Donald Trump authoritarianism

The authoritarianists are growing in power. Trump is a symptom

Seen from this side of the Atlantic, it looks like a mystery: why does the American electorate support what appears to be an extreme right, populist, restless, and without any real political experience? How do you explain this current, which embraces extreme and often bizarre views, carried by a character who seems to come out of nowhere and suddenly becomes so popular? These questions are not only asked in the United States. In Europe, too, similar phenomena are occurring and raising questions. The Trump case is a signal that must be taken seriously in order to understand what is happening all over the world and in our country in particular. It is a symptom of a latent force that is emerging: the authoritarianists.
UP', the magazine of changing times, cannot fail to question this phenomenon, five days before the American elections.
Cow can we understand Trump's enigmatic rise and especially the supports he aggregates by upsetting all the demographic lines that usually delineate candidates: education, income, age, and even religion? Even stranger than Trump's rise is the liberation of speech. How can we understand these immense masses of supporters of the American billionaire, who go beyond him in the outrage, and take positions never before seen in American memory. A poll A recent CBS News report revealed that 75 %s of Republican voters supported banning Muslims in the United States. Another PPP poll revealed that one-third of Trump voters wanted to ban gays and lesbians from the country. There are 20 %s who regret that Lincoln freed the slaves!
While Trump's success seems to have taken everyone by surprise, there is still a small group of researchers who are less surprised than others. A group which, on the borderline between political scientists and psychologists, has for the past fifteen years been drawing a worrying parallel between the factors that once allowed the rapid emergence of authoritarian leaders with extreme ideas - Hitler, Mussolini- in Europe and similar parameters in the United States.

Authoritarianism, a latent political force

Among these researchers, two American political academics had seen the Trump phenomenon coming as early as 2009. Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler published a book in 2009 that is now attracting great interest, Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics. Through a series of experiments and analyses of electoral data, they came to a surprising conclusion: What structures the polarization of U.S. political life is not the oft-cited traditional variables or electoral systems, or the weight of candidates' money. No, what structures politics is a variable that has gone unnoticed, yet affects a huge constituency: authoritarianism (authoritarianism in English).
The authors believe that by positioning itself on the traditional values of law and order, the Republican Party has opened a breach that has more or less unconsciously attracted a large population of Americans with authoritarian tendencies. This trend has accelerated in recent years as a result of economic and demographic changes, including immigration. This underlying trend was then abruptly activated and has led to the emergence of growing groups of citizens seeking a strong leader capable of preserving the status quo and eliminating the threats they feel. Their desire is to impose order on a world they perceive as increasingly alien.
It is on this basic trend that Trump has built its popularity, embodying the most classic authoritarian leadership: a simple, powerful and punitive authority. Voters see Trump as the embodiment of this trend, and carry him to the pinnacle, to the point of imploding if not blowing up the Republican Party itself.

Trump is a developer

The authoritarianists, who are emerging en masse in the American electorate, have found in Trump the ideal leader, strong enough to defy threats with vigour, even brutality. A leader with characteristics totally different from those known in American politics, capable of shaking up all standards of acceptability.
So Trump is more than just a candidate. He is the revealer of an extremely powerful tectonic movement. For the political scientists who conducted this study, Donald Trump may just be the precursor of many other Trumps in American politics. And elsewhere.
Intrigued by this phenomenon revealed nearly seven years ago by the two academics, the magazine Vox wanted to explore the issue further by conducting, in collaboration with the polling firm Morning Consult and other media outlets in Washington, D.C., a major election investigation. The results they got were astounding.
What appears with remarkable clarity is that Trump is unquestionably a symptom: that of the rise of authoritarianism. It is not Trump that is remarkable, but what he reveals.

What is authoritarianism?

For years, researchers at the crossroads of political science and social psychology have been studying the phenomenon, and in particular that of Nazism, and have been asking this haunting question: how do people come to adopt, in such large numbers and so quickly, extreme political opinions that seem to coincide with the fear of minorities and the desire for a strong leader?
To answer this question, theorists study what they call authoritarianism: not the leaders themselves, but rather the psychological profile of people who, under the right conditions, will desire certain types of extreme policies and will seek strong leaders to implement them. This research culminated in 2005 with the publication of the book by Australian political psychology professor Karen Stenner, The Authoritarian Dynamic.
According to this author, there are subsets of individuals who develop latent authoritarian tendencies. These tendencies are "activated" or triggered by what they see as physical threats or threats to society. In these circumstances, these individuals, regardless of their previous social or political affiliations, are driven to desire and support extreme policies and strong leaders.
As Jonathan Haidt of New York University sums it up:
" In the case of a threat, they call for closing borders, throwing out those who are different and punishing those who are morally deviant. "

Beyond the usual cleavages

For political scientists, what can be called "authoritarianists" constitute a real ensemble that exists independently of Trump or a specific leader, that is at a different level from the usual political cleavages or families but that persists as a latent force in society. What mainly characterizes them is their search for order in the chaos of the world. All the situations that represent a danger to the maintenance of this order (diversity, influx of foreigners, perceived degradation of old values, etc.) are experienced as threats that they feel personally and that compromise their most basic security.
In this case, regardless of traditional ideological or partisan categories, they flock to the one who will be able, by the strength of his temperament and decisive actions, to protect them from these threats. Donald Trump plays this character to such an extent that he has become its archetypal incarnation.
For Karen Stenner, "authoritarianism" should not be confused with "conservatism". This confusion would be the reason why traditional political analyses have not seen the Trump phenomenon coming. Conservativeism is defined by an aversion to change; it is a movement that can include people of different ethnicities and religions, as long as they fall within the framework of "traditional values". While authoritarianism is defined by an aversion to groups perceived to be responsible for the threat: it is not, strictly speaking, racism, but rather the targeting of a scapegoat of the moment-and right now in the United States it is the Muslim or Hispanic.
The main characteristic of this group of "authoritarianists" is that it is transparent. It is situated across the left-right divide, and recruits its supporters on both the right and left sides of the political spectrum. In the United States, this group polarizes political life beyond the distinction between Republicans and Democrats. Certainly the Republican Party generates most of it, notably because of its shift to the right with the rise of the Tea Party, but not all authoritarianists recognize themselves in the Tea Party.

A considerable but unnoticed force

Several researchers have tried to understand why this group of citizens did not come forward sooner, why it went almost unnoticed even though it is of considerable size. Since they do not easily emerge from polls with questions such as "are you afraid of Muslims", political scientists like Stanley Feldman began in the 1990s to ask more pointed questions, such as "what is more important to a child: to be independent or to have respect for elders". Questions that, in fragments, attempt to draw an impressionistic portrait of the values by which a person defines himself or herself. It is from these surveys that the image of an "authoritarian" undercurrent emerged, which went unnoticed and which would only have waited for the right circumstances to be "activated".
How many are there? With a third of the votes in the Republican primaries, has Trump filled up, or can the movement continue to grow? And if Trump loses, what will happen after the 2016 election? Vox magazine tried to answer these questions in an exclusive survey. It turns out that 44% of white people are in the "very" or "very" authoritarian boxes, but not all of them vote - or more precisely, whether their vote will be directed if they perceive a threat or not. It is now becoming clear that many more of them are much more afraid of the Islamic state, Russia or Iran than of a car accident, for example. They are also more afraid of social change: 44% defines gay marriage as "a threat to the country". They are mostly Republicans-but a third are reportedly Democrats. In short, this is a movement "that exists independently of Trump," writes journalist Amanda Taub in Vox : " If Trump loses the election, it won't eliminate the threats and social changes that activate authoritarianism's "call to action". The authoritarianists will be looking for candidates who will give them the strong, punitive leadership they desire. This means that Donald Trump could be the first of many Trumps in American politics, with profound implications for the country. ".
Undoubtedly, this analysis is not exclusive to the United States. Authoritarian movements are emerging everywhere in Europe; in France, the Front National, which seeks to crystallize this latent current, occupies a large part of the electorate. What these studies teach is the latent character of these movements. They are not necessarily led by political personalities (they are only "triggers"), these forces cannot be placed on the traditional political chessboard (they are underlying), nor in the categories in which they are usually placed, out of ease, such as populism for example (populism is the hatred of the elites; the billionaire Trump is its paragon), their reactions are unpredictable because they participate in the logic of chaos more than in that of reason. With the telescoping crises - economic, refugees, nation-states, political parties, threats of Islamist terrorism - the chemical conditions for the precipitation of this latent component appear to be more than ever present.  
Illustration: Gage Skidmore, Javier Zarracina/Vox

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