This blog post is sort-of about Trump, but it’s really about cognitive dissonance and clinging to beliefs long after facts prove they’re based on lies.
Back in 2006, I signed up for Republican email updates. In the Trump era, they’ve been coming fast and furious. I post the most egregious emails on my personal Facebook page. Lately, I’ve been adding satirical commentary.
They all have a similar theme. Send money to Trump before a deadline and earn prestige by joining another exclusive Trump club. My money can buy memberships in a Trump advisory board, a MAGA Millions Club, a Trump Diamond Club, a 45 Dollar Club, a Trump Elite Society, and maybe other exclusive clubs and elite societies I don’t know about yet. One time, Trump offered me the privilege of helping open a field office in my zip code. A few times, he offered to enter my name into lotteries for all-expense-paid trips with backstage passes to rallies around the country.
And that’s just the start. In the past three months, emails have come in from other Trump family members, Jim Jordan, Herschel Walker, Newt Gingrich, Ronna McDaniel, Kristi Noem, somebody named Paige, and probably others I don’t remember. They all tell me I’m a critical player in the fight to stop a radical left-wing agenda from ruining the country.
Heady stuff for a middle-aged bald guy from Minnesota who does technology for a living.
And, c’mon, it’s great satire material. I mean, seriously, who in their right mind would respond to pitches like these? Well, apparently, millions of Americans, because Trump is raising hundreds of $millions from them.
I posted this email screen shot on September 21, 2022. One family member said it’s fake because we can’t believe mainstream media. I don’t know how mainstream media relates to a Trump email in my inbox, but they blocked me on Facebook. Others stopped speaking to me a long time ago. Another Trump supporter vehemently insisted this email is fake, despite overwhelming evidence that it’s real. I’ll get to the evidence in a minute.
Sometimes Trump diehards tell me I’m obsessed, or full of hate, or brainwashed, or a heretic, or an idiot. Some remind me that it’s easy to impersonate somebody in an email. Gee, as if I didn’t know that. One friend shared an article about fraudsters soliciting political contributions. In a feat of mental gymnastics that rivals real Olympic gymnasts, they say that since these pitches are so bad, they can’t possibly be real, therefore they must be fake. Evidence? Who needs evidence? Everyone who says they’re real just has to be wrong.
Why do people dream up bizarre scenarios to justify clinging to obvious lies?
A long time ago, I wrote a magazine column about a psychological concept called cognitive dissonance. It means we all keep a mental picture of how the world works. When the world is different than our picture, we feel dissonance–we don’t like it–and we work hard to resolve it. We either change the world to match our mental picture or change our mental picture to match the world.
Cognitive dissonance is good when we see ourselves accomplishing great tasks and we stretch our limits to achieve them. But cognitive dissonance gone wild is bad when we embrace lies, ignore obvious facts, and cling to mistaken beliefs with no basis in reality.
Diehard Trump fans are full of cognitive dissonance gone wild. Nearly two years after the 2020 election, Trump fans still believe Biden could not have won against Trump, because their view of the world won’t allow it. 2020 election tales grew and changed over time, just like fish stories, into a blob of intertwined lies from an ongoing information warfare campaign. More recently, Trump fans flocked to Dinesh D’Souza’s movie, 2000 Mules. Fact checkers barbecued it. True Trump believers loved it.
Cognitive dissonance also stops diehard Trump fans from accepting reality about Trump email pitches. Somehow, some way, somebody must be trying to make Trump look bad. Yeah, that’s it. Gotta be.
Cognitive dissonance gone wild has consequences. On Jan. 6, 2021, thousands of people descended on the United States Capitol and tried to stop Congress from certifying the election. People died that day, supporting a lie, because their cognitive dissonance would not allow them to accept the truth. And more will die unless we wake up.
How do we undo cognitive dissonance gone wild? Facts might help. The challenge is, persuading people to look at them.
Vocabulary.com defines fact this way:
a piece of information about circumstances that exist or events that have occurred; a statement or assertion of verified information about something that is the case or has happened; an event known to have happened or something known to have existed; a concept whose truth can be provedhttps://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/fact
Sooner or later, Trump fans must ask themselves a gut-wrenching question. Do any Trump claims about the 2020 election rely on a concept whose truth can be proved? The honest answer is, no. Insert your own colorful adjective in front of the word, no.
Even if Trump fans don’t like the outcome, they can only resolve their cognitive dissonance by facing facts. Elvis is still dead, Kennedy is not coming back, and Biden won in 2020. The facts supporting this conclusion are easy to verify. None of the lies leading to the opposite conclusion stand up to scrutiny.
The facts about the ridiculous Republican emails flowing into my inbox also lead to a conclusion Trump supporters choose not to believe. But, like or not, the wacky sales pitches really do come from the Republicans, not imposters trying to make Republicans look bad.
Press articles, some with quotes from Trump staffers who brag about their email campaigns, some featuring disgruntled Republicans unable to emulate Trump campaigns, are easy to find. But Trump diehards only believe press articles that echo their opinions. Even when the articles quote Trump insiders. So, forget press articles.
This email, and others, came from an email server named
mta.campaigns.rnchq.com at IP Address
220.127.116.11, which belongs to Salesforce.com. The Republicans registered the domain name,
rnchq.com, in 2005. See the Appendix below for details, including the email header and whois information. The whois database keeps information on who owns names and IP Addresses on the internet.
Imposters could send emails like these under a few scenarios.
- They could have registered the
rnchq.comdomain name back in 2005, accumulated millions of contacts, conducted an email campaign lasting 17 years and counting, built a website and infrastructure to accept $millions in donations, and keep it all secret from the real Republicans.
- They could have hijacked the Republican email server hosted inside Salesforce.com to mount a surreptitious email campaign to millions of recipients and siphoned off the donations, while keeping it hidden from the real Republicans and Salesforce.com system administrators.
- They could poison the whois and DNS information for the
rhchq.comdomain name and email server IP Address to point to their servers, without the real Republicans ever finding out.
- After poisoning DNS and whois information, they could target me individually and then plant fake press articles about millions of such emails.
None of those scenarios make sense, and anyone spinning such stories stretches credibility past the breaking point.
Stop believing lies. Start drawing conclusions based on facts. Make facts great again.
My Cognitive Dissonance
People, especially Trump fans, ask me why I write blog posts like this. Conventional wisdom for authors says that wading into politics and religion only alienates part of our audience, and audiences are already too hard to win. I must be nuts to put future book sales at risk by taking on the biggest controversy in the United States since the Civil War.
I also keep a mental picture for how the world should work. In the movie playing in my head, Americans argue about everything, all the time. That’s how open societies work. Every two years, we hold elections to express our will. The world holds us in awe because we’ve been doing this since 1788 and by now, we’re pretty good at it. We’re the model for how representative democracy should work. We make sure the vote count is in the open, and after all the legal challenges, losers acknowledge the outcome and winners offer an olive branch. Even when they don’t like each other.
After the 2020 presidential election, the loser took unprecedented steps to overturn the will of the people and hang on to power. And by 2022, what used to be a great political party is now an obscene personality cult. Want evidence? Just look at the money he raised from email sales pitches like the screen shot at the top of this blog post.
Elections might be the closest we come to sacred traditions in the United States. And now, a Pied Piper con artist wants to lead millions of Americans over a cliff to destroy it.
Not if I can do anything about it.
That reality creates dissonance in my mind. I don’t like it. And so I’ll do everything in my power to change the world to match my mental picture. If blog posts like this one change a few minds, it’s worth the trouble. And if friends and family members decide they never want to talk to me again, that’s their problem.
Email servers embed email headers inside emails and use them to route emails to recipients. Email servers create and modify email headers. People have no opportunity to modify them. Most email client programs offer an easy interface to look at them. Here is the email header for this one. I highlighted the most important line from the computer-science below with bold and italics.
Received: from mail2019.infrasupport.local (10.10.10.12) by mail2019.infrasupport.local (10.10.10.12) with Microsoft SMTP Server (version=TLS1_2, cipher=TLS_ECDHE_RSA_WITH_AES_256_GCM_SHA384) id 15.2.986.29 via Mailbox Transport; Tue, 20 Sep 2022 19:08:27 -0500 Received: from mail2019.infrasupport.local (10.10.10.12) by mail2019.infrasupport.local (10.10.10.12) with Microsoft SMTP Server (version=TLS1_2, cipher=TLS_ECDHE_RSA_WITH_AES_256_GCM_SHA384) id 15.2.986.29; Tue, 20 Sep 2022 19:08:27 -0500 Received: from mta.campaigns.rnchq.com (18.104.22.168) by mail2019.infrasupport.local (10.10.10.12) with Microsoft SMTP Server (version=TLS1_2, cipher=TLS_ECDHE_RSA_WITH_AES_256_GCM_SHA384) id 15.2.986.29 via Frontend Transport; Tue, 20 Sep 2022 19:08:27 -0500 DKIM-Signature: v=1; a=rsa-sha256; c=relaxed/relaxed; s=200608; d=campaigns.rnchq.com; h=From:To:Subject:Date:List-Unsubscribe:List-Unsubscribe-Post:MIME-Version: Reply-To:List-ID:X-CSA-Complaints:Message-ID:Content-Type; email@example.com; bh=/PAm/cq6F1bzU4sJTv8VO7UGyRteaHXcSaiOcs/OLeE=; b=PfjRyuIHRvtfCfkHO5r6Hfdvx4Dc5RRf7ksVzm+IQkZ7ETIlO1nBCk4RPdluysoNwl4MNI2MAlMQ DqhrR2UcHe8UwzbQNuJRe+EnbsWMD0xnfe5fHk8C/QJiCq4gIh+6mvDlZWC0tR4PJg34JRXD6nOO 7cSm++j6wfgdvFbrB8g= Received: by mta.campaigns.rnchq.com id h59avm2fmd4c for <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Wed, 21 Sep 2022 00:08:26 +0000 (envelope-from <bounce-108_HTMLemail@example.com>) From: "Midnight Deadline (via GOP)" <firstname.lastname@example.org> To: <email@example.com> Subject: September 2022 Trump Advisory Board Date: Tue, 20 Sep 2022 18:08:26 -0600 List-Unsubscribe: <https://click.campaigns.rnchq.com/subscription_center...>, <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org> List-Unsubscribe-Post: List-Unsubscribe=One-Click x-CSA-Compliance-Source: SFMC MIME-Version: 1.0 Reply-To: "Midnight Deadline (via GOP)" <reply-150124-108_HTMLemail@example.com> List-ID: <10964169.xt.local> X-CSA-Complaints: firstname.lastname@example.org X-SFMC-Stack: 1 x-job: 10964169_150124 Message-ID: <email@example.com> Content-Type: multipart/alternative; boundary="PX3S6abOXoL9=_?:" Return-Path: bounce-108_HTMLfirstname.lastname@example.org X-MS-Exchange-Organization-Network-Message-Id: 44a02155-4af4-4ed5-47b6-08da9b656860 X-MS-Exchange-Organization-PRD: campaigns.rnchq.com X-MS-Exchange-Organization-SenderIdResult: Pass Received-SPF: Pass (mail2019.infrasupport.local: domain of email@example.com designates 22.214.171.124 as permitted sender) receiver=mail2019.infrasupport.local; client-ip=126.96.36.199; helo=mta.campaigns.rnchq.com; X-MS-Exchange-Organization-SCL: 0 X-MS-Exchange-Organization-PCL: 2 X-MS-Exchange-Organization-Antispam-Report: DV:3.3.5705.600;SID:SenderIDStatus Pass;OrigIP:188.8.131.52 X-MS-Exchange-Organization-AVStamp-Enterprise: 1.0 X-MS-Exchange-Organization-AuthSource: mail2019.infrasupport.local X-MS-Exchange-Organization-AuthAs: Anonymous X-MS-Exchange-Transport-EndToEndLatency: 00:00:00.4950964 X-MS-Exchange-Processed-By-BccFoldering: 15.02.0986.029
Next is a test to find out if the email server DNS name and IP Address match. Sometimes, attackers fudge fake DNS names into mass emails to fool an unsuspecting public into taking the bait. But not here. The name and IP Address match.
[root@www ~]# host mta.campaigns.rnchq.com mta.campaigns.rnchq.com has address 184.108.40.206 [root@www ~]# host 220.127.116.11 18.104.22.168.in-addr.arpa domain name pointer mta.campaigns.rnchq.com. [root@www ~]#
Whois – email server domain name, rnchq.com
Next is two whois lookups. First, the domain name,
rnchq.com. The Republicans registered it in 2005. I highlighted the creation date line with bold and italics. I used the Linux whois command to produce this report. Anyone can make the same query using the whois website.
[root@www ~]# whois rnchq.com [Querying whois.verisign-grs.com] [Redirected to whois.networksolutions.com] [Querying whois.networksolutions.com] [whois.networksolutions.com] Domain Name: RNCHQ.COM Registry Domain ID: 149591548_DOMAIN_COM-VRSN Registrar WHOIS Server: whois.networksolutions.com Registrar URL: http://networksolutions.com Updated Date: 2022-03-22T10:57:36Z Creation Date: 2005-04-06T19:21:17Z Registrar Registration Expiration Date: 2023-04-06T19:21:17Z Registrar: Network Solutions, LLC Registrar IANA ID: 2 Reseller: Domain Status: clientTransferProhibited https://icann.org/epp#clientTransferProhibited Registry Registrant ID: Registrant Name: Republican National Committee Registrant Organization: Republican National Committee Registrant Street: 310 First Street SE Registrant City: Washington Registrant State/Province: DC Registrant Postal Code: 20003 Registrant Country: US Registrant Phone: +1.2028638500 Registrant Phone Ext: Registrant Fax: +1.2028638851 Registrant Fax Ext: Registrant Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Registry Admin ID: Admin Name: Republican National Committee Admin Organization: Republican National Committee Admin Street: 310 First Street SE Admin City: Washington Admin State/Province: DC Admin Postal Code: 20003 Admin Country: US Admin Phone: +1.2028638500 Admin Phone Ext: Admin Fax: +1.2028638851 Admin Fax Ext: Admin Email: email@example.com Registry Tech ID: Tech Name: Republican National Committee Tech Organization: Republican National Committee Tech Street: 310 First Street SE Tech City: Washington Tech State/Province: DC Tech Postal Code: 20003 Tech Country: US Tech Phone: +1.2028638500 Tech Phone Ext: Tech Fax: +1.2028638851 Tech Fax Ext: Tech Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Name Server: NS-353.AWSDNS-44.COM Name Server: NS-1719.AWSDNS-22.CO.UK Name Server: NS-962.AWSDNS-56.NET Name Server: NS-1499.AWSDNS-59.ORG DNSSEC: unsigned Registrar Abuse Contact Email: email@example.com Registrar Abuse Contact Phone: +1.8777228662 URL of the ICANN WHOIS Data Problem Reporting System: http://wdprs.internic.net/ >>> Last update of WHOIS database: 2022-09-25T04:03:38Z <<< For more information on Whois status codes, please visit https://www.icann.org/resources/pages/epp-status-codes-2014-06-16-en The data in Networksolutions.com's WHOIS database is provided to you by Networksolutions.com for information purposes only, that is, to assist you in obtaining information about or related to a domain name registration record. Networksolutions.com makes this information available "as is," and does not guarantee its accuracy. By submitting a WHOIS query, you agree that you will use this data only for lawful purposes and that, under no circumstances will you use this data to: (1) allow, enable, or otherwise support the transmission of mass unsolicited, commercial advertising or solicitations via direct mail, electronic mail, or by telephone; or (2) enable high volume, automated, electronic processes that apply to Networksolutions.com (or its systems). The compilation, repackaging, dissemination or other use of this data is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Networksolutions.com. Networksolutions.com reserves the right to modify these terms at any time. By submitting this query, you agree to abide by these terms. For more information on Whois status codes, please visit https://www.icann.org/resources/pages/epp-status-codes-2014-06-16-en. [root@www ~]#
Whois – email server IP Address,
Another whois lookup shows that this email server belongs to Salesforce.com.