Monday, June 10, 2013
Parsing Out the Puzzle That is a Black President, Partisanship, Authoritarianism, PRISM, and the NSA
The Newtown massacre generated a week or so worth of attention which then quickly dissipated. The national conversation on guns as a public health problem--one that kills many more people than "terrorism"--was pushed aside by the national media and a cowardly political leadership class who are beholden to the NRA and the gun lobby.
The "news" that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been spying on the American people for (at least) several years will be met with a similar outcome. Why? Many people have always assumed they were being spied upon. Thus, PRISM is not a revelation.
Many Americans are also not interested in politics or public policy matters. They have been lulled into complicity; others are just tired and exhausted by a broken economy and satiated by a celebrity-reality TV show culture which distracts the viewers by feeding ephemeral hopes of fame and stardom that will never personally come to them.
In total, the NRA-PRISM story is not a "scandal" because there is no surprise or finding that works to undermine the public's trust in the United States government because such a sentiment has already been evaporating.
And as inverted totalitarianism in the United States inches closer through the machinations of the Surveillance Society, neoliberalism, and "the culture of cruelty", there are Americans who likely welcome being spied upon by their own government.
Such violations make them feel safe: they are Pavlov's dogs, habituated to the Panopticon's eye. The common refrain of authoritarians and their defenders that "you have nothing to be afraid of if you are not doing anything wrong" still has life if the comment sections online, as well as the utterances on Twitter, are taken as an informal barometer of the public mood.
What of the politically engaged? How are they responding to the reveal that the National Security Administration has been systematically spying on the citizens of the United States?
Political ideology and partisanship are useful metrics for trying to figure out this puzzle (even one that is still in its developing and early stages).
One should except that principled civil libertarians on either side of the political divide should be outraged by confirmation that PRISM and other such domestic spying programs exist.
Political partisanship is a lens that colors how people respond to political issues and controversies.
Here, Democratic supporters of Obama ought to be more likely to support these policies because of an attachment to, and like of, The President. Although programs such as PRISM began under Bush, Republicans will negatively respond to this "scandal" because of a deep dislike and near pathological hatred of Barack Obama.
The power of partisanship to shape voters' attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions is well-documented. For example, research has demonstrated how voters will support a policy in the abstract (e.g. healthcare reform) and then when President Obama is mentioned relative to it, conservatives (especially those who score highest on measures of racial resentment) will then reject the same issue.
The Authoritarians pose an interesting puzzle. They are generally subservient and deferent to Authority and the State. Authoritarian-conservatives are also easily primed by fear: see the power of "terrorism" as a word that resonates among the Right-wing American public. Consequently, if considered in the abstract, authoritarians should support Obama and the NSA's domestic spying.
The fact that Barack Obama is the United States' first black president poses a challenge for this conclusion.
The authoritarians are also fearful of change, highly attune to a sense of external threat, and driven by a desire to maintain relative social dominance and privilege. Moreover, racism and conservatism are intimates in post civil rights America. Authoritarians tend to be more racist and hostile to members of any type of "out-group" as well as those marked as "dangerous" or "deviant."
Consequently, racism, conservatism, and authoritarianism--to the degree they can be neatly separated from one another--combine to create rage toward Barack Obama and his administration by those on the Right.
Conservative authoritarians want to support the military, the NSA, and any other government or societal apparatus they associate with "safety and security." However, their sense of social dominance means that they will oppose the black guy who is President and any of his policies.
A highly polarized political environment where authoritarianism is overwhelmingly a feature common to Republican-Tea Party voters also means that they will show less trust in political institutions, and respect for the legitimacy of public offices. This dynamic is demonstrated by the use of violent language and threats of civil war, secession, and nullification by conservatives in the Age of Obama.
But, the authoritarians love of "country" and conformity demands that Joseph Snowden, the brave whistleblower who outed PRISM and the NSA's violation of the American people's privacy rights, be punished as a "traitor."
Do help me work through this puzzle. How do things look from where you are sitting and the circles you travel in?