Book: Trump’s Supporters Are A Long Term Threat To U.S. Democracy
Former White House lawyer John Dean and psychologist Bob Altemeyer have written a new book that shines a light on “the deeply authoritarian” beliefs of Trump supporters.
Those beliefs have allowed the most faithful of President Trump’s followers to stick with him, despite his catastrophic handling of the coronavirus pandemic and a staggering COVID-19 death toll.
From The Washington Post:
A new book by a psychology professor and a former lawyer in the Nixon White House argues that Trump has tapped into a current of authoritarianism in the American electorate, one that’s bubbled just below the surface for years. In “Authoritarian Nightmare,” Bob Altemeyer and John W. Dean marshal data from a previously unpublished nationwide survey showing a striking desire for strong authoritarian leadership among Republican voters.
They also find shockingly high levels of anti-democratic beliefs and prejudicial attitudes among Trump backers, especially those who support the president strongly. And regardless of what happens in 2020, the authors say, Trump supporters will be a potent pro-authoritarian voting bloc in the years to come.
The authors measure authoritarianism “using a tool Altemeyer developed in the early 1980s, called the right-wing authoritarian (RWA) scale,” The Post reported.
The “right-wing” label refers not to left and right political leanings as they’re popularly understood today, they write, but rather to a more legalistic sense of “lawful, proper, and correct.” It’s used to identify authoritarian tendencies among people of any political persuasion — supporters of the Communist Party in the former Soviet Union, for instance, would have scored high on the scale despite having decidedly leftist economic and political views. The scale remains one of the most widely used measures of authoritarianism to this day.
They found a striking linear relationship between support for Trump and an authoritarian mind-set: The stronger a person supported Trump, the higher he or she scored on the RWA scale. People saying they strongly disapproved of Trump, for instance, had an average RWA score of 54. Those indicating complete support of the president, on the other hand, had an average score of 119, more than twice as authoritarian as Trump opponents.
Altemeyer and Dean write in the book that many of the most staunch Trump supporters “are submissive, fearful, and longing for a mighty leader who will protect them from life’s threats. They divide the world into friend and foe, with the latter greatly outnumbering the former.”
Perhaps most troubling, the authors note that authoritarianism in the United States is less about Trump and more about the Americans who elected him:
Altemeyer and Dean’s work is a reminder that his followers will remain a potent force in American politics for years to come.
“Even if Donald Trump disappeared tomorrow,” they write, “the millions of people who made him president would be ready to make someone else similar president instead.”