Monday, August 6, 2018

Creating the Dunning-Kruger generations, Part 1

Scriber thinks the adult Trumpists of this generation, themselves prone to the Dunning-Kruger syndrome, are raising the next Dunning-Kruger generation. The parents are modeling, and the kids are learning, how to not know what they don’t know. Let’s track that process by looking at the behaviors of kids and their parents at Trump rallies.

Damon Winter, staff photographer at the New York Times documents The Children at the Trump Rallies. What is it like to see young people exposed to so much anger? Heartbreaking, says a Times photographer.

During the last few weeks of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in the fall of 2016, I found myself seeking out increasingly tender and empathetic photographs of his supporters. Maybe it was the long weeks away from my own son that softened my eye and drew me toward parents and their children at Mr. Trump’s rallies. It’d been a long journey covering the campaign, and I remember being exhausted by the anger I experienced. The crowds took Mr. Trump’s lead and directed their hatred at me and my colleagues from the press, event after event, day after day, and, eventually, it took a toll.

In those final weeks, I remember being heartbroken that children were exposed to this anger, were learning from it and participating in it. I knew those parents loved their children just as I do mine, and that common bond was my reminder of their humanity and my own. I was searching for a way to connect in an environment that felt so toxic and violently polarized.

Kids angry at rally
"Lock her up" scream the children at a Trump rally

One of the most poignant photos from that time was of a boy, dressed as a fledgling Trump, in the front row of a rally with his father in Grand Junction, Colo., just two weeks before the election. Together, they chanted, “Lock her up, lock her up!” The father beamed with pride. Vitriol sputtered from his son Jaden’s mouth.

Nearly 19 months after Mr. Trump took office, I photographed my first Make America Great Again rally on Thursday in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. It felt eerily familiar. The staging, the music, the lighting, the faces in the crowd, the metal cage that confined the press, and even the wording of the opening announcement urging supporters not to hurt any protesters, were all the same. The journalists I had befriended on the campaign were all there. The jarring difference in this all-too-familiar setting was that “president” now preceded the former candidate’s name.

As before, I was drawn to the children, but this time through the lens of 19 months of the Trump administration. The people in that arena supported the actions of a sitting president, not just the musings of a candidate. In that time, the anger I experienced on the trail had taken shape with real-world consequences. The chants of “Build the wall” in 2016 were realized in a haphazard zero-tolerance immigration policy that resulted in nearly 3,000 child separations in 2018.

That night, I photographed 10-year-old Gianna Musolino holding her father’s arm in the most tender and gentle embrace, her arms entwined around his, her head nestled in the soft bend of his elbow. There was no mistaking the comfort and protection she felt under his wing and the pride he felt in providing it.

I thought again about my son, as I have done so many times over these past few months, imagining with deep sadness what it would be like for him to be taken away from us and what it might do to him. How could any parent possibly support a president capable of this?

And, Scriber asks, how could any parent bring their children to this toxic environment in which:

  • The Make America Great Again rally in Pennsylvania on Thursday echoed the hostility of campaign events during Donald Trump’s run for president.
  • President Trump devoted most of his time at Thursday’s rally to denouncing the news media.
  • The hostility against the media at the rally was palpable.

Winter observed that “children were exposed to this anger, were learning from it and participating in it.” The kids, Scriber thinks, are also learning not to know what they don’t know. They are also learning from Faux News, via their parents, how to overestimate what little they do know. That in a nutshell is the Dunning-Kruger effect.

In Part 2 of this series, we’ll explore the Dunning-Kruger syndrome in more detail.

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