But recently I came across an article that more accurately describes the Trump phenomenon and how it signals a political shift that's much bigger than El Idiota alone. It helped me understand why he's supported by so many immigrants, thinking women, well-educated professionals and racial minorities (who are in the minority for now). Trump has a very wide appeal to people of all backgrounds, including those he's antagonized. How can it be?
Amanda Taub at vox.com has written an excellent article that puts the Trump campaign in the context of what she calls The Rise of American Authoritarianism. Please read it.
Oh, is it too long? Here's my summary:
1. Ever since Hitler, academic researchers have wondered how large numbers of people can adopt (and so quickly) such extreme political views that coincide with fear of minorities and the desire for an aggressive, punishing leader. To answer that, they've come up with a definition of authoritarianism that doesn't describe the dictators themselves, but the psychological profile of people who, under the right conditions, will desire such extreme policies. These authoritarian civilians want policies that exclude those who are different, enforce traditional social structures and laws, and that punish those who don't fall in line.
2. Many people who don't consciously ascribe to those views still have latent authoritarian tendencies that just haven't been triggered. These tendencies can be activated by the perception of physical threats or by destabilizing social change. The U.S. has had a lot of both in recent years.
3. Trump followers are actually quite diverse: they include people of all cultural backgrounds (including immigrants), different economic statuses, differing education levels, etc. What they have in common are latent authoritarian tendencies that have been activated, making them full authoritarians.
4. Taub writes that authoritarians are much more susceptible to messages that tell them to fear a specific "other" — whether or not they have a preexisting prejudice against that group. Those fears change over time as events make different groups seem more or less threatening.
5. So what might look like racism and bigotry is actually closer to this theory of activation: authoritarians are unusually susceptible to messages about the ways outsiders and social changes threaten America, and when those fears are activated, authoritarians lash out at groups identified as threats.
6. The GOP has (unwittingly) aligned itself with authoritarianism since it started representing itself as the party of traditional values in the 1960s. But the GOP establishment is in trouble now because it's not truly an authoritarian party and isn't willing to call for explicitly authoritarian policies. This means a true split is developing within the party and Taub hypothesizes that it might lead to a third party candidate in 2016. She writes that we might get a Democratic candidate, a right-wing establishment candidate and an authoritarian candidate.
7. Most disturbingly, Taub predicts that the rise of authoritarianism will outlast Trump's candidacy and will afflict the GOP for years to come. She ends with this statement: "For decades, the Republican Party has been winning over authoritarians by implicitly promising to stand firm against the tide of social change, and to be the party of force and power rather than the party of negotiation and compromise. But now it may be discovering that its strategy has worked too well — and threatens to tear the party apart."
So it's not just about Trump and it's not just about racism. This problem is bigger than him and his wall, and this shift towards authoritarianism will continue as the country goes through more social and cultural changes. So let's stop trying to reason with Trump-supporters and calling them names and trying to convince them they're wrong. Any opposition to Trump is seen by his supporters as evidence that the country is out to get him/them. We can't win that way. Our best strategy is to just keep him out of office, by rallying the Democratic vote in November. That's the most productive use of our energy.
The United States is only 240 years old. We're still forming and figuring out how to live together. Let's just face that things are going to get uglier before they get better because that's just how it is. But it doesn't mean things have to fall apart.