Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Social Dominance Theory and the Popularity of Donald Trump

I am in the processing of finishing up the edits for tomorrow's episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show which features guest Professor Joseph Uscinski and a discussion of conspiracy theories, 9/11, and other related matters. While doing those edits, I have been thinking about Trumpmania and America's authoritarian and fascist tendencies.

Recent public opinion polling data demonstrates that Trump's supporters are extremist, conspiranoid thinkers. 

Their beliefs are also mainstream within the Republican Party.

From Public Policy Polling:
Our new poll finds that Trump is benefiting from a GOP electorate that thinks Barack Obama is a Muslim and was born in another country, and that immigrant children should be deported. 66% of Trump's supporters believe that Obama is a Muslim to just 12% that grant he's a Christian. 61% think Obama was not born in the United States to only 21% who accept that he was. And 63% want to amend the Constitution to eliminate birthright citizenship, to only 20% who want to keep things the way they are. 
Trump's beliefs represent the consensus among the GOP electorate. 51% overall want to eliminate birthright citizenship. 54% think President Obama is a Muslim. And only 29% grant that President Obama was born in the United States. 
This is just more evidence that "movement conservatives" are de facto radicals. They are not centrists: Trump's supporters are the dreck and political sewage water produced by the Right-wing media, the former also constitute a cohort who "respectable" "establishment" Republicans cower in fear of. 

Thus, a dilemma, the GOP has made the radical and the extreme their new center. This makes the party incapable of participating in normal politics and governance--especially on the national level.

Radical conservatism is also part of a broader social phenomenon. In the United States, political polarization, militarism, and racial resentment are increasingly driven by a deeply rooted authoritarianism.

Political scientists Chris Parker and Matt Barreto have done excellent work on the Republican "Tea Party" movement. One of their findings is that those people who identify with the Tea Party's goals (and who may not necessarily be active members or leaders in the group) are more likely to possess high levels of "social dominance orientation".  

Social dominance orientation is measured by the following scale:

  1. Some groups of people are simply inferior to other groups.
  2. In getting what you want, it is sometimes necessary to use force against other groups.
  3. It’s OK if some groups have more of a chance in life than others.
  4. To get ahead in life, it is sometimes necessary to step on other groups.
  5. If certain groups stayed in their place, we would have fewer problems.
  6. It’s probably a good thing that certain groups are at the top and other groups are at the bottom.
  7. Inferior groups should stay in their place.
  8. Sometimes other groups must be kept in their place.
  9. It would be good if groups could be equal.
  10. Group equality should be our ideal.
  11. All groups should be given an equal chance in life.
  12. We should do what we can to equalize conditions for different groups.
  13. Increased social equality is beneficial to society.
  14. We would have fewer problems if we treated people more equally.
  15. We should strive to make incomes as equal as possible.
  16. No group should dominate in society.

It is easy and convenient to describe Trump's supporters as "bullies", "political thugs", or the deceptively benign phrasing of "enthusiastic conservatives". However, there is much more to be gained in terms of actually understanding Trumpmania and the political cosmology of which it is a part, by examining the granular values and beliefs of the white conservatives (and others) who are mesmerized by his charisma, racism, nativism, and "strong man" ethos.

The White Right's wholesale embrace of social dominance in the Age of Obamas and the post civil right era--and parallel fear that "real Americans" will somehow be "oppressed" or made into "victims" by people of color, women, gays and lesbians, non-Christians, or some nebulous Other--is a threat to the broad liberal democratic consensus politics that came into existence at the end of World War 2 and through to the 1960s. 

I offer not a hysterical question, but rather a concerned and measured one: how long can American politics and "democracy" sustain their legitimacy and proper function when one of its two major parties exhibits authoritarian and extreme social dominance behavior?

Donald Trump is not to blame for the rot in America's political culture. He is a symptom of a larger and deeper systemic problem.

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