The Modern Republican Party Has Always Been A Party Of Authoritarianism
Countless Americans found the rise of President Donald Trump perplexing, leaving many wondering how such a large number of their fellow citizens could cast their votes for a candidate with clearly authoritarian, racist and otherwise distasteful views.
But the modern Republican Party has long valued power over democracy, and the election of Trump merely played on the dormant authoritarianism within largely conservative voters who had been primed for decades by not only the Republican Party but conservative media as well.
This sorting of authoritarians into the Republican Party not only increased the base that would one day vote for Trump but also helped drive the extreme polarization American politics is currently experiencing.
Further, this sorting eventually granted authoritarians enough power with the Republican Party to make their voices matter.
In 2016, Vox teamed up with media and polling company Morning Consult to gather data and test hypotheses surrounding support for Trump and authoritarianism, and the results were profound: “The rise of American authoritarianism is transforming the Republican Party and the dynamics of national politics, with profound consequences likely to extend well beyond this election.”
One of the major revelations was just how many Americans score high on the trait of authoritarianism: “Our results found that 44 percent of white respondents nationwide scored as ‘high’ or ‘very high’ authoritarians, with 19 percent as ‘very high.’”
What is interesting about this finding, which incidentally is not unusually high, is that authoritarianism is often a latent characteristic, only rising to the surface when the set of circumstances are present.
“People in this 44 percent only vote or otherwise act as authoritarians once triggered by some perceived threat, physical or social,” Vox noted, but this is how the Republican Party has morphed over time: “that latency is part of how, over the past few decades, authoritarians have quietly become a powerful political constituency without anyone realizing it.”
Republicans are more likely to score high on authoritarianism than Democrats, the polling found. More than 65 percent of those who scored highest on the trait were Republican voters, Vox reported, and more than 55 percent of those who scored “high” or “very” high belonged to the GOP.
By contrast, 75 percent of respondents who scored on the opposite end of the spectrum were Democrats, meaning they were the most non-authoritarian of the bunch.
The results show that over time, authoritarians have sorted themselves into the Republican Party, creating something of a feedback loop: the GOP began attracting authoritarian voters — latent or otherwise — when it refashioned itself as the party of traditional values and social structures. In return, as more and more authoritarians navigated to the party, the GOP had less and less freedom to ignore their preferences if they wanted to keep winning elections.
This shift in Republican Party tactics was largely a response to social change during the civil rights era and began in the 1960s. Vox noted that the GOP altered its strategy in order to “win disaffected Southern Democrats, in part by speaking to fears of changing social norms — for example, the racial hierarchies upset by civil rights.”
“The GOP also embraced a ‘law and order’ platform with a heavily racial appeal to white voters who were concerned about race riots,” the publication noted.
From that point forward, the wheels were set in motion and they just kept rolling — eventually bringing on board conservative media outlets like Fox News — until enough authoritarians had migrated to the Republican Party to garner significant control over its agenda.
By the time Trump came along, the types of physical and social threats that would draw latent authoritarianism out into the open had been hammered on for years, and his promise to “stave off social change and, if necessary, to impose order” was exactly what many Republicans had been waiting to hear.