At last and alas, the primary season looms before us. As is customary for me, I always pay attention when my friend, political consultant Richard (Dick) Bell, posts an article in the public interest on Facebook.
Dick was one of my mentors when I was involved with the Kerry campaign in 2003-04 as a blogger and blog moderator. I have always relied on and trusted his take on the complexities of political campaigns and DC politics in general. He is always spot-on.
So I took notice when he posted this Politico article,”The One Weird Trait that Predicts Whether You’re a Trump Supporter,” written by longtime Democratic pollster Matt MacWilliams. It describes in depth what we here at Planet Waves have guessed all along: Trump triggers the mystic yearning for a strong man — the one who an authoritarian type will obey.
“My finding is the result of a national poll I conducted in the last five days of December under the auspices of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, sampling 1,800 registered voters across the country and the political spectrum. Running a standard statistical analysis, I found 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.
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.
The US primary season kicks off Feb. 1 with the Iowa caucuses. Already people have formed their opinions on the candidates, and it’s probably easier to find more now who made their decisions than back in September.
I am not saying you should be alarmed. I am suggesting you be aware. There are many people from both sides of the social, political and cultural fence who feel disoriented by the number of changes that have taken place in the US these last seven years.
We elected an African-American President. Twice. The Supreme Court has legalized gay marriage. Marijuana is legal in three states, and though the movement has been slowed or resisted in some states, the interest remains in other states to pursue legalization. California already legalized medical marijuana and should have gone for the full ball of wax years ago. And, even with all its flaws and an uncertain future, people have access to (relatively) affordable health care.
These are such new and distressing concepts to many people — those who are fixated on ‘the way things were’ — that going backwards in time through the promises of a bombastic strongman seems comfortable and right. Even though we know, especially in the case of Trump’s foreign policy and immigration proposals, that they’re neither.
As the article implies, this is what fear of uncertainty and change will create: the white-knuckled hold on a past that is slipping away, and along with it a shift in power. We’re moving from male-dominated to female-included, and from a white majority to a growing multi-ethnic one.
But we cannot hold onto time through our inner tyrants and their outer representations. It’s useless to be afraid of what we’ll lose if we do change. We’ve already changed. We are different, still feeling out who we are and where we’re going.
This primary season is the starting point of where we go as a country; who we want to be in the world and to each other, inside and out of our borders. Let us prove to ourselves how much we’ve grown.
Yes — it does seem that the “fear factor” is a huge component, in addition to the authoritarianism streak — and a need to externalize problems. A friend of mine just posted this piece, which you might have seen already, of a Muslim woman who went to a Trump rally to try and understand his supporters better. A telling quote:
“What differentiates me from many of the Trump supporters I met this weekend is that their concerns for our future have led to an overwhelming need to see all of our problems as someone else’s fault.”
My Friend M added, “She found the the common ground: Donkey or elephant, green-washed or spray-tanned, we are all afraid.”
I do encourage everyone to read this woman’s account; she offers such incredibly humane insights. I am grateful she was willing to make herself vulnerable and listen to those she encountered; I also wonder whether her interactions lead to insights equally humane and profound in the Trump supporters she encountered. I hope so.
I watched one news media report at a Trump rally in Myrtle Beach, where several very elderly types were interviewed. They said they knew many other senior people who were registering to vote, but who hadn’t voted in years. They are supporting Trump. It certainly is a curious reaction. Immigration in the past would have meant cheap labor (maids, babysitters, nursing home works and manual laborers) and most of us didn’t think too much about it. It does seem to imply a different dynamic today, and perhaps that is contributing to the fear of this particular unknown. If I were a candidate, I’d find a different way to sell immigration since it obviously isn’t going away. flow chart the good vs bad in every conceivable situation. Church is important – will my religious beliefs be protected? Safety is important – will I die if my neighborhood is integrated or if I get on a bus? Most of us think about things on the “I” level and the local law enforcement departments are dealing with all of us on that level too – scared of unknowns vs known facts. I sort of have an idea how I would change things around a bit, so maybe I should run for office too.
To borrow a few phrases from Dane Rudhyar, we can use changes as opportunity to jet propel into an altogether new future, or we can crash land.
Well said on both counts.i seriously hope as you said just above that it’s the former, not the latter. We could so easily be seeing the dusk of a similar Weimar Republic here, birthing a Fascist Movement. All the players are present. We need to collapse the stage out from under them–as beautifully and as powerfully as we can.
Yes – let’s think beautiful thoughts about this. Reminds me of a facebook poster I saw today – Abracadabra is a Hebrew phrase that means “I create what I speak.” Do we ever!
In my little rural area of Canada, I know many who whole-heartedly think Trump’s just great. They are mostly the same folks who insisted the sky would fall if Canadians turfed our former Conservative federal government, whose politics of fear-mongering and saber-rattling appealed to the fearful. Fear of “others” – fear “they” will take something from us – the scarcity philosophy looming large.
We did vote for change in the form of a Liberal government. The sky has not fallen, & I, for one, feel Canada can recover its former status as a peace-maker & a place of safety for the oppressed.
I hope our American friends may choose a future more of that nature than Trump’s vision of fearful millions behind border walls. Frankly, he scares me.
I would love to vote for Trudeau. Canadians are lucky to have him. He is of this century.
In the meantime, please in your spare time focus some intention to your southern neighbors. They need some enlightened support to go through this rough passage called the US Presidential election cycle.
Fe: Thank you for hitting the nail squarely on the head once again.
You’re welcome Len.
The road rises before us. Time to travel it with clarity and courage.
Fe: Truly you speak (write) in the spirit of leadership exemplified by the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. – somebody who appealed to all of us to throw off the need for authoritarianism and take on a higher form of responsibility – freedom. May nobody be left behind, for every soul will be needed for any soul finally reach the mountain top.
Fe, yes, I shall continue to focus, as you put it, “intention” toward our neighbours to the South. There are so many people of good heart, working so very hard. May all be blessed.
Trump is like a living Imperius curse. He works by giving people a sense of certainty in an uncertain world. Unfortunately, critical thinking has a bad press.
You are so right. The other candidates need to take notes – create certainty for those of us who fear for our rights; and create energy for those of us who are ready to go where no man has gone before. I so remember the race to the moon, even though I was still in grade school. President Kennedy thrilled us with vision. I’m trying to imagine what it will be like listening to an old nag for the next 4 years, or an old crank, the voices of a thousand excuses and blame. Even president Carter had more to offer than these people do. He talked to the country about energy, and we went out and bought bicycles to ride to work and the local grocery, to do our part. I doubt if anyone remembers that now, but conservation was a pretty big deal in the late 70s.
Thanks for this great article Fe, I don’t doubt the validity of MacWilliams’ findings and am hoping that when transiting Neptune at 8+ Pisces moves off of the U.S natal (Sibly) Ceres at 8+ Pisces (which squares the U.S natal Uranus at 8+ Gemini) in mid February, it won’t be back to that degree for a long, long time.
Transiting Neptune (“confounded conventional expectations”) is in the 3rd house of communicating (TV, Internet, smart phones, etc.) as is natal U.S. Ceres and the U.S. Sibly chart’s 3rd house is co-ruled by Uranus and Saturn. You know the 3rd house of this chart has had its conflicts what with Uranus and Saturn vying for influence over Aquarius which is the sign on the cusp of that house. Do we stay the same (Saturn) or do we make breakthroughs (Uranus) is the primary question we face, in the world and here in the USA.
Once the transit of Neptune, which has been squared recently by transiting Saturn, and will be again in June and September, moves away from the U.S. natal Ceres (who stole my baby?) square U.S. natal Uranus (shock, awakening) aspect, perhaps the lure of Donald Trump won’t seem so movie-star heroish to the fearful-of-change in our country. If Canada can do it so can we.
Donald Trump will turn 70 years old next June and that can typically do a number on the macho man type. I’m hoping the media (3rd house) will make a big deal about the Donald’s milestone birthday; you know Cruz will start doing it as soon as he becomes aware of it.
Transiting Neptune will stay in the U.S Sibly 3rd house for another 8 years so illusion and delusion, as well as hopes and dreams will continue to influence our conversations and communications but the divides will melt away during that time. Keep the faith.
This issue of authoritarian appeal to conservatives has been discussed here: