The Cognitive Dissonance Behind Penn State and Donald Trump

and the many, many problems that come with it.



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September 23, 2016 6 comments

Penn State’s Celebration of Joe Paterno: Continuing to Abuse the Abused

If you’ve been following the news at all, you’re aware that Penn State spent this past weekend celebrating the 50th anniversary of Coach Joe Paterno’s first game as head coach. Tens of thousands of fans celebrated the coach, citing his 409 career wins and being the one responsible for Penn State becoming a football powerhouse.

Have we already forgotten? Have we lost consciousness that this man enabled Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant coach under JoePa, to continue molesting and raping as many as 10 young boys? Have we already forgotten that this man knew that boys were getting raped in his locker room and he looked the other way? That he chose indifference over justice. He chose silence in the face of evil and injustice because it was easier. He let those boys get raped. That is not something to celebrate. That man is not just a famous football coach with an impeccable record. No, he covered up child abuse and rape. He chose his own comfort over the safety of children. That’s a problem. That’s not only a problem. That’s evil. Now, is his choice of inaction worse than Sandusky’s act of rape? No, but its just as painful and traumatic for children who have been abused to know that an adult knew about the abuse and did nothing.

If you are neutral in situations of injusticeyou have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. – Desmond Tutu

It takes quite an act of cognitive dissonance to be able to celebrate JoePa’s legacy as a football coach and neglect to mention or remember the evil he has allowed to happen under his nose. I get it, we don’t want to think about our idols as being human beings, as being capable of something so wrong and so sad and so disturbing. We want to wipe that from our collective memory and just remember the wins, the boys he has raised to be men, the dignity and honor he showed. But, isn’t character defined as the actions one does while no one else is watching? I’m not sure all-mighty coach Joe Paterno really fits the bill then. Doesn’t seem like he had a lot of character. This is where the cognitive dissonance comes in. Our minds become so uncomfortable when two conflicting realities (cognitions) are at play with one another so we attempt to reduce them. This is why we end up neglecting, ignoring, or blaming the victims for what has happened. It makes it easier on our minds so we don’t have to believe that the person we have come to believe is wonderful and a savior is actually human.

But, really, we are no longer celebrating Joe Paterno–we are celebrating a fake idol, a fake representation of who we want Joe Paterno to be. It’s not even real. In our effort to protect our dreams of the world and our own fantasies of how the world works, we lose reality and we celebrate a man who is not worthy of celebration. Sure, celebrate the wins, whatever, but don’t spend an entire weekend celebrating only half a man. It’s a lie and its disrespectful. I empathize and join you up until a certain point, but you lost me when you neglected to remember the victims.

The message you are sending is clear–you will celebrate this man no matter how many sins, atrocities, or felonies he allowed to be committed under his nose and in his locker room. You care more about football, fantasies, and “good’ memories of JoePa than you do about justice. You are saying that what happened to those victims, to those young boys, does not matter to you. It is “not your problem” and therefore, you will turn your eyes away just like Joe Paterno did. You will remove the stories of violence, the lives of the victims of Jerry Sandusky, from your memory. You will wipe their faces from your mind and you will, again, tell them that their pain is not worth remembering or fighting for. You are choosing not to change a system that has abused children – instead, you are celebrating that system and allowing more children to be raped. Maybe not by Jerry Sandusky and maybe not on the campus of Penn State, but children are watching and they see that you are celebrating a man who enabled these acts to occur.

They will remember this when they consider telling an adult they are supposed to trust about the way they are being abused. They will remember that you took those victims’ voices away again, and maybe they’ll still tell someone and ask for help. Or maybe, they’ll throw up their hands and say, “what’s the point? They don’t care anyway.” You may think your celebration of Joe Paterno is innocent, but it’s not. It sends a clear message to victims and survivors everywhere–and its not a good one.

A Vote for Trump is a Vote for Rape

The 2016 Presidential Election has been anything but ordinary. We have seen corruption being exposed from both major party candidates. We have talked about emails, taxes, foundations, and proposed policy plans. We have seen and heard threats of violence and actual violence. The race is tighter than ever right now, and with only several weeks left in the election season, it is more important than ever for people to figure out who they want to vote for as the next Commander-in-Chief.

Well, I’m here to tell you that a vote for Donald Trump is a vote for rape. I don’t usually make my political opinions so apparent, but this isn’t a normal election. While Hillary Clinton may not be white as snow, she does not have the problematic legal history Trump has. Sure, she has had her own history of congressional hearings to speak of, but not when it comes to violent acts. Not only has Trump made numerous sexist and racist comments on live national television, but he has and has had multiple legal cases against him for child rape, human trafficking, and domestic violence. Let’s take a look…

  • His ex-wife Ivana has accused him of violently raping her while they were married. The accusation was made during divorce proceedings, along with accusations of verbal and emotional abuse. The divorce was eventually granted due to Donald’s cruel and inhumane treatment of his then wife.
  • The United States Senate recently began an investigation of Trump’s modeling agency for human trafficking. Trump Model Management has profited from employing foreign models in the United States on tourist visas (which did not permit them to work here) over the last 17 years. Trump has seen over $2 million in profits while the models have reported barely being able to make ends meet. Thus, more examples of Trump exploiting women for his own gain.
  • Mainline media outlets have somehow managed to ignore covering the new child rape case that came on the scene this summer against the GOP Presidential nominee. I’m still not sure how that happened. The victim filed a federal lawsuit against Trump in June alleging that Trump raped her back in 1994 when she was just thirteen years old. The court documents read that Trump had sexual contact with the minor at least four times over the course of the summer of 1994, with Trump threatening to kill or seriously injure the victim’s family if she were to tell anyone about the assaults. There is even a witness to the rape and other sexual assaults who is testifying to the accounts. She is Jeffrey Epstein’s party planner, essentially responsible for finding underage girls to come to Epstein’s parties and be his sex slaves. She was present during all of the sexual contact between Epstein, Trump, and the underage girls. Jeffrey Epstein is a notorious pedophile and is a Level 3 registered sex offender and a good friend of Donald Trump. Mr. Trump told a reporter a few years ago: “I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it, Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”
  • A business acquaintance accused Trump of sexually assaulting her in the early 1990s. The woman opened a $125 million federal lawsuit in 1997 against Trump after multiple instances of inappropriate contact including attempted rape during the business venture.

That is a lot of instances of a major political party presidential nominee to be in trouble for sexual assault or domestic violence. Yet, he is still in the running. How is this possible? We just don’t care? We don’t believe these survivors? Women’s rights aren’t important enough? We don’t believe misogyny or rape culture exists?

As a rape survivor myself, I can tell you that this election is deeply personal to me. As someone that experienced rape and sexual assault and as someone who has lived in an environment with domestic violence and who works every day to rid the world of violence, this is important. This is personal. This is no longer just about medicare or medicaid or social security. This is about my everyday existence, my sanity, my soul. This is about my belief in humanity and my faith in our country to do amazing things for each other and the world.

If you vote for Donald Trump, you are voting for a man who believes in violence. Who believes that he can take whatever he wants. Who believes that choice and agency and humanity do not matter. Who believes that women are not people. Who believes that minorities are not people. Who does not believe in the goodness of all living things or sharing or love.

If you vote for Trump, you are turning away from the oppressed and the hurting. You are choosing the side of the oppressor. You are accomplices in our rapes and our beatings. You are enablers of violence. You are choosing to be active agents for evil.

I get that Hillary isn’t an awesome choice. I get it. But, that’s not the point. The point is that Trump is a rapist and a very dangerous and violent man. He surrounds himself with violent and dangerous people. He will continue to do so. We cannot trust him to lead this country. He is not a good man. I don’t care if you don’t vote for Hillary, I am just pleading for you not to vote for Trump. Don’t vote for rape. Don’t vote for violence. Don’t tell us, as survivors, that we are to continue to be silenced and traumatized and beaten into oblivion. Don’t tell us that we will never see justice. Please really consider what your vote means.

We’re Watching and Listening

Victims of violence are very vigilant. We are aware of the temperature of the culture around us. We know what to expect when we speak. You may not know we’re there, watching and waiting to see how you’re going to respond to news of another sexist joke or comment. You may not know we’ve been raped or beaten. But, we’re there and we’re hoping and praying that you will advocate for us and help make the world a safer place for us to speak our truth. We want to be able to share our stories so we can pursue legal justice against our perpetrators, so they can see jail time and others can be safe, but right now, it isn’t safe for us. We get blamed and shunned and terrorized. So, won’t you make it safer for us by not voting for a rapist to lead our country? We are already enslaved by rape culture in this “free land”. Please don’t tighten our shackles even more.




  1. Laura Reagan says:

    Kirstin thank you for your brave stand in this article! As I write these words I ask myself ‘why is it brave to speak out against child sexual abuse?’ and yet I know the answer. To go up against those who are more powerful – for example a university with millions of dollars and millions of supporters who are willing to turn a blind eye to abuse to protect an image of a football coach as a mythical figure-is brave. This is a metaphor for the denial seen in families, communities and our culture overall toward social issues such as oppression, racism, child abuse, sexual violence which cause so much pain. We don’t know what to do about these problems so we choose to do nothing. But it is true that “no one is free when others are oppressed”. And silence, apathy and complacency are choices. Doing nothing is a choice. We may not know what to do but we have to do something. You are doing something. Thank you.

    1. Laura,

      Thank you so much for your response! You are absolutely right that it is a choice to do nothing. It is a hard choice, but I hope that more and more people will make the choice to stand with and for victims and survivors everywhere. I am grateful for people like you who work tirelessly for justice, health, and healing for everyone! Thank you for sharing your voice and for your continued work in the field. It is an honor!

  2. Phil Edgerly says:

    In total agreement with your thoughts. OK if I share on Facebook?

    1. Hi Phil,

      Thank you so much for your comment! Yes, you can absolutely share with your network on Facebook and other social media avenues.

      Take care.

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Begin harnessing your inner strength rather than being enslaved to shame, self-criticism, and doubt.

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