Psychology Magazine

The Contract with Authoritarianism

By Deric Bownds @DericBownds
Thomas Edsall offers yet another of his thoughtful well referenced essays, from which I want to pass on a few clips. You should read the entire article. He begins by citing a quote from George Lakoff’s writing, done just after the 1994 Newt Gingrich Republican revolution that led to our current era of conservative ascendancy:
Deeply embedded in conservative and liberal politics are two different models of the family. Conservatism is based on a Strict Father model, while liberalism is centered on a Nurturant Parent model. These two models of the family give rise to different moral systems.
…The crucial word now… is authoritarianism.
The election of Donald Trump — built as it was on several long-term trends that converged in 2016 — has created an authoritarian moment. 
…traits like closed mindedness, along with aversion to change and discomfort with diversity, are linked to authoritarianism:
As these social and cultural conflicts have become a bigger part of our political debates, citizens have sorted into different parties based on personality, with citizens high in openness much more likely to be liberals and Democrats than those low in openness. This psychological sorting process does not line up perfectly with older partisan differences based on class, because those higher in income and education also tend to be higher in openness.
With the rise of cultural and lifestyle politics, Democrats and Republicans are now sharply distinguished by a set of psychological dispositions related to experiential openness — a general dimension of personality tapping tolerance for threat and uncertainty in one’s environment.
Edall cites Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler:
...preferences about many of the new issues on the American political agenda, such as gay rights, the war in Iraq, the proper response to terrorism, and immigration are likely structured by authoritarianism.
Those with a fixed worldview tend to see “American Carnage,” while those with fluid worldviews see the world as a big, beautiful place that is safe to explore. The fixed tend to be wary of what they perceive as constant threats to their physical security specifically and of social change in general. The fluid are much more open to change and, indeed, see it as a strength. For them, anger lies in holding on to old ideas and rejecting diversity.
Matt Grossmann and Daniel Thaler of Michigan State University further expand on the role of psychological traits in voter decision-making in their forthcoming paper, “Mass-Elite Divides in Aversion to Social Change and Support for Donald Trump.” They found that aversion to change “is strongly predictive of support for Trump” among regular voters, but much less so among Republican political elites.
Smith and Hanley used what they call a “domineering leader scale” to measure the wish for a strong leader who will force others to submit. The premise is that evil is afoot; that money, the media and government authority — and even “politically correct” moral authority — have been usurped by undeserving interlopers. The desire for a domineering leader is the desire to see this evil crushed.
If an aggressive, domineering authoritarianism is a prime motivator for many Trump supporters, as Smith and Hanley contend, the clash between Republicans and Democrats is likely to become more hostile and warlike.
Federico, Feldman and Weber note that:
...since the early 2000s, many especially acrimonious political debates have focused on threats to social stability and order — debates surrounding abortion, transgender rights, immigration, and the role of the federal government in protecting the rights of marginalized social groups.
The rising “salience of these debates,” they write, “has contributed to a growing ‘authoritarian divide’ within the United States, at least among White Americans.”
Trump has purposefully exacerbated the “many especially acrimonious political debates” now dominating public discourse, deepening not only the authoritarian divide, but the divide between open and closed mindedness, between acceptance and racial resentment, and between toleration of and aversion to change. He evidently believes that this is the best political strategy for presiding in the White House and winning re-election, but it is an extraordinarily destructive strategy for governing the country and for safeguarding America’s interests in the world.

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