The front of the New York Times Sunday Review gave very unconvincing credence to the self-serving liberal idea of “authoritarian” Republican voters: “Is There Such a Thing as an Authoritarian Voter?" In case the point was missed, the inside page and online teaser to the story by Molly Worthen (a professor and contributing opinion writer) featured a photo of a speechifying President Trump.
Even though it’s the Democratic Party that wants a larger, more intrusive federal government, more regulation, and favors speech-squelching of social conservative statements by big liberal companies (Google, Twitter), Worthen nevertheless tied Trump and Republicans in general to xenophobic and racist beliefs -- and (gasp!) disrespect for the media.
A recession might be just around the corner, but for experts in the field of “authoritarian studies,” these are boom times. Jonathan Weiler, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has spent much of his career studying the appeal of authoritarian figures: politicians who preach xenophobia, beat up on the press and place themselves above the law while extolling “law and order” for everyone else....
Worthen's muddled article links those traits in bold above to Trump voters and the GOP in general.
Could it be that millions of President Trump’s supporters are simply wired to see the world very differently from his critics? “In 2018, the sense of fear and panic -- the disorientation about how people who are not like us could see the world the way they do -- it’s so elemental,” Mr. Weiler said....
Recent social scientific research has paid special attention to the supposedly authoritarian personalities of many Republican voters. “Trump’s electoral strength -- and his staying power -- have been buoyed, above all, by Americans with authoritarian inclinations,” wrote Matthew MacWilliams, a political consultant who surveyed voters during the 2016 election. But what, exactly, is an “authoritarian” personality? How do you measure it?
She imparted a history lesson to compare today’s Trump voters with American supporters of the Nazi regime.
In the years after World War II, the philosopher (and German refugee) Theodor Adorno collaborated with social scientists at the University of California at Berkeley to investigate why ordinary people supported fascist, anti-Semitic ideology during the war. They used a questionnaire called the F-scale (F is for fascism) and follow-up interviews to analyze the “total personality” of the “potentially antidemocratic individual.”
The resulting 1,000-page tome, “The Authoritarian Personality,” published in 1950, found that subjects who scored high on the F-scale disdained the weak and marginalized. They fixated on sexual deviance, embraced conspiracy theories and aligned themselves with domineering leaders “to serve powerful interests and so participate in their power,” the authors wrote. Some of their conclusions hold up well -- Adorno and his colleagues could easily have been describing Alex Jones’s paranoid Infowars rants or the racist views expressed by many Trump supporters.
Worthen briefly admitted that “Skeptics complained that the F-scale conflated fascism with conservatism,” but still saw merit in the psychobabble when it put Republicans on the couch.
Political scientists often dismiss “The Authoritarian Personality” as a relic of its time, but some still speculate about Republican voters’ relationships with their fathers (and Mr. Trump’s own relationship with his). And perhaps the most popular method for studying modern authoritarianism takes its cue from one of the F-scale’s prompts: “Obedience and respect for authority are the most important virtues children should learn.”....
But Worthen had to duck an inconvenient racial finding that called into question the “authoritarian” explanation that is supposedly driving the white conservative political worldview. Her solution? Pretend that favoring “obedience and respect for authority” as parents doesn’t reflect badly on African-Americans, only on “anxious” whites.
Moreover, using the child-rearing questionnaire, African-Americans score as far more authoritarian than whites. This result forced researchers to grant what should have been obvious: Attitudes toward parenting vary across cultures, and for centuries African-Americans have seen the consequences of a social and political hierarchy arrayed against them, so they can hardly be expected to favor it -- no matter what they think about child rearing. The child-trait test, then, is a tool to identify white people who are anxious about their decline in status and power.