The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The Rise of the Strongman

Who does this describe?

…authoritarian leaders around the world have refined a playbook for acquiring and consolidating power. The strategy goes something like this: appeal to nationalism, stoke fear and divide people into an “us” and a “them,” use that polarization to win an election (even if it’s just an internal party vote, as in China), and systematically undermine democratic rules and other procedural safeguards.

According to Foreign Policy’s “Top 100  Global Thinkers” piece, it describes the strongman — its most influential thinker.

FP lists:

Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Rodrigo Duterte’s Philippines, Xi Jinping’s China, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, Viktor Orban’s Hungary, and even Donald Trump’s America”…

And that’s fine as far as it goes.

But who is dividing America, say, into “us and them?”

Is it just Trump. Or is it a Democratic leader calling a huge chunk of the population “the deplorables?” Whether you agreed or disagreed with Clinton, is this not an internal enemy?

What about the Democratic and “Resistance” strategy of demonizing Russia and Putin? Is this different in kind from China demonizing Japan and the West? (Perhaps it is, in that those countries really did despoil China, while Russia has never despoiled America.)

Is it so different from what is happening in Britain, with Brexit, or in much of Europe, especially Eastern Europe with regard to refugees?

I think Foreign Policy magazine is correct, understand. I just think that being members of America’s elite, they have trouble seeing and naming this tendency when it is being done by leaders or movements they identify with. Trump is outside the foreign policy establishment (he actually talks about withdrawing troops from Syria and Afghanistan!) He is easy to criticize. But Trump has not been tangoing in the US alone and US politicians have a long history of using internal and external enemies, just like strongmen, to win internal elections.

Likewise, that US democratic elections have been systematically undermined (thru gerrymandering, voter suppression and vast lakes of money) is undeniable, as is the fact that the rule of law means little in the United States after Obama’s Department of Justice immunized virtually every senior financial executive in the country.

There is a general global trend to authoritarianism. In the US it did not start with Trump, and it is already in the acute stage. It entered the acute stage not in 2016, but on September 14th 2001, with the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF), when the US Senate decided to give away its war-making authority to the Presidency. (And with the Patriot Act, when the US decided to formally become a soft police state.)

It is seen in austerity, where government functions have been systematically weakened so that tax cuts and privatization can be given to the rich.

It is abetted by the destruction and hobbling of the media. It is true that Turkey’s Erdogan is terrible when it comes to jailing the media; that China’s media is censored, and so on.

But the US media is being eviscerated by market forces. Journalists are laid off in waves. What oversight they offered (generally pitiful, as the run up to the Iraq war showed, with virtually all media onside and critics deliberately silenced, fired and demoted) is withering on the vine.

The trend away from meaningful democracy, whatever forms are maintained, is not limited to a few bad apples and one rogue President, Trump. It is, instead, something with deep roots in the hegemonic power of the age, America.

It will continue so long as the general population are considered sheep. As long as the needs of the many are subordinate to the needs of the few, and as long as large groups of the many are impoverished, they will remain demagogue bait and willing to support authoritarians.

Fear, as FDR understood, is at the heart of all authoritarianism.

People are scared. They have good reason to be scared, because their leaders despise them and want to hurt them. And whenever they find someone they think is strong and on their side, they will flock to that person. They will usually be wrong to do so, but abused people usually make bad decisions.

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  1. Chiron

    “Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Rodrigo Duterte’s Philippines, Xi Jinping’s China, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, Viktor Orban’s Hungary, and even Donald Trump’s America”…

    Where is Nuttyahoo? He is the model where all are based.

  2. NR

    Gerrymandering, not jerrymandering. Good post though. Authoritarianism in the US isn’t a new thing.

  3. Vsy

    It is abetted by the destruction and hobbling of the media. It is true that Turkey’s Erdogan is terrible when it comes to jailing the media; that China’s media is censored, and so on.

    There\’s actually a fair amount of \”hard\” censorship in the U.S. as well, it\’s just that when it does happen (eg. Wikileaks) it wasn\’t really censorship, because it\’s axiomatic that the U.S. doesn\’t censor the media, ergo if the U.S. censors you, you clearly were never \”really\” part of the media.

    It\’s particularly glaring in Wikileaks\’ case, as they were the darlings of the MSM until they started publishing embarrassing stuff about the U.S. occupation of Iraq, upon which they were retrospectively cast out of the fold. There were a plethora of disingenuous comments along the lines of \”If only Manning had leaked to a reputable outlet instead of Wikileaks!\” when it was the act of publishing Manning\’s leak that made them \”disreputable\” in the first place, and any other outlet that had had the temerity to do so would have found itself in the same boat.

    Indeed, Wikileaks itself anticipated this tack and so deliberately partnered with numerous \”old media\” outlets when releasing the material. And when the \”criminally indiscriminate\” release of all the unredacted cables that Wikileaks critics had been denouncing in long in advance failed to happen, its \”partners\” at The Guardian simply \”accidentally\”* leaked the encryption key to the entire cablegate archive themselves, and The Guardian then proceeded to denounce Wikileaks as negligent–and by extension illegitimate–for having released the unredacted archive. What can one possibly say in the face of such gall?

    * (They claimed that they thought the archive key had somehow \”expired\” even though the archive was a static, unchanging file mirrored thousands (millions?) of times by an impromptu online army of volunteers, making it impossible on its face for the file\’s encryption key to ever \”expire\”. And even if The Guardian\’s staff were so absurdly ignorant as to believe such a thing could actually happen–if the stakes were as high as they claimed to believe, both before and after they published the key, why didn\’t they check with Wikileaks to make sure the key was safe to divulge before publishing it? It doesn\’t even pass the laugh test.)

  4. Willy

    Since there’s often some form of puppetmaster behind “us and them”, pulling strings for their own amusement/political gain/diversion from real intentions, the antidote seems to be to reveal the puppetmaster. Especially the strings. As a kid, whenever I saw those strings holding up the fighting puppets I knew who was really causing the fight.

    But apparently for some it gets harder when the puppetmaster is on your side, and really hard when he claims to be on a mission from God. As a kid I could never have imagined that I’d be saying that as an adult.

  5. marku52

    How come Russia has “oligarchs” but we don’t? What the hell are Bezos, Dimon, Rubin, Zuckerberg et al if not oligarchs?

    On the positive side, I see actual articles in the MSM about “hatred of billionaires” and even an article in Business Insider that says that they take out more than they contribute.

    And AOC’s so far brilliant trolling of the inside-baseball wings of both parties.

    And Kamala Harris’ comment that we should do away with private insurance. (of course she walked it right back, and Pelosi is cuttings deals with incos to strangle M4A in its cradle–Its what Democrats do, as it seems.)

    Still I’m hearing stuff that was inconceivable even 2 years ago.

  6. ponderer

    I mostly agree, but disagree on some key aspects. Authoritarian is a label typically applied by one faction of the oligarchy to another as a kind of “shaming” and virtue signaling. Past the lies and self delusion most of them, maybe 70% or more, are authoritarians. Rigging primary votes, crushing protests, whether its Trump bashing SJWs cheering for antifa or Nazis sympathizing right-wing “freedom” groups they are all different sides of the same coin. That applies to the general public, in D.C. I would be surprised if 1% would oppose authoritarianism. It has no meaning in regards to politics world wide or locally as everyone wants some form of it or another.

    Capitalism is the Authoritarians older brother, but so is Communism. Anything outside of a small tribe develops a hierarchy. Democracies are authoritarian when enough of the citizens chose so (such as the senate body giving power to the executive singular president). The Constitution or magna carta or what have you are about the only things in our society that are anti authoritarian. In theory they limit the powers that can be imposed on the citizenry. Our institutions and other social constructs largely encourage it (because of the hierarchy, -fiefdoms- imposed). While Ian is right in most part, the measure of authoritarianism is not the size of the group that controls things. Rather its in our ability to tolerate differences, and share the yoke of power fairly. When our country was populated by “gentlemen farmers” who were largely in charge of their own lives, or in small populations that depended on each other, it was easy to recognize and condemn authoritarian tendencies. That’s an impossible life now. How many can be their own boss, mush less afford to not have work for more than a couple of weeks?

  7. Herman

    The rise of strongmen is mostly the product of atomization and the decay of institutions that used to make democracy work reasonably well. Michael Lind calls the current battle between populists and establishment technocrats “Insider Nation v. Outsider Nation” and argues that it is similar to banana republicanism of the type often seen in Latin America.

  8. Hugh

    I think it is about kleptocracy, class war, and wealth inequality. Kleptocracy is how the rich and elites run their looting operation. Class war, setting the many–us–against against each other, instead of against them–the few–is how they defend and maintain the wealth they loot. And massive wealth inequality is the result. This system is unsustainable. Kleptocracy is not a parasite which bleeds its host. It is a disease which kills it. It has no brake or off-switch. It is relentless. It loots to a crash, loots the crash, and then loots the response to the crash. Rinse and repeat until the system implodes or explodes. Global climate change and overpopulation simply increase the disintegrative forces exponentially.

    Authoritarianism is just one of the tools in the toolbox of class war, a way to suppress and/or redirect popular rage. But authoritarianism too becomes increasingly unstable. The classic case is Putin. Russia currently is a one-man show, and the question we should be considering is what happens to Russia when Putin’s gone as in dead. An inherent flaw in authoritarianism, one man rule, is that there is no line of succession. Any possible heir is or will become a rival and must and will be eliminated. The longer one-man rule persists the worse the problem gets. The likelihood is chaos as oligarchs, the intelligence agencies, and the military vie for power. In Erdogan’s Turkey, I expect the replacement contenders would be someone in family. The problem is that the knack for dictatorship is not always genetically transmissible, the Assads in Syria versus the Kims in North Korea, for example. China’s Xi-di is the newest member of the club. If he falls down a flight of stairs in the next 5 years, the damage of his one-man rule will be limited to the political system, but still large in terms of the time wasted not addressing climate change and overpopulation.

  9. bruce wilder

    To define authoritarianism, it seems necessary to define some conceptual alternative or antithesis. What is it? What is it not?

    Is authoritarianism the same as plutocracy? Or, a means, either of implementing plutocracy or protesting against plutocracy?

    There is some implication that authoritarianism entails popular stupidity of some sort.

    Ian makes the point that the strongman represents a political solution, or at least a gambit toward a solution to a political problem at least to the strongman’s popular supporters.

    The original authoritarian leader, the heroic man on horseback ushering in a new era, was Napoleon Bonaparte, a military as well as political genius who made himself the master of the French Revolution. He did so by taking advantage of the dithering of corrupt and inept government. The liberal republicans that championed the overthrow of the failed state of the ancient regime could not make deliberative, rationalized government work. Ten years on, they were not settling the fundamental issues that had caused the failure of the state, even where the outline of a workable settlement was obvious. Napoleon consolidated his hold on power by making those “obvious” settlements, to the great relief of many sectors of French society. He made a concordat with the Church, he created a Bank of France, he made the highly rationalized law code that bears his name, and so on.

    By Napoleon’s high standard, Trump is not much of a strongman. By that I mean, he is not all that effective at identifying long-standing problems and enforcing a well-designed settlement. Infrastructure investment has gone nowhere, “the wall” has been reduced to a point of ridicule, he has not overthrown the liberal consensus on “free trade”, and the most effective things he has done in the direction of prying the U.S. out of the Middle East have been faux pas, moments of honesty from a dishonest man that have embarrassed some critical cooperators.

    Most of the OP, as well as some comments, confuse authoritarian with demagogue, which is analytically unfortunate. Demagoguery is about how mass support is mobilized.

    Authoritarianism covers a broader spectrum of politics that extends to how states govern, and how elites dominate the governed.

    Trump is an authoritarian demagogue, of a sort that appeals to the politically ignorant and naive, especially when the politically ignorant find themselves intensely dissatisfied and untrusting of the elite leadership on offer from factions of said elites. The current failure of centrist liberalism with its technocratic pretensions has plenty of precedent in the 250-odd year history of modern politics. It is not as if it has not happened before. And, always with the same smug self-righteous self-assurance, oblivious to their own complicity and negligence. Obama’s granting of immunity to banksters is of a piece with what I observe to be a frequent forgetting among liberals that he did so, or that his policy choice had consequences. Atrios the other day offered the observation that Obamacare was a colossal policy and political failure. Many of my friends would rather speculate on the impact of Muellar’s investigation that take in the implications of liberal policy and political failure.

    Authoritarianism is a response to a failure of small-r republican government to govern effectively in the interest of the many. Putin is a response to the abject failure of Yeltsin. (And, overall, Putin seems pretty effective — dismissing Putin as a one-man show is a serious misreading of Russian politics, though I agree Putin’s departure circa 2024 is likely to occasion a major crisis.)

    In a very different dynamic, Erdogan was a response to the final waning of the secular modernizing spirit of Ataturk far short of developing the whole country. A class created by Ataturk’s program settle into conserving their own privilege and self-regard.

    In the U.S., the decline of social association across society has undermined the ability of political society to respond intelligently to the emergence of kleptocracy. The U.S. probably cannot get enough people off their phones long enough to generate an opposition to the plutocracy — we can barely manage the socialism of one woman tweeting.

  10. Tom

    Ian, how many times does it need to be pointed out that Erdogan is not jailing Journalists solely for journalism, but because they committed an actual crime of aiding and abetting terrorists who were killing Turkish Citizens. Also I should point out that HDP has not been outlawed, with Erdogan only arresting those members who were caught on camera assisting the PKK to kill Turkish Civilians. Even you have to admit those are legitimate reasons to toss someone in jail pending trial.

    Thousands of Turkish Journalists in Turkey are critical of Erdogan on a daily basis, especially for overturning cultural restrictions on Kurds and returning Armenian Property back to Armenians, and are not in prison. Nor is Erdogan an authoritarian by any stretch as he runs a coalition government and uses referendums to make major changes.

    By all respects, Turkey is the only functioning modern democracy with near 90% turnout on elections and referendums with all major parties banding together when Turkish Interests are threatened.

    The US can’t even be said to be a democracy at all and is rapidly turning into a failed police state.

  11. Hugh

    Off off topic, I find the attempt by David Pecker and AMI/National Enquirer to extort Jeff Bezos fascinating. It is a case of all black hats, but oddly entertaining. As part of their immunity grant from the prosecutors at SDNY, Pecker and AMI pledged to commit no crimes for a period of 3 years. But as we see everyday, crooks will be crooks. They can’t help themselves. It’s what they do. It’s who they are. For those who are interested, this looks to me like the pertinent part of the US Code: 18 U.S.C. §875 (d).

    “Whoever, with intent to extort from any person, firm, association, or corporation, any money or other thing of value, transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to injure the property or reputation of the addressee or of another or the reputation of a deceased person or any threat to accuse the addressee or any other person of a crime, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.”

    I always thought that Pecker/AMI got a sweetheart deal from SDNY in their immunity grant, but they still managed to fuck it up, and I cheerfully hope they get nailed to the wall for it. Pass the chips and beer.

  12. Billikin

    “Fear, as FDR understood, is at the heart of all authoritarianism.”

    A very important point. As one of the “isms” authoritarianism has no single definition. Its usage in political science and in psychology are related, but not exactly the same. The authoritarian followers of a strongman (who might be a woman) are generally conformists with an Us vs. Them, ethnocentric/racist mentality who tend to place those in authority above the law who believe that force is justified against the Others. All of these traits may be viewed as fear reactions to perceived threats. Even people who are not authoritarian may exhibit authoritarian reactions in the face of fear.

    Fear mongering is a tactic of authoritarian leaders and enablers. Trump, along with his enablers has consistently used it by constructing a myth of an invasion from Mexico by violent criminals and rapists. He portrays his political opponents as threats to the nation. Even the chaos and turmoil into which he has plunged the White House and the executive branch serves to induce fear, even among those closest to him (family aside, perhaps). Their only hope lies in unquestioning loyalty to him. The press also gets caught up in the chaos, broadcasting a message of fear to the populace. The media are also wedded to an Us vs. Them message, because conflict sells.

  13. Keith in Modesto

    I don’t have time now to read through all the comments, so sorry if someone has said this already, but I think the last paragraph of this post is the most important and nails the underlying dynamic of what’s going on. This could be developed into a much longer essay, and I hope you do, Ian.

    “People are scared. They have good reason to be scared, because their leaders despise them and want to hurt them. And whenever they find someone they think is strong and on their side, they will flock to that person. They will usually be wrong to do so, but abused people usually make bad decisions.”

    The most important bits:
    1. Our leaders despise us and want to hurt us, and many know it (or suspect).
    2. Abused (scared) people make bad decisions.

    This also points to strategies to overcome this authoritarian trend:
    1. Find and advance leaders from among us who are have our best interests at heart (would help if we were actively citizens and not just mostly consumers).
    2. Meet people’s real material needs, so they have less reason to be scared and are able to make better decisions.

  14. Ché Pasa

    The US has always had a baked in authoritarian government tendency. Nasty as the Trump version is, there have been worse periods of authoritarianism and demagoguery in our history, worse eras of fearmongering, and far worse consequences for designated Others. Chattel slavery, lynching, and genocide are among those consequences.

    Trump gets the lion’s share of opprobrium because he’s in office now. It’s true that his predecessors were not saints themselves, but I would argue that they were criticized rightly and righteously when they were in office. Their failings will continue to be fodder for scholarly and occasionally political criticism far into the future. Much as we might desire a great man (or woman) to ride in on a white horse to correct all the errors of the past and present, it’s not going to happen. Even Napoleon, brilliant as he was, was deeply flawed and ultimately defeated. A case can be made that France and Europe has never fully recovered.

    The consequences for the Little People are always horrible when the crisis reaches the point of structural collapse. To see so many eagerly calling for –and some working for — the collapse of US hegemony/empire without consideration of the consequences to the masses is deeply troubling to me.

    These sorts of things can be engineered through populist “uprisings” (as we saw with the engineered “color revolutions” in Eastern Europe and we’re now watching unfold in Venezuela) but almost always it’s not a movement from below. It’s the product of an elite faction using the discontent of the masses for their own benefit. Tant pis for everyone else.

    I suspect the US will become more authoritarian, not less, post-Trump, and its imperial sway over its dominions and colonies will be further tightened and consolidated. There may be fewer wars of choice in the future, but that won’t necessarily mean less fearmongering, scapegoating, and divisive politics at home. It’s how our elites maintain their power and authority.

    And I suspect the yearned for collapse is still quite a ways off. When it comes, though, it won’t be pretty.

  15. ponderer

    I propose a challenge to any commenters, who see Trump as a strongman. Tell us a government official you would replace him with and then why they would be less authoritarian. Would Hillary foot the bill? Oh no, it must be Bernie Sanders, who stood by while democracy in his own party was subverted and then campaigned for Hillary of all people. Ron Paul, the libertarian? Maybe OC? Even the best of them are hardly Authoritarian-lite. Most, (like OC?) just want to stick it to some other tribal group.

    I don’t think there are any people complaining about Authoritarians. They complain because its some other teams strongmen, not because they are against strongmen in general. The only way Trump could be more authoritarian than the rest of our government is if he dispatched another branch of Government altogether. It’s like complaining that water is wet. It’s baked into the system. Nearly every facet of our society is built to generate and encourage strongmen.

    Look at the statements from Ian about what it would take to have a successful left wing government. Is that not an advertisement for a socialist strongman?

  16. nihil obstet

    I strongly recommend Bob Altemeyer’s book, The Authoritarians, laying out his research on authoritarian personalities. The website has an interesting take on Donald Trump’s followers.

  17. Willy

    A strongman would rather kill his opposition than consider stepping down. Trump is still a ways from being able to do that. Even Kim Il-Sung didn’t do (much) killing, at least until he’d consolidated power.

    In the EIU Democracy Index, the USA is rated a “flawed democracy”, thanks to our level of plutocracic corruption I’d think. And Trump hasn’t helped.

  18. ponderer

    @nihil obstet
    I can’t speak for the book but the article on the website was rubbish. Intellectually lazy and without the slightest bit of irony. The author states “The very sizeable number of authoritarian followers in the United States have, in my view, joined together three times in recent history to endanger our democracy. They supported the war in Vietnam as it tore the country apart long after it was clearly lost. They supported Richard Nixon to the very end of Watergate and beyond. They will support Donald Trump long after it becomes indisputable that he is a felon and should be removed from office.”
    See any patterns there? What about all the acts pointed out by Ian and previous commenters: What about the violent quelling of Occupy? What about the AUMF, the Patriot Act, the collusion in the Democratic primary in 2016, the bailing out of the criminal banksters, the lack of Accountability for Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and so many others?

    A broken clock is right twice a day, but that’s not it’s distinguishing characteristic. It always thinks it has the right time, and smugly notes all the other clocks are wrong 99% of the time.

  19. nihil obstet

    I guess one always assumes a context. In the three instances he cites, there is a majority of people, a concurrence of mainstream news sources, and a clear strength of fact on one side, and the authoritarian followers supporting the government on the other. I don’t see that majority of people and concurrence of news sources in the issues you raise, although I think we’re all agreed that in each case the facts are strong. Altemayer’s issue isn’t whether the government is acting in an authoritarian manner but why authoritarian followers will continue to support their chosen leader. To me, it explains certain things in the politics.

  20. Willy

    Ponderer appears to have no experience or wisdom when it comes to the social dynamics behind “strongman”. I don’t think this should be rocket science. I’ll try a simple, currently relevant example:

    Elizabeth Warren is getting hammered by fans of “Team R” for having lied about being a native American sometime in the 1980’s. Yet, Trump is given a pass for his well-proven, well-known lifetime habit of chronic lying.

    That tiny paragraph alone should be more than enough to describe the dynamics of strongman politics.

  21. bruce wilder

    @ nihil obstet

    Altemeyer (whose book I have read) also writes in the “rubbish” essay:

    . . . when (to cite recent examples) Trump began the trade wars with friend and foe alike, or absolved Putin in Helsinki of interfering in the 2016 election, or separated children from their parents at the Mexican border, you won’t find any! His base has been very loyal.

    Those examples sound pretty off-key to me and make me think Altemeyer is speaking from a tribalist point-of-view.

    I think Trump campaigns as a demagogue and exhibits hypomania and what Altemeyer labels in his book as “social dominance orientation”. If Altemeyer had used his expertise to make a better case for the increasing authoritarianism of American politics, I do not think he would have written that essay. I think he would have been far more sympathetic to the “authoritarian followers”. Pathologizing the political psychology of “authoritarian followers” is a hazard to be avoided. Adorno et alia tried to make the authoritarian personality an individual psychopathology and, though understandable given events, that analysis fails, morally as well as factually. Altemeyer’s book did much better, making authoritarian attitudes clusters in the “normal” range of human ambivalence, and he tries to do that a bit in the essay, making important qualifications, but also cannot refrain from labeling “authoritarian followers” a “cancer upon the nation”. That kind of rhetoric makes it sound like authoritarian followers are unredeemable and ought to be isolated by the right-thinking. (Hillary Clinton supporters were “right-thinking”? Really? Many of them were just as eager to dismiss the speeches to Goldman Sachs, “super predators”, “deplorables”, Libya, the Clinton Foundation corruption, and on and on as anyone was to dismiss Trump’s dalliance with a famous prostitute — the latter a truly irrelevant matter politically)

    The analysis in Altemeyer’s book suggests something his essay did not: which is that the danger from authoritarian followers to democratic/republican politics arises from isolating them in one political faction or party or movement. When you put them all together in one room so to speak, without much of anyone present who is not an authoritarian follower in their political attitudes and outlook, that is when the explosive political chemistry starts. It is the party purely of authoritarian followers that is the danger.

    It follows, it seems to me, that the danger is precisely from righteously trying to isolate them and out-vote them as if they are the other. The political danger arises from making people fearful and politically impotent, denying them effective political leadership from people who actually care.

    Both the Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. deny ordinary people representation of their interests. The Democratic establishment serves one kleptocratic donor class and the Republicans another, but both parties ordinarily furnish no one aligned with anything that could be construed as the general welfare or the public interest. Trump crashed that system, and Sanders tried to do much the same.

    I do not think Trump is trustworthy. I think if you read interviews with Trump supporters carefully, you will realize that many Trump supporters are not so much fans of Trump per se, as simply wanting to trash a broken system in a long-shot gamble of getting something better. So, not “a cancer”. It is truly unfortunate that Altemeyer could not use his expertise to write a more original and insightful essay.

  22. Billikin

    Bruce Wilder: “The analysis in Altemeyer’s book suggests something his essay did not: which is that the danger from authoritarian followers to democratic/republican politics arises from isolating them in one political faction or party or movement. When you put them all together in one room so to speak, without much of anyone present who is not an authoritarian follower in their political attitudes and outlook, that is when the explosive political chemistry starts. It is the party purely of authoritarian followers that is the danger.”

    I have not read his essay, I did read the book some time ago. I don’t think that things are quite so bad when authoritarians get together. I grew up in the deep South, surrounded by a sea of authoritarians, so I have a lot of experience in authoritarian groups. As I recall, the research indicates that for a gathering of authoritarians to become dangerous, you also have to have one or more instigators. A few bullies will do. In my experience, a leader can counteract the bullies, even if the leader has an authoritarian personality. Such a leader can do that if the bullies flout convention. (Authoritarians are conventional and conformist.) Authoritarians in the Republican Party have broken with Trump, or not gone along with him, because Trump has no regard for convention. He breaks norms right and left.

    Pathologizing authoritarians goes back to the Nazis. (As far as I know.) Anti-Semitism was nothing new to Europe, but the fever pitch it reached in Nazi Germany, the widespread violence, and the enthusiasm on parade in the Nuremberg rallies, convinced a lot of people, during and after the fact, that a kind of psychological plague had swept Europe, leading to totalitarianism under both Fascism and Communism. One antecedent of Altemeyer’s research was an personality test called the F test (not to be confused with a similarly named statistical test). The F stood for Fascist.

    Moi, I never bought the idea of a Fascist personality and never heard about it after the 1960s. But I have witnessed the dangers of authoritarians in groups. I was therefore surprised by how quickly most Whites in the deep South adjusted to desegregation. The reason, I came to believe, was their conformity. Desegregation had become the norm, so they went along and even supported it.

    Bruce Wilder: “It follows, it seems to me, that the danger is precisely from righteously trying to isolate them and out-vote them as if they are the other. The political danger arises from making people fearful and politically impotent, denying them effective political leadership from people who actually care.”

    I agree that demonizing Trumpists is counterproductive. To hear Hillary Clinton calling such people deplorables was a shock to me. I know she lived for some time in Arkansas, but Jesus! Many in the left seem to be self righteous, a different pathology. But putting your political opponents down does make them fear your political victory. Especially if they accept the idea of politically motivated violence. Your win could put them in danger.

    However, they are already fairly isolated geographically. And they already identify as the Other. Us vs. Them mentality is part of their makeup. IMO, the best thing to do is to do what happened with the Civil Rights movement, beat them politically. They respect authority, remember? And then treat them right. Then their fears will abate. As happened with desegregation.

  23. nihil obstet

    Yeah, reading the essay I was thinking as much of the corporate Dems, the so-called “Resistance”, who search for the perfect candidate to maintain the status quo, as of Trump. Their lodestar is “he’s evil” much more than “she’s good”. I wonder how they would have reacted if Obama had been more explicit about what he was doing (although how you get more explicit than describing the bank CEOs who would have been bankrupt without huge corporate welfare as “savvy businessmen” I don’t know).

    I think Altemeyer is very limited here: The good news is the Republic has survived the past crises, thanks largely to the honest reporting of the press that would not be intimidated, the division of powers enshrined in the Constitution, especially the independence of the judiciary, and the good judgment of most of the American people. The mainstays of honest reporting were pretty much driven into alternative media at the beginning of the Iraq war. Reporting now appears to consist of government press releases with a quotation or two from highly placed unnamed sources reciting the corporate position. The success of Bush and Trump at getting Federalist Society judges ensconced in the federal judiciary pretty much knocks out any hopes reform there (Obama’s judicial picks were generally Federalist Society light, and even they couldn’t get confirmed very often).

    On the point that Ian made of the trend away from meaningful democracy in the U.S., I don’t know what to do about it. I lived and fought through the reduction of the local Democratic Party from a political organization to a mailing list with once a year meetings. It started back in the early 90’s. The state headquarters started scheduling enough business at meetings to curtail policy discussions, resolutions, and petitions for the platform. We had extra meetings to address the issues, but headquarters announced that discussions were divisive — the way to get good policy was to nominate good people and get them elected. I won’t go through the various battles and the way every effort to keep the party focused on what its members wanted (like in a democracy, you know?) was stifled. In the end, they had their way. Members are to clap for party nominees and give money. It’s all about the person running.

    The politics of personality, the elections as celebrity contests, play into the strongman scenario, and right now I can’t see a way out of it.

  24. bruce wilder


    maybe what follows is based on quibbles and maybe these are useful analytic distinctions.

    first and foremost, “authoritarian followers” are followers. it is right there in the term Altemeyer used for his book, in everything except the book’s title.

    I suppose we can imagine that authoritarians, possessed of the dread authoritarian personality, can be either leaders or followers, but authoritarian followers are followers — not leaders — by definition. Being a leader or becoming a leader, seeking power in a leadership role marks an individual’s political psychology in ways that take the individual out of the category of “authoritarian follower”.

    Altemeyer, in his book, made the point that groups of authoritarian followers are particularly prone to follow and believe in certain styles of demagogic or populist appeal. The people who make such appeals are not followers and may not share much of the authoritarian’s outlook or attitudes, except on key points of expressiveness. Among those most willing to make those kinds of effective appeals are some people whose political psychology Altemeyer typed as Social Dominance Orientation (SDO). (There’s a bit of inside baseball involved in this stilted way of talking, since Right-wing Authoritarian Follower can be operationalized with one survey instrument and Social Dominance Orientation operationalized with a different but similar instrument and scale.) People with an orientation toward seeking social dominance do not share the political attitudes of authoritarian followers but are well-equipped to make the kind of demagogic appeals that seem to work remarkably well with groups of authoritarian followers. There is a resonance between the attitudes of the SDO and the authoritarian followers. Both, as Altemeyer observed, are likely to be highly prejudiced regarding race, ethnicity and religion and full of resentments that may call out markers of race, ethnicity and so on. The follower, Altemeyer asserts, is likely to read the dominator’s hatreds as of a piece with the follower’s fearful prejudice and bigotry and see the dominator as “like” himself.

    But, the differences are also telling and important.

    High scorers [on SDO] are inclined to be intimidating, ruthless, and vengeful
    They scorn such noble acts as helping others, and being kind, charitable, and
    forgiving. Instead they would rather be feared than loved, and be viewed as mean,
    pitiless, and vengeful. They love power, including the power to hurt in their drive to
    the top. Authoritarian followers do not feel this way because they seldom have such
    a drive to start with.

    Authoritarian followers place a high value on loyalty to the group; social dominators tend to place a high value on the loyalty of the group to themselves, but do not return the favor. Followers tend to be religious, in a non-hypocritical way. Dominators do not tend to be religious at all, and when they are religious, their religion is highly cynical and hypocritical, intended for a manipulative show.

    Social dominators . . . admit, anonymously, to striving to manipulate others, and to being dishonest, two-faced, treacherous, and amoral. . . . Furthermore, while the followers may feel admiration bordering on adoration of their leaders, we should not be surprised if the leaders feel a certain contempt for their followers. They are the suckers, the “marks,” the fools social dominators find so easy to manipulate.

    It is interesting that you should cite Martin Luther King’s strategy of civil disobedience. The spectacle of manifestly unfair violence is one thing that will reliably separate the authoritarian follower from the malevolent social dominator. The follower is capable of empathy and can be profoundly affected seeing unrequited violence from authority figures.

    And, the long-followed strategy of making “rights” and high liberal “principles” conventional standards of morality, backed by ritual honoring of the Bill of Rights and so on, is clearly a way of co-opting the follower’s conventional morality in favor of more idealistic and democratic government.

    @ nihil obstet

    You make an excellent point about the decline of membership organizations into mailing lists. Outstanding observation.

  25. scruff

    I think if you read interviews with Trump supporters carefully, you will realize that many Trump supporters are not so much fans of Trump per se, as simply wanting to trash a broken system in a long-shot gamble of getting something better.

    I’ve read and listened to quite a few of those, and the motives you’re talking about seem to me to be very much in the minority. The overwhelming number of supporters I see in the media and online seem to me to be people who operate on poor information and ideological reasoning pathways.

  26. bruce wilder

    . . . people who operate on poor information and ideological reasoning pathways

    Wouldn’t that be pretty much everyone?

    Honestly, I think the vast majority of people in the U.S. vote and opine at random.

    To do something else requires a great deal of organization from the bottom-up that simply does not exist in 21st century America.

  27. Billikin

    @ Bruce Wilder

    I based my note and my opinions generally on my own experience as well as the research. When a whole culture is largely authoritarian, people with authoritarian personalities will often become leaders, for one reason or another. They do not have to be cynical or rabble rousers. And if not, they do not stir up trouble, as a rule, although they may tolerate it. Their behavior can change, however, in the face of a perceived threat. You may also have fanatics who lack leadership qualities but who become leaders because of the appeal of their fanaticism. It is also the case that playground bullies are often admired. Not as much as others, who become school leaders, but still admired. As adults, a surprising number of bullies become leaders, but they still tend to score high on authoritarianism. There is also the phenomenon of role flexibility, where a person who has played one role in a group can play another, depending upon circumstances. They may not perform the other role well, but they can do it. In Altemeyer’s authoritarian groups, some people who otherwise might have been followers took on the role of leaders. You apparently saw something similar in the Stanford prison experiment. Years later the BBC interviewed some of the students who took part, and one man they interviewed who had played a guard said that he encouraged the other guards to mistreat the students who played prisoners. He was still unrepentant. A group of authoritarian “followers” can become a threat in an instant.

  28. Billikin

    Bruce Wilder: “The spectacle of manifestly unfair violence is one thing that will reliably separate the authoritarian follower from the malevolent social dominator.”

    As a rule, perhaps so. That certainly seemed to be the case for the British with regard to India, the French with regard to Algeria, and most of the US with regard to African Americans in the South. That has not been the case with the US public with regard to Muslim refugees or US right wing authoritarians with regard to detainees at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo who have been tortured or with regard to African Americans who have been mistreated, tortured, or killed by police. Even the American Psychological Association, hardly a hotbed of reactionaries, failed to condemn the assistance of their members in torture. (They may have changed their policy by now, I don’t know.) In debates for the nomination of the Republican Party for President, candidates to a man and woman refused to condemn torture. It is as though we had been sent back in time to Elizabethan England!

  29. Billikin

    My apologies to John McCain, who definitely opposed torture. Is that one reason that Trump got by with insulting McCain and his memory?

  30. Willy

    My nephews wedding reception had many guests from a wide variety of backgrounds and beliefs. In groups, family would catch up with family, teens with teens, musicians with musicians, etc. From the conservative evangelical clique the name “Trump” could be heard (it hadn’t been an unusual Trump news week). It sure seemed like tribal virtue signaling to me. Members continuously reassure other tribal members that they’re still one of them, with the unconscious motive of wanting to be entrusted with more power and influence by the clan.

    I’ve personally witnessed that corporate SDO authoritarians will take advantage of their given situation as much as they’re allowed to. They are after all, in the small minority. But they’re always compelled to find a way, some way, to take whatever power and influence for themselves wherever they can.

    I’m wondering if the very high percentage of authoritarian followers in the general population could be why far left and far right mass movements usually wind up disastrously authoritarian. The more extreme the mass movement, the more AFs want to prove their value by shunning, then eventually removing “the others”. With authoritarians only happy to oblige, a pathological power dynamic ensues.

  31. bruce wilder

    Authoritarian followers tend to be egalitarians, the in-group, out-group thing not withstanding. They may be good soldiers too ready to follow orders, but they are soldiers and expect the army in which they serve to take care of its own.

    On the other hand, there are those who give those damn orders: the liars and cheats who grab what they can for themselves at the expense of the society and the organization.

    Which should we blame first for the pathology of society: its kleptocratic dominators or its naive and conventional dependents?

    I think those who are neither the tiny few making up the class of bosses and deployers of great wealth and power, who do as they will, nor the numerous drudges and servants and soldiers who do and suffer what they must, are left with responsibility to decide. On the middle classes of professionals the possibility for responsible, rational and democratic government rests.

    In American politics, the professional classes thru their choice to support the predator classes with their services to hierarchical organization of the political economy, have abdicated their own self-interest in leading the poor and working classes to oppose and contain the power of private business and wealth. The countervailing power of politics and elected government has failed as a result.

    I do not blame the deplorables. I blame the failure of liberalism for the rise of fascism — historically in the 1920s and 1930s and more recently.

  32. Billikin

    Let me be clear that I am not trying to cast blame on non-violent authoritarian followers. After all, I grew up amongst them. And, as I tried to indicate, their traits are useful for group survival under threat. But that does not diminish the danger they pose to democratic and republican societies under current circumstances in many countries.

  33. Billikin

    There are still people in the authoritarian culture of the deep South who were alive during the era of lynchings. Non-violent authoritarians may not have participated in the lynchings, but surely the crowds who watched some of the lynchings included many authoritarians. Other authoritarians who may not have approved did not make much of a stink about them, either.

    The murder of Emmet Till occurred in the 1950s. I heard about it in the 1960s. I was told that he was a man — not a kid — who had whistled at a White woman — something that no witnesses actually claimed. Yes, rumors and stories get exaggerated, but this story was altered in a way that non-violent authoritarians could tell themselves that Till got what he deserved or that, even if he did not deserve it, he was asking for it by his outrageous behavior.

  34. Willy

    I don’t think liberalism knew it was failing. Wealthy authoritarians have many tricks.

  35. bruce wilder

    I do not disagree with you Billikin: fearful, dependent people isolated from benign leadership can be scarily violent and cruel. I personally find the willingness of authoritarians to accept and even perpetrate cruel injustices bewildering and almost inexplicable. What is wrong with these people? goes thru my mind.

    Of course, I know that the society that countenanced the cruel murder of Emmet Till was deliberately created to serve the Planters of the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta. Racism was a strategy for social control built into the deep structures of the political economy of that society.

    I think identitarian political ideologies are being wielded in our own time to prevent a reformist left from forming and gaining power. Those ideologies are being used to generate narratives of past and present that de-legitimize the economic grievances and misery of the working classes (whose membership is prone to sharing the political attitudes of authoritarian followers because the working classes are consigned to dependency and precarity, which generate the fear and limited vision that generate the political attitudes characteristic of authoritarian followers.)

    So, I hear some of my friends dismiss the concerns and motivations behind Trump’s electoral support as racism, full stop. “They” are the proto-fascists and we must unite behind the Democrats to stop Trump and his band of deplorables. “We” who elected Obama are the good guys. As ponderer and nihil obstet and others have pointed out, such a narrative has to be very, very selective of policy facts.

    I do not think the Left can ever hope for political power in a mass democracy without competing with the demagogues of the right for leadership of people whose position of dependency and precarity makes them (in their political attitudes) “authoritarian followers”.

    Any narrative or strategy that abandons them is foolish and self-defeating from a left viewpoint. That may be by design. The Democratic Party establishment wants only political strategies that serve their donors without acknowledging responsibility for policy consequences.

    So, that is why I quibble with you billikin.

  36. ponderer

    Well, I’m glad to hear the book may be more nuanced than the article. The key point being that we live in a society of followers by necessity and that is rigged to encourage these outcomes. I just didn’t see than in the article. It’s no different domestically than what our elites want in the rest of the world, a “tamed” democracy where it can be achieved, and complete despots everywhere else.

    Trump embarrasses the elites, and I wouldn’t argue against him being a strongman, personality wise. I think he is the only strongman in the offing that will receive any checks on his power though. The extreme danger in our unitary executive is bad enough when the borg fights every inclination of the POTUS. He’s pretty meek in some things, what would Stalin do if he ordered withdrawal from Syria and the army instead increased its numbers there 50% following delay after delay? I fear for the day the next strongmen comes to power. I can’t imagine a scenario where we wouldn’t be in a warm or hot war with Russia if Hillary had won. The Trump / Russia connection was set up well in advance. That was a coming playbook, not a hasty contingency plan, IMNSHO.

    Speaking of followers, especially in the South. Charlottesville, populated by “people who were alive during lynchings” arranged a violent confrontation between (larger) antifa and right wing groups as punishment of said right wing groups legal protest. We were treated to pictures of hordes of Nazis overrunning a small American town. The left’s followers freaked out. Even Naked Capitalism had article after article shrilly condemning Southern Racists as an imminent threat to our Democracy. This monumental gathering of right wing groups from all over the country produced by some gradiose estimates 10k people (probably closer to 5k). Population of the south east, about 110 million. The middle class and higher education are no refuge from follower mentality, especially during a slow news cycle.

  37. ponderer

    @nihil obstet

    Even if I take the authors comments at face value, I still think he is missing something in those “big” issues. Lets take the Vietnam war for example. If I remember correctly, in 2005 the NSA finally released findings from the signals intercepts regarding the second Gulf of Ton-kin incident and quietly revealed there was no reason to suspect we had been fired upon (by torpedo) and therefore, had attacked unprovoked. The government had that information and sat on it for 30 odd years because it was embarrassing. How much can you deceive someone and still claim they are a follower? I’m sure everyone here would agree that searching for truth entails a huge amount of time and more than a little personal discomfort. Either Robert McNamara (who as far as i know insisted to his dying day that Vietnam was justified because of that incident) knew and lied to the public about it, or was himself deceived. What chance does the public have in the face of that? How can we decide if we are followers or not, when the press, our gatekeepers of knowledge, feed us lies and mis-truths at least until the contrary evidence is overwhelming and they are forced to turn against it.

    Today we have far more avenues for information so we can know that Obama murdered Americans via Presidential decree, overthrew foreign states, ran roughshod over the Constitution, and oversaw the largest wealth transfer in history. How can that not be more salient than Nixon which actually resulted in some type of correction? Obama got a library and a huge payoff, Nixon was disgraced. It’s important to remember these are historical criticisms, after the facts have come out. If we judge one group as followers for believing in Nixon even after he resigned or supporting a losing war, what about the group that hero worships today’s tyrants? It’s like a group of thieves trying to catch each other stealing, and totally missing the irony in their own conduct. Yes, the people who think there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq are dangerous in their thinking, the easy answer of flipping parties won’t do one any good though. Wish I had a solution, it seems to me a fruitful democracy requires no more than 30 hour work weeks or a large information clearing infrastructure entirely independent from politics or “star” journalists.

  38. Anon

    They’re just thugs in suits. The world economy floats on the products of Gore Capitalism: prostitution, drugs, weapons, and other sundry practices of the criminal class. When the planet runs on these things you can only have a criminal class in charge. The lunatics have taken over the asylum. But please, both sides if you must. If that makes you feel better about what’s going on.

  39. Gunther Behn

    Observation: Escaping Romania before 1989, an acquaintance once noted, “In the East bloc, if you’re enough of a problem, they put you in a madhouse or take you into the woods and shoot you in the head. In America if you’re black and a problem, they shoot you — if you’re white, they restrict your ability to make money and buy goods.”

  40. scruff

    . . . people who operate on poor information and ideological reasoning pathways

    Wouldn’t that be pretty much everyone?

    Well, yes. I should have expressed it as a matter of degree, though, as there seems to be a spectrum. Ian, for example, does not seem to be particularly deep in the spectrum of being poorly informed and ideological.

    But my point was that I don’t buy the idea that Trump’s support can be meaningfully explained by the “take a chance” hypothesis. It’s a really interesting idea, but it seems to only apply to a small minority of Trump supporters.

  41. gnokgnoh

    @Scruff. I concur only to the extent of my knowledge and experience. Generalizing about the motives of large groups of people is not very easy, nor do I think that motives are uniform or singular. My friends or relatives who saw Trump as an opportunity to upset the apple cart, or simply as the lesser of two evils, the “take a chance” small minority, have long since abandoned their support.

    Most of my friends who are Trump supporters are all in and continue to be so. Our conversations tend to be short-lived. When we can stick to substance, many point to the good things he has done or is doing, from their perspective. It’s almost entirely about immigration and Muslims. Usually, Hillary comes up. Are they poor information voters or basing their reasoning on ideology? I think they are very tribal, which is not exactly the same thing. They certainly have lots of information. We’re assaulted with it.

  42. This, of course, nails the situation:

    “People are scared. They have good reason to be scared, because their leaders despise them and want to hurt them. And whenever they find someone they think is strong and on their side, they will flock to that person. They will usually be wrong to do so, but abused people usually make bad decisions.”

    But the source of the problem transcends any possible legal, political or philosophical discussion because it’s genetic. Any social power-pyramid worth dominating will, sooner than later, see psychopaths infesting its top, simply because psychopaths are “blessed” with the toolkit necessary for duping/ conquering competitors. To be able to lie and even kill (directly or from an administrative distance) without a twinge of remorse: what decent, empathetic, self-doubting executive or candidate can possibly hope to compete against such abilities? If psychopath-driven media weren’t busy delivering psychopath-flattering distortions of Reality every millisecond of every day, Billary, BHO, Trump, Jobs, Soros, Buffet, Bush, et al, would be easily and immediately identifiable as psychopaths inhabiting the spectrum of the predatory-charm scale (with Bill and Hillary, humorously, inhabiting opposite ends of this scale).

    Capitalism/ Communism/ Socialism/ Anarcho-Syndicalism… all could/would, with tweaks and patches, work in good-faith, psychopath-free environments. A System itself is neither the problem nor possible cure. The structural logic of the inevitability of the psychopath-governed herd is infinitely scalable and hideously ironclad and the only possible cure must lie somewhere in pharmacological advances… in a hypothetical future in which Big Pharma isn’t run/ directed by… psychopaths. Mooting various grassroots this or that is, in the end, futile until psychopathy is medicated from the face of the Earth. Good luck trying to have them arrested.

  43. Hugh

    For me, Trump is not an authoritarian. He is too erratic. Authoritarians may be nuts but they need a certain level of focus which Trump notoriously lacks. If you want to understand Trump, look at him through the lens of his Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The DSM-5 defines this as someone with 5 of the 9 following criteria:

    1. A grandiose sense of self-importance
    2. A preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
    3. A belief that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions
    4. A need for excessive admiration
    5. A sense of entitlement
    6. Interpersonally exploitive behavior
    7. A lack of empathy
    8. Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of him or her
    9. A demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes

    Trump is 9 for 9. Now you might say there are a lot of people among our rich and elites who act these ways, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But Trump is defined by them. Or as the saying goes, many have the traits, few have the disease. Trump has the disease.

    There are also those who knew him in the past and have noted significant diminished capacity, which suggests some level of dementia. It says a lot about the degenerate state of our political system that Trump would occupy any office within it, let alone the highest, that so many see it in their interests to keep him there, and virtually none will call him out on any of this.

  44. Billikin

    @ Bruce Wilder

    “The whole world is festering with unhappy souls.
    The French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles,
    Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch,
    And I don’t like anybody very much.”
    — The Kingston Trio

    Racial/ethnic (identity) strife is nothing new, OC. The idea of an Aryan race was a trigger for WWII, and the idea of pan-Slavism was a trigger for WWI. And let us not forget the Hutu vs, Tutsi bloodbath in Rwanda. US vs. Them thinking is characteristic of authoritarians and frequently takes the form of racism. Racism is a virulent form of it because racists believe that racial stereotypes are inherited and ingrained. And a rhetorical defense against charges of racism is to claim that we now live in a post racist society. I.e., not that there are not some racists left, but racism is not a society wide problem. That is not so, and we must confront racism in general and the racism of authoritarianism in particular. (Before I forget, we need to point out that White identity politics is the major problem in this regard.)

    However, confronting Us/Them rhetoric with Us/Them rhetoric is not the solution. As the Dhammapada points out, hatred does not cease by hatred, hatred ceases only by love. The demographic argument is counterproductive, to say the least. Telling White people that they will be a minority soon enough only stokes their fears and makes them resistant to non-White immigration. At some level Whites know how bad minorities are treated in the US and fear that that will be their fate if they become a minority. Not too long ago I saw on one of the political shows on TV a confrontation about language. It was not about one of the usual racial slurs, which everyone now agrees are taboo, but about something else that is considered politically incorrect. A White guy was defending the language against everyone else. The demographic argument came up, and a Black academic ended the debate with a statement to this effect: “That means that a White man like you will not be able to say something like that.” Well, I am old enough to shout at the TV, and I did. I said, “Don’t you know that you are simply feeding his fear that you will take away his freedom of speech?!”

    Also before I forget, what was Elizabeth Warren thinking about with her DNA test? Yes, a lot of people still believe that race is inherent in our DNA, but surely not a Harvard academic. In the 1980s it was excusable to believe that race is partly genetic, partly socially constructed, but not now. Genetically, there are kinship groups, but there is only one human race. When I was growing up there was a very popular book called “The Family of Man”, popular even in the racist, authoritarian South. We need to stress our human kinship over our ethnic differences.

    Then there is the question of White privilege. This is something that working class or underclass Whites object to, understandably so. One way to keep people down is to get them to fight amongst themselves. In the antebellum South the slaveholders, who fancied themselves to be aristocrats after the fashion of the Bourbons in France, used slavery to oppress poor Whites (mud sills) economically. Racism allowed poor Whites to believe themselves to be superior to Blacks, despite their low estate. Things are not so bad now, but the strategy is the same. Use racism to keep people down.

    Adam Carolla has a video on You Tube in which he supposedly “destroys” the idea of White privilege. He relates an exchange on NPR with a Black academic who said that Carolla had White privilege. Carolla responded with his experience as a high school graduate struggling economically who applied to become a fireman and was told that he might have to wait 6 or 7 years. In fact, he was contacted 6 years later and, out of curiosity at that point, went to take the test. He asked a young non-White woman who was also taking the test when she had applied, and she replied, Tuesday. So Carolla said that he had not experienced White privilege, and the academic replied, you have, but you just don’t know it. That apparently ended that exchange.

    Carolla’s experience highlights a problem with the idea of White privilege. (Aside from the wording.) Whites who do not have a privileged position in society do not think that it applies to them, and resent the implication that it does. Like the mudsills of the Old South, they may have a point. Certainly they do not experience much in the way of privilege. The other thing is that we have not made a good case for systemic racism. A lot of people think that racism it simply about individual beliefs and feelings. One fact that Trump and others state, patting themselves on the back, is that minority unemployment is at historic lows. That is true, but I am aware of only one political pundit, Kevin Drum of Mother Jones, who has pointed out the flaw with that statistic. Over the past four decades, ever since such statistics have been kept, Black unemployment has been approximately twice that of White unemployment. That ratio has been remarkably constant in the US, regardless of which political party has been in power. So yes, unemployment is low, but economic racism is alive and well. In a post racist society that ratio should be 1. And there is the answer, such as it is, to Carolla. The fire department may have had hiring practices that favored ethnic minorities and women, but Carolla still got work, and had an easier time finding a job than a young Black man. There is White privilege, such as it is. Not much privilege, but not nothing, either.

    Anyway, it is important to confront racism without falling into the trap of Us vs. Them mentality, because racism is a major problem when confronting the rise of authoritarianism and of strongmen. Military coups and conquest aside, it is authoritarians who put strongmen in power. IMO, attempting to appeal for the vote of authoritarians on the other side is usually a losing tactic. They already identify us as Them, and we still have to confront racism, which is likely to put them off, especially if they are in denial. Also, as I observed in the South, beating them politically and then treating them right can sway them to your side. Despite its flaws, something like that seems to be happening with Obamacare.

  45. Stirling S Newberry

    ‘ I think if you read interviews with Trump supporters carefully, you will realize that many Trump supporters are not so much fans of Trump per se, as simply wanting to trash a broken system in a long-shot gamble of getting something better.

    No, they want everyone to suck ass the way they do. The gamblers – and they feel that if everyone wins less, they will get more. It does work, but it takes to long to explain – at which point the TL;DR goes up.

  46. Billikin

    @ Stirling S Newberry

    In theory trade is a win-win, positive sum game, and economic activity produces overall gains. But the experience of the average American (an the average person in a number of economies) over the past four decades is one of treading water. For White working class males in the US, it is an experience of loss. Like Carolla, they see others on their level making gains. Those people are the ones favored by Democrats, ethnic minorities and women. As authoritarians, they generally accept the gains of the rich and powerful and regard the Democrats as their enemies. By contrast, in the wake of the Great Depression Whites may still have been racist, but they knew that those at the top needed to be reined in.

  47. Willy

    I can get why average Joe authoritarian supporters can believe in things unproven and unseen. But the complete letting go of any alternate possibilities to the point of severe emotional angst, is beyond me.

    We occasionally see it in the commentary here:

    For wishing a return to saner government policies (not perfect, saner) of the days when American “was great”, you’re called a Stalinist.

    For believing the overwhelming number of climate scientists, you’re called an ignorant fool.

    For not fully trusting an overpriviliged underintelligent NPD to solve difficult American problems, you’re called a Clinton tribalist.

    Best I can figure, the over-exercise of ‘faith-based reasoning’ muscles leads to a form of zombie retardation, readily exploited by authoritarians.

  48. ponderer


    Privilege was a poorly chosen word, but I don’t think its use is accidental. The truth you touch on is that in some way we are all “privileged”. It might be by time, by familial contacts, really any time you share the same qualification as someone else but don’t get “chosen” the other was privileged in some way. It’s treated as a systemic issue though I’m not sure that makes sense in many cases. On the other hand it seems logical that there could be so there is always this uncertainty surrounding the issue.

    So you brought up that the unemployment rate for blacks is twice the rate for whites and has been consistently. Was that adjusted for location and market? There are some areas that are predominately white that couldn’t normally hire minorities, they just don’t exist to be hired. Likewise there are places that are predominately black that would have a similar though inverted skew. Unemployment itself is heavily manipulated, but I wouldn’t expect such a large discrepancy. It would be interesting if there were regional numbers. Then the question becomes is it systemic, or can some bad actors be found. That seems to be where the mainstream stops. They identify it as a problem with an entire race of “privileged people”, regardless of whether those people make hiring decisions or do anything other than try to put food on the table. The solution is touted as “equalizing” various minority victims with the “privileged”. There no search for bad actors or further understanding the data. There certainly is no discussion of class with privilege.
    I think the reason is to divide people along any line but class. As long as they are competing with each other they aren’t redistributing wealth. It was the Irish before the Blacks. Well, it was really everyone before, it just so happened that Blacks were the most economical at some point. The same old story of the have’s and the have not’s that’s repeated throughout history. Unfortunately, it still works. Privilege, for the poor, is such a condescending word, I think that’s why it’s used. It stirs up emotional reaction just by its usage. Us versus them as you say.

    I differ from you in solutions. I think that instead of trying to win them over or “beat them politically”, you should focus on fairness for all people. We should endeavor to represent all people, especially the ones we don’t like and the one’s that don’t exist yet. That means carving a space for so called racists, along with everyone else. We do this already with Freedom of speech and association, but it’s under attack by certain corners not, i think, for racism as purported, but to shut down protests that might some day change to protests about class. That’s the reason for my long winded introduction. The divisions in our society are real, but i think they are propagated by something totally unrelated, class interests. When the Democrats are virtue signaling, I think that’s what they are saying to their donors “everything is all good here, they may be miserable but look how pissed they are at each other, let the money flow”. Republicans do the same. I don’t think this can be fixed until we can can agree to support each other interests for our interests. Certain basic guarentee’s are a step in the right direction (health care, income), but the demonizing must be stopped. Angry, scared, people who are uncertain about their future (standard FUD) can’t work together effectively.
    I also think it would be good to get politicians out of political parties. They should be tools, not dictators.

  49. Billikin

    @ ponderer

    I am unaware of any regional statistics about race and unemployment. I believe that Drum got the statistics from NBER. They are national.

    We agree about fairness. I did say, beat them politically and then treat them right. 🙂 I was responding to the idea that we need to solicit their votes. That may be right in some cases, such as West Virginia, but treating people fairly is a left wing solution under current circumstances. The left needs to win at the polls.

  50. Willy

    Not a fan of Paul Volcker, but “There is no force on earth that can stand up effectively, year after year, against the thousands of individuals and hundreds of millions of dollars in the Washington swamp aimed at influencing the legislative and electoral process.” might be something the rest of us can all agree on.

    Can people suspend their tribal conditioning to unify and fight that?

  51. Re: privilege:

    If my “white” friend dresses up in a nice suit and wanders around a pricey boutique for twenty minutes, fingering stuff but not buying, he will very probably not run into difficulties. If I dress up in the same suit and do the same thing in the same boutique, I will very probably run into difficulties.

    Well, it’s not a huge difference… (unless you’re me)… but there is a difference. The wiggle-room that working class liberal “whites,” and the Alt Right, grant themselves on this topic is purely semantic: isn’t it obvious that the term “privilege” covers a sliding scale? I wasn’t granted full (hypothetical) legal rights/protections as an American citizen (and human being), in the USA, until 1964, when I was five. At the age of four I was somewhat sub-human, I guess. Maybe if we use the formuation “negative privilege” people won’t be so touchy about it…?

  52. erratum: “formulation”

  53. ponderer


    Sorry, I didn’t quite finish my thought. I didn’t think you mean to be unfair afterwards. I meant an explicit statement as a response to the us versus them dynamic. Will it assuage fears of hardcore followers, probably not. Anyone on the fence at worst might feel less incentivized to vote. The real benefit isn’t that, it’s the herding apparatchiks who divide, polarize, and neuter various groups that ought to be working together. You have to say that poor people aren’t privileged no matter their race or religion or tribal affiliation, so its not used against you. The left can look at polls and see that their message resonates with a majority of the citizenry. Why then can we not have nice things? Because the enemy is not external, it’s internal, it’s shouting down any cooperating influence on the great orange satan, on MSNBC, on Foxnews. It’s encouraging antifa on one side and proud boys on the other. It’s stoking Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt because that’s the only way to win against a majority of people.

    It’s interesting that black suffragist and women suffragist could never work together. There were some efforts, i remember a book, Standing at Armageddon I think, describing an incredulous black man who thought it was crazy to have women vote, but that he should. After a lot of time and blood shed they did both eventually get the right to vote of course. Consider what that takes, 50% took longer than 10%. I’d say the power dynamics between north and south were probably the deciding factor in the 10%, and that without it, there’s very little chance of such a thing happening. We don’t enfranchise people without cause.

    So there’s no campaign against improper use of lethal force, or ensuring justice for citizenry. There’s no ensuring Police training and transparency to both reduce officer fatalities and citizen deaths. There IS a Black Lives Matter, and a media constantly trying to convince us that we have to chose who gets to live. blacks, whites, or police, choose any 2. I think they managed to get some body cams in some areas. With 40% of population that’s probably never going to go anywhere. Include hispanics, whites, and everyone else and they might actually get some real changes in how people are treated.
    I should also mention the best way to keep us from doing something about class differences is to keep the police force and the citizenry as isolated as possible. A few jack booted thugs in the police ranks is all it has taken so far.

  54. ponderer

    @steven augustine

    Is browsing at a boutique, privilege? What is your friend is Hispanic but looks “white”? What are these difficulties and what fault does your white friend have in them? It probably wasn’t just you in 1964, it was probably poor whites, latinos, native americans, and assorted others.

    There is nothing about this life that is fair, you can’t choose the situations you are born into or the period you are born into. In some areas there are places where white people don’t go, not without knowing someone from there. You might not have any trouble there, or you might depending on your dress and mannerisms. The opposite is true of course and could be the case in hispanic or other communities. I know of white area’s that aren’t safe for whites, if you aren’t with a local or look like one, you’re rolling the dice. That said, being treated fairly regardless of tribal identity is not a privilege, its basic human right that everyone should respect. Some call that manners or decency. If you treat is as a privilege you do yourself a disservice.

    If I go into that boutique and record the whole thing and get into “difficulties” and you go, who’s video is going viral? Is that privilege? By your own reasoning your actually privileged for being born when you where in the country you were and the time you were. Is your privilege compared to whites, greater or less than compared to Somalis compared to you? You’re privileged for being in the good years for the working class, we could go all day with the “privilege” you have that others don’t. Some of it on age, some on skin color, some family, community and so on. That’s before we get into me in blue jeans and an old t-shirt in the same boutique. The point isn’t who’s feelings get hurt, its recognizing tribal whistling and the resulting cascade of us versus them. If it cuts 40% of the population off from supporting your position, is it still worth it? So far D’s and R’s have been answering yes. They would rather fail in their comfort zone than win out of it.

  55. nihil obstet

    Since we all have different interests, we’re going to divide into groups to pursue those interests. The trick is to make sure that your group actually represents your interests. Think farmers vs. agri-businesses. Or renters vs. landlords. Or those with chronic illnesses vs. drug manufacturers. Don’t think white vs. black. Where it’s possible to control the framework in which people live, that redefinition of “who’s your group” works. It’s a staple of organizing, especially in mixed race situations, and I’ve seen it succeed in the workplace. In a racist society, it’s still important not to let latent discriminatory perceptions persist, but prioritizing that change over the creation of useful alliances is a recipe for failure.

    There actually are campaigns against police use of lethal force. They just don’t get very much press. The Amnesty International USA report finding that neither federal law nor the laws of any state meet the U.S. responsibilities committed to in the treaties we’ve signed is here. There’s a coalition of groups in my city that addresses City Council usually every other month, seeking that it adopt good policies, accountability practices, and training. This kind of thing is occurring around the country, and while African-Americans suffer the worst from police malfeasance, the campaigns are pretty inclusive.

  56. Billikin

    @ ponderer

    I think we agree that we need to confront the Us vs. Them mentality. I just think that we have to defeat that mentality at the polls.

  57. ponderer


    Respectfully, I see where your coming from but the problem is that you aren’t winning at the polls. None of us are winning and I see no reason to think our prospects are better in the future than they are today (Trump, Pelosi, HRC, and on) or than they were in the past. If 60% of the populace think we should have some form or universal heathcare, and its not on the table (its not, HR 676 has been sitting there forever), we need to be thinking about why its not. Every time that mythical blue wave rolls around, it has failed to deliver on its promises. If we don’t figure out why we keep getting thwarted we’re doomed to endless repetition. Health care was just as important in the 1800’s as today, same for justice, and most of issues we “fight for”. Yes, under one regime or the next you may get small compromises about issues the elite don’t care about (abortion, guns, affirmative action, political correctness) but only because they can take it away 5-10 years down the road and you’ll fight the same old battles all over again.

    @nihil obstet
    Do we have different interests though? I mean I like anime, but it has nothing to do with us getting health care or a decent jobs. Skin heads and black panthers alike have to put food on the table and if that food is contaminated they have far more interest in getting it fixed than anything else. I don’t think these are differences that matter and just by working together, as you’ve said, we might just find we get along better than we think. Dividing into different, less powerful, groups to represent “fringe” interests seems to be the Elite playbook. I think that BLM probably represents their narrow interest group as faithfully as possible, what it hasn’t done is be effective. To be it’s no different than the separation of the teachers’s union, the firefighter and police unions and other unions. Instead of working together to strengthen all unions, and workers, the Elites pick the winners and wait for them to go at each other. Then they pick a smaller group and wait. The police will be last to go because they’re needed to protect property, but it won’t actually give them a living wage. We’ve forgotten the power of solidarity. Absent meaningful change we are just going to trade one strongman for another.

  58. Billikin

    @ ponderer

    Are we winning against neoliberalism and plutocracy at the polls? Not yet. But I am talking about winning against authoritarianism, which is the urgent necessity at the moment. It is authoritarian followers who can put strongmen in power without military coup or conquest.

    After Obama won in the wake of the financial crisis, despite the elation of many, I said that it would take us 30 years to recover lost ground. This was before the Tea Party backlash, which I did not expect would be so soon or so strong. For the strength of the backlash I blame Obama and the Democrats. We could have had a strong economic recovery, but they settled for saving Wall Street and Big Finance. But, in the words of Albee, that’s blood under the bridge. We still have a long row to hoe, but the first step is defeating authoritarianism, both by overcoming Us vs. Them mentality and by winning at the polls.

  59. @ponderer

    “Is browsing at a boutique, privilege?” (et al)

    The sound of multiple over-the-head swooshings was heard. Perhaps a migration of cuckoos.

  60. bruce wilder

    Are we winning against neoliberalism and plutocracy at the polls? Not yet. But I am talking about winning against authoritarianism . . .

    If I only paid attention to your argument Billikin, without even considering what others have said, I would think you had convinced me you are wrong. You argue that we can and should adopt an us v them mentality to defeat them. It is a glaring contradiction.

    And, you seem to think neoliberalism and plutocracy are not the prime motivators of working class discontent and disaffection. ???

  61. @ponderer

    “Is your privilege compared to whites, greater or less than compared to Somalis compared to you? You’re privileged for being in the good years for the working class, we could go all day with the “privilege” you have that others don’t.”

    Which is all quite clearly covered by my “sliding scale” aside… had you actually read my comment before reacting to it. We can ignore the gist of what you write, and re-write, upthread, as being self-evident to (and already expressed multiple times by) nearly everyone commenting in this thread. I’m only interested, in the name of accuracy, in addressing the neurotic inability of some (among those of us who rightly target the “Us vs Them” approach as counter-productive) to admit that being born “white” in America, for the vast majority of the country’s citizens, is more of an advantage than being born “black”. Admitting this blatant truth does not automatically entail using it to explain everything about any “black” or “white” person’s life… but to deny is it to indulge in a very weird kind of sophistry; such sophistry now qualifies, in fact, as another minor branch of (drum roll) “white” privilege.

    Some Germans have a similar problem with facing certain aspects of the German 1930s and 1940s. “What does that have to do with me?” Answer: not much at all… until you make a fuss about it. No: you’re not responsible. Are you involved? Yes: by default. No biggie. It’s best to accept it and move on, no?

    PS The scare quotes are my comment on the pseudo-scientific taxonomies of Race.

  62. ponderer

    @steven augustine

    Dismissal is a standard response when one has been told they are privileged. You might even say they were crazy or other Ad hominem attacks. Hopefully you will reflect on your response and understand it is exactly the same as those laid out in different comments here about those with less “negative privilege”, that you criticized for being “touchy” about it. If you understand, and you seem to now, that some words can be used as a tool to inflame and divide, you’ll be better prepared when someone who claims to be in your tribe uses them to cut you off from what you deserve.

  63. @ponderer

    “Dismissal is a standard response when one has been told they are privileged.”

    My standard response to sophistry is what I offer here, friend. It is yours to take or leave as you please. The next time I’m confronted by an underprivileged Somalian, I’ll remind her that she’s more privileged than a Palestinian, who will have to be reminded by a one-armed disinherited juggler in Liberia how well-born he truly is… as long as we all politely decline to mention those who are higher on the ladder than all of us. That’s just post-racial etiquette, obviously.

  64. ponderer

    I’m with Bruce Wilder on this one.

    I would add you aren’t defeating Authoritarians at the polls, in fact, you are much worse off than if you had targeted Neo-liberalism. Authoritarian followers are the majority in both political parties. Sticking with a particular political party, that continues to show doesn’t operate in your interest is pretty much the definition of partisan i.e. followers. As long as you focus effort on trying to reform solely within a particular party (full of saboteurs I might add), you are following the playbook from the last 200 years. The left’s values don’t just appeal to democrats and you don’t have to change your policy to appeal to others. You do need to discourage them from voting for others just because they (rightfully) fear your policies or want to punish you for lack of progress, like with … Trump. Healthcare, economics, justice these should appeal to everyone. Hillary didn’t lose just because she was tone deaf and insulted half the country, not to mention the mass murdering. Twenty years ago it got fixed in cross-over country that HRC was someone you couldn’t trust unless you lived in a big city, belonged to a certain tribal group, etc. If she had spent the next twenty refuting that by proving she would be fair instead of proving what kind of elitist she was, we could have had … another Obama probably, plus maybe nuclear winter to cool the earth. Saying you need to win at the polls before you prove to the populace your not Fascist, is putting the proverbial cart before the proverbial horse.

  65. Billikin

    Charles Pierce on the simmering violence of Trump’s rallies:

    Pierce links to Mike Tomasky at The Daily Beast:

    A quote from Tomasky: “the best way to unite the country, to the extent that such is possible anymore, is to win the White House and Congress and start passing laws and imposing rules that will help regular people again.”

    Amen, brother, amen.

  66. Billikin

    Bruce Wilder: “You argue that we can and should adopt an us v them mentality to defeat them. It is a glaring contradiction.”

    We are engaged in a contest. Recognizing that is not the same as adopting an Us vs. Them mentality. I do not claim that we need to adopt that mentality to prevail. I do say that we need to defeat that mentality at the polls. Eisenhower did not wage war against the people of Arkansas or the South when he forced desegregation in the Little Rock schools. And even though the US did wage war against Germany and Japan in WWII, having won the war we worked to help them rebuild afterwards. We did not regard Germans or Japanese as inferior or evil. Now we are seeing the results of letting the people with an Us vs. Them mentality win the presidency. We cannot just say too bad so sad, we have to defeat that mentality at the polls. (Not that that is all we need to do, but that is a necessity. OC, if the Republicans have a change of heart, things are different.)

    Bruce Wilder: “And, you seem to think neoliberalism and plutocracy are not the prime motivators of working class discontent and disaffection. ???”

    That is a message that we should carry to the working class. But have not neoliberalism and plutocracy infected both major political parties in the US? If you believe that we will have the opportunity in 2020 to defeat neoliberalism and plutocracy at the polls, more power to you. I think it will take more time than that. But we can and should defeat US vs. Them-ism.

  67. Willy

    I’ve never met a single American who ran left of Scandinavian-style “socialist”, though the conservative evangelicals I know tell me they lurk about in the shadows, everywhere.

    Francisco Franco got the support of the Catholic elites (and military and business elites) then conquered Spain, then ‘cleansed’ the country of leftism and atheism for forty years (at least officially).

    Forty years after all that, Spain is pretty much a center-left nation, and quite secular. Apparently the children do learn. Or… Jesus may have been right about the importance of good works. It’s what entices the children to want to get that faith which gets their asses to heaven.

  68. Billikin

    @ ponderer

    I disagree that authoritarian followers are the majority in both major political parties. I am not even sure that they are in the majority in the Republican party. But they are a visible force and presence within the Republican Party. Violence is close to the surface at Trump’s rallies. Republicans pursue racist policies while declaring that racism is a thing of the past.

    BTW, I am not a Democrat. But right now the Republicans at the national level are a danger to the republic.

  69. ponderer

    @steven augustine

    I don’t recall anyone saying that if we are being so general to include tens of millions of people that there is an advantage to being “Black” over “White” nor arguing that Whites were less privileged in absolute terms. Of course, the advantage goes to the largest tribal group for starters. Likewise, if you define your sliding scale on minutia you can engage in your own sophistry, as least as far as your one armed Liberian is concerned. It does you no good though. You get to feel “right” for the expense of some hand-waving decrying the injustice of the world (like most of the points here, also covered previously) but what else do you get out of it besides alienating potential allies? I have had some truly privileged acquaintances, of the type you don’t seem to feel worthy of discussing, i.e. rich. I’ve never found it worthwhile to harp on their status, they can’t help it for one, they didn’t actually do the screwing of the lower classes to get it, and I don’t have the neurotic need to make them feel inferior enough to sabotage either good relationships or my own interests.

    I’m sorry you feel the need to be worse off, but I don’t think skin color has anything to do with the important issues we face or the interests of our own development. Maybe its because I’m from a mixed race family, or my egalitarian upbringing. I’m not sure. I don’t experience it in my life and I don’t want to live in that world anyway. I don’t take responsibility for the actions of others, only myself. I’m not going to wallow in self hate for reasons out of my control and won’t be a part of insisting on different standards for other people. As Ian has pointed out that is unethical. If you insist on continuing a self destructive path that’s your business.

    You are entirely wrong about Germany btw. People died fighting Hitlers rise to power, people always die fighting Fascist (while US interests financed them). WW II only happened, and Hitler existed, because an elite group held Germans responsible for the sins of their forefathers just to make them suffer. Punishing children for the actions of their parents or the accidents of circumstance rarely turns into a winning longterm strategy. Holding the next generation of Germans accountable for their grandparents, even to the smallest extent, is blatantly unfair, unethical and short sighted to boot.

  70. ponderer

    @ Billikin

    “I disagree that authoritarian followers are the majority in both major political parties. ”

    Then you missed Iraq and Afghanistan. You missed Occupy, 2016.. I would have trouble saying what in the last 30 years you paid attention to in either party. Sorry to be blunt, but that’s why John Bolton appreciates Pelosi’s support on Venezuela and she continues to be elected. Whether they are intelligent and self aware enough to realize it, I can’t say. They support authoritarians, who suppress dissent and prey on the weak, and they do so at their own cost so I think the follower label applies.

  71. gnokgnoh

    I’m with Billikin on this one. We are in a struggle to elect leaders and politicians that listen to us, the majority, who vastly support policies that are commonly associated with the left. I see some hope in the latest crop of Democratic representatives. I see a huge shift in what is permissible to discuss. This comes from winning elections and voting for politicians that are addressing the issues most Americans care about.

    Governance and politics are not about parsing labels like authoritarianism, neoliberalism, privilege, and plutocracy. I am perplexed by arguments that fighting authoritarianism is better than fighting neoliberalism…or the reverse. Governance, to me, is about how we want to live, and politics is the means we use to put in place the people to make that happen.

    My Trump-supporting friends and family members are neither poor, nor lacking in jobs. None of them. Missouri, Indiana, Tennessee, Philadelphia, New York, all over the place. They are all white and privileged, as am I. Call a spade a spade. I also have many friends and a few family members who are Democrats or independents. Most live in my community, North of Philadelphia. My non-white friends are not Trump supporters, not a single one of them.

    How on earth do you parse the motivations of minorities in this country, many of whom are also working class, against words like authoritarianism and neoliberalism? Can you do it? This discussion about authoritarian followers, white or minority, repels me. It’s illustrative of the very problem you seem to want to tackle. Everyone who listens to their boss, or is respectful of the commissioner in their township, or thinks rules and regulations have a purpose is an authoritarian follower? People who support Trump have complex motivations but most who still support him started out as Republicans, are quite tribal, and like winners. Many are also racists.

    Were all Germans, or Soviet citizens, or Chinese under Mau authoritarian followers? How does an entire country become this way? I don’t think that’s how authoritarianism works. I really like Willy’s observation about Spain, even if it is also in the grip of the proverbial neoliberal choke hold of the EU. Center left and neo-liberal all at the same time. How does that happen?

    I have no conclusions, but contradictions abound.

  72. @ponderer

    “Maybe its because I’m from a mixed race family, or my egalitarian upbringing.”

    Welcome to the club. And what’s your argument again…? Or do you simply enjoy arguing?

    My first two comments in this thread were not aimed at you; the second comment was an empirical rebuttal to the strange tendency among (“egalitarian”?) Americans to deny the existence of “white”-relative-to-“black” privilege; a tendency manifestly absurd on its face yet there you have it. Popular as ever.

    My Life is fantastic (esp. since I was smart enough to leave the USA thirty years ago); that has nothing to do with the question of the manifest existence of “white”-relative-to-“black” privilege.

    You talk about “unity,” but you seem to want this unity on your own terms, stipulating implicitly that all us Serfs can come together as long as nobody is rude enough to mention the society-distorting existence of “white” privilege. Sorry: no can do. You can keep your delusions, wherever they spring from. I’ll post a link to evidence of MY mixed family if you post one to yours.

    “You are entirely wrong about Germany btw.”

    You like to argue from the “heart,” I see… light on facts but full of conviction. I speak/ read German and have lived here thirty years. The “I’m sick of that holocaust stuff” meme is not rare around here though, still, this city is better for me than any American city I’ve ever lived in (welcome to complexity). I’m curious as to where you think your authority (on matters about which you know little or nothing) comes from?

  73. “WW II only happened, and Hitler existed, because an elite group held Germans responsible for the sins of their forefathers just to make them suffer. Punishing children for the actions of their parents or the accidents of circumstance rarely turns into a winning longterm strategy. Holding the next generation of Germans accountable for their grandparents, even to the smallest extent, is blatantly unfair, unethical and short sighted to boot.”

    Aha. NOW I see where you’re coming from.

    A) Had you read my comment carefully (dream on, right?) you’d see I very carefully qualified my comment about German Denialism: no, that particular spike in history is *not* the “fault” of anyone born after a certain year. But that doesn’t mean that a modern citizen of any State is entirely free of the ramifications of the national narrative preceding that citizen’s birth.

    B) Your Hitler apologia is straight out of the Alt Right playbook.

    “Mixed” family, eh? You mean you’ve got a few Poles skulking in the woodpile?


  74. ponderer


    We’re using the common definition of Authoritarian and Neo-liberal. So if you check Wikipedia you’ll see Authoritarians have certain common characteristics. One is suppression of dissent by force. If your boss beats you for slacking off then he’s an Authoritarian. Otherwise, he may just be a jerk, or justified depending on the situation.

    It’s not necessary to “parse” the motivations of minorities. To me its just a little high-brow discussion of why there is a “struggle to elect leaders and politicians” who will serve the common interests when a majority of people agree. So I don’t like the use of “majority” because that can be code for white in certain contexts. Clearly the majority we discuss is not tied to racial or tribal boundaries, though some may. The attempt to use precise language is just to avoid ambiguity, to not fall into the standard stereotype language traps. I’m no word smith myself so I understand your reluctance, but how do we describe the group of people who support certain bad behavior? Some label is needed.
    It’s interesting you like Willy’s comment. You mention it is now Neo-liberal (he doesn’t) yet you don’t seem to like the labels “authoritarianism, neoliberalism, privilege, and plutocracy.”

    “I see some hope in the latest crop of Democratic representatives. I see a huge shift in what is permissible to discuss. This comes from winning elections and voting for politicians that are addressing the issues most Americans care about. ”
    It’s the failure of Democrats to address issues that that put Trump in power. You don’t know enough rich, white, racists Republicans who can do that. There’s no there there as they say, if a majority of people who voted for Trump where that well off, our economic situation would have to be different. Also New York doesn’t matter if they are a winner take all state (I don’t know personally). In those states your vote for the losing party is nullified. There’s no way Trump won’t win Tennessee, so my vote doesn’t matter either. That’s just math.
    None of that explains why the “blue wave” accomplished so little hence our discussion. Your enthusiasm for things that haven’t been discussed before, probably only goes back in your life time. It may be due to your youth, nothing wrong with that. I remember reading with wonder at families in the 1800’s discussing socialism, bolsheviks, concepts I had no idea about where by my time the FBI and CIA pretty much had those discussions removed from possible conversation. You have optimism which is good, but you need realism to turn political ideas to policy to meaningful change. That means understanding the people and structures in place that prevent what you are after. It may be hard to understand now but if you consider a lot of young people had similar optimistic feelings about Obama, about Clinton, and on and on back in time.

  75. ponderer

    @steven augustine

    So I’ll ignore the boring parts and personal attacks, this isn’t dkos (brings back the memories).

    If you live in Germany you may have heard about the Night of the Long Knives. Also, a little known fact about the Holocaust, apparently, is that some of those Jews were in fact German. Movies have been made about the attempts on Hitlers life. Also, books. It doesn’t hurt to know a few Germans who’s family members witnessed ww ii first hand. As you know its possible to opine about a place you don’t live. It’s also possible to read historical accounts of things that have happened (by real writers) and to learn from that.

    Thanks for the racist comment though, and the irony of living in Germany while decrying its “national narrative”.

  76. @ponderer

    It’s amazing how many Alt Right talking points you can extract from *any* comment by misreading it.

    “Also, a little known fact about the Holocaust, apparently, is that some of those Jews were in fact German.”

    Eh… huh?

    “Movies have been made about the attempts on Hitlers life. Also, books.”

    Sure. Your point being…?

    “As you know its possible to opine about a place you don’t live.”

    It’s also possible to pick a faulty, ill-informed POV and stick doggedly to it despite mountains of contradictory data. Because: Internet.

    Once every three or four weeks I find myself dogshit-stepping into some comment thread kerfuffle with a delusional Alt Righter (many of you guys tend to hide your stripes, initially) and the experience is not only reliably unedifying but also eerily like arguing with exactly the same character, every time it happens! Clinically fascinating on one level but also an utter waste of pixels. Passionately clueless and Reality-contradicting rhetoric is the privilege you seem to be making the most of. Go for it.

  77. Rostale

    The problem with “white privilege” is most of what the term is used to describe isn’t privilege at all, but simply treatment that would extended to everyone in a fair society. That the discussion centers around “checking privilege” is telling, the goal is not to improve treatment of minorities, but rather to reduce the recipients of this undeserved “privilege” to the same level.

  78. @Rostale

    “That the discussion centers around “checking privilege” is telling”

    Where in this thread is that happening? I’d be quite happy to see a few Alt Righters acknowledge “white” privilege at all; also, Alt Right reading skills could be leveled up a bit… that would be nice.

    My needs are modest.

  79. bruce wilder

    Billikin: . . . have not neoliberalism and plutocracy infected both major political parties in the US?

    Yes, I believe so.

    I am struggling to understand why you seem to think the Republicans are a danger to democracy, but the Democrats are not.

    neoliberalism and plutocracy are both inimical to democracy and by at least two channels, breed authoritarianism: 1.) increased precarity makes people more prone to authoritarian thinking and 2.) plutocracy creates jobs for police, intelligence and security forces (to defend their wealth).

  80. @Rostale

    “The problem with “white privilege” is most of what the term is used to describe isn’t privilege at all, but simply treatment that would extended to everyone in a fair society.”

    Which is what the complaint about “white” privilege is all about: an unfair society. If the “treatment that would extended to everyone in a fair society” is only extended to a portion of that society, the beneficiaries of said treatment can be said to be privileged (in that way). The hypotheticals-signalling “would” in your sentence points to the fact that said “treatment” does *not* extend to everyone and, therefore, society is *not* fair. How you can confirm that the disparity exists, therefore, yet attempt to refute it, on the other hand, *in the same sentence* , is the kind of cognitive dissonance social scientists (and MK Ultra enthusiasts) get giddy over.

    Which reminds me of arguing with Scientologists, Papists, Zionists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, so-called Black Israelites, Flat Earthers and Michael Jackson fanatics: the human capacity to come up with preposterous work-arounds for Reality is infinite. If only that energy could be harnessed to *improve* Reality instead of negating it.

  81. ponderer

    @steven augustine

    All i did was suggest that you are more privileged than you think and you lost it. Next I’m a Nazi sympathizer (who thinks all people should be treated fairly?). My original point, that privilege is a horrible choice of words that only undermines the left, stands. I actually feel a little bad to manipulate you into a response even I was shocked by. Your problem is that you continue to see fairness as a function of race when in fact, its about a lot of things. Race may hold you back in one way, but your alcoholic father in another. People who feel treated unfairly don’t like to be told their privileged for any reason. It shuts off their valid grievance. Also, when you condemn a group of people you always run the risk of performing your own injustice. So in the US, your neighbor you find out is German and write NAZI on their front door might actually be one of the people who fled the Holocaust and lost all their family. Don’t let ignorance get in the way of success. Remember, the common thread of all those internet arguments is, wait for it, you.

    Exactly. If you try to raise all boats, the worst you’ll meet is malign indifference. If you try to lower them, you’ll have to fight forever.

  82. “I actually feel a little bad to manipulate you into a response even I was shocked by.”

    I would love to be pointed to the shocking bits, Pondy, you little mastermind, you. I suspect they’re tucked away in the parallel anti-universe in which I advocate lowering Rostale’s boats. I must say I admire how self-contained you and Rostale are: you don’t even need enemies to oppose or opposition to overcome because you’re quite good at making it all up! Hat’s off to the Alt Right imagination, gentlemen. And thank you for the demonstration! Highly instructive (and I mean that). This will make for an interesting post on my site.

  83. ponderer

    @steven augustine

    Since you asked to be pointed to the shocking bits, “Your Hitler apologia is straight out of the Alt Right playbook. “Mixed” family, eh? You mean you’ve got a few Poles skulking in the woodpile? ”

    For the internet that’s not shocking, but for this site which is heavily populated with intelligent left leaning individuals it is. I was afraid that a regular was going to accuse me of creating a Pseudonym under steven augustine just to prove my point about “privilege”, until i noticed your blog.

    Actually, I’m just responding because I would like point out there is a link @ your user name with a lot of content that I would never create to make what should be a self evident point. That saboteurs pretending to be leftists, use linguistic tricks and group think to prevent a fair society by alienating as many sub tribes as possible. That was my original post regarding the term “privilege” way up above after all. Lest I be blamed for spreading FUD as a left “saboteur” myself just to score some sort of intellectual points I will no longer engage in your delusions.

  84. 1) “Your Hitler apologia is straight out of the Alt Right playbook.”

    Hitler apologia isn’t an Alt Right thing?

    2) “Mixed” family, eh? You mean you’ve got a few Poles skulking in the woodpile? ”

    Which bit is shocking? The P-word or “woodpile”? Or is “skulking” a non-no where you’re from?

  85. Rostale

    I was meaning discussion in a society-wide sense, in that the reason the term white privilege was chosen is because privilege is a negative term, something to be taken away.
    There is a disparity in society, but how do you reconcile that, by increasing the rights of the disadvantaged or by stripping away rights from those who currently enjoy them?
    The influencers and elite of society are working to bring all working class people down to a level of second class citizenship, thus you see a pervasive effort to label things such as being able to go into a high class establishment without being treated as a potential criminal, to being treated with respect by your boss, of not having to worry about being abused by law enforcement as undeserved privileges rather than say, any serious effort to rein in the structure that renders law enforcement unaccountable or taking measures that will strengthen an employees position.

  86. @Rostale

    “There is a disparity in society, but how do you reconcile that, by increasing the rights of the disadvantaged or by stripping away rights from those who currently enjoy them?”

    Not really a question, though, is it? Who would prefer the latter (sanely)? In most cases, the disparity under discussion is psycho-social, and down, essentially, to an attitude-shift, no? And the first step toward such an attitude shift would entail having those with an attitude that needs shifting… to face that fact.

    How can they change if they don’t know they’re doing something (mildly or less mildly) harmful? Acknowledging the fact of “white” privilege is not about calculating reparations, culpability, magnitudes of evil or punitive redress. It’s just about highlighting a worldview which may be as unconscious a habit as biting ones nails… a small step, really. Not much to ask. I don’t really get the firestorms of resistance the term “white privilege” triggers… especially since I have gone to great pains, in this thread, to distance the term from SJW hyperbole.

    I am not a disadvantaged person; I am clearly an ambitious and pro-active participant in “society”. But this biographical aside has absolutely zero bearing on the historical psycho-social artifact we call “white privilege”. I would welcome a trigger-free discussion of the concept. If you look carefully at all of my posts, you’ll see I press my case with humor and nuance and , above all, a sense of proportion. My first post, on the topic, was quite clear, I think.

  87. ponderer

    “I would welcome a trigger-free discussion of the concept. ”
    I think we all would, that’s why the conversation started, Billikin brought it up. It’s a touchy subject for the left, anything to do with guilt is, because well-intentioned caring people are wont to do that.

    “How can they change if they don’t know they’re doing something (mildly or less mildly) harmful?”
    What’s to change, you are laboring under the assumption that someone needs to change to stop doing harm. There is no harm being done by people who think race is of negligible importance or that it should be. Those aren’t the people you are worried about in your classy boutique. At least no more harm than you do to one armed Liberians. If we are being intellectually honest, I can’t say that white “privilege” or advantage is a factor in all successes. It may be in some which I’ve admitted (as if it has anything to do with me which it doesn’t). The downtrodden people I know who have little hope of advancement are in that position due to other factors. Alcoholism / drug addiction being probably the most abundant. Alcoholic parents, single moms, rotten economy, poor healthcare. Their skin colors run the full range, and all other factors being the same may offer some advantage. Having nurturing yellow,red, or brown parents is a world away from drug addicted white parents. It doesn’t even come close in the realms of suffering. I don’t like the term white privilege because it lessens the plight of some I know and care about. It also minimizes economic privilege which any study will tell you is the single most important factor in success. I also see it turn away people who otherwise have an interest in an egalitarian society. It keeps poor people from voting for Bernie Sanders, assuming they get the chance because the primary isn’t rigged. Whether you use it in hyperbole or not is immaterial. It’s used that way, and an effort to keep the poor, poor and the left contained.

    If you want it in a low-brow way. My best friend is struggling with alcohol and drug addiction from years of child abuse. Whether you have a good time at your local boutique or not, I couldn’t care less.

  88. bruce wilder

    I would welcome a trigger-free discussion of the concept.

    I call b.s.

    The concept is itself a trigger, intended to be used in social interaction to humiliate and disable. Of course, its use infuriates the targets of this “analysis” — its use is a deliberate assault.

    To assail “white privilege” may be a useful exercise in certain circumstances and work to improve the society and culture, but may be simply obnoxious in others. Pretending that it is not obnoxious when it is, because you sadistically enjoy the discomfort and confusion that it creates, is just another form of trolling. Which is pretty much what has been happening in this thread.

  89. @bruce wilder

    “To assail “white privilege” may be a useful exercise in certain circumstances and work to improve the society and culture, but may be simply obnoxious in others.”

    I’ll try to work around your sensitivities. Do you have a note from your doctor?

  90. bruce wilder

    I’ll try to work around your sensitivities. Do you have a note from your doctor?


  91. “QED”

    Yes, that will do, in lieu of a counter-argument based on logic and info, Fragile Bruce. Well done.

    I came to a putatively progressive site to express a Leftish opinion or two and ended up kicking an Alt Right hornet’s nest. How am I supposed to know that the Stormfront paradigm is more of your comfort zone?

    You’ll heal in time.

  92. Billikin

    @ Bruce Wilder

    Good point about neoliberalism and plutocracy breeding authoritarianism.

    Why do I perceive Republicans to be much more of a threat to democracy than Democrats at this time? I’m working on a reply. But let me say that now an through most of its history, I think the US has had the form of a democratic republic. People in the 19th century even used that term. But if you say that the US is currently a plutocracy, I will not disagree. Just compare the polls of citizens on political issues with the votes of Congress. IMO current Republicans are a threat to the republic.

    But the reason I think that we need to defeat authoritarians at the polls is not primarily the threat to the republic, but the extreme degree of political polarization in the US. Us vs. Them mentality is much stronger in authoritarians than in non-authoritarians. In addition, our current polarization is primarily the result of the Republicans becoming more extremely right-wing. They are even more extreme than the conservative adults in the South when I was growing up. The closest thing to the conservatism of today’s Republicans that I can tell is the conservatism of the antebellum South. It is only a little tongue in cheek to say that the modern Republican Party has become the Democratic Party of John C. Calhoun. OC, Calhoun was a rabid racist, while modern Republicans are much less racist, and can even be in denial about racism. Rule by extremists who adhere to Us vs. Them thinking will not make things better, and may well make things worse.

    About “White privilege”. I guess I brought it up in this discussion. I agree that the term is a trigger. But I think that the concept is correct. Growing up under racial segregation, White privilege was obvious to everybody, even if nobody called it that. Today it may not be so obvious. And applying the term privilege to people who do not enjoy privileged positions in society is not only inaccurate, it is insulting. But people need to understand that racism is not just about feelings and beliefs, it is about how people are treated or not treated. And in our society, if you are White you are treated better than if you are not.

  93. “And applying the term privilege to people who do not enjoy privileged positions in society is not only inaccurate, it is insulting. But people need to understand that racism is not just about feelings and beliefs, it is about how people are treated or not treated. And in our society, if you are White you are treated better than if you are not.”

    What seems to be missing in this discussion regarding “white” privilege is the caveat that the best way to calculate the value of WP is *not* to compare, say, a handsome young “black” millionaire’s circumstances to those of a “white” retired house painter with health problems… as tempting as it might be to do so. Compare the Social Capital of a “white” CEO to a “black” CEO… compare a “black” Floridian carpenter’s economic mobility to a “white” etc. “All things being equal,” as the phrase goes, there are still distinct advantages, in America, in being “white”. Yes, 90% of WP has been eroded as the Neo Middle Ages commence and the (e.g.) formerly prosperous auto workers of 1970s Detroit morphed long ago into Chaucerian Serfs in rags. Yet: who is even lower than these “white” Serfs, still? “Black” Serfs. There is a fixed relation at work and it’s as policed from above as it is from below.

    Intelligent adults should be able to discuss these things (or not discuss them) without needing to attempt to shut down discourse with appeals to their trigger-conditions.

  94. ponderer

    @ bruce wilder

    Yes, a troll, who writes obvious, gushing fan letters to himself because who knows better just how hip one is, than oneself? Most of those pushing white privilege aren’t doing it to compensate for their failed writing careers or to triple their page views though. Watching some of those google “internal” town hall meetings you see privileged white kids falling all over themselves to condemn millions of people who don’t share in their privilege, with no clue how that will play outside their tribe. Those are the people I’d like to reach. It’s impossible to keep trolls out of comment sections whether they are paid operatives or bored malicious malcontents. Hopefully, its possible to keep their archived untruths from turning away the genuinely inquisitive.

  95. Willy

    Historically, race has been easy bait for authoritarians. Maybe today less so, but there will always be uninsightful fools willing to follow cunning malignant narcissists because they believe it’ll leverage their own mediocre abilities.

    Maybe Ian will get into race further in another post. Maybe he already has. I don’t know because there is no easy button and I’m short on the time it’d take to find it.

    All I cared about here, is understanding why the dynamics of far left or far right authoritarianism (or any other far-X authoritarianism) seems the same. And then further, how in one’s own personal struggles, you can defeat folly tribalism when it’s been turned by some MN against you.

  96. bruce wilder

    @ Billikin

    Appreciate the quality of your reply.

    I agree that the Republican Party — or at least a significant faction among elected officials and their donors — has moved far to the political right, farther than is even popularly acknowledged. Some of these guys — including the current V-P who scares me more than the blustery but weak Trump — are religious radicals with a righteous conviction and that’s very dangerous.

    What I do not see in Democratic centrism — or nominally non-partisan centrism either — is safety for democracy.

    The defining political strategy of the Democratic Party establishment is taking money from donors to deliver policy while taking a pose on stage to align their voters makes them basically amoral. They do not want to expand the electorate nor do they want to deliver honestly for their electoral constituents. Being centrists who believe in nothing much other than their own selfish ends, they are kind of bland compared to radicals in the Republican Party who believe their own b.s. passionately. But, bland is no indicator of commitment to democracy.

    This has been called the Centrist Paradox and there’s even a book about it. Here’s an op-ed from the NY Times.

    The centrists are scarier to me because they have a better chance, imho, of actually securing a governing majority in the foreseeable future as they have in the most recent past. Even if the elected partisan politicians continue in gridlock, plenty of “very serious” folks who dominate in unelected professional positions may prevail on behalf of a centrism that denies reality and delivers perpetual war for defense contractors and punishingly high prices for medical care for pharma companies and on and on. These centrists, who in very serious tones of professional conviction, go on the PBS News Hour and explain how it would be a mistake to leave Afghanistan after 18 years or how “we” cannot afford Medicare-for-all are preventing democracy from working.

    re: “white privilege” What can be a valid, useful and insightful sociology becomes simply bad manners when the institutional structures of society are made to disappear from the analysis in favor of a transcendent political consciousness. “White privilege” becomes immoral thought processes indelibly inscribed on identity and the troll mind-reads insultingly. Utter crap at that point.

  97. @bruce wilder

    “re: “white privilege” What can be a valid, useful and insightful sociology becomes simply bad manners when the institutional structures of society are made to disappear from the analysis in favor of a transcendent political consciousness. “White privilege” becomes immoral thought processes indelibly inscribed on identity and the troll mind-reads insultingly. Utter crap at that point.”

    You might want to try re-writing that in such a way that it makes the tiniest bit of sense? I get that you prefer controlling the conversation but what I don’t get is why you think you can or ought to. Do your control issues perhaps dovetail with your hypersensitivity to the topic of “White Privilege”? Because what else could explain such a bizarre (and eerily puritanical) sentence:

    “’White privilege’ becomes immoral thought processes indelibly inscribed on identity and the troll mind-reads insultingly.”

    Now, if this site is more naturally Alt Right-leaning than would first appear, I apologize for inadvertently “trolling” a little in-group I have no desire to interact with. I didn’t come here to fuck with Closeted Stormfronters. I came here to make a reasonable comment on a Left-leaning site. Any *sane* reader can go up-thread and see that the points that I make are neither nonsensical nor confrontationally absolutist; they’re quite reasonable, whether you agree with them or not. Perhaps they’re wrong… but demonstrating that would require more than a grammar-raping hissy fit or two, yes?

    Now, clearly: you have a serious emotional problem (or two). And it’s not much of a stretch to suggest that there’s a racial component to at least some of that problem.

    If this site is an Alt Right playground, I have no problem admitting to inadvertent trolling. But if this site is supposed to be genuinely Progressive, why are you so comfortable acting like a blustering old Antebellum Twat who expects… demands… to be humored? Or butlered, as the case may be.

    “Utter crap” indeed.

  98. Billikin

    @ Bruce Wilder

    I have appreciated and learned from your posts and comments for several years. I am still thinking about the Republican party as a danger to the republic. It is quite possible to have a plutocratic republic, and both major US parties tend to plutocracy. But the Republicans have always been more plutocratic. As Bush II said, his base was the haves — and the have mores.

    Just a few quick responses to your last comment.

    I’ll read the Adler tonight. Thanks for the link. Right now, I think of democracy and aristocracy as two poles of a continuum, without any particular regard for institutions. In the US, aristocracy is a dated term, maybe plutocracy is a better term today.

    Given the current political polarization, I have to be in favor of centrism, faute de mieux. But when I have advocated beating authoritarians at the polls, I mean not being like the centrists whom you mention. When you tailor your rhetoric to theirs to get the authoritarians’ votes, you are not beating them. If you beat them fair and square they respect that. Schultz is a centrist, but he does not know what he is doing. IMO, he should team up with Trevor Noah to hold a national conversation on racism for a decade or two. 🙂 Making a dent in racism in the US will do a lot to reduce Us vs. Them mentality and authoritarianism.

    Yes, I am sure that “White privilege” is used to browbeat people with the assertion that the speaker is more enlightened than they are.

  99. Billikin

    @ Bruce Wilder

    Many thanks, Bruce. You and Adler have given me much to think about. I will be brief, as I have written a lot on this post and Ian has moved on.

    In his brief discussion of his paper Adler points out that support for democracy is waning in Europe and the US, and that the conventional wisdom attributes that to “the rise of political extremes.” Then he points out that his research indicates that centrists are the most hostile group to democracy. OC, I cannot explain that, but, at least in the US, many people, myself included, feel that our vote does not count in national elections, because of where we live. I live in California, and if my vote does not count, as a liberal I would rather live here than in Alabama. But because of the polarization of the two main political parties in the US, a centrist whose vote does not count is out of luck. Who represents them? Also, I was fortunate that, despite growing up in the interesting times of the Civil Rights, Anti-War, and Feminist Movement, democracy had a center in the US, and a center that worked. What turned me into an Anti-Republican was Katrina, which revealed a democracy that did not work. If people have grown up in democracies that do not work, why should they believe in democracy?

    As for the question of whether the Republicans or Democrats are a greater threat to democracy, Adlen’s figures support the idea that Republicans are. While the greatest antipathy towards democracy is in the center, next comes the far right, i.e., Republicans. The greatest support for Democracy is on the far left, followed by the moderate left, together represented by the Democratic Party. These data suggest that support for democracy would increase if the US moved to the left, which would mainly be by a reversal of the trend of the Republican Party towards the extreme right. They also suggest that it would be a mistake for Democrats to move towards the center, as that would decrease support for democracy. And, IMX with authoritarian followers, beating them in the polls would be likely to get them to move towards the center, which would probably strengthen democracy in the US.

    How are Republicans a danger to democracy? I think that there are two main ways. The first has to do with violence. Violence is not a necessary way that authoritarian aggression manifests itself, but in recent decades the main political violence in the US has come from the right. Part of that has to do with the South, which has historically been one of the more violent regions of the US. The Klan is still active, as are other White supremacist groups around the US. The mainstream media mostly reports foreign terrorist incidents in the US, but by far most terrorist incidents in the US come from domestic right wingers, more than 85%. Officially the Republican Party does not condone this violence, but Trump openly encourages these groups, and violence simmers at Trump rallies.

    In is possible, but I hope unlikely that we will see a prolonged period of political violence in the US. In that case the polarization of the Democrats and Republicans will probably not do much to reduce it, and the presence of a center that has no faith in democracy could see the election of a strongman, even perhaps a coup to restore order. I think that this scenario has less than a 5% chance.

    A much more likely danger to the republic from Republicans is exemplified by Trump’s declaration of a national emergency, and, more tellingly, perhaps, McConnell’s endorsement of that declaration. For decades the presidency has accrued more and more power in the US, and Trump may actually get away with this power grab. “The Imperial Presidency” came out in 1973, but back then the Supreme Court denied Nixon’s claim of executive privilege over the Watergate tapes. Do we think that Justice Kavanaugh would have agreed? Through this accrual of power to the presidency we may end up as a republic in name only.

  100. ponderer

    Isn’t that a British political researcher? Can you apply that to the US, especially if you have not read it? I did and I don’t find it very compelling. here is an example

    If civil rights represent democratic institutions enforced by the state, politicalengagement is central to the maintenance of democratic culture. According to the WVS data, engagement is also weakest at the political center.

    So he assumes that those who don’t “engage” hate democracy. 50% in the center vote while 70+% on the extremes. So do 20% differential hate democracy, or do they just realize we don’t have democracy and there is little point in going through the motions. It seems very likely he suffers from bias confirmation. A “political researcher” might have some interest in the situation where parties pay for research while independents do not.

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