Sunday, March 13, 2016

Is it authoritarianism or nationalism (two of the interpretations of the Trump phenomenon) or both and more?

  1. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: independence or respect for elders?
  2. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: obedience or self-reliance?
  3. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: to be considerate or to be well-behaved?
  4. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: curiosity or good manners?
Summarized then, which of the following pairs in more important for a child to have:
  • independence or respect for elders
  • obedience or self-reliance
  • considerate or well-behaved
  • curiosity or good manners
(My answers: independence, self-reliance, considerate, curiosity). They all require courage, and courage makes all other values feasible.....Who said this first?)

These four questions, formulated in 1990 by Stanley Feldman  of  SUNY in Stoneybrook New York, are at the centre of a new book, (actually a PhD thesis)  describing the rise of authoritarianism in America, as practiced by Donald Trump in the current campaign for the Republican nomination for the presidency of the United States.
Last September, a PhD student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst named Matthew MacWilliams realized that his dissertation research might hold the answer to not just one but all three of these mysteries.
MacWilliams studies authoritarianism — not actual dictators, but rather a psychological profile of individual voters that is characterized by a desire for order and a fear of outsiders. People who score high in authoritarianism, when they feel threatened, look for strong leaders who promise to take whatever action necessary to protect them from outsiders and prevent the changes they fear.
So MacWilliams naturally wondered if authoritarianism might correlate with support for Trump.
He polled a large sample of likely voters, looking for correlations between support for Trump and views that align with authoritarianism. What he found was astonishing: Not only did authoritarianism correlate, but it seemed to predict support for Trump more reliably than virtually any other indicator. He later repeated the same poll in South Carolina, shortly before the primary there, and found the same results.
As it turns out, MacWilliams wasn't the only one to have this realization. Miles away, in an office at Vanderbilt University, a professor named Marc Hetherington was having his own aha moment. He realized that he and a fellow political scientist, the University of North Carolina's Jonathan Weiler, had essentially predicted Trump's rise back in 2009, when they discovered something that would turn out to be far more significant than they then realized.
That year, Hetherington and Weiler published a book about the effects of authoritarianism on American politics. Through a series of experiments and careful data analysis, they had come to a surprising conclusion: Much of the polarization dividing American politics was fueled not just by gerrymandering or money in politics or the other oft-cited variables, but by an unnoticed but surprisingly large electoral group — authoritarians.
Their book concluded that the GOP, by positioning itself as the party of traditional values and law and order, had unknowingly attracted what would turn out to be a vast and previously bipartisan population of Americans with authoritarian tendencies.
( By Amanda Taub on March 1, 2016, The Rise of American Authoritarianism, from VOX website)
How might it be that questions about parenting would apply to a presidential campaign, a political party and a prediction about the future of the Republican Party?
And, as it happened, Jonathan Weiler was a guest on GPS with Fareed Zakaria this morning, during which interview he explained that the pursuit of "order" is central to those espousing authoritarianism. And the world view that places order at the top of the "value" list can be found in many places, including the family, the classroom, the board room, the church, and the political campaigns and political parties. Those who answer the four questions similarly, indicating their high espousal of order, cross all the normal demographic lines. So, as Weiler points out, the media argument that blue collar whites are the only or the predominate segment of the American society who support Trump simply does not hold.
In fact, according to Weiler, well-educated suburban-dwelling professionals also demonstrate this trait of putting order at the top of their value totem pole. Weiler further explains that the Republican party, having fostered and encouraged the culture in which order is dominant in the value hit parade, is likely to find successors to Trump, a line of people aspiring to leadership in their party that depends on the value of pursuing order, at all costs.
  • As one who proudly tells the story of having been quite literally yelled at by a teacher colleague for being too liberal (after disagreeing with him about whether or not a student in my class and his had actually cheated in his math test; she had not cheated) and
  • one who has been rejected by a human resources consulting company out of the Ottawa Valley (exclusively dependent on wacky personality inventory tests from WACO Texas) because, having answered the questions in the quiz honestly, I was considered "too difficult to manage" and
  • one who has been literally screamed at by an Episcopal Bishop for have the gall to suggest that men needed to learn about and to express their emotions "(No, that is way too dangerous!" was the screamed phrase) and
  • one who was 'given the strap' in grade four by a controlling anal female teacher for a friendly "Hi Roge'"  poke on the shoulder of a friend as he passed my desk immediately after the lunch break
  • one who was told by his mother to shut up when attempting to discuss the differences between her father (an authoritarian conservative) and my father (a collaborative liberal) and
  • one who challenged another bishop attempting to close a grieving process in a parish where a significant and traumatic tragedy had ripped the parish apart, and who championed the work of the "Churchill like" wardens for sending weeping parishioners home up to six months following the event, "Respectfully, Bishop, I commend your presence here with these grieving people, but Winston Churchill would have made a lousy grief-counsellor!" and
  • one who told a former high school principal/supervisor, that he had betrayed my confidence several years earlier, and then slammed the door of my vehicle in his face, when he uttered, "That never happened!" and
  • one who submitted a letter of resignation at the last date of a probationary period when working for a music festival, because the hiring committee was quite obviously dishonest and lacking integrity and
  • one who fumed when beaten by a mother who completely avoided responsibility for her abusive behaviour, wrote to my aunts about the abuse at thirteen, and then was punished for "deceit" in sending the letter
I have had my share of experiencing the abuse of authority....and its unadulterated pursuit by those who "know better" than all of the rest of us, ranks, in my value list, as one of the most serious dangers we face among those of us who share the planet.
While the Canadian constitution stresses the pursuit of "peace, order and good government," and generally those goals are valid, it is in the interactions between people that the pursuit of "order" will too frequently obliterate the other.
The state's pursuit of order is not the same dynamic as the interactions between individuals, in character, in dimension or in importance. However, those human exchanges cannot and must not be ignored given their permissibility as the rise of authoritarianism explodes onto the political map.
For example:
..........A teacher seeking to maintain order in her classroom following the tragic death of the ten-year-old brother of one of her seven-year-old students, tells her student, three weeks after the witnessed and accidental death of the elder brother, "The honeymoon is over" because he is not completing his seat work or his homework.
.........A clergy in a church tells his congregation, "All Catholics are going to Hell" as if he is speaking the will of God
........A company that tells its employees that they can accept the intolerable and unsafe conditions of the work or leave, because there are thousands waiting in line to take his place
.......A company like Wal-Mart tells it employees that if they vote to strike the company will simply close the store and they will all be left without jobs
......A presidential candidate who tells his audience to "beat the guy" because 'the guy' is peacefully protesting the candidate's abuse of authority
......A investigating officer who has his/her mind made up before even investigating a crime scene
.....A public figure who espouses racial bigotry as a central component of his world view....
And the list is, in a word, interminable.....
Every time anyone consciously or unconsciously reduces the value, the humanity, the worth of another human being, that person abuses his authority and demeans the other.
Governments who betray the privacy of their constituents, for example abuse their authority.
Police who shoot their unarmed youths, abuse their authority.
And judicial systems that ignore, lose, or defame evidence abuse their authority.

The management of authority at the human level is a skill almost never really taught. It is subsumed into a program on leadership, or the clinical criteria for effective management. And while most curricula would not overtly promote the abuse of authority, there are a plethora of ways to cover such abuse through secrecy, through threats, through oaths of silence, through bribes, through cover-up stories, and through out-right denials.
When asked if he shares ANY responsibility for the recent spate of physical attacks at his rallies, Trump claimed responsibility only for having cancelled the planned rally in Chicago, after the authorities warned of impending conflict (a fact disputed by a reputable reporter), and thereby offending thousands of his loyal supporters.
We are, in short, in danger of being swept up by a band of marauding "mobsters" whose pursuit of what they deem "order" is their ultimate supremacy, whether it is whites over blacks, or Christians over Muslims, or Americans over Mexicans, or "good people" (Trump cheer-leaders) over "bad people" (all those who protest at Trump rallies). Their unobstructed, unprotested and unmolested pursuit of their goal, to have Trump living in the White House is so ironic, especially when we all know just how determined to be unpredictable, and thereby uncontrolled, and thereby dominant, and threatening to any who happen to attract his ire. It is not order that the Trump victory is or will deliver. It is rather complete disorder, chaos and everything that the ISIS terrorists would or could dream in their wildest fantast.
Trump is already a recruiting machine for ISIS.
Trump is already a threat to the peace, order and security of the United States, simply by playing his ruthless game of self-promotion, having seduced millions of people to sign on to his dangerous "pledge" to commit to vote for him in their respective primaries.
There is reason, however, to suggest that the "authoritarianism" thesis is too simplistic, reductionistic, and thereby unreliable. For example, in the complex world of political theory, and political science, there are themes like "nationalism" that are also being ascribed to the Trump phenomenon.
Four guests on GPS, representing a variety of European perspectives, all saw in Trump evidence of an enhanced view of nationalism, racism, and a kind of right-wing withdrawal from the world. For example, the leader of the right in France has already tweeted a vote for Trump. An Italian reporter says that in that country, Trump's name is being linked daily with that of former Italian leader, Berlusconi, in his business background, and in his vulgar campaign rhetoric.
Decades hence, libraries will be filled with theses that attempt to parse the Trump phenomenom...
We can and do only hope that the skirmishes now occurring in his rallies do not escalate into full-blown violence, from which neither  the candidate nor his campaign can or will escape culpability.


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