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Why Donald Trump appeals to ‘authoritarian voters’

REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski
A supporter listening to Donald Trump during a town hall event at the La Crosse Center in La Crosse, Wisc., on Monday.

While horse race coverage of the race for the Republican presidential nomination remains stuck in a vortex of unknowability for now, I remain fairly obsessed with the mystery of Trumpism’s rise and endurance. I keep trying to understand it. Alert readers like you are probably aware of efforts to explain this phenomenon with reference to the appeal of “authoritarianism,” not just as a characteristic of Donald Trump’s strongman shtick but more as a characteristic of his most enthusiastic followers.

I need to acknowledge that a lot of people have noticed this trend. One of the early breakthrough pieces seems to have been this one in Vox, which found that measures of authoritarianism was one of the strongest predictors of whether an individual would be a Trump supporter.

I’ve been reluctant to go down this path because, to me, the A-word is a short hop away from references to Hitler and/or Mussolini. And I’ve subscribed to Godwin’s Law, which holds that invoking any analogy between someone and Hitler tends to shut down further rational conversation. So I’m explicitly not saying that Trump is like Hitler nor that his supporters are like Nazis.

But the field of political psychology certainly recognizes a set of traits and tendencies that characterize “authoritarian voters.” So I turned to my friend Howard Lavine, a University of Minnesota scholar of political psychology, for guidance. And I certainly found insights that can shed light into some of the dark corners of Trumpism.

For starters, Lavine agreed that understanding authoritarianism must be part of understanding Trump’s appeal. When you have voters who describe themselves as Evangelicals, but who prefer the non-Evangelical Trump over Evangelical candidates like Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and most relevantly Ted Cruz  (who was deemed to be the hot candidate this year for Evangelical voters), you have to ask yourself what is the underlying appeal of Trump to these voters. “It has to be the authoritarianism,” Lavine said. Here’s how he defines the term:

“Authoritarianism is essentially a personality trait, partially heritable, that describes a basic way by which people differ from one another,” Lavine said. The substance of this trait “revolves around one’s propensity and ability to comfortably deal with differences and diversity of people, of ideas and of behaviors. Authoritarian voters are low in this ability….”

Value obedience

A related aspect is the importance placed on obedience to authority and the attraction that some people feel to strong authority figures, he said. “Authoritarians are high in that trait,” he said. “They tend to value obedience to legitimate authorities, which is one of the reasons that it’s called authoritarianism…

“Authoritarians also tend to be aggressive toward groups that society has deemed outside of the mainstream on the basis of race, religion and people with unconventional ideas. So, in the presence of unconventional people, ideas or behaviors, authoritarians tend to become intolerant.”

This set of personality traits isn’t always about politics, Lavine said, but it becomes more political “when the local environment reflects diversity” in a way that they find threatening to their status. And when they feel that kind of threat, “people with authoritarian personalities become more and more intolerant.”

On the other hand, people who score low on the scale of authoritarianism have the opposite reaction, Lavine said. They are naturally more tolerant of differences and in times of change can become still more tolerant. So in times like that you can get a political polarization — between authoritarian and non-authoritarians — over the issues that are bringing the change.

Now think about some of the changes going on in the country in the period leading up to the rise of Trump. Quoting from Lavine:

“So, immigrants are ethnically different. Authoritarians view immigrants as threatening. They certainly view Muslims as threatening. Gay rights are threatening. And President Obama himself is a very potent symbol of the rise of diversity. So you have a country that is becoming less white, by about 2 percentage points every election cycle. You have a black president. We’ve recently had two African-American secretaries of state, two African-American attorneys general, so that’s a piece of it.

“Certainly for the past several decades, the country has evolved toward a norm of racial egalitarianism, a norm that was for a very long time one of racial inegalitarianism. And so racial communications shifted from being explicitly to implicitly racial.”

Political correctness

So that takes us to what we might call the “political correctness” piece of it.

“People with college educations are very careful about expressing racial attitudes explicitly,” Lavine said. “But people without college education tend to be less responsive to the distinction between explicit and implicit communication about race. That is, they are less turned off by explicitly racist communications.”

You have a group of white working-class males, which is the demographic from which Trump draws the core of his support. They are uncomfortable with the rising racial diversity of the population. They not only have a black president, many of them — some polls suggest a majority of white working-class males — believe that President Obama is a secret Muslim and that he isn’t qualified to be president because he wasn’t born in this country. And Lavine went out of his way to add that they aren’t making that up — they have heard it on conservative talk radio, which is a source they trust. But they are all the same being scolded for even wanting to talk about it.

Dr. Howard Lavine
Dr. Howard Lavine

Several sources of self-esteem have seemingly been taken away from them. They used to derive pride from being white and male and straight and believing that these traits made them members of the “in” group in American society.

Then, as if some sort of meeting was held to which they weren’t invited, a new set of rules and norms were adopted that stood a whole lot of things on their heads. Said Lavine:

“For most of their lives, it was these out groups, like gays for instance, who were asking for special rights, like the right to marry someone of their own gender. And now it’s all been stood on its head and this group, that was the majority, is now being told that they have to change how they think. And they are reduced to asking for special rights, for example the right to continue discriminating against gay people.

“The white working class, and this was true previously of Evangelicals, shares a resentment over the feeling that they have become the ‘out’ group. We used to be the ‘in’ group. Now we’re the ‘out’ group. It used to be OK to be against gays. Now everybody likes gays. But we don’t. Now it’s not OK to not like gays. ‘We are a minority group that’s being discriminated against by the mainstream.’ They see themselves as like the new African-Americans.”

And somehow most of those sources of status and power have been taken away from them, which makes them angry, and at the same time they’re being told that they’re not entitled to their anger and they’re not allowed to talk about it, which makes them angrier. Trump makes them feel that their anger is valid and that they are entitled to it.

Big economic losers

There’s also an economic component to Trump’s appeal that is not about authoritarianism, Lavine said:

“The authoritarian analysis relies on the insight that white working-class people are losing status. And they feel that they are losing status relative to other groups. But the other piece of it could be that white working-class people are losing money as well. They are big losers in the economic developments of recent years.

“The economic shock of 2008 and the weak recovery since then makes economic issues more salient and urgent to the white working class, most of whom are now part of the Republican coalition. And yet it cannot have escaped them that the Republican Party, on economic issues, is not concerned very much with the economic needs of downscale voters.

“All of a sudden here comes a candidate who is telling them it’s OK to have those attitudes. Those things are based on real changes that are happening and that aren’t good for you. It’s kind of a perfect storm, isn’t it?”

Until fairly recently the white working class was divided roughly evenly between Democrats and Republicans. But recently this demographic has shifted more and more to voting Republican. But what have they gotten out of it? Not much, Lavine said:

“At the same time that Republicans are relying more and more heavily on white working-class voters, you have, for example, Paul Ryan, who is the leading policy intellectual of the Republican establishment who wants to privatize Social Security and turn Medicare into a voucher program.

“The message the party is giving them [is] that we’re going to deregulate markets. We’re going to privatize entitlement programs. We’re going to let the Koch brothers put more waste into your environment. And what are they offering to help the working class? ‘We’ll take a hard line against abortion and we’ll let you keep your guns.’

“And let me just say: You can’t eat guns. If you could put that in your piece, I’d be grateful. You can’t eat guns.

“Part of Trump’s appeal to them is that he represents a very different orientation on economics from what the Republican Party has been offering, and in ways that would help working-class Republicans with their economic problems. He wants to maintain or even increase popular entitlements like Social Security and Medicare.

“And it’s not irrational to believe that unskilled immigrants are driving down working-class wages. These are actual economic reasons for working-class voters to be drawn to Trump. And they coincide with more authoritarian-based reasons which have more to do with culture.

Make America great again

I must confess that Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” leaves me cold. The things that I feel make America great haven’t gone away. But Lavine pointed out another element of the authoritarian mind-set that helped me understand why some people respond to Trump.

“This whole idea of ‘making America great again,’ those four words that constitute the essence of Trump’s platform, they connect with working-class people with an authoritarian tendency in a very direct way. The working class is much more patriotic. Their feelings of self-worth are much more tied up in how the country is doing than is the case among upper middle-class people, who have a feeling that they are already winning on an individual basis.

“Trump says: ‘We’re losing to everybody. I’m going to make us win again.’ This connects with people who feel that America is constrained with respect to trade. We’re constrained with respect to the military. We couldn’t win in the Middle East. We can’t win with China. China is rising [and] working people feel that the Chinese took their jobs. So that is another policy strain where Trump represents, better than the other Republican candidates, the policy preferences of the white working class.”

Comments (50)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 04/05/2016 - 09:21 am.

    A couple of notes

    First — in genetic biology, ‘heritable’ does NOT mean ‘genetically transferred; just that a given trait in one generation can be predicted from its presence in another generation. Parents teach and model behavior for their children.

    Second, in this context. ‘Make America Great Again’ is really a dog whistle for make White American Males dominant again.

    • Submitted by Jeffrey Jerde on 04/05/2016 - 10:38 am.

      The whistle

      This comment seems spot on when I think of the people who have self-identified as Trump admirers.

  2. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 04/05/2016 - 09:25 am.

    I could never understand…

    why the people described in this article vote Republican since it seems to go against their own economic interests. They seem willing to vote for their biases rather than their interests. Good article.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 04/05/2016 - 12:55 pm.

      You mean, it’s natural

      for people to expect to be taken care of. You see no virtue in self-reliance, is that it?

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 04/05/2016 - 03:08 pm.


        It’s working out for the owners of professional sports franchises, isn’t it? They don’t seem to value self-reliance, and it doesn’t seem to harm their dignity either. What’s sauce for the 1%…

      • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 04/05/2016 - 03:59 pm.

        No, what is unnatural is for people to think that a billionaire scammer who has repeatedly stiffed people for big dollars to save his own wallet is going to make their lives better.

        • Submitted by Joe Musich on 04/05/2016 - 10:11 pm.

          How does the …

          “Savior” and/or “Martyr” factor figure in to this discussion analysis ? It seems to be present everywhere in our paternalistic social point of view. Daddy works hard for everyone. He gives and gives and gives until he dies for us. We must give to daddy be he be ours or big daddy himself. The daddy orientation is always to the individual who is daddy. Daddy is the one everyone gives to but who only some or one can become. We give to daddy. Giving to others is secondary and works when fostered by daddy. Trump plays of the daddy factor. People attach to big daddy especially if little daddy privately feels his daddiness is not working out so well. That being the case makes it easier to point a finger outward to factors that threaten the general daddiness. Nevertheless we all need some through self examination of our social roles as the current political climate is trying to tell us. But will we ?

  3. Submitted by Jim Million on 04/05/2016 - 09:25 am.

    Significantly Obsessed?

    Reasonably Obsessed?

    Perhaps this obsession is “fair.” Certainly it is the “fare” society must pay for this 2016 Magical Misery Tour…yes?

  4. Submitted by Doug Gray on 04/05/2016 - 10:05 am.


    …i can’t be the only one wondering if this is how they felt in Germany in 1930, or whether the chickens hatched by the false authoritarian/totalitarian dichotomy advanced by Reagan’s UN Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick to justify unconscionable US conduct overseas aren’t finally coming home to roost.

  5. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 04/05/2016 - 10:21 am.

    A Clarification

    There’s something that has always bothered me about the label “authoritarians.”

    At first blush, this word would seem to imply that those who fit the label,…

    are strong, independent types;…

    akin to military officers who want to be able to give orders,…

    and have others follow them.

    But that’s NOT what the current use of the term means.

    In current usage, it means the precise opposite.

    Today’s “authoritarians” (and they exist on both liberal and conservatives sides,…

    depending on the ideas and ideals of those who raised them,…

    in ways that left them so damaged and dysfunctional),…

    are characterized by their desire to form a co-dependent relationship with an authority figure.

    That authority figure corresponds to and is, in effect, the avatar,…

    for the aspects of their personalities,…

    (the ability to think for themselves, operate independently even in opposition to those raising them, run their own lives,…

    and the ability to experience or express empathy and compassion for people different than themselves and their own ethnic/racial/religious/family group),…

    that were driven into internal exile by the very painful consequences visited upon them by those they loved when they sought to demonstrate those traits.

    (Just as a side effect of these dysfunctions,…

    the same people who seek an authority figure tend to respond when pressed by their own children’s disagreements with them,….

    with an unconscious, and uncontrollable personality shift,…

    that brings out their own missing pieces,…

    and causes them, under stress, to BECOME, for brief periods, exactly what their parents were with them,…

    thereby programing their own children with the same dysfunctions)

    Donald Trump is for “conservative” authoritarians a very useful stand-in for their own missing pieces.

    Just as in romance, so in politics: when they listen to him, when they’re agreeing with him, when they think about him and feel close to him,…

    they feel POWERFUL, WHOLE and COMPLETE, again.

    This is not a conscious response, but a deeply satisfying emotional response.

    It’s a definitive, co-dependent, bromantic relationship being unconsciously and invisibly (to themselves) pursued by those who have entered into it.

    Without emotionally attaching themselves to Trump or someone like him,…

    our “conservative” authoritarian friends feel the weakness, powerlessness, and brokenheartedness,…

    of all those who are unable to even imagine how to take control of their own lives,…

    to look around themselves, make the best possible choices to improve their lives,…

    then move forward based on those choices.

    They have lived their lives by the choices those who raised them told them were the only honoarble and acceptable choices: the choices they MUST make.

    To deviate from those choices would be to demonstrate disloyalty to parents, God, and country.

    They moved directly from authority figure parents,…

    to authority figure teachers/coaches/clergy,…

    to authority figure bosses.

    Now that so many of them no longer HAVE bosses,…

    they are in deep psychological pain unless and until they can find someone,…

    who seems to be able to fill in the hole in the souls left when their own personality aspects were ripped out.

    Donald Trump fits their psychological needs quite nicely.

    But I can’t help but think that, as the campaign wears on, Mr. Trump might be discovering an uncomfortable truth of such co-dependent relationships.

    The ones who want to depend on you to fill in for what’s missing in themselves,…

    ALWAYS end up wanting far more of you,…

    and much more continuous access to you,…

    than you can ever reasonably or comfortably provide.

    If you fail to meet their needs exactly,…

    some of those whose admiration toward you bordered on worship,…

    can become dangerously dissatisfied,…

    even violent,…

    i.e. “Play Misty for Me.”

  6. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 04/05/2016 - 10:26 am.

    Personality “science”?

    I’ve read some articles about the “authoritarian personality trait” and I admit, I find it persuasive as a way of explaining the rise of Trump and for that matter, the rise of the right wing. (Let’s not leave out Ted Cruz, or any of the politicians who have been happy to claim the “birthers” who first appeared at John McCain rallies in 2008). This seems to be a logical progression from Richard Hofstadters’s “pseudo-conservatives” described in his essays about the paranoid style in American politics and “status anxiety politics” . It does help to explain why people would vote against their economic or class interests, which is something liberals wonder about.

    What I find questionable about this idea of an authoritarian personality trait is that it suggests some kind of determinism. Is Dr. Lavine claiming this? Is this supposed to be scientific? Are heritable personality traits subject to free will? Or are “authoritarian personalities” simply more susceptible to propaganda that preys upon these fears and anxieties?

    • Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 04/05/2016 - 11:17 am.

      In My Experience

      “authoritarian” personality traits are a programmed dysfunction.

      Unless the process is brought to awareness and interrupted,…

      each new generation under the stress of raising children,…

      programs it’s offspring with the same dysfunctions their own parents visited upon them.

      What seems to be heritable, however, is a certain resilience,…

      a resistance to falling prey to your parent’s dysfunctional behaviors.

      This can be fostered by making sure there are other people in each child’s life who love them and care about them beyond their parents.

      Once upon a time this was fostered by extended families living in close proximity,…

      and children growing up in small towns where the entire village raised the children,…

      where that happened, which wasn’t universal, either.

      I suspect SOME of the dysfunction we’re now seeing so endemic in American Society is the result of WWII GIs coming home bearing the psychological wounds of war and military service,…

      moving into suburban homes,…

      living in “mom, dad, 2.3 kids and a dog” – type nuclear families,…

      (no pun ORIGINALLY intended by that term),…

      isolated from extended families and any semblance of “village” identity or support.

      The boomers growing up in those homes had NO protection against the dysfunctions of their parents,…

      and especially no way to escape from the dysfunctions of their ex-military fathers,…

      who could ONLY be HONORED for having gone off to war and done their sacred duty.

    • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 04/05/2016 - 06:16 pm.

      The article does imply a determinism

      By omitting the huge role of propaganda. I’ve long conjectured that the strongest determinant of social grouping is the extent to which one innately is able to come to terms with the most basic feature of being human: the existential fear inherent in realizing that one exists in the vast and ostensibly meaningless universe. The strategy of one of our two political parties to consolidate an electoral base, unremitting over the past 50 years, has been to exploit those whose limited innate capacity to manage their existential fear, parochial awareness and state of economic parlousness make them susceptible to the authoritarian appeal.

      The project of civilizing humanity lies in always expanding the “self” further into the realm of the “other” in order to increase the possibility of mutual commitments and mutual trust that are essential to building and sustaining human society. The Republican electoral project for the past 50 years has been to work directly against this, with the goal of an electoral base that defines the “self” with the tightest possible grip, is fearful of the vast other, and is ready to yield its freedom (and suspend its critical capacity to consider its own interests) in exchange for protection. This is Trump’s fertile soil. At our core we all have a certain leaning toward authoritarianism, but it has been the intentional strategy of one of our major political parties to cultivate it for electoral purposes.

  7. Submitted by Jeffrey Jerde on 04/05/2016 - 10:36 am.

    Thank you Dr. Lavine…

    And also thanks to Eric for giving us this piece. In our household there are daily discussions as we try to understand the anger and irrationality in our political culture. This article truly helps, and insight makes it easier to moderate our own fears about what this country is becoming.

  8. Submitted by C.S. Senne on 04/05/2016 - 11:34 am.


    As others here have said, this article goes a long way to help those of us who are frustrated and confused regarding this ghastly phenomenon which is Trump.

  9. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 04/05/2016 - 11:50 am.


    ” And now it’s all been stood on its head and this group, that was the majority, is now being told that they have to change how they think. And they are reduced to asking for special rights, for example the right to continue discriminating against gay people.”

    This passage reminds me of the old adage “equality feels like oppression to the people who are used to being the oppressors.”

    I guess there is always a segment of society who isn’t interested in live and let live.

  10. Submitted by Noel Martinson on 04/05/2016 - 12:46 pm.

    Former White House Counsel John Dean

    explored this issue extensively in his book “Conservative without Conscience”. You may find it a worthwhile and insightful read. It certainly helped explain to me the forced march of moderates like Dean out of the party.

  11. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 04/05/2016 - 12:53 pm.

    The lament of the beta males

    It’s amusing to see the liberals continue to rationalize and pretend they don’t understand the appeal of Donald Trump. It must be some irrational embrace of “authoritarianism” that attracts his supporters, yeah, that’s it.

    Donald Trump doesn’t represent “authoritarianism” no matter how many amateur psychologists think so. He represents competence and competition … traits most thinking people recognize as missing in the affairs of the federal government led by the gutless and unaccomplished Barack Obama.

    Trump is the anti-Obama and the antithesis of a society of protected-class weaklings who have managed to acquire political power by their sheer numbers alone.

    His popularity with veterans and working class men (white or otherwise) is a backlash against what they see as an impotent and incompetent government run by the chief beta male who fears and resents this nation’s power.

    It’s not about “authoritarianism,” it’s about returning to the tribal tradition of making the fiercest warrior and/or the most accomplished hunter as tribal chieftain again. And honest psychologists will tell you that the only ones who have reason to fear in that setting are the beta males whose instincts are the antithesis of the free men who support Trump.

    • Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 04/05/2016 - 01:51 pm.

      Yeah, that’s it

      He represents competence because he speaks so well on the issues and constantly shows his fine grasp of details and the broad range of his knowledge. I would argue that Trump is the leader of the protected-class weaklings. They would be all the lower middle class white guys with high school educations who lost their jobs to global competition. Look at the guy in the picture. Is he your successful master race achiever? There is a large group of people who failed at school, earned their living with their backs, became expendable and blame minorities and people who stayed in school. They are jealous of anyone who could reason his way out of a cheese head hat. They are bitter and angry and armed. Trump is the leader of the bigots and many middle class white guys and veterans like myself can see through the absurdity of his impossible dreams. There will never be a wall.

    • Submitted by Brian Simon on 04/05/2016 - 01:52 pm.

      Tough guy

      And this ‘tough guy’ chief of yours; how does he respond to those who question his decisions? With respectful & reasoned discourse? Or by shouting them down, throwing them out and/or belittling them with ad hominem attacks?

      Non-authoritarian, indeed.

    • Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 04/05/2016 - 02:11 pm.

      In this Early 21st-Century World

      It is these ancient, primitive tribal traditions,…

      and the notion that God is the God of OUR tribe only,…

      that bring out the very WORST in humanity,…

      tear our planet apart,…

      and prevent far too many of us from paying attention to,…

      let alone acting to prevent the things that threaten to wipe out our entire species.

      Even so, some of us will NEVER lose our hunger for a leader to follow,…

      who is strong enough to truly deserve our unquestioning devotion,…

      and will follow such a leader even to our utter destruction,…

      that of our families and friends,…

      and the destruction of our entire species,…

      going to our graves believing that leader was right,…

      because he was the strongest one of all.

    • Submitted by Ray Schoch on 04/05/2016 - 02:21 pm.


      “…It’s not about “authoritarianism,” it’s about returning to the tribal tradition of making the fiercest warrior and/or the most accomplished hunter as tribal chieftain again.” If Mr. Trump is our “fiercest warrior and/or the most accomplished hunter,” let me politely suggest that the United States is doomed.

      He no more represents “competence and competition” than does any other mogul born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. Most of us, given some millions with which to start, could probably hold our own, at least, in a society where it takes money to make money. Trump comes from wealth and privilege, as did Franklin Roosevelt. One difference between them is that Roosevelt understood that he came from wealth and privilege. Trump, apparently, does not.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 04/05/2016 - 05:03 pm.


        One phrase is ‘born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.’
        I’ve also seen numbers indicating that if he had invested that inheritance in one of the standard mutual funds he’d be richer now than he is.
        An interesting note about FDR:
        He apparently shortened his life by running for a third term.
        He had planned to quit after two, but saw WWII coming to the U.S. and felt that he had an obligation to provide proven leadership that no other presidential candidates at the time were capable of. He knew that given his health, this would probably mean that he would not live to enjoy the retirement at Hyde Park that he had been looking forward to.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 04/05/2016 - 05:10 pm.

      “Beta males” seems to be the very definition of Trump’s supporters that feel oppressed by women, minorities, democracy, change, science, logic, among other things.

  12. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 04/05/2016 - 12:55 pm.

    This is a good article. using the political psychology scholar to guide the discussion was a great choice, Eric!

  13. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 04/05/2016 - 02:35 pm.

    Well done

    A fine article. Sheltered old person that I am, I’d never heard of Godwin’s Law, but now that I’ve acquainted myself, I think there’s much truth to it, and of course, it doesn’t just apply to internet conversation/argument. Demagogues in general, of both left and right, tend to fall back on similar kinds of arguments and positions (e.g., something is “moral” or “immoral”), and their disciples will subscribe to the same or similar arguments and positions in a kind of feedback loop.

    For far lengthier examinations beyond Eric’s article, there “What’s the Matter with Kansas,” which is now something of a chestnut, and “Deer Hunting with Jesus,” which is rather more contemporary and nibbles around the edges of “authoritarian personality” while mostly focusing on the practical, day-to-day decline in working-class status and prosperity. There is now quite a bit more wrong with Kansas than there was when the book was published in 2004, for which Kansans can thank Governor Brownback and the Republican legislature they elected. As Thomas Frank pointed out in the book, most of the damage done, especially in recent years, is self-inflicted.

  14. Submitted by Curt Carlson on 04/05/2016 - 05:15 pm.

    The F word

    I understand and respect Godwin’s ‘Law’. I’m old enough to clearly remember Usenet, flame wars, and all that. However, for all the value it may provide internet discussions, it assumes that there are no valid comparisons to historical fascists. Might blind adherence to such a ‘law’ not keep us from recognizing real parallels?

    Fascism does not seem to have a singe, agreed-upon definition. But most definitions include characteristics that have a lot uncommon with Trumpism: an autocratic, authoritarian leader; a populist, ultra-nationalistic narrative; a rebirth myth; economic protectionism; preoccupation with victimhood; appeal to working-class support, but integration of government with corporate interests; acceptance of violence as a political tactic; and more.

    If you insist, let’s not mention historical fascist bogeymen, but we should at least recognize and be prepared to publicize and discredit a political methodology that is all too familiar to students of history.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 04/05/2016 - 09:02 pm.

      The problem with your analysis

      is that all the fascists you may be referring to were anti-capitalists. As it was with the National Socialist Party of Nazi Germany and of course, Mussolini who was also a socialist.

      Unlike Obama, Sanders and Clinton, Trump is clearly a capitalist.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 04/06/2016 - 09:41 am.

        At least

        with other people’s money.

      • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 04/06/2016 - 12:06 pm.

        HIstory Lesson

        I hate to even go here as any mention of Nazis usually portends the end of rational debate, but I thought I would throw in a little context for people’s benefit.

        The Nazis called themselves the National Socialist Party because it sounded cool and appealed to the masses. They pretended they were for the little people, but at the same time courted the industrialists and their capital with the promise of large government contracts, should the Nazis get into power. Where do you think all those brown shirt uniforms came from? It wasn’t their mothers banging them out in the sewing room late at night. Someone had to pay for them and that was the capitalists funding the Nazi’s rise to power.

        And what did the capitalists get in return? There was a lot of labor unrest in the 1920s as Germany went through hyper inflation. They had to somehow pay for reparations for the Great War, so they turned on the printing presses and kept them running day and night, which just created inflation and made the Mark worthless from week to week as it was devalued. That created a lot of unrest among the middle and lower classes as they had to use a wheelbarrow of money to buy a loaf of bread.

        People were hungry, money couldn’t buy anything, and that creates a perfect situation for someone like a communist, socialist, or fascist to step on in with a sexy message. The industrialists didn’t want a communist or socialist government as they were afraid their industries would be nationalized, so they hooked up with the fascists and funded their campaign so the labor organizers would get locked out.

        The rest, as they say, is history. Hitler came to power, rebuilt Germany’s military, and the industry owners did very well with the contracts for uniforms, planes, ships, and tanks.

        And the common folk who had to fight the war? Not so well. If they weren’t killed or wounded on the front, their towns were bombed out and they became refugees in their own country. I have a good friend who’s a first generation German immigrant and has zero relatives left in the country because her ancestors were all killed or simply disappeared in the chaos of the times. Her mother, who’s still alive, was a little girl in the war and was one of those people turned out when their town was flattened and she no longer had a home.

        Is an authoritarian leader really such a good idea? Wouldn’t it be better to have someone who is wise lead the world’s countries rather than some guy who thumps his chest a lot?

  15. Submitted by Roy Everson on 04/05/2016 - 08:53 pm.

    Is Hollywood watching?

    They have been told for years they are true blue “conservative”, they are in the Club. The GOP Club, the hate Obama Club, the Tea Party Club. As an earlier poster noted, economic rewards are nil but they get to keep their guns. Now they are told they are not really conservative after all! And their hero can go to hell! It’s like in a sci-fi movie when the androids learn they are not human. Really hurts their feelings, then they get real mad.

    BTW great article, thanks.

  16. Submitted by Mike martin on 04/05/2016 - 10:04 pm.

    To understand Trump read The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller. originally written in German & translated into English. I broke the spine of my copy from rereading it.

    I won’t explain why people follow him but it will explain Trump.

  17. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 04/05/2016 - 10:31 pm.

    Who likes authority

    OK, let’s start with this article which ruins the whole approach of Mr. Black and his friend. But here is more: Socialism is the most authoritarian system possible totally incompatible with freedom and independent thinking which easily explains why the young people supporting Sanders are also the ones trying to kill the free speech on college campuses under the guise of fighting injustice. And they are also the ones fighting to prevent people they don’t like from speaking to them.

  18. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/06/2016 - 06:12 am.

    Authoritarianism v. Relativism

    Conservatives are naturally authoritarian. I was surprised that was matter in dispute. Conservative are constantly trying to introduce personas in debate, in both positive and negative ways. A typical Katherine Kersten column always cites some conservative book she has read as an authority. Conservative emphasis on double standard arguments always assumes that someone said or did something in the past that is authoritatively binding now. In the recent Supreme Court debate, it makes perfect sense to the conservative authoritarian mind that something Joe Biden said a couple of decades ago, is authoritatively binding on all Democrats today. It doesn’t even occur to them how absurd that might be.

    I hope this doesn’t sound unduly critical of conservatism. But it speaks to the two cultures in which we live, and how the cultures do not understand each other. It’s how one side makes an argument that it regards as compelling and persuasive, that the other side simply doesn’t recognize at all.

  19. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 04/06/2016 - 12:19 pm.

    Other Views

    I have to wonder if some of the Trump appeal doesn’t hit at even a more basic level than laid out in this article. I’m referring to the fear of the Other, which is the notion that someone who doesn’t look like me is a potential enemy, to be treated with suspicion and mistrust.

    Back in the day when mankind consisted of loose groups of hunter/gatherers, this suspicion would be an asset. Someone who moves into your territory may steal your resources, whether it’s food sources, water, or that nice warm cave where you hang out. People had to fight for that territory and, to make it easy to tell who was not part of their tribe, they adopted customs and practices for instant identification. A nose piercing, kilts with different patterns, or hair styles. Items like this helped to identify any given person as a member of that tribe and therefor an ally and protector. People who didn’t dress like you were easy to identify as an outsider, to be shunned, driven away, or killed.

    Here we are in 2016 and a lot of people still haven’t shaken off that tribal mentality. You have dark skin and I have white? You’re the Other. Transgender? You don’t use the same bathroom I do, so you must be marginalized in society.

    We may work our way past this evolutionary trait, but it’ll probably take another couple hundred thousand years, assuming we can greatly reduce the number of wars on the planet. I’m not holding my breath for any changes real soon.

  20. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/06/2016 - 12:33 pm.


    There is a lot about Trump that’s appealing. He speaks clearly to a party base tired of being spoken to only in code. He speaks to the base bluntly seemingly unconcerned with building the coalition that he needs to win an election. If he loses, he is content to lose famously and importantly, in the way Goldwater lost. And of course voting for him is the surest way to repudiate a political system that has been universally discredited.

    For me, the most powerful political image ever is “The Terminator”. Indeed it was powerful enough to get the actor who played him elected governor of a large state twice. It’s not so much that the Terminator is authoritarian as that he just doesn’t care about authority or anything else except what matters. The Terminator just doesn’t give a darn. He is single minded, utterly focused. He is incorruptible. Every fiber or maybe every circuit is totally committed to his mission. He doesn’t attend fundraisers.Trump and maybe to a lesser extent and in a different way, Sanders are terminators, the avatars of revenge on a political system in irreversible decline.

  21. Submitted by Jon Lord on 04/06/2016 - 04:43 pm.

    Had to point this out for the less historically enabled. Nazi’s were the right wing of Fascism, which is to the right of Capitalism which is to the right of Socialism, which is to the left of Communism. This would become clear if a person watched any of the WWII documentaries on Cable TV. Americans have to know this information in order to make any logical arguments about economic systems. Otherwise it’s just another person blowing hot air about world affairs and or history. As Todd Adler pointed out, Hitler wanted his party to sound benign. He wanted the other nations around him, especially Russia, to believe he was against another war so that he could build up weapons of war under the guise of defense only. Like in WWI the industrialists came on board with the promise of making money if they joined him. And they did for a few years. The idea that Hitler and Mussolini were Socialists comes from those who are largely uninformed about our recent past. It’s a lot of information to take in perhaps but if we don’t know the past we’ve essentially lost our rudder as a nation.

  22. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/07/2016 - 06:02 am.


    I don’t think the typical American today knows very much about the economics of Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy. They aren’t subjects usually taught in schools and they are rarely discussed on the CNN. That being the case, it’s really hard to analogize between their economic views and the views of various individuals today.

  23. Submitted by Jon Lord on 04/07/2016 - 10:22 am.

    History is especially tough when one doesn’t bother with it. If we don’t know about how the two world wars came about, we are very likely to repeat the same mistakes. That the history isn’t taught in schools or discussed anyway is a failing of ours! It points out the need to improve our educational system to the point where we do understand where our economic and political views were forged and what history is all about. To just live in the moment is accepting to know nothing important about steering a ship of state. Since we had WWII after WWI ‘so soon’ points out what happens when we elect to ignore history to live in the moment. We’re not so good at teaching economics either. And the reason we don’t teach those things is……(?).

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 04/07/2016 - 12:01 pm.

      Class… Oh, CLASS!

      Someone with more teaching experience than I have can talk more intelligently about this than I can, but here’s my take on why we don’t teach history and economics in school anymore.

      1. It costs money. Money for those teachers who teach subjects that are regarded as fluff. So if your budget is tight and you want to cut costs, hit those superfluous teachers first.

      2. Are those subjects core items? When you have students who are failing reading and writing skills, people tend to double down on the basics at the expense of other subjects.

      Not that any of this is right, but that’s the reality we have these days. Personally, I love economics (econ minor in college) and can’t get enough of history, to the point where I’m on the board of a couple of historical nonprofits. Those areas of interest were sparked in school where I got a good understanding of logic, how the world works, and how we as humans got to where we are today.

      With a little perspective in hand you can start connecting a few dots through the past to where we are today. As an example, WWII really didn’t exist per se. It more accurately should be called World War 1.2 as the belligerents essentially picked up where they left off twenty years earlier.

      Today I see many of the same attributes in our society that brought the Nazis to power. People who vilify those who don’t look or act like they do, efforts to keep immigrants out and deport those who are already here, regardless of the impact that has on our economy. Silly ideas like building a wall that anyone with an ounce of sense can will tell you is ineffective. Bullying at rallies. Economic plans that help the rich at the expense of the poor.

      There is hope for our society, but it’s up to the good people to stand up to the bad and demand that people be treated decently.

      • Submitted by Jon Lord on 04/08/2016 - 07:23 pm.

        Class, no class?

        WWI was essentially started by cousins. The European and Russian Nobility along with some middle eastern cousins. That war virtually wiped out the Monarchy, but not the industrialists. A madman led us into WWII disgruntled that the Kaiser gave up and lost the war. That was his take on it, not to mention he was a psychopath. The industrialist were there too however, as they will always be for and during war. For peace too but they’ll never shy away from a war. ‘Money is to be made when there is blood in the streets.’

        I too see many of the same attributes playing out but without the Hitler figure. At least not at this point. Those things I agree with obviously. The display of hatred, propaganda, wild ideas, etc. There is a desperation that probably shouldn’t be in our society as our society could easily afford to ease that desperation if the congress, corporations and wealthy wanted to. There is no will to however.
        That could also answer the educational lapse except for that lack of will. There is always a hope, but not always a help.

  24. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/07/2016 - 12:26 pm.

    If we don’t know about how the two world wars came about, we are very likely to repeat the same mistakes.

    Santayana famously said more or less, “Those who don’t remember history are condemned to repeat it.” And, I have always added in my own mind, “So are those who don’t.” Today, the politics and economic history of the inter war years is mostly forgotten. But it is worth noting that the politicians who led us into WW II were all survivors in various ways of WW I, and remembered the history of that disastrous war all too vividly. There problem wasn’t that they didn’t know the history, rather that they drew so many wrong lessons from it.

    Godwin’s Law holds that the first one to introduce Hitler into a debate loses it. One of the side effects of that law, I believe, is that tends to render any dispassionate analysis of the interwar period out of bounds, the result being that whatever lessons are to be learned from that period are distorted or lost. Among other things, there is the problem that it is very easy for us to evaluate the actions of the various politicians, because we have an important advantage they did not, we know how things would turn out.

    Here’s a thing. (I have been re-watching “The West Wing” lately, and Sorkinims are creeping into my prose.) We have a political leader who talks about the advantages of making great deals, of winning the deals we make with each other. In the aftermath of WW I, the victorious allies made a series of winning deals with the defeated Germany. They won the negotiations. How did the Allies winning the Versailles Treaty work out for Europe and the world? What does that particular lesson teach us about the benefit of winning deals at the expense of others?

    • Submitted by Jon Lord on 04/08/2016 - 07:48 pm.

      They were too afraid of another brutal war so soon, when Hitler started saber rattling and show some teeth. They didn’t draw any conclusion from it at all since WWII came in on the heels of WWI so soon. (I’m glad I didn’t bring Hitler up. Thanks for pointing it out though.) We, as a species distort and lost whatever we think isn’t to our advantage. In the case of the Versailles Treaty, Germany took the brunt of being on the losing side since they were held to blame for WWI and Hitler took advantage of the conditions Germany faced and turned it to his advantage. However, in order to stop the trends of war it does take an understanding of what exactly brings them about. What are the conditions that drive a populace to get on board with a madman. Or nobility for that matter? Do the citizens start wars? Leaders? Is it like spontaneous combustion and just happens? Are there clues or are there not? Can we possibly learn what they are? That, I think, is the first step in understanding what conclusions we should have and should be drawing now and into the future. Otherwise we are saying the less we know the better off we are! I would hope no one would say that!? I’m not saying they don’t, I’m just saying I hope that eventually they won’t.

      • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 04/10/2016 - 09:26 am.

        Versailles was the underlying cause, in a sense,

        But not the proximate cause. Hitler didn’t rise on his own, he was elevated by the industrialists and, moreso, the hereditary large landowners whose ability to keep extracting adequate rents were squeezed by the reparative conditions of Versailles. The pressure of workers’ interests prompted by Weimar conditions could have led to broad economic and social reformation but rather than capitulating to a structural loss of privilege, these holders of capital instead basically subcontracted with Hitler and the NSDAP to put down the left in exchange for sharing power with him. This was a short-term expedient decision based on the expectation that once Hitler’s usefulness was served he could be dismissed from the club. The expectation didn’t prove too accurate.

        Similarly, the Southern Strategy was a short-term, expedient decision to cultivate a base founded on stirring up the deep-seated but now irrational human fear of the other. “Short-term” has played out a bit longer as this trajectory passes thru Trump and beyond, but the analogy is there, in that in both cases those with economic and political power made short-term, tactical decisions to harness atavism to protect their privileges with the thinking that what they wrought would not persist beyond the point of tactical usefulness.

  25. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 04/07/2016 - 08:19 pm.

    Just to reiterate that the article I linked shows that Conservatives and Liberals respect authority in exactly the same way. Somehow, it looks like people missed the point… But only liberals may vote for someone just because of that person’s gender…

    On the other hand, Mr. Adler is right that people like those who look like them… But people also like animals that don’t look like them. Liberals also like those (and only those) who think like them… and many consider those who don’t their enemies who should be harassed and silenced.

    As for teaching history, we are clearly missing any reasonable education about socialism, based on the fact that so many young people like it.

  26. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/08/2016 - 08:53 am.

    Just to reiterate that the article I linked shows that Conservatives and Liberals respect authority in exactly the same way.

    That two disparate groups do things in exactly the same way is always the unlikeliest result. It’s like the Biden thing. To the conservative mind, citing something Biden said decades ago seems a convincing argument. Liberals, on the other hand disagree with half the stuff Joe said last week, let alone three decades ago. Authority wise, it simply doesn’t occur to liberals that just because Biden said something, the rest of them should go along with it, and are quite baffled by the apparent conservative view to the contrary.

    • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 04/08/2016 - 08:29 pm.

      Conservatives do not jump at Palin’s words the same as Liberals don’t at Biden’s – that doesn’t prove anything.

      • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/09/2016 - 06:18 am.

        Biden rule

        Well, no one takes Palin seriously, although there was a time not so long ago when Republicans actually tried to elect her vice president. But conservatives have tried to present Biden as authority. Mitch McConnell in very clear terms talked about obeying the Biden Rule for Supreme Court nominations. The only reason to do that is if he regarded Biden as some sort of authority on the subject.

        Just the other day, I read an op ed piece on deficits and entitlements co written by Republican George Schultz in the Wall Street Journal. He quoted FDR quite extensively on the subject. Now why would he do that? FDR has been dead for 70 years, and he was no expert on economics even when he was alive. It’s because they had some sort of authoritarian view of him which suggested that just because he held some opinion, others were obliged to agree with it and follow it, even decades later. Schultz not only seemed to be making that argument, he also seemed totally unaware of how bizarre and indeed silly it was.

  27. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/08/2016 - 06:42 am.


    Concerning the authoritarian issue, I think both conservatives and liberals are concerned that our government no longer functions. I think both sides want to elect a president who has the ability to make it work, and work better. It’s possible to characterize that in a number of ways, some of them more pejorative than others. When we talk about the other side, the temptation is always to use words like “authoritarian”, or if we are really into it Naziism or socialism. Note that each side has their own pejorative label of choice. But in a rejection of my usual opposition to both sides do it argument, I think it’s clear that the population’s rejection of a dysfunctional government, a rejection which clearly seems authoritarian to some, is a reflection of the mood of a pretty huge segment of the population as a whole.

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