MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Ever since Donald Trump emerged as a presidential candidate, critics have framed him in the tradition of US - and world - authoritarian figures. Amanda Taub of Vox represents this focus on Trump's fascistic and vulgarian rise to GOP frontrunner in a March 1 article:
Last September, a PhD student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst named Matthew MacWilliams realized that his dissertation research might hold the answer to not just one but all three of these mysteries.
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.
So MacWilliams naturally wondered if authoritarianism might correlate with support for Trump.
He polled a large sample of likely voters, looking for correlations between support for Trump and views that align with authoritarianism. What he found was astonishing: Not only did authoritarianism correlate, but it seemed to predict support for Trump more reliably than virtually any other indicator.
BuzzFlash discussed this back in January, when we published a commentary that postulated - based in part on the study cited above - that Trump is able to be openly coarse, and essentially do what he pleases, because he has positioned himself as an invincible despot who "will get things done."
The world-famous cognitive linguist George Lakoff has for decades been detailing how the authoritarian mindset appeals to the right wing, as he did the other day on our site. Lakoff wrote on BuzzFlash:
As the legendary Green Bay Packers coach, Vince Lombardi, said, “Winning isn’t everything. It's the only thing.” In a world governed by personal responsibility and discipline, those who win deserve to win. Why does Donald Trump publicly insult other candidates and political leaders mercilessly? Quite simply, because he knows he can win an onstage TV insult game. In strict conservative eyes, that makes him a formidable winning candidate who deserves to be a winning candidate. Electoral competition is seen as a battle. Insults that stick are seen as victories — deserved victories.
The strict father logic extends further. The basic idea is that authority is justified by morality (the strict father version), and that, in a well-ordered world, there should be (and traditionally has been) a moral hierarchy in which those who have traditionally dominated should dominate. The hierarchy is: God above Man, Man above Nature, The Disciplined (Strong) above the Undisciplined (Weak), The Rich above the Poor, Employers above Employees, Adults above Children, Western culture above other cultures, Our Country above other countries. The hierarchy extends to: Men above women, Whites above Nonwhites, Christians above nonChristians, Straights above Gays.
This provides background to how a candidate, such as Trump, perceived as authoritarian, would appeal to believers in white superiority and privilege - even if they are of limited economic means and education.
A February 23 New York Times article cites several recent surveys that provide a racist subtext to Trump's demagogic appeal:
[GOP] Voters [in the South Carolina primary] were asked if they favored temporarily barring Muslims who are not citizens from entering the United States, something Mr. Trump advocates, and 74 percent said they did. He won 41 percent of that group....
The most revealing and shocking poll finding, however is that "Nearly 20 percent of Mr. Trump’s voters disagreed with Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in the Southern states during the Civil War." Yes, according to The New York Times, a Public Policy Polling South Carolina exit survey found that 1/5 of Trump's electoral supporters in South Carolina believe that slavery should not have been abolished.
Perhaps you can argue that some of the racist and white-first polling results are skewed because they are from the state that began the Civil War, but Trump has received support from white nationalist groups around the nation. It is also no coincidence that Trump did not initially renounce the support of David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan this past weekend - and has engaged in other wink-and-nod games with active racists by retweeting white nationalist groups' statements on his personal Twitter account. He has implicitly played to the sense of whites being the victims and targets of "the others" (but not victims of the oligarchs, of course).
One might propose that Trump doesn't regularly single out Black people for disdain and defamation (although it did not go unnoticed that he egged on violence against a Black Lives Matters protester at one of his rallies). That's because he doesn't have to. The support of David Duke and white supremacist organizations are indicators that the arch-racists of the US understand Trump's message loud and clear: By taking such a draconian and slanderous stance toward Muslims and Mexicans, among others, he doesn't have to defame Blacks. Trump understands that as many profane and despicable bridges that he has crossed, speaking like George Wallace would hinder his campaign and expose him to intensified media ridicule. That would result in the end of his free bullhorn publicity ride with the mainstream press, worth tens of millions of dollars in advertising.
However, the likes of David Duke and white nationalist groups - as well as your garden variety racist - know that Trump is only excluding Black people from his target list for strategic reasons. Before the Iowa primary, Trump proudly accepted the endorsement of John Wayne's daughter. "The Duke" was an avowed racist, as we discussed in a BuzzFlash commentary. Trump and his father had a history of racial profiling in renting out their housing units back in the '70s, and Trump embodies to his white nationalist followers the racist notion that white people are "winners." This is the myth of "America" that Trump is pledging to restore.
In case anyone has forgotten, Trump was also an outspoken leader in the "birther movement," declaring that President Obama was not legally born in the United States and, therefore, could not be president. The "birther movement" was a thinly disguised attack at dislodging a Black man from the White House based on racism. Trump even sent "investigators" in 2011 to Hawaii to try and prove that Obama was not born in that state. In 2015, in an interview with Anderson Cooper, Trump again expressed his "birtherism" bona fides.
Given this racial context, it is noteworthy that Trump declared, "I love the poorly educated!" after the Nevada Republican caucus. His pronouncement, whether premeditated or not, reflects a technique of the wealthy to pit classes against each other by resorting to race and ethnicity. How so? in the antebellum South - and up to this day - uneducated and poor whites were told by wealthy whites that they were better than Blacks because of their skin color and heritage. This prevented many hardscrabble tenant farmers - before the Civil War and up until big agricultural began to invade the South - from rebelling against the Southern agricultural oligarchy for improved economic conditions.
In fact, according to the NBC K-12 website,
In the years before the Civil War, the South was a society divided, not only between blacks and whites, but among whites themselves. The region was dominated both socially and politically by 1,733 families who owned more than a hundred slaves each. They were called the "Planter Aristocracy" and they lived in a world of opulent mansions and mint juleps. But most white southerners weren't wealthy enough to own slaves. In fact, two-thirds of all southerners owned no slaves at all.
In the movie, Mississippi Burning, an FBI agent (Rupert Anderson) raised in the South has this exchange with another FBI agent (Alan Ward) investigating the murders of civil rights activists in Mississippi:
Ward: Where does it come from, all this hatred?
Anderson: You know when I was a little boy, there was an old negro farmer that lived down the road from us, named Monroe. He was ... (subtle laugh), I guess he was just a little more luckier than my daddy was. He bought himself a mule. It was a big deal in round that town. Now my daddy hated that mule. Kuse, his friends were always kidding him about, "They saw Monroe out plowing with his new mule and Monroe is going to rent another field now he had a mule." One morning that mule showed up dead. They poisoned the water. After that, there wasn't any mention about that mule around my daddy. It just never came up. One time we were driving down that road and we passed Monroe's place and we saw it was empty. He just packed up and left, I guess, he must of went up north or something. I looked over at my daddy's face, I knew he done it. He saw that I knew. He was ashamed. I guess he was ashamed. He looked at me and said, "If you ain't better than a n**ger son, who are you better than?"
Ward: I think that's an excuse.
Anderson: No it's not, excuse. It's just a story about my daddy.
Ward: Where's that leave you?
Anderson: With an old man who was just so full of hate that he didn't know that being poor was what was killing him.
That conversation goes a long way toward explaining the bonfire of racist rage toward people of color that Jefferson Davis would have been proud to marshal today.
Not to be reposted without permission of Truthout.