Updated: Oct 20, 2020
written by Eric Prince
There you are, just sitting there watching the news when a segment about Trump comes on.
He’s made a disparaging comment about a female politician.
Then you see him tweet about delaying the election.
And then you see him, during the debate no-less, call for conservatives to watch the polls.
The coverage of Trump just goes ON and ON. It's FRIGGING endless. Seriously. It NEVER ends.
Each time he says things like this, you feel that initial burst of outrage. How can ANYONE support him? He’s a FUCKING idiot! (goddamn it feels good to type that out)
But there’s also another feeling bubbling just beneath the surface. It’s difficult to identify, but you know it’s there. It feels strange, almost like the absence of a feeling.
NONE of this absurdity surprises you anymore. And every time you feel outrage toward Trump and our political system, you also feel a little less outrage than the time before. It’s all just so normalized.
And let’s be real, FIVE YEARS of Trump will do that to people. At some point, it’s hard to care about EVERYTHING he says or does. It’s impossible to have the mental capacity. It’s impossible to ALWAYS be outraged.
This mix of diminishing outrage, growing acceptance, and creeping numbness is a feeling many people are experiencing right now. It’s not just you, don’t worry. This is called DESENSITIZATION, and it’s time we talked about it.
SAY 'DESENSITIZATION' THREE TIMES FAST
Desensitization is the process of diminishing emotional responsiveness to a negative, aversive, or positive stimulus after repeated exposure to it.
And desensitization can be a dangerous, dangerous thing.
Because when you start to feel numb to the daily sensory overload, it emboldens the people in charge to continue doing what they’re doing. To continue to push the boundary of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, to blur the line between the OLD normal and the NEW normal.
It happens ALL THE FRIGGING TIME too. Not just in politics - in every aspect of life.
We’ve become desensitized to the number of homeless people all around us. We’ve become desensitized to the excessive advertising we see on a daily basis. We’ve become desensitized to shitty coffee (looking at you Starbucks).
This desensitization is a core part of our human biology. It helps us adapt to our environment. And it helps our bodies adapt to shock and new situations.
A DESENSITIZATION EXAMPLE WITH LIONS
At one point in our evolutionary history desensitization served a useful purpose.
Here’s an example. You’re on the plains of Africa, just having a grand old time.
And you’re attacked by a lion.
Your fight-or-flight instincts kick in and you decide to RUN.
A few days later it happens AGAIN, and you run AGAIN.
For the next few weeks, you and your tribe live in fear of the lions. You’re constantly attacked, and time and time again you enter fight-or-flight mode.
But, over time, you become used to these attacks. And your body stops entering fight-or-flight mode when a lion is near. You begin to think more clearly about things. You’re able to plan a counter-attack. You adapt and overcome the threat of the lions.
Now, this isn’t exactly how desensitization works. It’s obviously a simplification, but you get the idea. In the past, desensitization helped us adapt to our surroundings.
But desensitization these days isn’t like it is in the good-old days. Because seeing advertisements everywhere and drinking shitty coffee don't set off our basic instincts, and they don’t harm us like a lion attack would.
Because our bodies STILL grow numb to this repeated exposure nonetheless. It’s just the way we’re programmed.
But desensitization is more than just advertisements and shitty coffee. Desensitization has the power to change the world and hurt many, many people. Let’s look at an example in history where desensitization has hurt many, many people.
I DID "NAZI" THAT COMING
The rise of Nazi Germany was predicated on desensitization. Before they were fully in power, the Nazis were STILL everywhere. You couldn’t walk a city block without seeing Nazi flags or Nazi supporters.
Even opponents of the Nazi belief-system eventually found themselves numb to the Nazi’s encroaching power. Many people started to internalize and normalize the Nazi's dangerous rhetoric.
Fast forward a few years and the Nazis are committing more and more atrocities against political opponents and minority groups.
At first there were small transgressions. The jailing of outspoken individuals. Small acts of violence committed against certain individuals. The burning of undesirable books. People became used to it. And as MORE things happened, people became MORE used to it. Numb. Accepting.
So when the Nazi military ransacked Jewish business and placed over 30,000 Jewish men into concentration camps in a single night (Kristallnacht), it concerned and outraged a lot of people. But very few people spoke out. The rhetoric and actions had already become normalized years before. Many of them even AGREED with the Nazis at this point.
And when World War 2 broke out, people felt outrage, but this was the natural next step of Hitler’s plan: total domination. He had been talking about it for YEARS.
And when the military pushed the Jewish people into ghettos, people were outraged. But they were also becoming numb. This had become a reality for many people. Just another day.
And when they began taking all Jewish people to concentration camps, people were still outraged. But they were even more numb. And were they REALLY surprised anymore? Not really.
By the end of the Second World War, twelve-million people had been systematically exterminated by the Nazi regime. These twelve-million people consisted of Jews, minority groups, disabled people, Communist groups, Slavic populations, and many, many others.
THE SLIPPERY SLOPE
Desensitization is a slippery slope.
It’s unavoidable to some degree. EVERYTHING in politics is the result of desensitization. We’ve normalized our massively unequal class structure. We’ve normalized the elites who influence our political system. We’ve normalized our two-party system.
How many times have you thought about how screwed up our political system is and just said to yourself, “That’s just the way it is"?
We’ve all done it, don’t lie.
And it happens on both sides of the aisle.
Liberals and conservatives alike have become desensitized to certain things. And when it comes to Trump and recent political rhetoric, both sides have become desensitized.
While the left has become more desensitized to Trump’s endless word vomit and the Republicans Party's egregious corruption, the right has become desensitized to the left’s endless outrage of Trump and their ridiculous liberal sensationalism.
SOMETIMES IT IS A ‘BOTH SIDES’ ISSUE
Since 2015, liberals have been OUTRAGED by Trump’s behavior. And for good reason…the things he says is RIDICULOUS. They’re ABSOLUTELY ridiculous.
His words are also EXTREMELY harmful. His words and behaviors sow division, embolden violence and white-supremacy groups, normalize corruption, and gas-light an entire population of people.
And every time the public gets outraged, they’re a little less outraged than the time before it.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration relies on this power of diminishing outrage.
People grow accustomed to the rhetoric, and, unfortunately, they forget. The news cycle moves quickly, and stories get swept under the rug just as quickly as they emerge. It’s hard to keep up. And it’s hard to stay outraged.
Unfortunately, this desensitization isn’t ONLY the result of Trump’s rhetoric. It’s ALSO the result of endless media sensationalism.
They’ve been RELENTLESSLY covering Trump since before the 2016 election, because it gets people to watch. And when people watch, the media makes money.
And even if you HATE Trump, I hope you can admit that the media DOES make mountains out of mole-hills.
Check out this story from 2017, when Trump went to Japan to visit Prime Minister Shinzō Abe. While he was there, the media went off on Trump for whipping fish food into a koi pond.
The media blamed him for disrespecting Japanese culture.
But then the full video was released.
The full video shows Abe throwing the food the EXACT same way. As it turned out, Trump was just miming Abe’s motion. It was all just media sensationalism.
And when there are many stories like this…
Mixed with surface-level criticisms…
It numbs EVERYONE to the ACTUAL harmful things Trump says and does.
You start to question what is just sensationalized and what is an actual threat.
And the group it desensitizes the MOST is ‘the right’.
THE 'RIGHT' TO NORMALIZE
When you make a mountain out of every molehill, all the mountains start to look like molehills. And then it all starts to lose meaning. You stop taking the complaints seriously.
Hell, even many liberals have begun to distrust the endless coverage of Trump. What’s real? What’s fake? What’s sensationalized?
Because the koi-pond incident isn’t the only news that’s been taken out of context. There have been many, many incidences where the media only takes part of the truth and presents it as outrage-inducing sensationalism.
And it doesn’t help that the Democratic Party has had many unsuccessful attempts to discredit Trump. Take Trump’s impeachment hearing in 2019 for example. Even though there were MANY WITNESSES who stated that what Trump did was NOT okay and that he SHOULD be impeached, the impeachment trial ultimately amounted to NOTHING.
For many people, this was a sign that the Democratic Party’s many battles with Trump were nothing but fake news and a weak attempt to discredit Trump.
Unfortunately, the impeachment hearings just got added to the numerous “failed” attempts to discredit Trump. Because it doesn’t matter what the truth is. It’s all about perception.
DESENSITIZATION RELIES ON IGNORANCE
If you watched last year’s impeachment hearings, you’ll realize that its results were perceived poorly.
Talk to any conservative and they’ll tell you that the hearings amounted to nothing, that Trump was innocent all along!!!
Unfortunately, perception is the ONLY THING that matters here. Because if you look at the details, Trump isn’t REALLY innocent.
For anyone who pays attention to politics, it was clear that the impeachment was NEVER going to pass a Senate vote. It was ALSO clear that the impeachment trial had been rigged in Trump’s favor from day one.
Summary time. The United States Congress is split into two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House of Representatives is the lower of the two chambers, so if a law or impeachment proceeding is brought up in the House, it still needs to go through the Senate to be voted upon. Since 2018, the majority of those in the House of Representatives are from the Democratic Party, and the majority of those in the Senate are from the Republican Party.
So, when the House of Representatives brought up the impeachment trial, most representatives knew it wasn’t going to be approved by the Senate. Many in the House felt that it was their duty to call Trump and his administration out on their bullshit, even if it would ultimately amount to nothing. Let me repeat: they KNEW this.
But here’s the thing: the Trump administration refused to comply with the impeachment process. And no one did a DAMN thing about it. Unfortunately, this piece of news got lost in the barrage of impeachment-related news at the time.
Oh, and in case you forgot – the White House ALSO told many witnesses to REFRAIN from testifying. Caught between the House of Representatives and the White House, many witnesses chose not to appear. Additionally, Republicans ACTUALLY withheld information, evidence, and emails from Congress.
Even with ALL of that working against the Democrats in the House of Representatives, there was still some important information that emerged from the hearings.
But none of that matters. Because most people DIDN'T watch the hearings live. They just read the headlines. And conservative politicians and media outlets aren’t just going to advertise some of the incriminating information that was revealed.
Instead, they’re going to advertise that the Senate voted “No” on the impeachment trial and that Trump won.
Most people don’t care about the details. They only care about HOW things appear. And when the left appears to be endlessly outraged over NOTHING, conservatives start to roll their eyes even when something IMPORTANT lands on their desk.
Perhaps if liberal media outlets hadn’t sensationalized EVERYTHING leading up to the impeachment trial, the impeachment hearings would have received more support from both sides of the aisle (or maybe I’m just putting too much faith in people).
MEET DESENSITIZATION’S OLDER BROTHER: REPETITION
Biologically, desensitization doesn’t exactly operate on its own. It operates as part of a bigger system that normalizes repeated events, sounds, and ideas.
Part of the reason for this is that our brains create neural pathways that grow deeper the more we’re exposed to certain patterns of repetition.
Repetition also helps to create mental shortcuts, called heuristics. Heuristics basically recognize patterns in every-day life and draw conclusions based on the patterns.
Essentially, they help our brain go from this:
Heuristics are generally super helpful throughout life: they help us recognize when our car is acting weird or when the milk in your fridge has gone bad.
But heuristics can ALSO lead our brain to run on autopilot when it comes to certain things.
Heuristics become dangerous when we use them to stereotype groups of people, when we use them for racist rhetoric, when we use them to create in-groups and out-groups.
Unfortunately, politicians and the media understand this, and they use it to their advantage.
When politicians and the media repeat certain things, this isn’t an accident. It’s designed this way to force your brain into autopilot. To start to associate ONE THING with ANOTHER THING automatically.
When Trump continuously blames ‘the left’ for all of our country’s issues, people begin to associate ‘the left’ with anything bad that happens.
When the liberal media sensationalizes EVERYTHING about Trump, people on the right begin to associate ALL criticism of Trump with fake news.
When the conservative media repeatedly underplays Trump’s egregious corruption, people begin to accept that he’s done NOTHING wrong.
When the liberal media blames everything on Trump, people stop thinking critically about the issue. They begin to assume EVERYTHING Trump does is horrible. (And granted, MOST of what Trump does is HORRIBLE, but SOME of it IS blown out of proportion).
When the liberal and conservative media both play the finger-pointing game, our immediate response is to join in on this finger-pointing game. We stop thinking critically about EVERYTHING.
THE DANGERS OF DESENSITIZATION AND REPETITION
The dangers of desensitization and repetition cannot be understated.
Nothing is immediate. Very few dictatorships or authoritarian governments assumed power through sheer willpower alone. Much of it depended on this slippery slope of desensitization and repetition.
Because if you can get people to accept one outrageous thing, they’re more likely to accept the next, slightly more outrageous thing.
For most people, these changes are imperceptible when compared next to each other. After all, what’s the difference between ONE outrageous Trump statement and the NEXT?
But when viewed through the lens of history it all starts to make sense. THIS is why history repeats itself. Because it’s hard to recognize massive political and social changes when it happens one day at a time.
For most large and devastating political movements throughout history, many of us might wonder HOW these things happen. HOW did Nazi Germany happen?? HOW did the Middle East become SO destabilized? HOW did people allow ANY OF IT to happen???
In Nazi Germany, Hitler didn’t START with the Holocaust. He ENDED with it. And he got there by using continued rhetoric (and violence) against the Communists and the Jewish people.
And when THAT was accepted by the German population, Hitler pushed the boundary a little bit further, one act at a time, until six-million Jewish people were slaughtered by the Nazi regime.
Many of us make the mistake of assuming that our modern world is incapable of the atrocities committed throughout human history. But that’s just false. It CAN happen again.
THIS is how a country slides into dictatorship and tragedy, through desensitization and repetition. One day at a time.
THE FUTURE OF THE UNITED STATES
Both the Democrats and the Republicans can and do use desensitization and repetition to their advantage. And both use them to justify questionable actions.
And while both sides of the aisle need to be VERY careful about normalizing certain words, phrases, and actions, I also want to vocalize my personal concern of the Trump administration and of the Republican Party in general.
No political party is perfect. And no political party should be revered or idolized. There will come a time when the Democratic Party must be put on a corrective path. Some of the signs are already there: liberals have a tendency to censor at all levels of society. You see this in educational institutions and on social media outlets. Liberals also have a tendency to use a moral and intellectual pedestal to condemn those on the right.
And even though this moral and intellectual pedestal may be rooted in equality and well-meaning, it doesn’t mean that it can’t slide into dangerous territory.
For example, the Nazis ALSO had control of the intellectual social class in Nazi Germany. Educational institutions were some of the first places that criticized and condemned the Jewish people. And the wealthy in Germany were some of the first to condone violence against political enemies. They used their intellectual superiority to justify HORRIBLE actions.
Liberals must be careful NOT to slide down that slippery slope.
But that’s an issue for another day. And it’s not something we need to deal with right this moment.
Because right now something much more serious is happening.
The Republican Party has changed dramatically these last few years. They have grown to support anti-intellectualism. They have supported and covered up corruption. They have empowered violent groups and white-supremacy groups across the United States. They have sown doubt and confusion among the American people. They have undermined science, real news, and have placed “the truth” into the hands of Trump.
The Republican Party has pushed out more level-headed Republicans and declared them RINOs (Republicans-in-name-only). They are a power-hungry group that rely on desensitization, repetition, and normalization to obtain power.
This is why they voted against Ranked-Choice Voting in Maine. This is why many Senate Republicans took part in insider-trading before the Coronavirus Pandemic hit. This is why the White House told witnesses not to speak at the impeachment hearings. This is why EIGHT people associated with Trump have been arrested for various crimes: mail-fraud, money-laundering, lying under oath, tax-fraud, bribery, conspiracy, child-pornography, sexual exploitation of minors, and multiple instances of lying to the FBI.
And it isn’t JUST the rhetoric that is dangerous, it is ALSO the ideologies that the party represents and espouses: populism, nationalism, and isolationism. They are damaging to our economy, to our position on the world stage, and, most importantly, to the America people.
The Republican Party may have begun with good intentions, but their fight for individual freedom has attracted the most corrupt individuals to their side of the aisle. Because with individual freedom comes the ability for individuals to take advantage of a lop-sided system.
By silencing internal dissent within the Republican Party. By disallowing the media into press conferences. By restricting voting access. By gerrymandering countless districts across the United States. By using rhetoric to delegitimize the election process. By continuing to restrict freedoms behind the guise of a free market and moral authority.
Many conservative politicians have criticized the NEW Republican Party. Many military leaders have criticized the NEW Republican Party. Many former members of the Trump administration have condemned the actions of Trump and the NEW Republican Party.
PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE do not let desensitization and repetition continue to normalize these behaviors.
I wholeheartedly STAND by my statements here. HOW WE GOT TO NOW’s goal has ALWAYS been, and WILL ALWAYS be, to unite our country and to promote the core tenets of truth and context.
I PROMISE to treat the Democratic Party the same if, and when, they begin to slide into dangerous territory. Some of you may think that this ‘dangerous slide’ is already happening, but please understand that it is NOWHERE close to the slide the Republican Party has experienced in recent years.
Right now, ALL OF OUR FOCUS should be on the Republican Party.
We MUST continue to communicate with each other, and we MUST overcome our biological tendencies to desensitize and normalize egregious behavior.
It’s the ONLY way we can avoid our country's slide into madness.
Eric Prince is the creator and operator of howwegottonow.com, a platform designed to provide content and context on the most important events happening today. Eric enjoys the daily NYT crossword puzzle, underlining entire paragraphs in books, and drinking one-too-many cups of coffee.
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