Friday, February 12, 2016

Seymour Lipset Solved It Years Ago: The Not So Complicated Riddle of Donald Trump and Working Class Authoritarianism

I have a new piece over at Salon which examines the popularity of Donald Trump by using some new data from the Rand Corporation and Seymour Lipset's concept of "working class authoritarianism". This most recent essay, along with my writing on Trump and "terror management theory" are among my personal favorites in recent years (and at the risk of sounding arrogant and conceited I also think those two essays are very important).

Seymour Lipset was a giant of the Social Sciences. I always marvel at how most scholarship is ephemeral except to the few other people who study the same minutia, yet some work remains relevant (and sometimes becomes even more so) long after a given thinker has passed away. Richard Hofstadter explained today's Republican Party fifty years ago. Seymour Lipset understood the "Trumpeteers".  I wonder, what would Eric Hobsbawn have to say about today's Republican Party and its white working class revolt?

And of course, W.E.B. Du Bois and his understanding of the "psychological wages of whiteness" is the shadow hanging over most of American history.

Writing over at the Democracy Journal, Jordan Michael Smith summoned Lipset's work with the following incisive observation:
First, let’s look at what we know about Trump’s fans. They are far less likely to have a college degree than those partial to other Republican presidential candidates, and they also make less than $50,000 annually. In addition—and this really contradicts Judis’s theory—they describe themselves as “conservatives” wholeheartedly. Indeed, Trump is attracting as many conservatives as Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and Jeb Bush combined. 
A white lower-educated supporter on the lower-income scale is not what we normally term middle-class: It’s more aptly called the working-class. Which is why William Galston of the Brookings Institution analyzed the data and wrote that “Trump is the staunchest champion of the white working class that American politics has seen in decades.” Combine their class with their self-declared conservatism and you have the people Lipset described. 
According to Lipset, “authoritarian predispositions and ethnic prejudice flow more naturally from the situation of the lower classes than from that of middle and upper classes.” These were the people who formed the base of the Nazi labor unions (Lipset was writing in 1959), the White Citizen’s Councils in the segregated American south, and race rioters in England. Lipset continued, “working-class groups have proved to be the most nationalistic and jingoistic sector of the population. In a number of nations, they have clearly been in the forefront of the struggle against equal rights for minority groups, and have sought to limit immigration or to impose racial standards in countries with open immigration.” This, of course, describes a Donald Trump rally almost perfectly.
As I am fond of saying, the corporate news media treats Donald Trump's rise--and other matters of public policy, more generally--as "unknown unknowns". They create a mystery in order to partly solve it, as a full explanation does not drive ratings or leave them with future stones to overturn..and to then feign being aghast at the wiggly worms, mold, and rot they find underneath.

Trumpmania and his power over the Trumpeteers is a basic function of racism, economic insecurity, Right-wing propaganda, and death anxieties among the white public. Right-wing producerism and working class authoritarianism are the key frameworks which explain Trump's strategy and appeal.

Is it all that simple? Alternatively, is it much more complicated than I have suggested?

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