“US Flag Backlit” by Jnn13 is licensed under CC by 3.0

3 Post-Election Challenges …Regardless Of Who Is President

People in the US have bigger challenges than their preferred candidate not winning the election. For instance, we need to figure out what we’re going to do about the fact that so many people aren’t reasoning well, that multiple groups of people feel like they’ve been neglected, and that so many people let others determine what they care about. I hope that we can address all of these challenges after the election — no matter who is president.

1.  We Are Not Reasoning Well

We are not naturally great at reasoning, especially when we guard ourselves from other perspectives.

First, we quickly accept claims via poor reasoning (and sometimes on the basis of no reasoning at all). We probably do not realize when we do this (because we are not likely to carefully reason about something when it seems correct right of the bat).

Second, all sorts of demonstrably false and bad conclusions seem correct at first (Frederick 2005). So we’ll accept all kinds of demonstrably false and poorly argued claims without realizing it. And so we’re often overconfident about all sorts of claims (Keil, Rozenblit, and Mills 2004; Rozenblit and Keil 2002). Indeed, we’re so overconfident that we’ll share the claims with other like-minded people, and they’ll share it with more like-minded people. And sooner or later loads of people believe something on the basis of bad (or no) reasoning.

[More on this is in “Is post-fact reasoning redeemable?“]

What do we do? We find ways to challenge our unreflective, unreasoned acceptance of claims. One way to do this is to go out of our way to subject our beliefs and world views to criticism. This is difficult and even painful — which might be why we don’t do it. But if we don’t do this, then we will continue to live in a society in which people continue to vote for candidates and policies about which they are overly confident.

2.  Many People Feel Neglected

The concerns of many people (from multiple parties, including those without parties) have not been sufficiently addressed by either major party. So many (many) people feel neglected. And these people are — not unreasonably — upset. Some of them are so upset that they’ll vote for anything that upsets the status quo. Anything.

What do we do? We (a) acknowledge these peoples’ concerns, (b) find ways to devise (or point to extant) policies that address their concerns, and then (c) clearly identify the mechanisms of progress (or lack thereof) about their concern.

A couple disclaimers. First, blaming the other party does not accomplish (a), (b), or (c). Second, some concerns are ill-conceived.† And you might think that we shouldn’t acknowledge an ill-conceived concern because that would legitimize it. There’s something to that claim. But there is more to say. We can acknowledge the reasonable part of an ill-conceived concern. And that can go a long way in creating the conditions for fruitful dialogue. (Consider the person who fears certain policies because the person erroneously believes that such policies have caused of a variety of their negative experiences. We can acknowledge the psychological impact of their negative experiences without thereby endorsing the hypothesis that certain policies cause these experiences. And once we’ve acknowledged the gravity of their experience, the person is far more likely to appreciate  (b) our devising (or pointing to extant) policies that address their negative experiences and (c) any subsequent improvements in their experience.)

3.  We Let Others Decide Who/What We Care About

We are often more loyal to groups (e.g., political parties) than to our most valued principles. Loyalty is not inherently bad, but this election has revealed how loyalty can be bad — e.g., when it trumps our values (pun intended).

Think about it. Many smart and conscientious Republicans issued the strongest possible criticisms of Donald Trump during the primary elections. Their criticisms were based on deep-seated political, religious, and moral convictions. But once Republican voters nominated Donald Trump Republicans quickly abandoned their deep-seated political, religious, and moral convictions. Instead, they supported their (new) party. (Something similar might have happened for Sanders supporters when they learned that Sanders would not run as a third party candidate).

So if we are more loyal to groups than values, then — and this is the problem — when a party abandons our values, so will we! And we usually won’t even stop to consider our values. Instead — and this is where we go wrong — we simply look for new reasons to continue being members of the group. So long as we continue to perform this ad hoc rationalization of party membership, political parties can become whatever they want and we will follow — for better AND for worse.

[Related: “Voting Third-Party: A Wasted Vote?“]

What do we do? We prioritize values, not parties. To do this, we should not maintain party membership from election to election. Instead, we should maintain only our most valued principles. And when it comes time to vote, we should vote only for the candidate who seems most consistent with our principles  — regardless of their party. That way our principles are in the driver seat; not the ever-changing principles of a particular group. One way to do this is to change your voter registration to “no party affiliation” as soon as possible. You would only register with a party if you have to do so to vote in a primary. (And you would change it back as soon as the primary is over).

Final Thoughts

First, there are probably other post-election challenges that deserve our attention. These are just the ones that have been on my mind a lot this year.

Second, we maybe disagree about precisely how to handle 1-3. That’s fine. As long as we can agree that 1-3 are a problem, we’ll have made progress. But hopefully we can do even more than that.

Third, no matter who you are, how you voted, and how you feel about the outcome of the election, I hope that we can work together to address 1-3 in the future. And I hope you will remind me of my commitment to work on 1-3 if I forget (or waver). We’re in this together. Here’s to a better tomorrow.



† Thanks to Jenna Kilic-Somers for motivating this second disclaimer.


Featured Image: “US Flag Backlit” by Jnn13 is licensed under CC by 3.0

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Nick Byrd

Nick is a cognitive scientist at Florida State University studying reasoning, wellbeing, and willpower. Check out his blog at byrdnick.com/blog

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