Sunday, November 8, 2020

America Welcomes Authoritarianism

 John Dean and Bob Altemeyer have given us a solidly scientific look at our current political crisis using both Dean's insights  and experience in political science and  Altemeyer's study of the processes involved in successful political domination and the science of personality testing.  The latter is a field of study developed over the last 50 years or so incorporating the fields of behavioral psychology and sociology.  These are study areas not frequently found in research of politics and governance. 

The field of study of authoritarian behavior began during WWII in the U.S.A. to understand what we were facing with Germany, Italy and Japan.

Altemeyer's approach has been to classify authoritarian personalities in typologies using what he calls a RWA  (right wing authoritarian) scale. His data suggests that those classified as high RWA's total 19 % of the U.S. population.  Behavioral/attitudinal characteristics include conventional behavior, making cursory identification of these types difficult.  But probing their personalities further reveals them to be often highly religious, prejudiced, opposing equal opportunity and lacking critical thinking skills. They are often not well educated.  Their views on freedom and liberty are superficial with probing revealing that what they care about is their  own freedom and liberty, not others.

He classified a second typology of authoritarian personalities as those less inclined to be leaders and more inclined to be followers.  These types number in the 30% of the population range in the U.S.   Their following is characterized as very loyal and difficult to change allegiance.

The authors also cite the work of Jason Stanley from studies starting in the 40's and 50's.  Stanley classified his typologies as Social Dominance Orientation, SDO.  He studied elected leaders and found those with high SDO's possessing what we have experienced with Donald Trump:  A desire to dominate, achieve personal power, willingness to cheat to win with amoral, bullying and vengeful behaviors.  Basically, mean people.

Recent Monmouth studies have revealed Republican leaders having high RWA behaviors and personalities. Their studies reveal that 33% of our U.S. population will follow high RWA leaders without discretion or self awareness.  

This research suggests that success in attaining compromise with these personality types is highly challenging, if not nearly impossible.  Some have conjectured that our success in in creating allies out of defeated enemies in Germany and Japan might suggest this conclusion to be overly pessimistic.  But history seems to suggest that both of these countries, with devastated economies and infrastructures were stripped of their RWA leaders with high SDO's and shamed in the world community  Their populations had no options or other choices than to submit to our rebuilding plan.  And to submit to very aggressive public education programs to diminish their authoritarian behaviors and support for authoritarians. 

And, our own Civil War experience was quite different from this more recent historical experience with Germany and Japan.  It took only a few years of a very forgiving Union to allow the destruction of Reconstruction and the replacement of slavery with abject racism and Jim Crow policies and 100 years of segregation and oppression of the offspring of former slave populations. 

These historic examples, in my opinion, together with the emergence of authoritarian movements in the U.S. roughly every 40 or 50 years since the Civil War, do not portend well for the eradication of authoritarians in our society.  I hope fervently that I am wrong and that President Biden's outreach to heal and form a more perfect Union is successful.