Wednesday, January 06, 2016

How Trump Has Tapped into GOP Pyschosis

If one looks at many of Donald trump's avid supporters, they exhibit many frightening psychological traits that some might describe as a form of psychosis. They seem motivated most by fear and hatred of others - a common trait of the Christofascists - and border on obsession when confronted with demographic changes that in their minds threaten their perceived much deserved white privilege.   In some ways, the GOP base is reminiscent of the segments of Germany's population in the late 1920's and early 1930's that were reeling from Germany's loss in World War I and the social and economic disorder that followed. Hitler recognized that this fear and loathing could be tapped into and used to fuel his rise to power.  Donald Trump is now doing the same thing here in America.  A piece in the New York Times looks at those who are flocking to Trump and the psychological issues that motivate them to embrace what is in many ways a form of fascism.  Here are excerpts:

Jesse Graham, a professor of psychology at the University of Southern California, elaborated on the purity-disgust dimension of this year’s political campaign:
More than any other Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump has been appealing to a particular combination of in-group loyalty and moral purity concerns. On the purity side, he often expresses disgust, often toward women and women’s bodies (e.g., Clinton’s bathroom break during a Democratic debate). But his purity appeals are most commonly in the context of group boundaries, like building walls on our national borders to prevent contamination by outsiders, who are cast as murderers and rapists, both morally and physically dirty.
These themes, in Graham’s view, have laid the groundwork for Trump’s popularity with explicitly racist and fascist groups:
The National Alliance and National Vanguard spawned The Turner Diaries, which imagined a dystopian future where America is ruled by lazy and corrupt Jews and Blacks, until a morally pure white resistance group nukes the Pentagon. Trump of course is not advocating anything like these horrors, but the moral intuitions he’s playing on can lead in this direction if unrestrained by other moral concerns, such as injustice and the suffering of out-group members.
According to Graham, Trump’s personal style attracts voters, including current and former Democrats, who are drawn to authoritarian leaders:
Trump is more domineering than the other candidates, bullying opponents and reporters alike, calling them losers, refusing to ever apologize for anything. This could indeed appeal to those high in social-dominance orientation and authoritarianism, particularly those who mistake such domineering for actual authority.
John Jost, a professor of psychology at N.Y.U., picks up some of the same themes as Haidt and Graham. In an email he writes that Trump
is tapping into and indeed amplifying anger and fear, primarily among white citizens who are older and less educated than the average Republican voter. He is answering that anger and fear with tremendous self-confidence and 100 percent certainty, which some people find impressive and reassuring.
Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory, was emphatic in placing authoritarianism first in describing Trump’s current success.  Abramowitz is one of a number of scholars who see Trump as posing a significant danger to American democracy. He wrote in an email that Trump
is very clearly, in my view, advancing a modern American version of fascism. A lot of the coarse language, harsh personal attacks and misogyny play into the theme of “strong leadership” and willingness to say things that are “politically incorrect” no matter who doesn’t like it.
Trump’s campaign style, his bullying and his pointed insults of competitors, fit into the psychological research concept of “social dominance orientation.” . . . . Those with a social dominance orientation agree strongly with such statements as:

“Some groups of people are simply inferior to other groups;” “it’s O.K. if some groups have more of a chance in life than others;” and “to get ahead in life, it is sometimes necessary to step on other groups.”  And they disagree with such statements as: “It would be good if groups could be equal;” “we should do what we can to equalize conditions for different groups;” and “no group should dominate in society.”

Trump had captured “the resentment and sense of loss” in a large segment of the white electorate:
These folks have lost a lot with the hollowing out the middle and working class; if you combine that with floating xenophobia, you get this kind of reaction.
Sidanius argues that Trump’s supporters have been receptive to this kind of appeal since Obama’s victory in 2008 and his re-election in 2012, but until now, “nobody was there to exploit it, to pick out the marketing opportunity. This is Trump’s genius.”

Graham and Haidt have found in their research that for the most conservative voters, the two “values” with the strongest appeal are authority and purity.

The strong appeal of purity to committed conservatives helps explain why Trump’s supporters are not put off by his compulsive focus on disgust.

The accompanying chart, adapted from their 2009 paper “Liberals and Conservatives Rely on Different Sets of Moral Foundations,” shows how this works: for the most conservative voters, the emphasis on the importance of the values of authority and purity increases while the stress placed on fairness and the avoidance of harm declines.

Trump has already left an indelible imprint on the political system. He has inflicted tremendous damage on the Republican establishment, as he hoped he would, but he has done much more. By setting a populist agenda that appeals to millions of Republicans and to substantial numbers of Democrats and independents as well, Trump has opened the door to a reshaping of the traditional two-party coalitions.

As everything shifts and we question previously sacrosanct boundaries, Trump and his supporters embody conflicts that the American political system will be hard pressed to resolve. Whatever happens next, he has remade the landscape on which these conflicts will be fought — for better, or, more likely, for worse.
Trump has played to the ugliest elements in the GOP and has tapped their emotional and psychological fears much as Hitler did in Germany.  It is a very scary thing to watch. 

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