US President Donald Trump has no doubts about his irresistible charm. In early 2016 he famously declared that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and still not lose any voters. Later that year, just before the presidential election, he was heard on tape declaring that “when you are a star” you can do anything, adding a demeaning act against women as proof.
Overturning all predictions, Trump was elected. His boasts were justified. So were the fears that his presidency would cause serious damage to institutions and society, to America’s relations with other countries, to its place in the world. And yet, today his re-election appears most likely. The phenomenon of the “charismatic” leader explains much. But why do voters insist on repeating their mistakes, indifferent to the damage caused by their choices?
It is striking that since the referendum in 2016, Brexit’s supporters have rejected as part of “Project Fear” every argument against their country’s leaving the European Union. Even last year, in the face of mounting evidence of the damage caused by this self-imposed isolation, they re-elected the party vowing to “Get Brexit done.”
There are many possible reasons for such behavior, but the most important one is the rejection of truth as a measure by which to understand the world and, consequently, to behave.
Like those who voted for SYRIZA in 2015 (three times) and for Brexit and Trump in 2016, we see what we want to see, not what is true. When we do see danger, we believe that the positive factors outweigh the negative ones, as when we are promised more money in our pockets at the cost of larger deficits and fewer public services and infrastructure projects. We justify our choices with arguments such as that the other candidates or parties are even worse. We don’t believe that things are as bad as other say they are. We split truth into that which suits us and that which we deem irrelevant: We don’t care about Trump’s metaphorical victim on Fifth Avenue because we don’t walk about there, or because we believe that the gunslinging star is on our team and would not harm us.
It’s only when we feel pain on our own skin that we wake up. As we did in Greece in 2019. This was not because we are quicker than the Americans, the British, or anyone else, but because we all felt the pain. It was intense and undeniable.