An April 6 piece published on the uber-liberal Salon.com by Chauncey DeVega featured a podcast interview with Philip Zimbardo, the psychologist responsible for the renowned “Stanford Prison Experiment.” Not surprisingly, both men trashed both President Trump and his supporters in the podcast.
According to the article, DeVega asked Zimbardo about Trump: “What do you think is going on with Trump’s psychology? Is there a grand strategy at work or is he just a man-child and a malignant narcissist?”
In response to this lopsided inquiry, Zimbardo diagnosed the President as “an unconstrained present hedonist” who makes decisions without considering the potential consequences of his choices.
Prior to the section of the article containing the interview, DeVega called Trump a “neofascist” and declared:
In many ways, Trump’s election was a decision by millions of American voters to punish their fellow citizens. These people were encouraged and enabled in this desire to do harm by their leaders in the right-wing media and by Trump himself.
But contrary to DeVega’s negative view of Trump and his supporters, most of the people who voted for Trump probably made their decision based on concerns relating to substantive issues including: taxes, ObamaCare, the Supreme Court, abortion, religious liberty, the military/national security, the border/illegal immigration, Benghazi, and the possibility the Clintons engaged in a corrupt pay-for-play scheme.
Issues like these and a desire to disrupt the political establishment likely motivated most of the voters who supported Trump, not a desire to “punish” other Americans.
DeVega also asked readers a series of questions that further revealed his extremely negative view of Trump and his supporters:
What lessons does the Stanford Prison Experiment hold for American society in 2017? Are Donald Trump’s supporters swept up in a wave of authoritarianism and bullying? Can they be stopped? Why are conservatives so hostile to people they perceive as “the other”? What can we do to resist Donald Trump and fight back against the feelings of hopelessness and trauma that many Americans have experienced since his election in November?
In another section, DeVega mentioned the idea that Trump voters wanted to “punish” people, this time suggesting that Trump voters may have sought to punish Muslims or people with black or brown skin:
In terms of the ‘common man,’ do you think that some of his voters are living vicariously through him? I am of the mind that a lot of Trump’s voters supported him precisely because they felt like he would punish somebody: It could be Muslims; it could be black and brown people. Is that too harsh?
Many conservatives abhor and oppose racism and the only Muslims they want to “punish” are the terrorists who seek to destroy America. While the article included the phrase “punish somebody,” DeVega actually used the term “stick it to somebody” on his podcast. In the article, DeVega recorded Zimbardo’s reply as:
I think you’re right. I think that a lot of people who are relatively powerless sign on to people who have power and live vicariously through them. With Trump they can say, “Wow! That’s amazing. No president ever has done what he’s done or [has ever used] Twitter as his personal message system to say whatever he wants to say and to do whatever he wants to do.”
On the podcast, Zimbardo actually made some additional comments before that statement: “No, no, I think you’re right. The one positive thing that a lot of the, his, his supporters went for is keeping America safe—yes—more jobs for Americans—yes.”
DeVega then interjected with, “Building the wall, coal, giving people jobs.”
Then Zimbardo resumed, “Reducing the fear of terrorism in various ways, so people agreed with that…” These statements preceded Zimbardo’s answer as recorded in the article.
According to the article, Zimbardo also called The Apprentice “an embarrassing television show” and later said:
In America even though our president was democratically elected, what we are seeing is the equivalent of right-wing totalitarianism building up in our country where you do things not for the power of the people but the power of the leaders. That’s essentially what totalitarianism is — a small inner group that dictates what everybody else will do and they take it or leave it.
DeVega referred to supposed research about how conservatives’ biology causes exaggerated responses to fear: “There is a great amount of research on brain structures and how conservatives are biologically primed to overreact to fear.” The article did not explain where people could review this “research.”
DeVega then asked: “Can we teach people to be less fearful and less vulnerable to these types of demagogues?”
Zimbardo replied: “Education. We have a lot of data on how Trump is having a really negative effect on Muslim kids, minority kids, on Jewish kids. We’re seeing this with the burning of mosques, burning of synagogues.” He linked Trump to bullying and said that bullies use Trump to validate their behavior and stated “[n]ow with Trump, there’s a presidential justification for it.”
Zimbardo described a dichotomy he perceives between wrong and right, Trump and anti-Trump, and he advocated for teachers to enforce the morally right anti-Trump ideas in the classroom:
Despite all the Trumpism, I’m optimistic about human nature that right will prevail over wrong. Heroism will prevail over evil. For me, again as an educator, it’s really important that teachers have to be anti-Trump in their own political mentality, their own morality. Whether or not they can present those political views in class, they can certainly prevent the Trump political views from being espoused. When kids act Trump-like, they can stop it cold. They can stop Trump-like bullying. They could call it for what it is.
The article concluded with Zimbardo’s hope that Trump supporters will eventually stop being “stupid”: “I’m optimistic that Trump and his ideals will go away and people will laugh about it in the near future while saying, How could we have been so stupid?”