The Tell for Cognitive Dissonance, II

Someone I know posted on Facebook tonight that no one should be able to vote for Donald Trump after his crude remarks about women were made public. Now, I found this curious, and I asked:

"But wait, in the 1990s, Democrats kept telling me that a politician's 'private' sexual behavior is absolutely none of our business, and we should just butt out. Is that no longer the case, or does it apply only to Democrats?"

His response was, "Unfriended, troll."

I privately messaged him because I thought he must be kidding (I have known him for many years), and in response, he called me a liar! (That is particularly bizarre: how could anything I wrote be read as a lie?)

And I realized what had happened: this fellow held two clearly contradictory positions: in regards to Bill Clinton, who for sure came all over a twenty-year-old very junior subordinate in the Oval Office, and most likely forced himself on other women, his 'private' life is completely irrelevant. But when it comes to Donald Trump, his 'private' life is absolutely decisive. (I keep putting 'private' in quotes, because sexual conduct with another is already moving in to the public arena: there are at least two people involved, and perhaps cheated-upon spouses and possible babies and friends and employees helping to cover things up and so on and so on.)

As long as no one pointed out this blatant contradiction to my acquaintance, he was OK. But once someone did, he was faced with two choices: resolve the cognitive dissonance by abandoning one position or the other, or... attack the person drawing it to his attention, and thus attempt to make it disappear from his consciousness. And he picked the latter. It is the extremity of his response that is the tell: cognitive dissonance is extremely uncomfortable, and if the person experiencing it is not willing to resolve it internally, then he will explode in anger at whoever has drawn it to his attention.

And by the way, I think that actual answer to the question of whether this sort of thing matters is, "It's complicated." All other things being equal, we'd prefer a president who is well-behaved in his personal life. But the ceteris are never paribus: Bill Clinton was (and apparently is, according to Colin Powell) a sleazeball and perhaps worse in his personal life, while George W. Bush is undoubtedly a much better family man. But I think Clinton was a better president, and perhaps partially because he was chasing skirts in the White House and so had no time or energy for catastrophically destructive global crusades: in response to some terrorist attack, he'd shoot a few missiles at some camp in the desert, and then go back to looking for young punani. And that was a lot better than Bush's response!


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