Watching my country devolve into authoritarianism, if not fascism, has been gut-wrenching. When Nixon was first elected president I left the country and stayed away until it was clear he was being impeached and would be removed from office. And Trump is much worse than Nixon ever was. Fortunately, by a relatively healthy score of 81,268,924 (51.3%) to 74,216,154 (46.8%)-- 306 electoral college votes to 232-- Trump lost his reelection bid. About 7 million more voters picked a weak, pathetic alternative than Trump. Congress was closer. In all, 77,529,619 voters (50.8%) picked Democratic House candidates to 72,760,036 (47.7%) who went for a Republican candidate and in the Senate, Republicans won 39,834,647 votes (49.29%) to 38,011,916 (47.03%) for Democrats. Luckily, Democrats still managed to pick up 4 Republican seats-- Arizona, Colorado, and the two in Georgia-- while losing one in Alabama.
Nothing is set in stone, but the Democrats could easily lose one or both chambers in the midterms to fascist-leaning Republican candidates, who have embraced Trump's Big Lie and all but abandoned the rule of law. Today Morning Consult released some new polling data indicating that America's political right has a propensity towards authoritarianism even stronger than many of us thought. The support among Republicans for Trump's violent coup attempt on 1/6 could be a harbinger of things to come. "U.S. conservatives," wrote Cameron Easley, "have stronger right-wing authoritarian tendencies than their right-of-center counterparts in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom."
[Professor of psychology and authoritarian researcher Bob] Altemeyer defines authoritarianism as the desire to submit to some authority, aggression that is directed against whomever the authority says should be targeted and a desire to have everybody follow the norms and social conventions that the authority says should be followed. Those characteristics were all on display in the wake of the 2020 presidential election, culminating earlier this year in the attack on the Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump [not to mention George Orwell's classic 1984].
...A comparison across the eight countries [US, Canada, UK, Australia, Germany, France, Spain, Italy] polled showed that the share of the U.S. population that scored as “high RWA” was twice the size of the next largest population: 26 percent of U.S. respondents met that designation, compared with 13 percent of Canadians and Australians and 10 percent of those in the United Kingdom.
...Most high-RWA respondents identified as right-leaning and were at least 45 years old. Most low-RWA respondents were under 45 and identified as left-leaning.
High-RWA respondents also were more likely to reside in rural communities than adults overall, and they were slightly more likely to report having no college degree.
Across a range of questions-- some of which were included in Monmouth’s research with Altemeyer-- both right-leaning and high-RWA Americans held views that were starkly different from their left-leaning and low-RWA counterparts.
Take views on the rioters themselves, for example: More than a quarter of high-RWA respondents and conservatives said those that broke into the Capitol on Jan. 6 were protecting the U.S. government rather than undermining it, compared with roughly 9 in 10 liberal or low-RWA respondents who said the opposite.
Similar divides cropped up on the questions that helped lead to the Jan. 6 riot, with most right-leaning and high-RWA Americans agreeing that Joe Biden won the presidential election due to widespread fraud. A slim majority of those respondents also said they were more likely to believe Trump than U.S. judges when it comes to the existence of evidence of voting irregularities.
And while over half of right-leaning and high-RWA Americans disagreed that Trump should have refused to leave office, that paled in comparison to the approximately 9 in 10 liberal and low-RWA respondents who said the same.
The survey findings also show how the right-wing authoritarian divide reveals itself in matters of public health, although these differences were smaller. Right-leaning and high-RWA respondents were more likely than left-leaning and low-RWA respondents to disagree that masks and vaccines are necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The divides over the use of masks, especially, illustrate the challenges involved in de-escalating the right-left tension in American society and lowering the authoritarian temperature.
In the interview, Altemeyer raised a number of potential long- and short-term solutions that could reduce authoritarian tendencies in the populace. One of those short-term solutions he mentioned was “superordinate goals, where you have things where everybody has to cooperate and work with each other.”
“You can’t solve problems independently, and that has a remarkable effect on letting people who are enemies understand each other better and decrease the tension,” he said. “The business of masks could have been that, but it was effectively trumped by Trump, who made wearing masks a sign of weakness.”
These divides all seem to stem from the same dynamic: leaders in the political and media spaces exacerbating tensions and differences for political gain. That’s a difficult problem to stop, especially when the political incentives and inertia of the moment suggest that voters may just move on to “the craziest son of a bitch in the race,” as dubbed by conservative Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) in a March 2017 Washington Examiner article.
Thomas Costello, a psychological scientist at Emory University who studies authoritarianism, said “it seems like there is just a small minority of the population that is really sensitive” to alienation and fear toward people of different ethnicities and political and religious views, and “it exacerbates latent authoritarian tendencies.”
“I don’t know if you can change that in the same way that I don’t know that you can change someone’s height, or their level of extraversion,” he said. “But what you can do is try to mitigate the sense of the threat and the sense of difference that exacerbates authoritarianism.”
Orlando Democrat Alan Grayson, the Florida Senate candidate actually campaigning on something besides identity politics and a lesser-of-evils approach, read the same data today. He noted that "What Rubio and other right-wing demagogues do is to whip up feigned indignation in lieu of making the world a better place. The chant from Chile in the 1970s was 'the People, united, will never be defeated.' Rubio understands that the converse is true: 'the People, divided, will always be defeated.' And Rubio exploits that, to the hilt."