Monday, April 4, 2016

What Does it Mean to Call Trump Supporters Authoritarian?

So, having defined liberals as people who prefer social breadth to social depth and conservatives as people who prefer social depth to social breadth, what are authoritarians?

As seen before, Haidt defines authoritarians as people who place a high value on social cohesion and obedience to authority, and a low value on compassion.  He has expanded on this definition  elsewhere, apparently starting to recognize what I saw as a concern with moral foundations theory -- that the combination of group loyalty and purity/sanctity can turn into something very ugly -- a view of certain people outside one's in-group as impure and defiling.  He sounds almost like Robert Altemeyer when he says:
[W]hen they [authoritarians] perceive that the moral order is falling apart, the country is losing its coherence and cohesiveness, diversity is rising, and our leadership seems (to them) to be suspect or not up to the needs of the hour, its as though a button is pushed on their forehead that says “in case of moral threat, lock down the borders, kick out those who are different, and punish those who are morally deviant.” So its not just rising immigration and diversity that has activated American authoritarians — it may be our rising political polarization itself, which has activated and energized a subset of the electorate that is now lionizing Trump as the first major candidate in a long time who has spoken to their fears and desires. In short, Trump is not a conservative, and is not appealing to classical conservative ideas. He is an authoritarian.
He begins to see an exaggerated disgust reflex as dangerous or at least worth investigating as possibly dangerous:
I actually don’t know whether disgust is really characteristic of “status quo conservatives.” It’s possible that it is the authoritarians who drive the general correlation of disgust and self-declared conservatism. Given Hitler’s obsessive focus on disgust and vermin in Mein Kampf, and the general absence of such talk in classical conservative writings, I would guess that it is most characteristic of authoritarian psychology.
He cites favorable to a column that says of Trump:
More than any other Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump has been appealing to a particular combination of in-group loyalty and moral purity concerns. On the purity side, he often expresses disgust, often toward women and women’s bodies (e.g., Clinton’s bathroom break during a Democratic debate). But his purity appeals are most commonly in the context of group boundaries, like building walls on our national borders to prevent contamination by outsiders, who are cast as murderers and rapists, both morally and physically dirty.
And to the New Republic:
The disgust response feeds into an “in-group” response: What is disgusting is exterior, and the group must be protected from it, which in turn provides comfort and reinforces a shared sense of identity.
In short, what Haidt and the people he cites appear to see as authoritarianism is not so much placing a high value on social cohesion and a low value on compassion as a strong sense of disgust and punitive attitude toward people seen as a threat to social cohesion.

So, in the taxonomy I am forming, liberals are people who prefer breadth to depth in social commitment.  Conservatives are people who prefer depth to breadth in social commitment.  And authoritarians are people who are hostile and punitive toward people outside their circle of social commitment.  In responding to the outsider, the liberal response is to attempt to form ties, albeit in a superficial and often patronizing manner, the conservative response is indifference and incuriosity, and the authoritarian response is hostility and disgust.

Next: Authoritarian triggers.

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