On May 14th last I put up a post which I entitled “The Authoritarian Personality.” In it I explored possible reasons why some voters consistently cast their ballots against their own self interest.
“Why do people vote against their own economic interests? Why do people willingly support authoritarian governments? Why would a virtual pauper vote for a candidate who wants to dismantle the “liberal” safety net? A candidate who calls him a “moocher”, a “taker”, a “welfare queen”? Why would a woman vote for a candidate who opposes her access to contraception let alone her right to choose? Who practically calls her a slut? Who insists on sticking the government’s nose in his or her private life and bedroom? Why do about half of the 99% support those pauperizing America? Why don’t people revolt?
The American media, over the past year, has been trying to work out something of a mystery: Why is the Republican electorate supporting a far-right, orange-toned populist with no real political experience, who espouses extreme and often bizarre views?
Where did Donald Trump come from?
The better question is where did his supporters come from? After all, they seemed to come out of nowhere, suddenly expressing, in large numbers, ideas far more extreme than anything that has risen to such popularity in recent memory.
“In South Carolina, a CBS News exit poll found that 75 percent of Republican voters supported banning Muslims from the United States. A PPP poll found that a third of Trump voters support banning gays and lesbians from the country. Twenty percent said Lincoln shouldn’t have freed the slaves.”
A niche group of political scientists have studied what’s driving Donald Trump’s ascent. What they are saying has implications that go well beyond 2016.
Recent studies on authoritarianism — not actual dictators, but rather a psychological profile of individual voters that is characterized by a desire for order and a fear of outsiders indicate that people who score high in authoritarianism, when they feel threatened, look for strong leaders who promise to take whatever action necessary to protect them from outsiders and prevent the changes they fear.
Nothing new IMHO – think Weimar.
The GOP, by positioning itself as the party of traditional values and law and order, has unknowingly attracted what could turn out to be a vast and previously bipartisan population of Americans with authoritarian tendencies.
Trump embodies the classic authoritarian leadership style -simple, powerful and, above all, punitive.
Americans with authoritarian views have sorted into the GOP, driving polarization. But they also created a divide within the party, at first latent, between traditional Republican voters and this group whose views were simultaneously less orthodox and, often, more extreme. The divide is no longer latent; it is now open warfare out in the open.
“Authoritarians are thought to express much deeper fears than the rest of the electorate, to seek the imposition of order where they perceive dangerous change, and to desire a strong leader who will defeat those fears with force, if necessary. They would thus seek a candidate who promised these things. And the extreme nature of authoritarians’ fears, and of their desire to challenge threats with force, would lead them toward a candidate whose temperament was totally unlike anything we usually see in American politics — and whose policies went far beyond the acceptable norms.”
A candidate like Donald Trump. And he can be just the first of many Trumps in American politics. It is becoming increasingly apparent that authoritarians as a constituency exist as a force independent of Trump and will persist as a force in American politics.
This is a time of social change in America. As we become more diverse and as the white working class is squeezed by the current economic system, the change becomes harder to ignore. As the social threat becomes more “real”, authoritarians not only reject one specific kind of outsider or social change – Muslims, Hispanics, same sex couples – they reject them all. When people are scared enough of physical threat or social change they begin to support ” strong man” authoritarian candidates.
What’s so scary about Trump is not the candidate himself – but the strength and fervor of his support and what it means for the future of American politics.
The GOP has positioned itself since the 1960s as the party of “traditional values” and law and order while the Democrats like to think of themselves as the party of “change.” Authoritarian personalities have been migrating to the GOP for decades; now they have more influence over its policies and candidates. Perhaps more importantly, the party has less and less ability to ignore authoritarians’ voting preferences — even if those preferences clash with the mainstream party establishment.
What do Trump supporters want? Recent polls indicate the top five “Action” plans are:
Using military force over diplomacy against countries that threaten the United States
Changing the Constitution to bar citizenship for children of illegal immigrants
Imposing extra airport checks on passengers who appear to be of Middle Eastern descent in order to curb terrorism
Requiring all citizens to carry a national ID card at all times to show to a police officer on request, to curb terrorism
Allowing the federal government to scan all phone calls to combat domestic terrorism.
Notice that there is nothing in the top five about lowering taxes or repealing Obamacare.
“What these policies share in common is an outsize fear of threats, physical and social, and, more than that, a desire to meet those threats with severe government action — with policies that are authoritarian not just in style but in actuality. The scale of the desired response is, in some ways, what most distinguishes authoritarians from the rest of the GOP.”
Trump’s specific policies aren’t the thing that most sets him apart from the rest of the field of GOP candidates. Rather, it’s his rhetoric and style. The way he reduces everything to black-and-white extremes of strong versus weak, greatest versus worst. His simple, direct promises that he can solve problems that other politicians are too weak to manage.
“And, perhaps most importantly, his willingness to flout all the conventions of civilized discourse when it comes to the minority groups that fare so threatening. That’s why it’s a benefit rather than a liability for Trump when he says Mexicans are rapists or speaks gleefully of massacring Muslims with pig-blood-tainted bullets: He is sending a signal to his authoritarian supporters that he won’t let “political correctness” hold him back from attacking the outgroups they fear.”
His followers appear to be here to stay for awhile. And ready to use force. Non violent protestors and press are regularly beat up at his rallies. It’s not that far a leap to brown shirts. Authoritarians are inherently anti-democratic when the vote turns against them.
Donald Trump could be just the first of many Trumps in American politics, with potentially profound implications for the country.
We may now be looking at three distinct parties -the Dems, the traditional GOP and the Authoritarians.