By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
Now that the GOP's standard bearer has formally cinched the nomination, the voices of traditional conservatives and establishment types within the party are shifting from "Never Trump" to "Okay, I Guess It's Trump." Senator Marco Rubio, for example, who Donald Trump mercilessly mocked in the manner of your middle-school bully as "Little Marco," and who said of Trump that he is a "con artist" and as "the most vulgar person ever to aspire to the presidency," now says that he would be "honored" to speak on Trump's behalf at the convention. And that is just one of the many conversion stories on the road to Cleveland. On the other side of the aisle, we can expect to soon see a similar phenomenon as many former Bernie Sanders supporters come around to the belief that Hillary Clinton, though previously derided as a corrupt establishment figure, now gets their full support. Sure, some will hold out on both sides, but it seems likely that the majority of the "Never Trump" and the "Never Hillary" crowds will come around. To many observers, especially those who never changed their views, that move will look pretty hypocritical. And it may be, but it is hardly unique.
A recent article in Mother Jones by Northeastern University psychologist David DeSteno, for example, shares the view that these forms of extreme but convenient mental flexibility are the rule, not the exception. According to DeSteno, "The mind evolved to be adaptive, not saintly. This fact doesn't excuse hypocritical behavior, but it does help to explain why it's so prevalent." In response to a perceived necessity or a higher priority, most of us are willing to waver even on some fairly fundamental beliefs. "When faced with the option to either stand on principle or gain advantage," DeSteno adds, "people tend to go with the latter." Now, my own prediction that anti-Trump and anti-Clinton voters will mostly fall in line for the nominee within their respective parties, might be taken with a grain of salt since I once predicted that Trump wouldn't get more than a quarter of his party's vote. In my defense, I wasn't the only one who was wrong about that, but the great shift within the party from doubt and opposition to a reluctant embrace illustrates the flexibility that DeSteno is talking about. To really understand attitudes -- including the kinds of attitudes that matter in court -- we need to not just understand what they are, we need to understand how they evolve and adapt, and to understand how the seemingly hypocritical stance gets rationalized. In this post, I will take a look at the research DeSteno conducted with Claremont McKenna psychologist Piercarlo Valdesolo and share a few thoughts on what this means to courtroom persuasion.