In A Trumpf Regime, Will You Be A Thought Criminal?
A few days ago, we mentioned in passing that fans of Herr Trumpf are "looking for a fuehrer, a caudillo... end of story." It isn't the first time we've attributed Trumpf's rise in popularity-- despite his obvious short-comings-- to this need for a powerful daddy figure among-- I hate to say it-- life's losers. Buffeted by economic and cultural stresses, utterly brainwashed by the twisted faux-reality of Hate Talk Radio and Fox News, millions of Americans are ready to give up on democracy. Many aren't comfortable with-- or even capable of-- abstract thought. Jeb might think of them as uncouth. Trumpf is offering simple "solutions" in simple language. We've compared him to Willy Loman, P.T. Barnum, Benito Mussolini and, like many others, to Adolf Hitler. Even Ohio Governor John Kasich was comfortable making the connection between Trumpf and Hitler in an ad. And today, John Wayne's daughter, in endorsing Herr, didn't extol his character or his agenda-- just "we need a strong leader... like John Wayne." She used the word "strong" 3 times in less than one minute.
Do you think it is more important to raise a child who is respectful or independent; obedient or self-reliant; well-behaved or considerate; and well-mannered or curious. University of Massachusetts-based academic Matthew MacWilliams asserts that respondents who picked the first option in each of these questions are strongly authoritarian, and make up the core of Trumpf supporters. "Trump," he wrote, "has already captured 43 percent of Republican primary voters who are strong authoritarians, and 37 percent of Republican authoritarians overall. A majority of Republican authoritarians in my poll also strongly supported Trump’s proposals to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, prohibit Muslims from entering the United States, shutter mosques and establish a nationwide database that track Muslims. And in a general election, Trump’s strongman rhetoric will surely appeal to some of the 39 percent of independents in my poll who identify as authoritarians and the 17 percent of self-identified Democrats who are strong authoritarians."
Sunday, MacWilliams, writing for Politico claims to have "found [that] a single statistically significant variable predicts whether a voter supports Trump-- and it’s not race, income or education levels: It’s authoritarianism. That’s right, Trump’s electoral strength—and his staying power—have been buoyed, above all, by Americans with authoritarian inclinations. And because of the prevalence of authoritarians in the American electorate, among Democrats as well as Republicans, it’s very possible that Trump’s fan base will continue to grow."
He wrote that his research shows "that education, income, gender, age, ideology and religiosity had no significant bearing on a Republican voter’s preferred candidate. Only two of the variables I looked at were statistically significant: authoritarianism, followed by fear of terrorism, though the former was far more significant than the latter."
Authoritarianism is not a new, untested concept in the American electorate. Since the rise of Nazi Germany, it has been one of the most widely studied ideas in social science. While its causes are still debated, the political behavior of authoritarians is not. Authoritarians obey. They rally to and follow strong leaders. And they respond aggressively to outsiders, especially when they feel threatened. From pledging to “make America great again” by building a wall on the border to promising to close mosques and ban Muslims from visiting the United States, Trump is playing directly to authoritarian inclinations.Too horrible to contemplate? It is that horrible but we had all better start contemplating it before it's too late. And sooner or later it will be too late. I recommend tapping on the thermometer and giving generously.
Not all authoritarians are Republicans by any means; in national surveys since 1992, many authoritarians have also self-identified as independents and Democrats. And in the 2008 Democratic primary, the political scientist Marc Hetherington found that authoritarianism mattered more than income, ideology, gender, age and education in predicting whether voters preferred Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama. But Hetherington has also found, based on 14 years of polling, that authoritarians have steadily moved from the Democratic to the Republican Party over time. He hypothesizes that the trend began decades ago, as Democrats embraced civil rights, gay rights, employment protections and other political positions valuing freedom and equality. In my poll results, authoritarianism was not a statistically significant factor in the Democratic primary race, at least not so far, but it does appear to be playing an important role on the Republican side. Indeed, 49 percent of likely Republican primary voters I surveyed score in the top quarter of the authoritarian scale-- more than twice as many as Democratic voters.
...[T]he number of Americans worried about the threat of terrorism is growing. In 2011, Hetherington published research finding that non-authoritarians respond to the perception of threat by behaving more like authoritarians. More fear and more threats—of the kind we’ve seen recently in the San Bernardino and Paris terrorist attacks—mean more voters are susceptible to Trump’s message about protecting Americans. In my survey, 52 percent of those voters expressing the most fear that another terrorist attack will occur in the United States in the next 12 months were non-authoritarians-- ripe targets for Trump’s message.
Take activated authoritarians from across the partisan spectrum and the growing cadre of threatened non-authoritarians, then add them to the base of Republican general election voters, and the potential electoral path to a Trump presidency becomes clearer.
So, those who say a Trump presidency “can’t happen here” should check their conventional wisdom at the door. The candidate has confounded conventional expectations this primary season because those expectations are based on an oversimplified caricature of the electorate in general and his supporters in particular. Conditions are ripe for an authoritarian leader to emerge. Trump is seizing the opportunity. And the institutions-- from the Republican Party to the press-- that are supposed to guard against what James Madison called “the infection of violent passions” among the people have either been cowed by Trump’s bluster or are asleep on the job.
It is time for those who would appeal to our better angels to take his insurgency seriously and stop dismissing his supporters as a small band of the dispossessed. Trump support is firmly rooted in American authoritarianism and, once awakened, it is a force to be reckoned with. That means it’s also time for political pollsters to take authoritarianism seriously and begin measuring it in their polls.