As we continue to see a rise in coronavirus infections and deaths across the U.S., we inevitably will see an increase in outrage and opposition towards accompanying stay-at-home orders and social distancing practices mandated by state governors in attempts to flatten the curve of this virus and minimize the stress incurred by our health care system. While Trump continues to pour fuel on the fire, exacerbating the anger, anxieties, and fears of such protesters through his incendiary statements and tweets, I have found myself more bewildered than upset in how his base continues to embrace the political rhetoric and misinformation propagated by the current administration and right-wing media outlets, putting more lives in danger, and potentially extending the time states will need to reopen safely. My hope here is to conjure some cognitive dissonance among those putting their emotions before facts, science, and common sense by cultivating an understanding of our underlying desire to define and express ourselves through group associations, collective ideologies, symbolism, and behaviors. I then want to ask those who are calling for the removal of stay-at-home ordinances, those who support the abhorrent behavior of the president, and those who support such damaging and divisive ideologies which inevitably become intertwined within whatever issue is being politicized at the moment (this being the coronavirus pandemic), is this really who you are?
Ideologies are contagious. They feed our biases, deprive us our ability to incorporate conflicting information into our personal schema, and prime us to align with others harboring similar and shared beliefs. Certain ideologies can be conceptualized as a “metaphorical cognitive pathogen”, whose primary objective is to facilitate the consolidation of a targeted set of beliefs with our core sense of identity while propelling future susceptibility for and the adoption of additional cognitive pathogens, which ultimately influence and dictate our behavior.
One article purports that ideological beliefs are less significant than the resulting self-identifications, implying that people react to new situations not based upon their understanding of the situation, but in how they feel their sense of identity will be reflected. In this respect, one’s understanding of social functionalities is appraised as less important than utilizing such platforms as catalysts to frame and distribute their personal identities and cultivate an increase in feelings of social belonging. Ideologies open the door. How this in turn makes someone feel and shapes their self-identify, closes it. In this regard, feelings can be perceived as more important than facts.
Another article focusing on the effect brand marketing has on consumer behavior found that members of a group who identify with a specific brand develop antagonistic and negative views towards rival brands, defined as oppositional brand loyalty. While this article explores the dichotomy between brand loyalty related to material objects such as automobiles, this same principle applies to political “brand” loyalty (republicans, democrats, libertarians, etc.). Individuals utilize the brands they identify with as an engine to promote extensions of their sense of self in order to satisfy their intrinsic need to be part of a group which shares a loyalty to the same brand, resulting in what social identity theory refers to as “in-groups.” Conversely, “out-groups” are those rival brands which challenge the brand one has identified with and assimilated into their sense of self, resulting in a perceived challenge of one’s self rather than the brand itself. As the above article states, individuals utilize brands as a proxy to differentiate themselves from others, display an extension of their personality, and in turn strengthen their commitment to their brand.
As social creatures, humans feel a need to belong to something larger than themselves. We aim to satisfy our need to define and express a sense of self-identify, personality, and loyalty through the opposition of any rival group, thus further entrenching our devotion towards the group we’ve chosen. Sports lends itself as a prime example. Identifying with one team means opposing any team that seeks to challenge “your” team. We display our support, loyalty, and underlying identity through the use of symbols (team logos, jerseys, colors, etc.), which inform others what team we are on, establishes a sense of belonging to a larger group, and creates a mechanism for the recruitment of others to join “our” team.
The use of symbolism has been historically implemented within groups to strengthen feelings of belonging and loyalty among their members. An article which focuses on the construction of national identities through use of symbols reveals how symbolism, when rooted in a nations past victories, can be activated to legitimize current ideologies and political agendas (as well as symbolism rooted in past defeats) and is reinforced through the practice of group specific rituals and shaping collective memories of past events. We see the use of symbols to unify and mobilize Trump’s base as red “MAGA” hats and verbal slogans “lock [insert rival to group] up” as demonstrations of brand loyalty, that reject anything slightly associated with the democratic party (rival group).
How does this all add up? Well, first let me state that these are unprecedented times. These are complicated times. How do we balance our economic needs with the need for public safety while protecting those who cannot protect themselves? I understand the frustrations, anxieties, and fears regarding this pandemic and resulting economic uncertainty. These are defining moments and many choose to define themselves through the brands which they adopt. Many in Trump’s base display their loyalty solely by the extension of their emotions and feelings of opposition towards Trump’s ever-changing political opponents and propulsion of propaganda rather than basing their opinions upon existing facts and evidence. When protesting stay-at-home orders designed to reduce the risk to the general public, protect our most vulnerable and at-risk populations, decrease the magnitude of impact placed upon our health care system, health care workers, first responders, and essential workers, you protesters should ask yourself, “is my desire to support my base derived from my need for belonging, obligation to brand loyalty, and need to socially express my reflected sense of self through the groups I’ve bought into to validate who I think I am? Or are my beliefs weighted in objective evidence and recommendations provided by professionals in the field, my personal moral and ethical constitution, and how I want to represent myself apart from my denominations?” We are all in this together. In order to be united as a country we must first acknowledge what needs we are fulfilling through our allegiance to whatever brand we pledge our loyalty to and determine if our intentions are selfish or for the common good.