How the Science of "Blue Lies" May Explain Trump's Support

Jeremy Adam Smith claims that Trump supporters are fine with Trump's lies because they hear them as blue lies. While a black lie is purely selfish, and a white lie is motivated by kindness, a blue lie is intergroup warfare.

...  Trump’s political path presents a paradox. Far from slowing his momentum, his deceit seemed only to strengthen his support through the primary and national election. Now, every time a lie is exposed, his support among Republicans doesn’t seem to waver very much. In the wake of the Comey revelations, his average approval rating held at 40 percent.

This has led many people to ask themselves: How does the former reality-TV star get away with it? How can he tell so many lies and still win support from many Americans?

Blue lies are a different category altogether, simultaneously selfish and beneficial to others—but only to those who belong to your group. As University of Toronto psychologist Kang Lee explains, blue lies fall in between generous white lies and selfish “black” ones. “You can tell a blue lie against another group,” he says, which makes it simultaneously selfless and self-serving. “For example, you can lie about your team's cheating in a game, which is antisocial, but helps your team.”

...  black lies drive people apart, white lies draw them together, and blue lies pull some people together while driving others away.

Around the world, children grow up hearing stories of heroes who engage in deception and violence on behalf of their in-groups. In Star Wars, for example, Princess Leia lies about the location of the “secret rebel base.”

That explains why most Americans seem to accept that our intelligence agencies lie in the interests of national security, and we laud our spies as heroes. From this perspective, blue lies are weapons in intergroup conflict. As Swedish philosopher Sissela Bok once said, “Deceit and violence—these are the two forms of deliberate assault on human beings.” Lying and bloodshed are often framed as crimes when committed inside a group—but as virtues in a state of war. [emphasis mine]

image source

From this perspective, lying is a feature, not a bug, of Trump’s campaign and presidency.

... this kind of lying seems to thrive in an atmosphere of anger, resentment, and hyper-polarization. Party identification is so strong that criticism of the party feels like a threat to the self, which triggers a host of defensive psychological mechanisms.

Whether they truly believe those falsehoods or not is debatable—and possibly irrelevant. The research to date suggests that they see those lies as useful weapons in a tribal us-against-them competition that pits the “real America” against those who would destroy it.

... D.J. Flynn and Brendan Nyhan,... along with Jason Reifler, summarize everything science knows about “false and unsupported beliefs about politics.”

They recommend a cluster of prosaic techniques, such as presenting information as imagery or graphics, instead of text. The best combination appears to be graphics with stories. But this runs up against another scientific insight, one that will be frustrating to those who would oppose Trump’s lies: Who tells the story matters. Study after study shows that people are much more likely to be convinced of a fact when it “originates from ideologically sympathetic sources,” as the paper says—and it helps a lot if those sources look and sound like them.

In short, it is white conservatives who must call out Trump’s lies, if they are to be stopped. [emphasis mine]

Perhaps images with stories attached are the best counter, to help Trump supporters "get" that they themselves, not the detested liberals and minorities, are the real targets of Republican lies.

The 3% of former Trump supporters who would now vote differently, those are the stories to be told. Like Kraig Moss, who lost his son and hated the proposed healthcare change.

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