We Don’t Need to Understand. We Already Understand.
You don’t worry about the laggards.
There are many valuable lessons in Everett Rogers’s Diffusion of Innovations, but a key one is just that. You don’t worry about the laggards.
As the graph shows, new ideas go through five stages of user adoption: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. The innovators are eager to try new ideas. They’re critical to any change effort — willing to take risks, understand the importance of the occasional setback, and happy to question the status quo. But given the low percentage of the population, they’re not enough. You need to seek out the early adopters and the early majority.
Then come the late majority. They tend to be more cautious. They’re skeptical of new ideas until they’ve seen some proof within their social groups. They’re heavily influenced by system norms. Rarely a driving force of progress, you still want to push for their (eventual) support.
And then come the laggards. The last to adopt any new idea. Those that cling to the status quo to the point of obstinacy, committed to outdated ideas even as it holds back their own progress and benefit. As Rogers described them,
“Laggards are traditionalists and the last to adopt an innovation. Possessing almost no opinion leadership, laggards are localite to the point of being isolates compared to the other adopter categories. They are fixated on the past, and all decisions must be made in terms of previous generations. Individual laggards mainly interact with other traditionalists. An innovation finally adopted by a laggard may already be rendered obsolete by more recent ideas already in use by innovators. Laggards are likely to be suspicious not only of innovations, but of innovators and change agents as well.”
As I said, you don’t worry about the laggards. Either they’ll come along eventually or they won’t. It doesn’t really matter. You don’t need them to move forward.
Trump Loyalists are Today’s Laggards
I’m not talking about those who merely voted for Trump. If anything, your average Trump voter would fall into the late majority. They want to provide for their family, earn a fair living, and be proud of their country. They recognize the outcome of the election and want to move forward to the benefit of our nation.
I’m talking about the group that continues to give Trump their whole-hearted support even as he pushed people into an attempted coup. I’m talking about the group that buys paintings of Trump crossing the Delaware, claims that millions of votes were falsified, and believes that he’s saving the nation from a cabal of blood-drinking pedophiles.
Mainly, I’m talking about the crazies that continue to turn on the crazier.
For the group that treats a complete lack of evidence as proof of massive conspiracy, there’s no point in debate. They’ve committed themselves to a full-on mass delusion. Engaging with those who refuse to acknowledge facts is pointless. Worse, it gives them further exposure and legitimizes their arguments.
Promoting the idea that we’re fighting thousands of Chinese troops on the border of Maine is an act of information warfare. Spreading this level of mistrust is a common weapon of our adversaries. By confusing actual threats with imagined ones, they’re able to paralyze us from a coordinated action against any of them.
We typically need to worry about this from our adversaries. We shouldn’t need to worry about it from our own government.
I’m not suggesting that we openly berate the neighbor who refuses to take down his Trump flag. And there’s no need to confront every anti-masker that embraces ignorance over science. These groups want that attention. They want that legitimacy. We just need to stop giving it to them.
We don’t need to have a national discussion on the motives of a group that broke into the Capitol and tried to hold democracy hostage. We don’t need to reach out with compassion to those who terrorized our elected officials while carrying Confederate flags and swastikas.
We don’t need to understand. We already understand. Trump appealed to a group of people who felt threatened by a changing future. He used a bunch of lies, conspiracies, and outrageous claims to build on social prejudices and convince everyone that none of their existing problems were their own damn fault.
We don’t need more media coverage on these viewpoints. We don’t need more trips to gas stations and rural diners to understand the psychology of the Trump loyalist. And we especially don’t need more publicity for those saying that if Trump asked them, they’d start a civil war.
Yes, keeping an open mind is a virtue, but as Walter Kotschnig said, “not so open that your brains fall out.”
These voices aren’t a signal. They’re noise. And we need to tune them out.
Trump loyalists are the very definition of laggards. They don’t want to move forward. They don’t want progress. They’re committed to a fantastical past that’s long since become obsolete.
It’s time for the country to move on. And we don’t need them to do it. Because you just don’t worry about the laggards.