In Psychology, we refer to cognitive dissonance as a feeling of mental discomfort leading to an alteration in beliefs, behaviours or attitudes due to conflict between our opinions and what is happening around us. Festinger was the first to describe cognitive dissonance theory and he suggested that all individuals have an inner drive to maintain their attitudes in harmony to avoid disharmony, i.e. dissonance. Thus, the alteration of beliefs, behaviours and attitudes is a mechanism to alleviate the discomfort felt through cognitive dissonance– to restore a previous balance. There are several mechanisms that have been identified to reduce cognitive dissonance such as changing your attitudes to make the relationship between two elements a consonant one again or acquiring new information that outweighs dissonant beliefs pushing us to change them.
Knowing this, it is interesting to observe that the recent political landscape, especially in the United States, has moved towards the adoption of blatant misinformation and complete rejection of scientific facts and evidence. Especially within the Trump Administration, politicians seem to be so committed to their beliefs and attitudes, that it results in heavy efforts to reduce or eliminate any situations, legislation and realities that go against what they so strongly believe. This is where an example of nationwide cognitive dissonance– in the ruling bodies of the United States of America– can be observed. An embodiment of this observation is the current state of reproductive and women’s rights under the Trump administration.
In general, the UN says that “States should acknowledge that women’s decisions about their own bodies are personal and private and should place the autonomy of the woman at the center of policy and law-making related to sexual and productive health services, including abortion care.”, a principle which President Trump has made very clear that he does not support, but heavily opposes.
Over the past decade, the use of more effective contraception as well as global advancement in the field of women’s health has been increasing and subsequently reducing unwanted pregnancies. Yet, since the beginning of Trump’s presidency, progress has been rolling back. The most significant actions against women’s health and rights have been the reinforcement of the Mexico City Policy, also known as the Global Gag Rule, as well as the constant effort to overturn the landmark case from 1973, Roe v. Wade, that has ensured the advancement of women’s reproductive rights ever since. Furthermore, a myriad of bills have been proposed to prohibit the funding to organizations such as Planned Parenthood and others focusing on women’s reproductive rights and health.
These legislative goals are a classic Republican trademark, and play a vital role in explaining why cognitive dissonance might occur amongst current politicians and why it is closely related to Christian values and traditions.
Republicanism, the current prevalent ideology amongst American politicians, is generally known to represent the values of conservatism, an ideology that aims to maintain traditions and seeks to preserve a range of institutions such as religion. Thus, it doesn’t come as a surprise that individuals of Christian affiliation gravitate towards conservatism (and thus Republicanism). Hence, one can conclude that the Republicans in government represent and endorse the values of conservatism, which might be the root of the heavy ongoing war against reproductive and women’s rights.
Traditional family values are at the core of both conservative and Christian ideologies. Such values have been upheld since their creation and are thus heavily incarnated beliefs, so much that if they were to be contested it would without a doubt cause cognitive dissonance within the individuals keeping those beliefs. Thus, the pro-life stance incorporated within these traditional family values becomes a source of cognitive dissonance for conservative politicians when an entire country is fighting for the right to define their own futures by having the option of abortion. Politicians are thus faced with an environment that demands that they change their attitudes about abortion, which eventually causes cognitive dissonance between the external push for progressive reproductive rights and a belief in traditions and norms that make up an integral part of the ideology they represent.
It seems that the way politicians are trying to restore the imbalances caused by extensive cognitive dissonance is to fight and eradicate any situation, legislation or action that has or could contest their attitudes towards the traditions upheld by their ideologies. A statement which holds not only for reproductive rights but also for LGBTQ+ rights, environmental policy, foreign policy under the Trump Administration. The Republican and presidential push against bills endorsing reproductive rights and the support for bills ripping reproductive rights apart seems to be evidence that the individuals at the head of ruling institutions of the US belong in an era long past.
art by: Alcira Hava