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Thursday, March 03, 2016

To Trump or Not to Trump? That is the Question.

photo by Daniel Horacio Agostini

Amanda Taub, in a recent Vox article (The rise of American authoritarianism) details an interesting theory regarding the popularity of Trump. It dovetails very nicely with something I've often said (to myself, as one never quite knows to whom one is speaking nowadays), that is to say that it is not Trump we all should be so concerned about, but rather it is the people who are supporting Trump who should demand our attention.

[An aside: I do love Vox, but why, Oh why must nearly every paragraph be two sentences or less? Is this the norm now in digitized articles? Can we not handle large paragraphs with a development of  a thesis? Perhaps I am merely too Faulknerian...or persnickety.]

I've read an article or two, or three, from the odd reporter who dared to visit a Trump rally. The reports are a bit on the scary side. How can people act this way? What way? Well, picture a convention in 1968 and you'll get a fairly nice portrait. It will be full of sound and fury, signifying not much of anything other than racism, xenophobia, and AUTHORITY!

And that leads me to this Vox article. What Taub does is gather research from a nascent field of study concerning the rise of authoritarianism from the point of view of psychology: how we can study the relative placement of any given person or society within a scale running from non-authoritarian to authoritarian. I'm not going to get into the actual theory but it does seem adequately thought out. The idea is that it isn't Trump that is leading people on, so much as the people are choosing Trump...and if there wasn't a Trump around for them to find, well, they would have found someone darn close enough.

The researchers seem to have found a magic formulae to identify Trump/Demagogue/Fascist-at-large: Fear. They respond to a perceived threat (physical such as 9/11 and bombings, or social such as gay marriage, racism, xenophobia, feminism) which triggers a response to lessen that threat with a powerful figure who vows action against that threat. The outsider will be quashed! Gays will be fixed! The Bible will be taught in school! Women will be ostracized for working! Build that wall! Ban those Muslims! And so on.

The article points out that though this drift to the fascist dark side had begun with the GOP's southern strategy in the '60s it has gathered momentum, probably due to the arrival of a perfect storm of threats: social change within the gay movement, physical threats from 9/11 to ISIS, and I would put the economic cartwheel that happened in 2008-9 alongside those. The Tea Party was not so much a political movement that brought conservatives into power so much as there was a sea-change of authoritarianism which produced the Tea Party.

We do not see its like on the left. Yes, there is a substantial movement which can be described as anti-establishment, but this is nothing like the movement on the right. The progressive left wants less authoritarianism, more fairness, more equity, less corruption. It is a rational movement, not an emotional movement as that of the right. It is a movement that clarifies, distills. The fascist movement of Trump is one that muddies and tosses up hatred out of fear. That fear results in a willingness to support anything and anyone that promises action. I was thinking as I read this piece of Dostoevsky's The Grand Inquisitor. There is something about that promise of mere bread, of mere security that can lead great numbers of people to support anything alleviating the threat of hunger or insecurity. And not only to support them, but they need them.

Another thing which I have also stated (also almost exclusively to myself): we are at the opportune time for a split in the parties, not just into three, as the Vox article suggests, but into four, with the remaining party the result of extreme dissatisfaction on the part of the Democratic Party. The Green Party could play a role here, or there could be another Bull Moose type or Progressive Party. Taube writes that "authoritarians are their own constituency." Therefore they are their own party, at least in theory. I do wonder if there are enough moderates within the GOP to even constitute another party, though. There simply are not enough old white males (the chief constituents of this "authoritarian party") to fear them taking over the presidency. For that we are thankful.

One might suggest, as in a recent New Yorker article, that the leftist Sanders supporters join forces with moderate establishment Republicans in order to foil any small chance Trump would have of victory; this is what happened when Le Pen threatened victory in France not too long ago. I doubt if we've come to that. There just isn't any chance of a GOP victory now. The numbers of old white men diminish with every year. Adam Gopnik, author of the New Yorker article, suggests also that Trump is merely, or might be merely the resurrection of the Rockefeller Republican wing. He does have some similarities (another Sun King of the wealthy masses) but the comparison falters when looking at his constituency. Rockefeller Republicans do not go to these rallies.

But it does produce one additional, scary, thought: When you examine Trump and his "policies" such as they are, and then compare him against others within the party including fellow candidates, you can come up with the conclusion that Trump may well be the least dangerous of these people. Trump compared to Cruz can indeed be said to be "marginally sane." What then can we do? Work for sanity, point out that fear produces no good thing politically, and vote Democratic, or Green, or Progressive. And thank God we do not have too many angry old white men around.

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