The of a dangerous world, highly self-righteous”[2], they also

The study of
authoritarianism—not dictators like el-Sisi but rather the psychological
make-up of individual supporters defined by a need for law and order and an
irrational fear of the foreign. “Wanna-be tyrants in a democracy are just
comical figures on soapboxes when they have no following. So the real…threat
lay coiled in parts of the population itself…ready someday to catapult the next
Hitler to power with their votes”1.

Psychologist Robert Altemeyer spent his career studying Authoritarian
personalities, ultimately releasing his book The Authoritarian Specter in 1996. Altemeyer predicted the Trump
presidency, or more accurately, he recognized in the American people the traits
that would elect him. He identifies a number of inclinations that drive
authoritarian personalities, among them being “dogmatic, fearful of a dangerous world, highly
self-righteous”2,
they also  “strongly believe in group
cohesiveness and “loyalty”, make many incorrect inferences from evidence,
hold contradictory ideas, uncritically trust people who tell them what they
want to hear, believe they have no personal failings” 3. All
of which perfectly encompasses Trump’s core supporters.

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One of
the fundamental deficiencies in the undercurrents of American politics is the
arbitrary polar grouping of personality types. The two-party system creates
polarization not just between the parties, but also between the constituents
within the parties who are scattered all throughout the political spectrum. In Authoritarianism and Polarization in
American Politics, Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler argue that in
recent history authoritarian personalities were about as likely to vote
Democratic as they were to vote Republican.4
That is until the George W. Bush administration when the dormant authoritarian
inclinations were awakened by the us versus them rhetoric he employed. After
the 9/11 attacks, Bush demanded startlingly broad presidential powers.

Essentially he claimed he could declare citizens and noncitizens alike as
adversaries, arrest them indeterminately, without judicial intervention or congressional
oversight on account of the War on Terror. Afterwards authoritarians flocked to
the GOP, where Bush exercised fear-mongering tactics to amass public support while
non-authoritarians with more moderate political leanings aligned themselves with
the Democrats. This polarization was only intensified by Barack Obama’s
presidency.

But
the moderate Republican voter is different from the right wing authoritarian.

The concern is that authoritarians have gained enough influence in the GOP to
make themselves heard. The growing number of authoritarians has progressively increased
the amount of intolerance and bolstered the immediate use of force to resolve
issues 5.

But what are the demographic lines of authoritarianism? The erroneous assumption
is that Trump’s core constituency is white, working class Americans because of
their limited education and scarce resources. And even though Hetherington and
Weiler’s data present a correlation it does not imply a direct demographic causation.

Yes, low incomes and low education level whites overwhelmingly support
Republicans but so do high incomes and high education level whites. The
association is independent of any demographic; it is due to authoritarian
personality inclinations. Which is why white people with low incomes, low
education level, and low authoritarian
inclinations are predominantly Democrats6.

What
motivates authoritarians is first and foremost an intense fear of the world and
a predisposition to distrust others; it could be interpreted as intolerance because
that limited exposure to different people leads to narrow-mindedness and the
erroneous sense of unanimity. Authoritarian minds fail to make logical
connections; they have highly compartmentalized thinking, which results in a
plethora of contradictory beliefs. After they have made up their minds, it is
nearly impossible to convince them otherwise. Especially if someone they deem
an authority figure has encouraged those beliefs. For example the fallacious
belief that Barack Obama is not a US citizen or that he is a Muslim is still
widely accepted among right wing Republicans. Even though there is concrete
evidence dispelling that belief. When confronted, they easily resort to
aggression but only with the approval of an authority figure. This facet is particularly
nefarious because authority figures are frequently spouting racially charged
dialogue, and freely tossing around the term them. Which many authoritarians take as all the authorization they
need.

Regardless
of their inclination, when people are directly asked about highly politicized
topics they aren’t likely to give an honest answer. Atlemeyer’s research
however consisted of question regarding social attitudes that were designed to
slightly irritate authoritarian personalities with their wording, thus
eliciting an honest response. He called it “the 1996 RWA Scale”7,
in which people would express in a degree of -4 to 4 how much they agreed with
a statement: -4 strong disagreement, -1 slight disagreement, 0 neutral, +1
Slight agreement, +4 strong agreement and so forth. The survey is made up of
four “table-setters” to familiarize survey takers with the format (not scored
of course), fifteen ‘pro-trait’ items, such as “obedience and respect for
authority are the most important virtues children should learn” and fifteen
‘con-trait’ items such as “Homosexuals and feminists should be praised for
being brave enough to defy traditional family values” which seems deliberately
inflammatory, but in practice actually aggravates Right Wing authoritarians
enough that it provokes a truthful answer. 
All items are intended to measure the degree to which someone
subconsciously believes in authoritarian submission, aggression and
conventionalism 8.

Altemeyer’s test proved the existence of the authoritarian personality trait.

Other
simplistic models have emerged to test this trait; Stanley Feldman for example developed a test to identify
authoritarian markers without the highly politicized issues. Four simple
questions, which do you think is more important for a child to have?
Independence or respect for elders, obedience or self-reliance, to be
considerate or to be well behaved, curiosity or good manners9.

But the commonality of these tests is that those who prioritize order and
conformity fit the profile.

In
closing, American history has seen upward trends of authoritarianism but
nothing as blatant and incendiary as the Donald Trump presidency. The influence
of the authoritarian constituency was powerful enough to elect a racist,
sexist, bigot who had neither political experience nor adequate command of the
English language. They form a real constituency independently of Donald Trump,
and it bids the question if this could be the beginning of an inclination in
American Politics. The Trump presidency was unforeseen by many psychologist and
political scientist alike, but for Altemeyer, Hetherington, Weiler and Feldman,
it was about time. They warned politicians about the consequences of their
divisive rhetoric but they did not listen. Now understanding what motivates his
core constituency, and the recognition that it was not Trump himself but rather
his black and white rhetoric that set him apart, future politicians can be
better equipped in dealing with this electoral group. Not referring to them as
deplorable would be a promising start.