Hypnotic Mass Hysteria, AKA ‘Stop the Steal’
Much has been and will be written about the 2020 elections. Events unfolding in the autumn of 2020 proved to be both perplexing and unnerving. Despite the political intrigue, bizarre psychological manifestations gripping the MAGA public have proven to be as interesting as any political aberrations. In a fictional piece I recently published called “Delusional Humanism,” I explored the subject of Hypnotic Mass Hysteria and the psychological underpinnings causing large groups of people to break with reality. I thought I would extend this thinking from fiction to reality.
The first term, ‘hypnotic,’ refers to circumstances in which an individual becomes subconsciously receptive to ideas from another individual. Mass refers, of course, to a large number of affected people, and hysteria characterizes an uncontrolled outburst of irrational behavior.
During the runup to the 2016 election, even the shallowest reading of public materials on the then-candidate Donald Trump revealed three defining traits. Firstly, he appeared to fit the profile of a highly narcissistic sociopath — a person whose first concern would always be himself. Donald Trump always acts in the best interest of Donald Trump. This fact is not to say others don’t sometimes benefit from his actions, but the benefit of others plays no role in his decision-making. Neither genuine human compassion nor devotion to a higher good are part of the formula.
As is the case with many sociopaths, Donald is skilled in saying the right things and pushing the correct buttons to manage people and move them in his direction. He possesses the charisma to engender loyalty from others even when he offers no loyalty in return. A multitude of his associates and close supporters have been indicted and even imprisoned. As their troubles mounted, he often distanced himself or wholly abandoned them.
A second key trait, recognizable from before his Presidency, is his propensity for pathological lying. Still, many of us were shocked at the overwhelming number of lies and half-truths spouted daily from the Trump White House. Within this particular trait, we find the first key ingredient of his control over the MAGA Nation. An often-repeated lie eventually morphs into the truth for those who want to believe.
Donald’s third clear character flaw, identifiable in 2016, was his history as a serial cheater. He cheated on his first wife with the woman who would become his second wife. He cheated on the second wife with the third, and he cheated on the third with a porn star. Only time will tell whether his pre-presidential tax avoidance schemes were, in fact, illegal acts of tax evasion cheating the system.
I say all of this to set the stage for one of the most remarkable feats of mass illusion in my lifetime. It harkens back to the craft of a master hypnotist. Using repetitive motions or sounds, he creates an atmosphere of well-being and lures his subject into a mental state where he or she is open to the hypnotist’s suggestions. One of the tricks he uses are suggestions fashioned so they don’t override his subject’s core belief system; rather, they play on that system to make the suggestions seem reasonable. How else could the hypnotist convince his seemingly rational subject to stand on one foot and act like a chicken?
So the question is, how do you carry out this trick on 50 million people? The first step is you create a believable, alternate reality. I don’t know if Donald’s love for large rallies is simply to appease his personal need for adoration from his followers, but I do believe the rallies provided a mechanism for building a MAGA world view. Mob psychology lets people say, do, and feel things they might reject if they were on their own. An event with thousands of people cheering and chanting “lock her up” provides a sense of community for his followers. Their individual grievances are reinforced by thousands of others, leading them to believe they can’t be wrong. These rallies were necessary to cement a sense of community and exclusivity among his followers.
Let’s don’t forget that during the 2020 election, despite the nasty virus circulating across the country, the President continued to hold massive rallies with thousands of his ardent supporters in attendance. This particular trick imparted a sense of overwhelming support for the President. Individual supporters believed the majority of citizens were firmly on their side. By the time the election rolled around, the MAGA Nation firmly believed they couldn’t lose.
I heard it in the words of a Trump supporter when he said, “Trump had tens of thousands of supporters at his rallies, and Joe Biden had none. It’s inconceivable Biden won without cheating. It just doesn’t add up.”
Just as in individual hypnosis cases, a mass illusion also requires rhythmic repetition to relax the audience and open them to suggestions. This objective was accomplished by two simple words “voter fraud.” For years prior to the election, his supporters were inundated daily with the false notion that voter fraud was an imminent threat. Donald was a master at rhythmically dangling the words back and forth in his communications until the MAGA Nation reverted to believing what was false was really true. With years of deep conditioning, they were wide open to the President’s claim that he won the election, despite overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence pointing to his loss.
Donald lost the vote in 2016 but won the election with 304 electoral votes, ushering in four years of minority rule. He described it at the time as a landslide victory. The 2020 election provided a reversal of fortunes, and Biden is on track to win 306 votes compared to Donald’s 232. Despite a “landslide margin of victory,” the key difference between the two elections is: Biden won the vote and won the election.
Yet, in the face of these definitive and overwhelming facts, Donald claims he won, and a nation of MAGA followers repeat his claim. This single event of prolonged mass delusion fits the definition of Hypnotic Mass Hysteria. Donald has manipulated millions of MAGA followers into a psychotic break with reality, where they see the clear evidence Biden won but persist in irrationally maintaining Donald is the actual winner of the election.
We knew much about Donald Trump before he was elected President, but no one appreciated his unique talent for drawing his followers into his own delusional fantasies. In this respect, many of us grossly underestimated his abilities to play his base. Whether this says more about him, his base, or the rest of us is uncertain, but the MAGA Nation’s collective psychosis is a genuinely interesting and unsettling phenomenon to watch.