Humans Are Followers— How This Explains Behaviors of Political Officials and Media

Americans love to pretend we are brave and independent. Most of us aren’t — even politicians, journalists and various supposed leaders. Many of us can learn to be brave or independent in various situations. People can act bravely or even aggressively when following a leader. But for most of us, it requires training to be brave or to lead. It doesn’t come naturally to many people.

Right now it’s crucial that we “Know Thyself” and face uncomfortable realities. Why? Because in the U.S., we are swimming in Republican con artists. If the con artists know us, and we don’t know ourselves, that leaves us wide open to be manipulated endlessly — and we currently are.

We can protect ourselves against manipulation by looking human and American cultural realities in the face and deal with them.

Humans are an easily frightened species. We’re animals who run in packs. We are insecure when alone and are eager to follow a leader. Social psychologist Erich Fromm called this eagerness a “lust for submission.” Life can be hard for us. Most of us would love at times to give up our responsibility to deal with it, and hand it over to a leader.

There now. That isn’t so hard to admit, is it? We see this happening constantly to ourselves and others. Even most leaders often follow someone else.

It helps us to admit we have this instinctual drive to follow a leader, because it keeps us from falling into it automatically, blindly. We can admit our urge to follow. Then we can recognize the urge when we feel it. We can pause and decide whether it’s a good idea or not, in this particular case.

This awareness can shed light on our politics.

For example, look at how Trump incites racism and hatred. People from government agencies will talk about this. But no government or private organization has yet been both able and willing to set limits on this. Perhaps no agency or organization has the power to do so. Yet agencies and private organizations should at least try to find a way to set limits on this. It’s very dangerous.

Let’s look at Pelosi’s behavior about impeachment, as another example. She has shown more bravery than most other Democrats — especially during the government shutdown over Trump’s wall. When it comes to impeachment, however, she has reverted back to our normal human default — follower behavior. She followed, accepted and normalized Trump by failing to impeach him for a long time, before impeaching him. Even then, she did a narrow impeachment on an issue that wasn’t very meaningful to the public because it was about events in another country. She refused to widen the impeachment inquiry.

At first Pelosi would say “He’s not worth it” regarding Trump and impeachment. That reminds me of my mother telling me when I was a child “Don’t hit the bully back. You are better than that.” My mother had many strengths, but in this instance she was wrong. I’m lucky that I never got killed or seriously injured, with advice like that. I really wish she’d responded by sending me for Aikido lessons instead.

Seeing yourself as superior to a bully may be true in some way. But it doesn’t stop you from continuing to be harmed. It’s an excuse for failing to fight back — and not a good one.

Pelosi also kept waiting for Big Daddy Mueller to finish and submit his report. We see from the redacted Mueller Report that Mueller was waiting for Congress to be brave, rather than being brave himself. Democrats, media folks and voters often look to others to be the brave ones — e.g. military, police or intelligence agency personnel — deferring to them as leaders.

However, even military people tend to follow those who rank above them in power and status. Military people are more often braver than than the rest of us are. However, most of their brave actions are done when following the orders of Trump is their Commander-in-Chief. Most people in the military follow him, whether his orders make sense or not.

Just because most Americans are in denial about the facts of power, status and hierarchy, doesn’t mean that we and others don’t defer to the more powerful higher status people who rank above us.

High status people may seem very independent, free or courageous to most of us. However, they usually passively meekly bend to the will of people higher than themselves in status — those with the power to make people’s lives painful if those people do not bend to the powerful. Just because some powerful people ignore or condescend to ordinary citizens like us, does not mean they do that toward people with power over them.

Most people passively bend toward those with power over them. Courage may be common on TV. But in real life it’s rather rare.

Even the Special Counsel wants to look to Congress members to be the brave ones, as Bill Maher notes.

Looking to others as leaders is not necessarily bad if such officials have shown themselves to be trustworthy and brave. But one has to ask: Am I giving up too much of my own power and responsibility to these folks? Often we are, and that’s a mistake. For example, that’s how we let media and government lead us into the Iraq War.

Who’s Your Daddy? Time for Democrats and Mainstream Media to Get Smart about How to Play the Game of Power Politics

In Pelosi’s case, as Speaker of the House, she should have been leading impeachment proceedings from Trump’s first day of office, when he was already violating the Emoluments Clause. That’s her job — not the Special Counsel’s job. Trump kept on violating laws constantly after that, often openly admitting it in his public statements. The House should have impeached him for a wide variety of crimes.

There seemed to be a fantasy on the part of many Democrats that Mueller’s report would reveal some big bombshell — something so magic that it would instantly change public opinion to be in favor of impeachment, and change Republican Senators minds to be in favor of conviction.

That expectation was always unrealistic. Public opinion — and GOP Senators’ opinions — would be more likely to change during impeachment hearings that educated the public on the subject of Trump’s most serious impeachable offenses.

Barr wanted to follow Trump and made that clear before he was appointed as Attorney General. Barr “sent an unsolicited 20-page memo to the Justice Department critiquing special counsel Robert Mueller’s current investigation into Russian election interference.” He was then rewarded by being nominated for Attorney General.

Republicans do tend to be more open about, and even proud of, their desire to follow a leader — often even an authoritarian leader.

Media’s TV hosts and journalists follow leaders too. The massive and ever expanding Right Wing political and media network controls Right Wing media. It also heavily influences and manipulates mainstream media. That’s easy for it to do — because Right Wingers know mainstream media journalists better than those journalists know themselves.

For example, since mainstream media journalists hate to be accused of bias toward one political side, Right Wingers constantly accuse mainstream media and social media of political bias toward the Left. In reaction, media keep bending over Rightwards to prove they are not Left Wing biased. Right Wingers have successfully manipulated mainstream media to the Right for years now.

After the Barr letter about the Mueller report was released, the media did their “both sides” type of reporting where they report events and views from both sides. So they reported all the “Trump was totally exonerated” statements from Right Wingers.

The Left, as usual, didn’t stand up for themselves and make their points loudly — for example, that we still don’t have the Mueller report. All we have is a clearly biased statement about it written by a Trump partisan.

Republicans have an outrage machine that everyone has been bending to, including Comey, Obama, all government officials and mainstream media. Democrats don’t have an outrage machine. So they often can’t defend themselves, get fair media coverage, or get appropriate action from government agencies.

Most mainstream media have yielded to the Right Wing outrage machine on this.

Also, media have been desperately hoping, for two years now, to get the chance to follow a leader. They wanted to follow Mueller, so they eagerly reported all kinds of rumors about when his report would be revealed. It still hasn’t been revealed. All we have is a partisan statement from a Trump administration official.

However, most in mainstream media apparently couldn’t stand to wait any longer to follow a Big Daddy leader. Mueller and his report weren’t available quickly. So most media decided to follow Barr, since he is all they had to begin with. Media reported on Barr’s summary, just as if it was the Mueller Report. It reminds me of the old song that goes “if you can’t be with the one you love honey, love the one you’re with.”

Mainstream media journalists and social media company managers could stand to do some self-reflection, especially after the horrendous coverage they did, leading up to the 2016 election. The Right Wing manipulated them easily and massively, and continues to do so to this day.

Mainstream media still contain far too much Right Wing bias, due to covering both sides as if they are equally credible — even when one side says truth and the other side says lies.

Superior Use of Science and Technology Won the 2016 Election

What can ordinary citizens do about this? Once the COVID pandemic is over, we can demonstrate outside mainstream media offices, when their coverage is Right Wing biased and unfair to Democrats. We can make signs that say what media are doing wrong and what we want them to do, to cover current events fairly. For now, during the pandemic, we should phone them and write them letters. Contacting them on social media is unlikely to be effective, as they may not read their social media feeds.

With regard to Right Wing media, demonstrations won’t help. Right Wing media owners don’t care what Democrats want. However, they do care whether their advertisers withdraw ads. So we can pressure advertisers to withdraw ads from lying or racist media.

Help! Our Nation Is Drowning in Right Wing Lies and Disinformation. Here’s How to Change That

We citizens can also look to Gandhi as a leader. Deceased people can still lead. Gandhi said “Where the people lead, the leaders will follow.” That’s true.

We can phone our representatives in Congress and demand that they take action. For example, they can subpoena DeJoy about his shakeup in the USPS, which looks like an attempt to win the election for Trump through fraud. We can communicate on social media with one another and come up with other assertive actions Congress members can take, and demand those also.

Some of us are not yet brave enough to lead or demonstrate or phone Congress members to let them know what we want. Yet many who are not yet brave enough can learn to do such things over time. We can help each other learn. Democracy depends on it.

We also need to educate ourselves about con artists and pressure mainstream media journalists to do so also. I have listed six good books for book clubs and for media, to use to educate ourselves, at the end of this essay below.



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