Many Americans are currently struggling with friends and relatives who insist that when November comes, they will vote for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Given the erstwhile reality TV star’s penchant for blatant racism, gross sexism, nativism and xenophobia, his hair-trigger temper and parchment-thin skin, it is abundantly clear that no political party in living memory has ever run a candidate less suited to the pressures and obligations of the Oval Office.
Fusion writer David Matthews noted, however, that Trump supporters can be devilishly impervious to facts and reason. The thrice-bankrupted real estate mogul has tailored his sales pitch to the Republican base in such a way that his followers are stubbornly resistant to facts, blind to the billionaire’s hypocrisies and mulishly determined to cast their vote for him.
“Convincing a Trump supporter to back down from their views requires a tactical, professional approach,” Matthews wrote. “So I called a cult deprogramming expert, and asked him how to convince Trump supporters to change their minds.”
Matthews contacted Rick Alan Ross of the nonprofit Cult Education Institute, an organization that helps families recover their loved ones from cults and extreme religions. Since 1982, Matthews said, CEI has conducted more than 500 interventions with families in crisis whose loved ones had fallen prey to groups like Scientology and the Branch Davidians.
Ross first urged Matthews to bear in mind the difference between an actual cult and a cult following.
“There’s a big difference between Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and Jim Jones, and Charlie Manson, and David Koresh, Shoko Asahara,” he explained.
Here, however, are some ways to approach your friend or loved one who seems hell bent on voting against their own — and the nation’s — best interest.
Approach the topic with compassion.
Ross explained to Matthews that it is important to frame your intervention as an act of caring and support. Otherwise, the person will feel that they have been ambushed, and they will go on the defensive.
Provide the person with information.
Part of a successful intervention is presenting the person you are concerned about with new information about the leader of their cult, Ross said.
Matthews wrote, “During an intervention, Ross asks the subject what they know about the group and its leader. Does the leader have a criminal history? Has the leader been sued by former members for things like personal injury? Does the leader have assets like real estate holdings or investments derived from the group that you’re not aware of? Are there former members with similar grievances that you’re not aware of?”
An intervention is not a therapy session, Ross said, it isn’t counseling, it’s sharing information.
Introduce divergent views.
Cult members are typically accustomed to only receiving information that has been vetted and approved by a field of like-minded believers. As much as you can, try to introduce them to information from outside their ideological bubble.
“So if your Trump-supporting friend only watches Fox News or listens to Mark Levin on the radio, try to convince him to watch some MSNBC or read the New York Times. E-mail her articles from websites she wouldn’t normally visit. Many Trump supporters likely have suspicions about mainstream media bias, so try sharing information that comes from non-mainstream sources, like Facebook groups or YouTube channels,” said Matthews.
Avoid loaded language.
“According to Ross, cliches like ‘Dangerous Donald’ and ‘Crooked Hillary’ won’t work for the purposes of convincing someone to change their political beliefs,” said Matthews.
Ross said, “Slogans and mantras shut down critical thinking.”
Part of cult programming is training followers to stop listening when they hear arguments that run contrary against their beliefs. Matthews said to avoid using words like “misogynist” and “birther,” since these words are typically used by Trump’s “politically correct” mainline detractors and will cause his supporters to feel attacked.
Appeal to authority.
“To sway a Trump supporter, perhaps you’d begin by identifying people she respects, and seeing which of those people have spoken out in opposition to Trump. If the Trump supporter is a huge basketball fan, perhaps show him Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s open letter to Trump supporters. If she’s an avid ‘House of Cards’ fan, consider showing her a video of Kevin Spacey blasting Trump’s policies,” said Matthews.
“It’s helpful to show, in the leader’s own words, how they’ve been misleading or said things that are disingenuous or even lies. That begins to shake the faith of a true believer,” said Ross.
Miller added, “For a Trump supporter, this might mean showing them evidence that immigrants don’t actually commit more crimes than native-born Americans, or that you’re more likely to get shot by a toddler than a Muslim terrorist. It might mean fact-checking some incorrect assertions Trump has made about ISIS’ oil holdings in Libya, or gently correcting some misinformation he’s spread about Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.”
Be respectful and loving, not smug and condescending.
Again, attempting to bully or coerce a Trump supporter away from their views is unlikely to work since they will become angry and defensive. Also, it’s important not to treat the individual as if they’re stupid or gullible for holding the beliefs they hold.
“The idea that just stupid people fall for this is just simply not true. I’ve deprogrammed five medical doctors. It can happen to anyone,” said Ross.
Yes, Matthews, said, while a large number of Trump supporters are aggrieved white men, but they’re not the only ones.
“Maybe your Trump-supporting friend lost his manufacturing job when his company moved factories overseas. Maybe she was genuinely spooked by the terrorist attacks in Paris, and wants to elect someone who will keep America safe,” he explained.
These motives and feelings are genuine and should be respected, Matthews said. It is always important to approach the matter with compassion and sensitivity.
Ross said that the most successful de-programmings he has seen have come about when the object of the intervention sees how devastating their allegiance to the cult has been to their loved ones.
“Personal affection is a strong motivator — in the end, the persuasiveness of the anti-Trump arguments you make to your loved one are likely to matter less than the fact that it’s you making them,” Matthews wrote. “So keep it civil, and you’re more likely to take a vote out of Trump’s column.”