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Howard Lavine on ‘democratic inversion’: When party loyalty is stronger than a person’s values or beliefs

University of Minnesota political scientist Howard Lavine
University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota political scientist Howard Lavine: “When Donald Trump says things like: ‘We’re winning; we’re going to win so much, you might get tired of winning,’ it might sound as if he’s referring to the country, but sometimes he’s really referring to the party.”

This is the first of five pieces in an occasional series, derived from recent interviews with scholars at the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts. 

In a properly functioning democracy, what is supposed to come first, a voter’s beliefs about what kinds of government policies would be best for oneself, or for the nation, or for one’s party? Hold that thought for a beat, and think about the concept of “democratic inversion,” as explained by University of Minnesota political scientist Howard Lavine. 

In a traditional and perhaps idealized version of how democracy works, a voter has some values, thoughts and beliefs about how the government should govern, and votes for candidates whose policy positions are most in sync with those values, which may be deeply rooted in aspects of that voter’s identity or beliefs. In that scenario, your voting behavior flows from your values and identity.

But, according to Lavine’s research on and understanding of “democratic inversion,” partisanship itself, a loyalty to one party or the other, has become a larger and more dominant part of many citizens’ identities, so much so that voters asks less “How do I feel about this issue?” and more “What is my party’s position on this issue?” 

That’s the inversion. Instead of having values and beliefs and policy instincts that determine which party or candidate one will support, the theory of “democratic inversion” suggests that more and more voters have turned over what you might call their values and priorities calculator to their party. 

Lavine has a Ph.D. in psychology and is director of the U of M’s Center for the Study of Political Psychology, which focuses on the psychological underpinnings of political behaviors, such as the growing power of “democratic inversion.”

Let me interrupt myself to let you know that this post is part of an occasional series I’ll offer this month passing along the insights of five U of M scholars. The U’s College of Liberal Arts asked me to interview the five and published the interviews in a special 150th anniversary issue of its  magazine, “Liberal Arts,” which the CLA community has now received. They called my five-scholar section “Work In Progress: Revisiting the American Experiment.” With CLA’s permission, I’ll pass along the five interviews as an occasional series. Now back to the first installment, on “democratic inversion.”

Team over policy outcome

As more and more people think of their partisan orientation as an important aspect of their identities, seeing their team win has become more important to them than any policy outcome they might have once thought was worth pursuing through the political process, Lavine told me.

Personal policy inclinations might once have led them to question whether the leaders of their party were backing the best policy, and whether they might need to switch teams on Election Day. But the “inversion” theory suggests that, as Lavine put it, “more and more, people are sticking with the team. … Their higher priority is ‘beating’ the other team,” which is the other party.

“When Donald Trump says things like: ‘We’re winning; we’re going to win so much, you might get tired of winning,’ it might sound as if he’s referring to the country, but sometimes he’s really referring to the party,” Lavine said.

Part of human nature craves a feeling of belonging in the world, Lavine said. Belonging to groups helps one create a social identity, helps reduce uncertainty, and trends over recent decades have elevated the degree to which partisan identity has become a growing piece of personal identity. 

Participatory groups have declined

Lavine referred to Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam’s book “Bowling Alone,” which was about the fact that Americans used to participate in more groups (like bowling leagues, which the title references) and drew portions of their identities and feeling of belonging to those multiple groups, most of which had little to do with politics.

But those kinds of memberships and associations (Putnam’s title refers to bowling leagues, for example) have declined. Meanwhile, “other social identifications that we have always had, by race or gender or geography, by urban or rural identity, by religiosity including what religious denomination we belong to, these are lining up more and more with the political parties,” Lavine said. 

“So all of who you are aligns with whether you are a Democrat or a Republican,” Lavine said. Being Republican is now associated with being white, being a born-again Christian, not having a college education, and living in a small town or a rural area, he said. Those are powerful components of identity, and they now combine with partisan identification in what Lavine called a “mega-identity.”

To support the “other” party would feel somewhat like breaking ranks with your race or your religion. And sticking with the party, for reasons separate from the party’s policy positions, can contribute to that sense of belonging that humans crave.

“So the policy preferences that go along with being a Republican or a Democrat may be overshadowed by the identities that go along with it,” he said. “It may be more about who you are than about any policy positions or the laws that you’d like to see the government pass.”

Policy positions not in sync

In fact, in many instances, partisans do not like and will not benefit from the positions advanced by their parties, Lavine said: “Take the easiest example. The Republican Party works to pass tax cuts that benefit almost nobody but the very wealthy, at the expense of cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. That’s the Republican agenda at present. And that would have very little popular support.”

The Republican Party gets about 90 percent of its votes from whites, Lavine said. Many white voters, on the other hand, are not rich enough to benefit much from tax cuts, but are poor enough to benefit from the kind of wealth redistribution policies associated with the Democratic Party.

Rather than thinking about such matters based on their individual benefit, the “inversion” theory suggests that many nonaffluent white voters see political choices through a prism of party and group identity. If their group is white, “they may tend to view those very policies as designed to redistribute wealth from whites to nonwhites,” Lavine said. 

“Instead of thinking ‘What would I get out of this?’ they are thinking ‘Where does my group stand, and how does it affect my group versus the standing of other groups?”’ And if the calculation is: ‘I would benefit, but my group would become less dominant over say another group, nonwhites,’ then there is a strong likelihood that they would oppose a policy that would hurt their group and benefit the standing of another group, say, racial minorities.”

With Dems, it’s more on social policy

Similar factors are at play on the Democratic side too, Lavine said, although more on the social policy than on economic policy. The Democratic base includes most African-American voters and many working-class whites. But Democratic social policies – for example advocacy for gay rights and protection for trans-gender individuals – is of little benefit to those groups, and is of direct benefit to just a sliver the existing Democratic base.

But contemporary African-American identity includes strong association with political support for Democrats. Some of the substantive policy matters that pure democratic theory suggests should work in determining which groups will support which parties are overcome by these elements of racial or class identity. So “people are less motivated by policy substance than they are with showing their loyalty to the team,” Lavine said.

Traditional theories of democracy do not suggest that things should work this way. “The way things should work is that you form policy preferences. Those should come first — substantive political preferences. ‘I want the government to move to the left or to the right in this or that policy area.’ Then their party identification and candidate choices should reflect their substantive policy preferences,” Lavine said.

The idea of “democratic inversion” suggests that more and more it’s working the other way around. 

“What many people are doing is identifying with a party first, or perhaps a particular candidate,” Lavine said. “Then they find out what the party, or the candidate’s preferences are; then change their own minds, to move into alignment with a candidate or partisan position. That’s the ‘inversion.’

“It’s not what their concrete personal interests are. But it dovetails with the psychological part, where it’s less about personal beliefs or personal policy benefits, it’s about the psychological benefits of party loyalty. The idea of self-esteem is related to the idea that my group is right. Social psychologists call this ‘positive distinctiveness.’ My group is different, and better than other groups. So what’s good for my group benefits me, even if doesn’t benefit me personally.”

“So when Donald Trump says ‘we’re winning,’ sometimes he means the country is winning,” Lavine said. “But sometimes he means the party. But it’s about a social identity and the benefits that come from identifying with the party. Those include things like a sense of belonging, self-esteem and the reduction of uncertainty about the world.”

Comments (45)

  1. Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 09/12/2019 - 10:17 am.

    “The Republican Party works to pass tax cuts that benefit almost nobody but the very wealthy, at the expense of cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid..”

    Trump has not cut social security or Medicare taxes, in fact the tax cap on maximum earnings for social security was raised for this year.

    So called “entitlements” are supposed to be self financing; federal income taxes are a completely different pot.

    Liberals have mocked the income tax cuts as crumbs, but many people such as myself know crumbs are still made of bread. The wealthy realize bigger savings because they pay more to begin with; we understand that.

    I’m not accusing this author, but it is this kind of misinformation that fuels the idea the media is nothing but fake news. A bit more care is called for, again, in my opinion.

    • Submitted by Eric Snyder on 09/12/2019 - 09:05 pm.

      A great majority of time the cry of ‘fake news’ turns out to be false on deeper examination.

      Social Security and Medicare are clearly on the chopping block for the GOP, and Trump is apparently giving indications that he’s open to it:

      • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 09/13/2019 - 02:22 pm.

        Oh, they’re on the chopping block alright. But it won’t be the GOP that beheads it, or the DNC for that matter. They’re going to die of starvation.

        In any case, Trump didn’t cut them as the author suggested.

      • Submitted by Dennis Barrett on 09/13/2019 - 04:36 pm.

        Trump raising SS has been debunked by Politico and Snopes. FALSE

    • Submitted by Tom Crain on 09/13/2019 - 08:29 am.

      I’m not sure how your quote from the author counts as misinformation. According to a December Bloomberg article the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 results in a 2.9% decrease for the Top Quintile decreasing steadily with each lower quintile to just .4% for the lowest earners. Crumbs indeed. Perhaps they can make cake with .4% reduction.

      Meanwhile the CBO estimates this will add $1.891 trillion to the deficit after taking into account macroeconomic feedback effects (aka trickle down).

      If you happen to be the rare conservative not concerned with increasing the deficit, know that the Republicans (supposedly) do not share your view. Trump’s 2020 budget calls for about $1.5 trillion in cuts to Medicaid over the next 10 years and a roughly $26 billion decrease in Social Security spending over the next 10 years.

      • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 09/13/2019 - 02:29 pm.

        A) I’ve explained why higher income taxpayers get more savings when taxes are cut, and observed that most people understand why.

        B) Entitlements will be cut, and drastically. But not because federal income taxes have been reduced, as the author suggested. They are simply running out of money, and taxes cannot backfill the hole that will be left.

        Your deficit argument is better. No politician, left or right has stepped up to do the necessary cuts in spending. That’s a legitimate critique of Trump and every politician since the GOP Congress forced Clinton to balance the books.

        • Submitted by Geo. Greene on 09/17/2019 - 08:57 am.

          “The wealthy realize bigger savings because they pay more to begin with; we understand that.”

          We’re talking percentages not dollars. There is no reason the wealthy should continue to pay a smaller percentage than a middle class family and every reason for them (and corporations) to pay a higher percentage as public investment provides a boatload of benefits that ensure business success and personal wealth accumulation. EX: Just think if businesses, upon hiring an employee were required to hand over a check for the education their employees received, or pay for their share of basic research that makes their tech products viable or pay the courts full cost of litigating their contract disputes.

          “Entitlements will be cut, and drastically. But not because federal income taxes have been reduced, as the author suggested. They are simply running out of money, and taxes cannot backfill the hole that will be left.”

          Of course Social Security and Medicare are, in fact, paid with taxes, even if it’s a different pot than income taxes. Even Ronald Regan long ago understood that those taxes needed to be raised to avoid just the kind of under funding we see today. I worry less about an increase in taxes (or Soc Sec cap) than the costs to non-mega-rich families from allowing Social Security and Medicare to founder – or worse, handed over to for-profit corporations that will, as they inevitably do, suck them dry.

  2. Submitted by Steve Timmer on 09/12/2019 - 10:59 am.

    Tribes were a form of political and social organization before and they appear to be again. Substitute “tribe’ for “team” in the story.

    • Submitted by John Evans on 09/13/2019 - 12:37 pm.

      Who is this “we” that Trump speaks of when he says, “we’re winning”? Levine says it means the Republican Party, but I don’t think that’s quite right.Trump is not all that deeply identified with the party, even now.

      The composition of “we” will shift in different contexts, but I think for Trump it always includes a white identity and a belief in his group’s cultural and genetic superiority.

      Where a tribe is normally kin-based, Trump’s “we” depends, for its very existence and identity, on the belief that other groups are inferior, hostile and jealous.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/18/2019 - 07:56 am.

      Political parties are NOT “tribes”. There is nothing authentically tribal about political parties. People just trot out a “tribal” analogy whenever they want to disparage political parties… this is an inherently racist impulse because it classifies tribal structures as dysfunctional and irrational.

      There are REAL tribes and tribal members among us… they run casinos, they don’t put children in cages or stomp on the environment. Don’t compare your screwed up political party or system to a social organizations that has existed and thrived for millennia. To the extent that our political system is in crises, we own that… it’s a “tribal” problem.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 09/12/2019 - 11:33 am.

    …And sometimes, the “we” in “we’re winning” is the imperial “we,” and seems to refer neither to the nation or even the Republican Party, but to Donald Trump personally. It’s not even financial, since we’re talking about psychological issues. It has more to do – in Trump’s case – with being able to defeat someone you don’t like personally (Trump’s knowledge of political and economic theory wouldn’t fill a thimble), and better yet, to rub their figurative face in that defeat if possible. It’s treated, always, as a zero-sum game.

    The section on policy positions sort of – but not entirely, at least not to my satisfaction – explains the “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” syndrome noted by Thomas Frank in his excellent book of nearly 15 years ago. “…A strong likelihood” is still not a certainty, and doesn’t work – for me, at least – as a kind of blanket rule to explain what is essentially counterproductive thought and behavior.

    But, with those things being said, I can’t argue that Professor Lavine is incorrect overall. Identification with the “tribe” has been growing by leaps and bounds over the past decade(s), and Trump, “Moscow Mitch” McConnell, and other figures have done their best to enhance and exaggerate it for their own narrow ends, sometimes, at least at the national level, to the detriment of the country. They ought to be ashamed, but instead take pride in defeating their opponents.

    • Submitted by Solly Johnson on 09/13/2019 - 08:26 am.

      A later book by Thomas Frank, “Listen Liberal,” does much to explain the problems within the Democratic Party.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/18/2019 - 08:06 am.

      Again, there is NOTHING “tribal” about our political parties, or our affiliation with them. And no, that affiliation has NOT been growing by leaps and bounds. Our two party system has never enjoyed popularity beyond it’s status as the “default”. American’s have actually been drifting away from the Parties for decades as both parties increasingly embraced their status as champions of the elite rather than the “People”.

      This is NOT a crises of polarization, this is crises political failure born of the fact that our government is not run by Parties that represent the majority. We do NOT have a liberal Party in America, therefore we CANNOT a crises of polarity that pits a liberal party against a conservative party. What we HAVE is a crises of continual bipartisan failure to address any significant problem from health care to global warming. THAT failure isn’t dividing Americans, it’s alienating them from the existing bipartisan power structure. American have/are losing faith in the Parties… they’re not flocking to them!

  4. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 09/12/2019 - 11:59 am.

    This is in line with what folks like me have seen for years, Difficult to impossible to discuss personal values, and why those values are important. Always end up with party positions and the propaganda to support the party position. Last year had a discussion with a hard core republican, by his own admission, claimed he thought Denmark had a good way of seeing the world, I noted that Denmark had a bit of a socialist bend to it, and Denmark and Republican alignment were on almost opposite ends of the political spectrum, how did he connect those 2 opposite values? The discussion.ended abruptly. But the conflict was clear, personal values conflict with that sense of belonging, party/group affiliation, and fear of alienation when you stand up for what you really believe in. Personally not a big fan of groups parties etc. they tend to interfere/want to dictate,my personal values,intellect,decision making etc. Been kicked out or dropped out of a lot of groups for too much independent reasoning/thinking that conflicted with the group think.

  5. Submitted by Peter Pesheck on 09/12/2019 - 12:10 pm.

    Not to challenge the professor’s work, but I’m an un-inverted 73 yr old college-educated Christian white guy that’s voted for Democrats for 35+ yr. Maybe it’s bias (I don’t think so though), but it seems to me that many lefty positions are reasonably reality-based (e.g., the climate crisis is very real and coming at us faster than we expected a few years ago, wind and solar energy are good, “we all gotta drink that water and breathe that air” environmentalism, the top levels of management are raking off more than their share, etc.). All of these are well-supported by science and/or simple observation.

    • Submitted by Brian Simon on 09/13/2019 - 01:10 pm.

      I’m only 49, and spent a lot of years as an independent, but don’t bother any more. The Republicans’ anti-science views are a dealbreaker. The ideology of all taxes are always bad is nonsensical – somebody has to pay for government; and goverment, despite its faults, is critical to our society. In short, their closed minds have driven me away. I don’t like everything the dems are doing, but we’re a heck of a lot better off when they’re in charge.

  6. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 09/12/2019 - 01:59 pm.

    Let me understand this…a taxpayer subsidized public university academic is being interviewed by a tax-payer subsidized, self described “lefty” journalist?

    I wonder what the outcome or conclusions will be?

    For sure – they do not shop at Wal-Mart. How is that for generalizations or identity labelling?

  7. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 09/12/2019 - 02:55 pm.

    Professor Lavine has now provided an answer to Thomas Frank’s question (and title to his book) “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” A great insight too. But it makes me wonder what to make of psychological political science. I also think Richard Hofstadter, a historian, had great psychological insights in his explanation for the rise of what he called “pseudoconservatism” and the Goldwater movement in the 1960’s. They were a form of paranoia and irrational fear. To me, Hofstadter’s insights are still valuable and helpful in explaining and understanding the modern right wing. Many people seem to dismiss Hofstadter or consider his insights no longer helpful or relevant. Is it because they’re “only” insights and lack some sort of empirical verification? How would anyone study or validate insights like Lavine’s or Hofstadter’s anyway? How does one study mass psychosis?

    • Submitted by Ray Schoch on 09/13/2019 - 10:44 am.

      I’m inclined to agree. I still have my copy of “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” and it still seems relevant. Not every insight lends itself to being quantified.

  8. Submitted by Rich Crose on 09/12/2019 - 03:50 pm.

    D.M. Wegner posited the theory called the Transactive memory store where we rely on outside individuals, groups and even objects to serve as external memory aids.

    We don’t remember phone numbers anymore, we remember where we left our phone. We delegate remembering birthdays to a spouse, how to fix a computer to our oldest child, how we’re supposed to vote to a party.

    There is too much to remember in our lives so we outsource it to Google and Facebook and Twitter and cable news and the party our parents voted for. We have lazy brains.

    • Submitted by Geo. Greene on 09/17/2019 - 09:11 am.

      That’s why this is so fascinating. And what does this mean for political strategizing? The conservatives (really now libertarians) who dominate the national narrative figured this all out long ago. They use tactics of fear, doubt, misinformation and “otherness” (and it’s opposite -in group loyalty) used throughout history to shift power and wealth to small numbers of people. Nothing about this is new except the speed and effectiveness with which it happens.

  9. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/13/2019 - 06:39 am.

    The reason I am a Democrat is the policies. It’s not as if I do it for the bagels.

  10. Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 09/13/2019 - 07:55 am.

    Meanwhile I get called a purist for saying both parties are morally and ethically bankrupt servants of corporate, bank and billionaire pathologies, and the eternal war machine…

  11. Submitted by Brian Simon on 09/13/2019 - 08:21 am.

    Given that we have a two party system, why would anyone expect another outcome? People tend to pick one party or the other on their top priority & fall in line on the rest. The parties reinforce litmus tests in partisan primaries & gerrymandered districts. If candidates are generally assured of winning the general election on partisan identity, the critical race is the primary, where appealing to the active party base is the way to win, driving candidates to the extremes.

    But if I believe in low taxes & gun control, there’s nobody representing my interests. I have to decide which is more important & forget about the other.

  12. Submitted by Carl Brookins on 09/13/2019 - 03:52 pm.

    I think Lavine is correct. Both major poltical parties have become fixated on their doctrines and party members have become largely slaves to the party lines, ignoring or crushing outlier variations for the sake of winning.

  13. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/14/2019 - 06:14 pm.

    This thesis directly contradicts the fact that more and more Americans are dropping out of the major Parties, they’re not identifying with them, they’re alienated by them. The largest Party in the nation right now is independents. Likewise people are dropping out of organized religion.

    Furthermore, while bowling may be losing it’s popularity, all kinds of other organized activities are still extremely popular. The disintegration of common experience may be a legitimate observation, but it emerges from a far more complex society than simple Party affiliation.

    This is just another contribution to a facile narrative of partisan division.

    Fascist always put they’re own interests and interests of the Party that promises the power they seek ahead of any other agenda. The idea that EVERYONE is doing this is just a search for false equivalence pretending to be scientific exploration.

    American’s are increasingly alienated, not affiliated with our two party system. By definition it follows that a population that is turning away from political parties is not a population that is placing those Parties ahead of other interests.

    • Submitted by Henry Johnson on 09/14/2019 - 11:21 pm.

      ” American’s are increasingly alienated, not affiliated with our two party system ”

      Yes, I agree with that statement Paul. As I was reading the article, I was having trouble relating to the thesis being made, and your sentence above pretty much indicates why for me.

      I don’t feel loyalty for either party because I’m not very impressed by either and don’t feel they represent me or my outlook very well at all.

      Although I’m voting a democratic ticket right now because I think the republicans have really lost their way completely since 2016 especially, I don’t think either major party is serving the public very well, hasn’t for decades – they are both far too under the influence of corporate money and lobbyists for one thing, and in my view, they are both becoming polarized and extremist political machines that don’t really reflect the views of large numbers of we-the-people very well.

      Thus the growing number of independents you mentioned, who perhaps like me, wish they could selectively pick and choose positions and policies from both parties and add ones of their own, instead of being stuck year after year and decade after decade with fixed agenda 1 and fixed agenda 2 – neither of which are acceptable to many of us as a “package deal”.

      And I do notice that regardless of which party is in power, we keep adding heavily to the national debt every year, which I think eventually will cook our goose, and for some reason that eludes me, despite strongly worded campaign pledges to the contrary from both parties, we are still fighting an endless war in Afghanistan a staggering 18 years and counting now.

      And our politicians can’t bring themselves to authorize money to repair our roads and bridges and other US infrastructure, but had no problem at all authorizing billions to build new roads in Afghanistan, not to mention the ongoing cost in dollars and lives of continuing an endless war there!

      I’m sure the Taliban will appreciate all those new roads when they take control of the country again, most likely within 6 months after whenever we finally leave (assuming that leaving does happen one of these decades).

      And both parties were involved in and responsible for those decisions.

      And while Afghani’s drive on free roads paid for by US tax dollars, more and more Americans pay high toll fees to private corporations to drive on whatever new roads are actually still being built here – gee thanks Republicans and Democrats, so glad you’re looking out for us (not!).

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/16/2019 - 02:47 pm.

        Since Kipling’s time Afghanistan has been know as ‘the graveyard of empires.’
        It did in the Soviet Union; somehow we think that we’ll be different.

  14. Submitted by Wayne Kantola on 09/14/2019 - 09:31 pm.

    “The Republican Party gets about 90 percent of its votes from whites, Lavine said. Many white voters, on the other hand, are not rich enough to benefit much from tax cuts, but are poor enough to benefit from the kind of wealth redistribution policies associated with the Democratic Party.” Lavine advances the theory the people cling to their “team” over personal interest. Perhaps they believe that government wealth redistribution is in itself fundamentally wrong and they’d rather earn their own way? Perhaps the team they’ve joined represent this fundamental belief? The fact that Lavine doesn’t understand why people would vote for a party that may eliminate handouts they could be receiving causes me to question the validity of his work.

    • Submitted by Geo. Greene on 09/17/2019 - 09:20 am.

      I would simply point to the signs that said “Keep your government hands off my Medicare.”

    • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 09/17/2019 - 11:34 am.

      We agree that Professor Lavine is evidencing some lazy thinking and that his conclusion isn’t compelling.

      But there is no cogent argument that wealth redistribution is “fundamentally wrong.” The strengths of the economic form that prioritizes returns to capital are in the realms of innovation and productivity. However, the distribution of profit that results from such a form is morally arbitrary at best. Society collectively (i.e., government) has two chief economic roles: establishing a framework that promotes productivity and innovation, and providing for distributional correction. The details of what is distributionally correct are a fit subject for civic discussion, but a redistributional element is morally and pragmatically compelled.

      Beyond that, it is those on the Right who see all through the lens of selfishness. Those on the left recognize that one’s civic obligation is to vote based on a judgment as to the general welfare. When those on the Right suggest that others vote for “free stuff,” they are engaging, as always, in psychological projection. It is no surprise that they worship as their leader someone whose credo is that no penny should remain in the pocket of another when it can be taken for oneself.

  15. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/14/2019 - 11:13 pm.

    I guess I’m struggling to see a novel observation here. We’ve known the contours of totalitarian mentalities for decades (centuries actually if read Homer and Shakespeare) and among the hills and valleys on that landscape are the rejection of democratic principles, and support of dictatorial agendas. I’m not sure I see any advantage to re-visioning anti-democratic impulses and mentalities as “inversions”.

    This “new” model could actually be problematic in the sense that it seems to suggest that megalomania and extremism can be new normal expressions of political ideology. The problem with this model (and the reason I’ve always rejected the “polarization” narrative) is that it tends equate to justice with injustice. Those who legitimately seek to restore or defend the rule of law, human rights, free speech, economic justice, etc. can end up being characterized as equal attempts at reactions to extremist actions.

    I think we’re clearly living in an era of crises characterized by one of our two major political Party’s having tipped into reactionary extremism (I’ll call it Fascism). This isn’t the result of polarization, it’s rise of dictatorial impulses and mentalities within the Republican Party. Inverted democracies are totalitarian states.

    This trend has been visible and kind of obvious for decades. Many of us have been discussing and commenting on this trend for decades.

    A lot of work has been done on the nature of affiliation by the way. In some way the authors are postulating a false dilemma. Fascists and their supporters don’t actually see contradictions between their beliefs and the organizations they belong to. A few weeks ago for instance when I found myself surrounded by “patriots” demand the return of the Pledge in St. Louis Park, these people weren’t representing Trump or the Republican Party, although the were certainly Trump supporters (Lots of MAGA hats). These folks think they’re patriots, they don’t see a contradiction between the Party of Trump and their values. Of course Fascists have always deceptive tactics (You may have heard that Trump has an honesty issue) to prey on people like this. When it works, there is no choice between loyalty to the “Party” or one’s values… they see the Party as a vehicle for promoting their values.

  16. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/15/2019 - 10:54 am.

    I don’t know, I guess it all comes back to parsimony for me. When you hear hooves on the street you think horse not zebra.

    If Lavine want’s me to exchange a model of rising totalitarianism for one of inverted democracy he needs to do more than point to a declining number of bowlers.

    The whole question of: “best interests” is murky at best so a model that places “values” at the center of best interests struggles for legitimacy. One can only say that Party affiliation is stronger than “values” if we assume that the value holder recognizes a dichotomy and ignores it otherwise minimizes it. But Trump supporters will tell you that their continued support for Trump is based on their belief that he shares their values and beliefs. At least that’s what Evangelical Christians keep saying. When people associate their values with a Party, they’re not choosing Party over values, they’re choosing the Party they think represents their values.

    So you say well what about the “moderate” Republicans who voted for Trump? Aren’t THEY putting Party before values? Well, in theory you could say that but you’d have two problems. First, you’re probably overestimating the number of “moderate” Republicans. People have been drifting away from both Parties for decades and the Republican Party has been self-selecting Moderates out of the Party for decades.

    Gingrich captured the US House in what? 1995? Moderation hasn’t been a feature of the Republican Party since Reagan got elected. Diversity has NEVER been a feature of the Republican Party. At the end of the day Republicans complain about Trump’s behavior but they’ll tell you his policies reflect their values completely. I don’t see how we can call that an inversion, it’s just a screwed up.

    There are a few Republicans like David Brooks for instance who condemn Trump, and I suppose you can call them “moderates”… but they Condemn Trump, they’re NOT putting their Party ahead of their values. Brooks is very vocal in his defense of his values in the face of a president and Party he see as abandoning his principles. There’s no inversion there.

    This isn’t the first time that support for Fascism has backfired on those who support it. Parsimony suggests that support for Fascism doesn’t mean supporters set aside their values, more likely it tells us that their values were screwed up. I mean look, it would be facile to assume that all this support for racist president and other racist Republicans has nothing to do with racism. Racist aren’t setting aside their values with they support Republicans, they’re embracing a racist Party. They may tell us and even themselves that they aren’t racist, but lack of personal insight doesn’t turn a horse into a zebra… it’s still racism.

    One thing I’ve noticed about American “liberals” over the decades is a serious tendency towards denial that emerges from their focus on their own comfort zones. They’ve been denying the Republican drift towards Fascism for decades in order to preserve the illusion of normalcy, that’s Biden in a nutshell. Illusions may be illusions but they can still be comforting. When I see convoluted models like this emerge, it strikes me on some level as simply being a somewhat complex form of denial. It’s like folks like Levine just can’t accept the fact that Republicans and their Party and their supporters are REALLY this screwed up.

    It’s like we used to say on the psych units; sometimes you get so wrapped up in trying to figure out what’s going in someone’s head you forget they’re crazy.

  17. Submitted by Charles Holtman on 09/15/2019 - 11:40 am.

    To expand (I think) on Paul’s comments, at a length for which I apologize:

    Professor Lavine’s thesis rests on a fact: a trend that people over time are voting more unvaryingly for one party or the other. What is the explanation? There are many possible. But the weakness of political science and psychology, both, is that they are predominantly descriptive; analysis and normative grounding are nearly absent. Thus the offered explanation for observed political behavior often is the simplest one at hand: a generalization about “people” that assumes a symmetry of right and left around a centrist ideal: Bland but profoundly destructive Both Siderism.

    Both parties serve the interests of concentrated wealth. The interests of the parties’ economic clientele don’t align with, and generally are opposed to, the general interest. But because we at least purport to operate as a democracy, each party needs to attract voters. The task of each party is to frame its platform, communications and political strategies to mediate the inherent conflict between its economic clientele and its potential voters.

    The Republican party has done this by appealing to those susceptible to the authoritarian impulse: describing an array of enemies who threaten, and promising to defend against them. In other words, the Republican party’s political strategy, at its core, is to reinforce the atavistic worldview of the clan vs. the other. Thus, it is hardly an insight to observe that those who identify with the Republican party display a high degree of “party loyalty.”

    For those who are not authoritarian followers, however, the core civic principle is the opposite: that over time the “us” needs to always expand into the formerly “them,” extending the bonds of mutual trust and consideration necessary for human society to develop and be sustainable. When those who are not authoritarian followers vote, it’s not about what favors my “clan” and makes others suffer, it’s about what will best advance the nation toward its goals of liberty and justice for all.

    The Democratic party has a harder time mediating the conflict between its economic clientele and the non-authoritarian voters to which it appeals, because those voters, to whatever degree, apply a critical lens to the distance between the Democratic party program and the goals of liberty and justice for which it claims to stand. The party’s approach has been to support moderate redistribution in the economic realm (without structural change), and emphasize in its platform cultural matters where its economic clientele don’t have a strong interest. This is imperfect, and therefore there is both more turmoil within the party between establishment and progressive forces, and more dissatisfaction among those who nevertheless vote Democratic.

    I’ve known a few Democratic “party animals” in my lifetime, but outside of those folks, I could count on one hand the number of folks who vote Democratic because they identify with the party. Among those with whom I’ve talked politics over a lifetime, those who vote Democratic, overwhelmingly, do so as the lesser of evils. In a democratic society, political programs are widely debatable, but the rule is that they must begin by accepting democratic goals and process. The Republican party is not a legitimate political formation in our society, because it rejects democratic values in favor of an authoritarianism that rests on the will to power, by any means necessary.

    Those who vote for the Democratic party without deviation do so simply because there is no other party for which to vote. When those deceived by the authoritarian appeal free themselves and join us, we will have a united society to work toward liberty and justice for all, and a thousand parties may bloom as a means to work thru the means to get there.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/15/2019 - 09:51 pm.

      Yeah, let’s not forget, we have an entrenched two party system that captures most of the votes regardless of strong affiliation. Even I vote for Democrats… Never seen a Social Anarchist on the ballot. Closest we ever got was Ken Pentel. And low turnout is a chronic problem.

    • Submitted by Dave Eischens on 09/16/2019 - 10:56 pm.

      CH provides an excellent analysis of where we are at. It appears that finally some D candidates are willing to break out of that by not accepting corporate/oligarch donations. Been a long time since humanitarian and progressive values have been championed but I’m hopeful we’ve had enough of BS trickle-down and silly RW advice to move to the center. Total bunk. That center doesn’t serve anyone but the entrenched power brokers, certainly not small family business, farms, and communities. Not us, not our neighbors, not real people, not the American dream.

      • Submitted by Geo. Greene on 09/17/2019 - 09:26 am.

        I know you know this Dave; “move to the right” is also a mantra on the Democratic side in red districts. We’ve kinda given that approach enough time to see that it has not worked. With Trump and Republicans in firm control (or being monkey wrenches when they are not) for decades now, maybe a more populist progressive message is just what the people need.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/17/2019 - 10:25 am.

      And of course the big complaint among “Democrats” and their leadership over the last decade or so has been the failing support among voters. They’re still whining about Ralph Nader. One of the reasons Clinton, Kerry, and Gore were all defeated was so many American’s who refused to vote “blue” no matter who. If anything Party declining loyalty is a crises for Democrats, not a symptom of polarization or dogmatic support for Party that violate liberal values.

  18. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/17/2019 - 09:27 am.

    I guess in some ways I see this article as a follow up to last week’s article referencing “chaos”. Last week some of us complained that poli-sci authors were pretending to be psychologists; this we week we have psychologists pretending to be political scientists- pitching more or less the same idea.

    To some extent this is an expression of an ongoing struggle to maintain the aura of “objectivity”, the illusion that observers stand outside that which they are observing. This is a journalistic style that Eric himself acknowledges as his own, or at least one that he’s reconsidering as of late. I fear it’s an intellectual style that Levine may embrace.

    The problem with this style of “objectivity” of course is that it’s not REALLY objective. The idea behind non-bias observations (remember, in science we don’t eliminate bias, we try to control for it) is that bias obscures what we try to observe, interfering with reliable observations. Unfortunately the pseudo-objective “style” practiced in journalism and some academic circles actually introduces a form of opacity that precludes reliable observations. This may be the origin of “democratic inversion” and “chaos” models.

    One characteristic of those who adopt the pseudo objective style is that they see themselves standing outside whatever it is they’re trying to observe, they see themselves as observers, not participants. The problem is this model of observation requires “equivalence”, and THAT equivalence obscures observations by tying them to the observers comfort level. Pseudo-objective observers don’t want to make judgements or draw conclusions… this defies the whole purpose of making observations.

    In this instance we have pseudo-objective observers constructing a complex explanation and substituting it for a simple parsimonious observation. Instead of simply observing the fact that racist, xenophobic, ignorant, anti-intellectual, anti-democratic, Nationalists, are attracted to a political Party that promotes their values… we manufacture an alternative scenario that assumes participants are abandoning their “real” values in order to support the Party.

    Why do pseudo objectivists obscure simple observations like this? There are two basic incentives driving this obscurantism. One is the facile notion that simply observing some fact and drawing obvious conclusions is the equivalent of making a value judgement. In this case, simply acknowledging the racist, xenophobic etc. etc. of Republican supporters looks like value judgement, if violates the illusion of standing outside the observation. The intellectual demand for reliable observations is cancelled by the practice of defining such observations as “value” judgments.

    Another incentive for obscuring basic observations is simply personal for those who practice pseudo-objectivity. The truth is the observations they would classify as value judgements make them uncomfortable. They avoid discomfort by obscuring the obvious and placing it outside the box of “acceptable” observations. The idea for instance that Trump is an anomaly rather than a trend that reflects an emerging threat of Fascism is far more comfortable. The “anomaly” perspective lets us pretend that Trump supporters aren’t THAT bad, they’re just confused about their values at the moment. We must simply hope that all of this will pass and we’ll return to “normal”.

    The psychological imperative is to preserve the illusion of normalcy. Who wants to admit that some of the politicians we “socialize” with and their supporters are Fascists who seek our destruction? Better to view this as an era of disruption of the “normal” political regime that can correct itself in the next election

    Of course this contribution to the discussion is far from “objective”. Such “observations” actually obscure reality rather than reveal it, and they tend to service the elite status quo by marginalizing reactions to extremism as being equally extreme. You can only claim that AOC or Sanders are the “Left’s” equivalents to Trump by denying the full extent of Trumps extremism. That’s essentially what “chaos” and “democratic inversion” do.

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