With the firing of Jeff Sessions, we can be sure that Donald Trump is gearing up to attempt to shut down the Mueller probe by any means necessary. By doing this, it appears Trump has rendered the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein powerless, since the Russia investigation will now be overseen by the Acting Attorney General, Trump loyalist Matthew Whitaker. While the U.S. has one of the best systems of checks and balances over political power in the world, we are now seeing how even our system is far from perfect, and by no means incorruptible. While Trump himself cannot fire Robert Mueller directly, the new attorney general may, or can at least drastically cut Mueller’s budget in order to effectively smother the investigation out of existence.
This has many experts saying we could be headed right for a “constitutional crisis,” defined as a problem or conflict in the function of a government that the political institution or other fundamental governing law is perceived to be unable to resolve. This possibility should have all Americans wondering what we can do to ensure that justice is not obstructed, because there is one thing we can be sure of—that Trump will try his best to do it.
As a neuroscience and psychology researcher, when I’m trying to better understand the messy world of politics and politically-motivated human behavior, I try to look at the situation through the lens of cognitive science. This has allowed me, as a Psychology Today blogger and a freelance journalist, to predict events or outcomes that would have been quite difficult to otherwise. For example, those familiar with the social psychology theory Terror Management Theory could have predicted the Nationalist surge we’re currently seeing in the U.S. years ago, a movement that is an expected consequence of the fear created by the ISIS-inspired terror attacks in the preceding years, amplified by Donald Trump and the fear-mongering tactics he has perfected.
By taking into account EEG data that revealed how the average brain exhibited greater emotional arousal in response to Trump’s speeches compared to Hillary Clinton’s, in July of 2016 I was able to predict that Trump would likely defeat her. And last month on The Damage Report, I predicted that if the heat got turned up in the Mueller probe, which is what happened the moment the Democrats took over the House, Trump would immediately fire Sessions. While others may have predicted similar things, it is obvious to me that science, especially the fields of cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and social psychology, provides a crystal ball that can turn anyone into a clairvoyant.
My usual advice to readers and friends regarding how to respond to Trump and Trumpism, based on psychology research, is that it is best is to remain calm, cool, and collected. A lot of the polarization and division tearing America apart right now is a direct consequence of widespread fear, both on the Right and the Left. For the Right, the fear is of immigrants, Muslims, government, and the media, and for the Left, the fear is of Trump’s dangerous rhetoric and the Right-wing terror it has recently inspired. The powerful emotions that we are all feeling is at least partially responsible for the current chaos in America.
But now may not be the time to stay calm and collected. I am still somewhat hesitant to say it, but perhaps chaos is the more appropriate and psychologically effective response to Trump’s clear abuse of power. If the president continues down this path—if justice is flagrantly and shamelessly obstructed—the best check the American people have on the balance of power is to bring about civil unrest until justice is served.
This does not mean bumping up the heated rhetoric, which we’ve seen can have deadly consequences, and it certainly does not mean we should protest violently or destructively. That would only serve to make Trump look like the mature and civil one.
But it does mean that we should use the peaceful tools of civil disobedience made popular by great agents of change, like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. If Robert Mueller is shut down, Americans can rally in the streets, tie up the phone lines of Congress members, and peacefully blockade offices strategically for as long as it takes. The people can raise hell in ways that help, rather than hurt, the cause. Imagine the effects of an ongoing protest the size of the 2017 Women’s March, specifically targeting the Mueller issue.
We may feel helpless right now watching a “Saturday Night Massacre” happening in slow-motion, but we are not. The effects of large-scale nonviolent resistance cannot be understated. We may not be able to stop the chaos right now, but perhaps we can give it a direction and a purpose.
Bobby Azarian is a neuroscientist affiliated with George Mason University and a freelance journalist. His research has been published in journals such as Cognition & Emotion and Human Brain Mapping, and he has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, Psychology Today, and Scientific American. Follow him @BobbyAzarian.