Reactance: How Things Backfire

November 1st, 2017 | R. Rados

Donald Trump is a product of reactance. If you're not sure what that means, it's pretty simple. Reactance is when you tell a child they can't do something, so they do it anyway—mostly because you told them not to. Donald Trump is the result of mass, collective reactance. His brand of politics emerged as an opposite to a culture in Hollywood, academia, politics and media that tries to dictate social norms. Americans grew tired of being told what they should and shouldn't believe, so they reacted by electing the most politically incorrect, unapologetic and resistant president in history. Donald Trump was the biggest backfire in American politics, but Trumpism could collapse for all the same reasons.

Reactance is only one part of the picture. Trump's election had other factors, but reactance seems to be appearing on the opposite side of the political spectrum now. You'll notice NFL players kneeling because Trump told them not to, journalists criticizing everything Trump says and does even when he's right, politicians on Trump's team in Congress voting against things Trump supports, and people who once supported shutting down free speech now crying foul about Trump violating the First Amendment. If everything seems backwards lately, it's because of that weird and primitive psychological phenomenon called reactance. It happens when people are told, pressured or shamed into behaving a certain way or believing certain things. It happens when people feel like their freedoms are under threat.

Things were bad before Trump won. Sanctimonious celebrities, talk show hosts, politicians, experts and professors were telling Americans that opposing illegal immigration was racist, opposing transgender washrooms was transphobic and not voting for Hillary was sexist. Naturally, half of America revolted and we can't blame them. In one swoop, Americans reversed a growing culture of regressive thought-policing and political shaming. They threw a big, beautiful golden wrench into the establishment's gears and made America a better country—at a cost.

Trump is far from perfect. In light of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, the pussy-grabber-in-chief has been propped up by the opposite team as an example of America's misogynistic, rapey culture. They've tried to make Trump worse than Weinstein on the simple grounds that he was elected president and, therefore, is a bigger problem than Weinstein. This is yet another false equivalency created by Trump's opponents. It's important to remember that there is no record of Trump paying women for their silence or trapping women in hallways and forcing them to watch him masturbate—as Weinstein did. As of now, more than forty women have come forward with allegations of sexual assault (not just groping) against Weinstein and eight were confirmed to have been paid to keep quiet. If we're keeping score, Weinstein has eight points and Trump has zero.

This kind of denial and disregard for facts plays a role in reactance. Even if their acts of defiance are illogical, people will still do it for the sake of doing it. Also, I really wanted to comment on the people who have been comparing Trump to Weinstein.

Reactance is becoming a problem among Trump's opponents. His own Republicans in Congress are voting against things he supports just to spite him—even when those things are things they would normally support. Journalists are fact-checking Trump on everything, including any remarks he makes about the sky being blue. If Donald Trump said alligators were giant lizards, journalists would find a way to make people believe alligators are mammals. A few weeks ago, Trump tweeted about how the Hillary-Obama-Uranium bribery deal with Russia is the biggest scandal in decades—so the media decided not to cover it at all, even though Trump is probably right. 

This is the current state of politics in America.  

Since reactance happens when people are told they have to do something or when they feel that their freedoms are being threatened, consider having a president you think is a dictator. The narrative on the other side has been about Trump being a fascist, which is a part of why ordinary people and Trump haters are going out of their way to defy him just for the sake of defying him. Even before Trump won, his opponents were calling him “literally Hitler”, so it's no wonder so many Americans believe Trump is a fascist. Let's not forget that this “Trump is Hitler” narrative has been permeating in mainstream media and Hollywood for over a year. Celebrities, academics and journalists have all resorted to comparing Donald Trump to a European dictator—which is made ever more ironic by their freedom to do so.

All of this childish reactance could be used to Trump's advantage. His supporters have already tried to tell us that he stirred up the NFL kneeling controversy on purpose, knowing that players would defy him en masse and create an even bigger uproar among NFL fans. I find this hard to believe, but some of Trump's most ardent supporters are convinced he's a mad genius. If he is, he should have no problem winning again in 2020—which I'm not convinced will happen.

Trump isn't the moron his opponents think he is, but he isn't the genius his supporters think he is either. Trump is probably more in touch with ordinary Americans than any other politician ever has been, but that doesn't mean he'll win using the same formula in 2020. By then, Americans might be tired of Trumpism and his incessant tweeting. The biggest problem will be Trump's supporters and their ongoing evolution into gross trolls and angry snowflakes. In 2020 and 2018, reactance will play a big part in American democracy and Trump could be at the losing end of it.

Trump won because people like BLM and Antifa were shutting down speeches and rallies. He won because American media was shaming people for having certain opinions and because America's borders were becoming non-existent. Trump won because Obama's supporters spent eight years accusing his opponents of being racists and because Hillary tried to accuse her opponents of being sexist. At some point, reactance was going to kick in and Americans were going to snap.

Fast forward to the future.

By 2020, the people trying to shut down speeches, shame opponents with different opinions and attack anyone who criticizes the president as unpatriotic and un-American will be Trump supporters. It's only 2017 and we've already seen this trend taking shape.

In June, Laura Loomer—along with her friend Jack Posobiec—shut down a play in New York that depicted a Trumpian version of Caesar being assassinated. According to loonie Loomer, it promoted violence against the president and should not have been allowed to continue. Loomer ran onto the stage and shouted at the audience while Posobiec filmed himself calling the audience a bunch of Nazis. I kid you not. Loomer was arrested and fined for misconduct, which caused her to lash out on social media and accuse the police of violating her right to free speech—even though she was the one trying to shut down someone else's right to free speech. Donald Trump's call to have NFL players fired for kneeling is along the same lines as Loomer's asinine stunt. Both stunts call for expression and speech to be punished because they don't conform to the expectations of Trump supporters.

Donald Trump's attacks on the NFL and his suggestion that NBC should have its license revoked encourages his supporters to echo those same sentiments. As history has shown, it doesn't matter what side of the political fence Americans are on—they don't like being told what they can or can't do, no matter what.

When Hillary Clinton called Trump supporters deplorable, his supporters changed their Twitter handles to include deplorable—like Deplorable Mike or Deplorable so-and-so. Whenever opponents slam Trump for tweeting too much, he tweets more. When Trump supporters are told not to use certain words or racially insensitive terms, they double down and make a point of repeating them ad nauseam. Trump and his supporters know reactance very well, but they're about to start seeing it work against them.

There will be two kinds of Trump opponents in 2020. One kind will notice the childish reactance of Trump and his supporters and fight against it. The other kind will engage in the same reactance as NFL players.

In the middle of all this will be the non-ideological independents who only voted for Trump to stop Hillary, or who voted for Hillary to stop Trump. People who breathe, eat and shit politics often forget how apolitical and apathetic everyone else is. Most Americans and Canadians are too busy with their lives to think about what it means to be right, left, conservative or liberal. They're too busy to care what it actually means to be a Trump supporter and they're definitely too busy to be on social media long enough to see what all the snowflakes are outraged about. Most normal people hate politics. When these normal, ordinary voters see Trump and his supporters telling Americans that certain behaviours are un-American, they're not liking it.

Reactance doesn't just happen on the ideological sides of the political spectrum, it happens in the middle. Now that Trump is president and commands the world's most powerful bully pulpit, independents and normal people are paying attention. When the president of the United States says people should be fired and certain things should be banned, it matters. Normal voters didn't like being called racist for caring about border security, so they shouldn't be expected to enjoy being called various other pejoratives by Trump and his supporters whenever they don't conform to his expectations.

Unless Trump finds some genius way to harness the storm of reactance that's coming his way in 2018 and 2020, he'll probably lose for all the same reasons he won. If the reactance gets too intense, maybe he can win by telling Americans to vote for his opponent. However, my prediction is that Trump will decide not to run again in 2020 and instead pass the ball to Mike Pence.

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