Authoritarianism

TimeWatch Editorial
August 19, 2017

On March 1, 2016, Amanda Taub published an article on the VOX website entitled, “The Rise of American Authoritarianism.” Amanda is a Former human rights lawyer, now covering foreign policy and human rights. She is also a writer for the New York Times and an Interpreter and explorer of the ideas and context behind major world events. In this article, she seeks to answer the question regarding the popularity of a candidate who has had no previous political experience, and seems, by every action he takes, to be the most unlikely choice by the Republican Party. Here is how she opens the article.

“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? How has Donald Trump, seemingly out of nowhere, suddenly become so popular? What's made Trump's rise even more puzzling is that his support seems to cross demographic lines — education, income, age, even religiosity — that usually demarcate candidates. And whereas most Republican candidates might draw strong support from just one segment of the party base, such as Southern evangelicals or coastal moderates, Trump currently does surprisingly well from the Gulf Coast of Florida to the towns of upstate New York, and he won a resounding victory in the Nevada caucuses.” Amanda Taub, “The Rise of American Authoritarianism.” the VOX website, March 1, 2016

Now it should be remembered that the article was published before the final results of the primary, and way before the results of the election. Amanda raises an important point. She says that unexpectedly, out of nowhere, there appear people who hold very restrictive views concerning how the country should work.

“Perhaps strangest of all, it wasn't just Trump but his supporters who seemed to have 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.” Amanda Taub, “The Rise of American Authoritarianism.” the VOX website, March 1, 2016

Amanda is making the point that these individuals were not first persuaded by Trump to embrace these points of view, but appeared to have held them BEFORE the actual rise of Trump. Amanda uses as one of her resources, the research done by a PhD student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst named Matthew McWilliams. He discovered during his study that his dissertation research might hold the answer to the number of individuals who gravitated toward this unknown and inexperienced candidate.

“MacWilliams studies 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. 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.” Amanda Taub, “The Rise of American Authoritarianism.” the VOX website, March 1, 2016

So, this rise of authoritarian attitudes was motivated by a fear of change in the society, by those who had been traditionally the main actors. Slowly, as immigration expanded and changed the environment, those who for many years had been the leading elements of states and counties, now found themselves threatened by the possibility of becoming minorities. No longer did they desire to embrace the freedom of the society which they cherished, but they now demanded an STRONG leader who would purge their nation of those who had invaded their land. In 2009 Hetherington and Weiler published a book about the effects of authoritarianism on American politics.

“Their book concluded that the GOP, by positioning itself as the party of traditional values and law and order, had unknowingly attracted what would turn out to be a vast and previously bipartisan population of Americans with authoritarian tendencies. This trend had been accelerated in recent years by demographic and economic changes such as immigration, which "activated" authoritarian tendencies, leading many Americans to seek out a strongman leader who would preserve a status quo they feel is under threat and impose order on a world they perceive as increasingly alien.” .” Amanda Taub, “The Rise of American Authoritarianism.” the VOX website, March 1, 2016

This then would begin to explain the immovable support that has attached itself to the president. Regardless of his many flaws, they are driven by their own fears regarding the changes that have occurred in their country and in the world. What will be their role in the new world? The majority of technical experts are from Asian countries, the universities and colleges have made room for minorities, the neighborhoods are being infiltrated. Fear fills the hearts of those who once perceived themselves as exceptional.

“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. 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. Even Hetherington was shocked to discover quite how right their theory had been. In the early fall of 2015, as Trump's rise baffled most American journalists and political scientists, he called Weiler. He asked, over and over, "Can you believe this? Can you believe this?" Amanda Taub, “The Rise of American Authoritarianism.” the VOX website, March 1, 2016

Perhaps this will provide the answer that many have been seeking. Fear of the changing environment seems to be the motivation that drives the Trump movement. However the direction that the country is now heading in is serious and dangerous. The results will be horrific.

Cameron A. Bowen


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