Bait and Switch: Psychology and Trump’s Voter Fraud Tantrums

Voter ID warning. File is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication. Author: MarkBuckawicki

by Roy J. Eidelson, PhD

In recent days President Trump has, yet again, ludicrously asserted that millions of people illegally voted against him last November. Lies of such magnitude and consequence from the White House certainly deserve the attention and scorn they’ve received. After all, once we move beyond the realm of “alternative facts,” the real evidence shows that a person is more likely to be struck by lightning than to impersonate someone else at the polls.

But to fully understand Trump’s complaints about “illegal voters,” we need to recognize that voter fraud and voter suppression are opposite sides of the same coin. By promoting beliefs about the former, the groundwork is laid for pursuing the latter. In this way, tales of unlawful voting have long been a pretext for obstructing the voting rights of U.S. citizens.

The mass manipulation at the heart of this strategy relies on what I call the “combating-injustice mind game.” With two steps, this psychological ploy preys upon the public’s acute and compassionate sensitivity to issues of right and wrong. First we’re bombarded with dire warnings that something terribly unjust is happening. These overwrought claims aim to spur broad outrage and demands for reform.

Then the propagandists step forward with carefully crafted proposals for how to address the purported injustice. But there’s a catch. Their recommended changes are designed with a very different goal in mind: to advance a narrow self-aggrandizing agenda, one that leaves those who were already disadvantaged even worse off than before. So, behind the seductive façade of combating injustice, wealth is extracted, power is entrenched, and the common good is trampled.

 In short, complaints of rampant voter fraud are really just an elaborate cover story, constructed to hide repugnant attempts to gain electoral advantage by disenfranchising Americans. Paul Weyrich, for decades a leading voice of the conservative movement, indirectly acknowledged as much almost fifty years ago. In a speech in Texas back in 1980, he explained, “I don’t want everybody to vote. …Our leverage in the elections, quite candidly, goes up as the voting populace goes down.” That master plan hasn’t changed in the intervening years.

That’s why the Republican Party’s 2012 platform emphasized, “Every time that a fraudulent vote is cast, it effectively cancels out a vote of a legitimate voter”; why Reince Priebus, now Trump’s chief of staff, has argued that requiring a photo ID at the voting booth is “fair, reasonable, and just”; why other right-wing mouthpieces insist we must “keep fraudsters away from polling places” and “vote fraud pervades our election process”; why True the Vote, the Koch-funded Tea Party outfit, cunningly describes itself as “regular citizens standing up for fair elections”; and why the GOP’s 2016 platform endorsed legislation calling for both “proof of citizenship when registering to vote and secure photo ID when voting.”

It’s no surprise that the favorite targets of voter suppression efforts include African Americans, Hispanic Americans, students, and low-income workers. That’s because most members of these groups are traditionally unlikely to vote Republican. They’re also less likely than most Americans to have a driver’s license or other valid photo ID.

But ID laws aren’t the only suppression tactics employed. For example, requiring physical proof of citizenship when registering to vote undercuts the effectiveness of low-income voter registration drives. Closing polling places on or near college campuses makes it tougher for students to vote. And eliminating early voting periods and same-day registration options particularly disadvantage voters of lesser means. These assaults are likely to shift into even higher gear if Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions is confirmed as the country’s next Attorney General. Sessions has described the Voting Rights Act as a “piece of intrusive legislation” and the NAACP and ACLU as “un-American.”

So the President and his allies are actually right when they warn of a dangerous plot to cripple and corrupt our democratic institutions. But the mischief doesn’t take the form of impersonators at the voting booth. Rather, electoral justice and the integrity of the ballot box are endangered by well-organized conservative efforts aimed at preventing some Americans from voting at all. Indeed, it’s the unjustly disenfranchised in the United States who truly number in the millions today.

Roy J. Eidelson, Ph.D. President, Eidelson Consulting,Past President, Psychologists for Social Responsibility

This post was originally published by Psychology Today at




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10 Responses to Bait and Switch: Psychology and Trump’s Voter Fraud Tantrums

  1. LB says:

    Thanks Roy, for clarifying some of the underlying issues.

    Another less talked-about issue is that although some are more well-intentioned than others (and many if not most have been misled, conditioned), Trump’s claims give Democratic leaders and liberals another opportunity to demonstrate how concerned they are about disenfranchised, poor and minority voters, without having to work to substantively improve their conditions by addressing the rot at the root of our capitalist system. Basically it’s another opportunity to exploit voters by convincing them Democrats have their back, something Republican leaders (Trump) are just as adept at.

    Though middle-class, I grew up and cast my first vote in the ghetto, remember waiting patiently in a long line of folks, all of us believing our votes would somehow make a difference, that it was possible through voting to elevate the lives and conditions of our families, neighbors and world.

    Many years, elections later and we have more war, poverty, homelessness, medical bankruptcies, injustice. Fewer and fewer of us vote. More of us realize voting changes little and are choosing instead to live smaller, more mindful lives, exercising compassion toward those who are suffering without condoning or participating in the corruption (and illusion) with our votes, and sometimes our dollars.

    Poet, singer, song-writer Leonard Cohen summed it up beautifully when he sang, “Everybody knows “:

    • kathiemm says:

      Thank you, LB, for your link to the oh so relevant song by the late, great Leonard Cohen. There was a man who knew how to move people and get the message out–and so many elements of that message are more relevant than ever. May his voice resound forever.

      • LB says:

        You’re welcome, Kathie. Glad you’re also a fan. And yes, it’s amazing how prophetic and timely Leonard’s words are.

  2. Barbara says:

    I have been an active voter my entire life and never questioned my right and obligation to vote. All of this new talk about voter IDs seems like a radical change to me. I can remember hearing sort of vague rumors about election fraud in the past but all the ranting about it in the recent election also seems like a radical change from the past. This post helps me understand much better how fears about voter fraud can be manipulated to influence the results of an election. I could not understand how Donald Trump could possibly win the presidency of the U.S. but this article provides a lot of insights into some of the manipulations that led to that outcome.

  3. David Kannerstein says:

    Trump’s attempt to disguise his strategy of disenfranchisement of those likely to vote against him, particularly the poor and people of color is truly outrageous. We seem to be headed back to the type of plutocracy that existed in the U.S. in the 19th century. I would argue that we have been moving in this direction, albeit much less openly, for sometime, going back at least to Reagan and to some extent during the Clinton administration. On that note, at the suggestion of kathiemm, I am including a link to a YouTube video of a song I wrote and recorded many years ago in protest of the neoliberal policies of the Clinton administration. During the Occupy movement, a friend helped me add appropriate visuals and posted it on YouTube. He recently edited the visual portion to focus on Herr Trump. The link is–E4go. I hope people will watch and enjoy it.

    • kathiemm says:

      Thanks so much, David. I think both your song and its rendition in this video are effective presentations of an important message! I hope the link goes viral.

    • Gold Dust Twin says:

      There is another great video online that I recommend to everyone. It is a segment of Democracy Now in which Noam Chomsky talks about how to deal with Donald Trump–using, for example, some of the best lessons from the Civil Rights movement.
      here’s the link:

    • LB says:

      “I would argue that we have been moving in this direction, albeit much less openly, for sometime . . .”

      I agree and believe this goes to the heart of it, David. Our current president’s manifesto represents the culmination of the self-serving, destructive, and ultimately self-destructive, cannibalistic forces of empire ~ an exaggerated, unrestrained version of agendas advanced by previous administrations, including those of both Clinton and Obama; the latter under which Hillary Clinton, as former Secretary of State, supported actions resulting in the deaths and suffering of millions of innocent Muslim civilians. These same actions have also led to growing counter-reactions on the part of extremists. And of course, more refugees trying to escape the dangerous environments the U.S. helped to create. All this in addition to many other injustices under the Obama administration, explored critically and in greater depth in the following insightful and informative interview, “On Contact: President Obama’s Legacy with Glen Ford”. It’s a captivating interview, one I hope readers of Engaging Peace will watch:

      Trump reveals the dark underbelly of our government’s failed and misguided agenda. As you rightly pointed out, he will do *openly* and without embarrassment all that Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Obama and other Democrats, Republicans, liberals and conservatives have done and *more*. Only this time, this president will change some of the rules of the game, won’t use the same diversionary tactics or polite (and empathetic) language in describing and carrying out social, environmental and economic injustices, wars, murders and atrocities. Nor will this president throw us the customary scraps from the banquet table, a table around which both Democrats and Republicans sit and partake.

      Without the full cooperation of the liberal mainstream media (which both President Obama and candidate Hillary Clinton enjoyed), this new president will rip our collective veil away and go further. We’ll lose more of the freedoms and privileges we hold dear, freedoms and privileges our government under previous leadership has consistently denied or taken from others without our having protested or noticed.

      Maybe with less to divert our attention, more of us (and I include myself) will finally see past the illusion and understand our complicity.

      I enjoyed your song and video, David, but wasn’t sure what to make of the image of Trump and Putin kissing at the end (?) I hope you understand the dangerous purpose behind the intentionally misleading Democratic claims of Russian interference, hacking and propaganda. We’ve had (and have) more than enough war and don’t need to start another, especially one that could easily go nuclear. Even if the Russians were responsible for hacking, the U.S. has done the same and then some. The leaks/hacks didn’t fabricate information about the DNC and our corrupted election process. They only revealed what was already there, something we had a right to know.

      When you sang “say goodbye to national healthcare”, I thought how sad and telling it is that our country still doesn’t have universal, single-payer healthcare for all, also how emergency services (ambulance/fire departments) in certain areas have become privatized in recent years.

  4. David Kannerstein says:

    LB, thank you so much for your thoughtful commentary and your compliments regarding my song. I agree with all you wrote. As to the image of Trump and Putin kissing, that was put in by my friend Lou who put together all the visuals. I thought it was funny and symbolized the total lack of morals of both of them.

  5. Kathiemm says:

    Echoing and extending Dr. Eidelson’s psychological analysis of Donald Trump’s deliberately misleading rants against “voter fraud,” an article by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman for BUZZFLASH at TRUTHOUT elaborates on the massive threats to democracy implicit not just in Trump’s rants but in the flawed system that allowed him to assume the Presidency despite losing the popular vote. They also describe what needs to be done to resist the efforts of the campaign to disenfranchise millions of American voters–particularly people of color. The Trump election may have been corrupted in more ways than you imagined. Here is the link to their article: . Read, weep, and then gird your loins and RESIST.

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