts, they also do not see the facts shared with the rest of the country the same way. Even public intellectuals who favor Trump, such as Victor Davis Hanson, don’t see facts the same way other people do. Speaking as if Fox News did not exist, Hanson complains in his pre-election collection of cognitive dissonance moments, “Is this even an election year, a campaign with two candidates? Is there a media Left, or is it a Big Tech/Big Media ministry that rents itself out to the most opulent left-wing candidate, and now assures that what is aberrant is perfectly normal?”

In short, people get ready. Average citizens who support Trump will look for ways to renew their faith. Their enablers, elected Republican officials, aren’t likely to be “chastened” by Trump’s loss, just as they weren’t when their party lost seats in past elections. While the formal transfer of power may happen, with Trump vacating the Oval Office, Trumpism is likely to live on, and perhaps evolve.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Donald Trump, General, ,
Kingdaddy
About Kingdaddy
Kingdaddy is returning to political blogging after a long hiatus. For several years, he wrote about national security affairs at his blog, Arms and Influence, under the same pseudonym. He currently lives in Colorado, where he is still awestruck at all the natural beauty here. He has a Ph.D in political science that is oddly useful in his day job.

Comments

  1. Kathy says:

    If he loses this election, they will not be forced into a re-evaluation of their beliefs

    Of course not.

    70+ years of Soviet Communism, plus decades of Eastern European Communism, Chinese Maoist Communism, and Cuban Communism, all of which failed miserably, have not deterred everyone from advocating for Communism.

    Just as the current failure of US Capitalism as compared to Western European and Asian Social Welfare Capitalism, will not deter many Americans from advocating trickle-down and ever more tax cuts.

    But some in every group of devoted followers do change their minds, or these groups find it harder to recruit new followers, or they must change their pitch to lure in more new recruits (or to just plain survive).

    You don’t hear much advocacy for Communism today, after all (to be fair, few in any Communist regime were really ardent, ideologically committed communists themselves).

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  2. Barry says:

    “Even public intellectuals who favor Trump, such as Victor Davis Hanson, don’t see facts the same way other people do. ”

    ‘Public intellectual’ is using ‘Public’ in the same sense as ‘I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV’. I first encountered VDH during the Iraq War, where he was clearly full of it.

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  3. I concur that a lot of what you are saying will occur, especially in the short-to-medium term. I certainly don’t expect any contriteness on TV, especially not on FNC and the like.

    However, I think the real question becomes do party elites decide to cleave more deeply into MAGA or to try and turn away from it–based on what they think will lead to winning. And as the elites go, the rank-and-file will tend to follow.

    Put another way: once Trump is no longer a route to power, many will abandon him. Of course, the fear is that some elites (like Tom Cotton) will seek to double-down on a newer, shinier, and smarter version of Trumpism, which would be very bad indeed.

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  4. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    they will not be forced into a re-evaluation of their beliefs,

    True, but they won’t because Trump is not William Miller; he’s only the flavor of the month (four years being a long time spent with this particular monthly flavor, but…). They’ll mumble and whinge for while, Rush will rant until he runs out of energy to, and eventually, they’ll go to the tent of the next loudmouthed bigoted carny barker.

    Does Ted Cruz still want to be Prez? He’d make a good choice–everything that Trump was with a veneer of beltway that would make him attractive to Joyner, Hal, and probably even Andy.

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  5. gVOR08 says:

    Thanks for the link. VDH is one of the people I like to read once a year or so to see if they’re as I remember them. Turns out he is. Florid, erudite language surrounding cherry-picked or dubious facts and slipshod logic. The line you quote is a good example.

    Is this even an election year, a campaign with two candidates? Is there a media Left, or is it a Big Tech/Big Media ministry that rents itself out to the most opulent left-wing candidate, and now assures that what is aberrant is perfectly normal?

    As best I can parse this it’s a complaint that the MSM hasn’t covered Trump equally. I get my news mostly from NYT, WAPO, my local semi-pro paper, MSNBC, and OTB. I’m hardly unaware of Trump or of the case he’s trying to make. And what is “opulent” supposed to mean in that use? VDH has learned the rule of RW media, that he who screams the loudest, and with the biggest slam on the libtards, gets the clicks.

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  6. Mr. Prosser says:

    I’m pretty sure I read this on OTB a while back, “To have cognitive dissonance one must be cognitive.”

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  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    No, of course they won’t have an aha moment. They’ll double down on crazy. But that will be a bluff, a temporary position. It will fade over time. They’ll be like those isolated Japanese soldiers who kept fighting WW2 as the rest of the world moved on by.

    Time passes. New generations rise and have their own lunacy. The core MAGAts, white, male, rural, poorly-educated are on the losing end of every demographic trend in a country becoming browner, more female-led, less rural more connected, and college-educated.

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  8. Teve says:

    @Mr. Prosser: sadly, vodka disables me from remembering the exact line. 😛

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  9. grumpy realist says:

    When you get so disconnected from reality that you ignore all evidence that you are wrong and keep blindly insisting that you are right–there’s probably nothing the rest of the world can do about you except cordon you off and post warning signs. And hope that your arrogant stupidity will come home to roost. Painfully and with radioactive fallout.

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  10. BugManDan says:

    @Michael Reynolds: The problem with this is that unless “rural” states become less rural, these folks will continue to have outsized power based on the senate and EC. They may actually have more power as their states shrink in population.

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  11. charon says:

    @grumpy realist:

    there’s probably nothing the rest of the world can do about you except cordon you off and post warning signs.

    That is hard to do while there are enough of them left to dominate one of two major political parties.

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  12. grumpy realist says:

    @charon: Yah that’s why I shrug my shoulders at the anti-maskers. OK, here’s a sheet you sign up on. You get sick with Covid-19, you go to the back of the line at the hospital and pay cash in advance. And if you get your neighbours sick, you pay for their medical care, any damages from missed employment, and if they die, you get charged with involuntary manslaughter. Otherwise, wear the goddam friggin’ mask, ok?

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  13. Teve says:

    @Mr. Prosser: i think that may have been me. 😀

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  14. Franklin says:

    @Kathy: Your comment is a great addendum to a great post. Nodding my head vigorously here!

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  15. Kathy says:

    @Franklin:

    Thank you.

    I’ve been giving more thought to an idea I had some years ago. People like things that make logical sense. Arguments for Communism and for laissez faire Capitalism can make good logical sense. that’s where we get the “it’s good in theory but doesn’t work in practice” refrain.

    The thing is, even after such things are proven false or flawed, the arguments still make logical sense. Therefore it’s hard to let go of the idea. It must work well if it were implemented correctly, not like these idiots fuc**d it up, right?

    I’ve that problem with laissez faire. I can see the flaws, too: people can act against their own interests; people often act for short term gain at the expense of long term loss; values other than money, like prejudice, can, and too often do, get in the way; and much more. But the basic argument of low taxes and minimal regulation still make sense. It’s just wrong. And that’s hard to let go.

    Ironically, laissez faire capitalism would work, if by work we mean reach the ends it aims to achieve, with enough government oversight, regulation, and taxes.

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  16. Mikey says:

    As a former Seventh-day Adventist, I’ll just say that picture gave me hives.

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  17. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: The theories and models are just that–theories and models of how to behave. All of the various theories seem to start from the presumption that people are basically good, and if that were true, we could select the one that got us the results that we preferred (allowing for the possibility that some groups might prefer different results than others)…

    Annnnnnnnnd this is the point where my inner Calvinist starts screaming “yeah, but we’re not all basically good, you dolt! None of us are basically good.”

    And that’s the rub. YMMV.

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  18. DrDaveT says:

    @Kathy:

    Ironically, laissez faire capitalism would work, if by work we mean reach the ends it aims to achieve, with enough government oversight, regulation, and taxes.

    Even more ironically, that’s exactly what Adam Smith said in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. A lot of libertoonish conservatives are shocked to learn that.

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  19. Kathy says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    IMO people want to be good, but they also really want to have their way most of the time and to have power over others.

    @DrDaveT:

    I really should read that book.

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