Is Trump’s appeal a prelude to disaster?

There’s been no shortage of theories about Donald
Trump’s popularity among voters. Political pundits have vainly dissected his every
word in search of the answer to his appeal. The pundits often find their answer
in Trump’s politically incorrect invective, pushing the idea that Trump’s
support base is white, angry, and xenophobic. While this may true of some of
his supporters, the evidence suggests Trump’s support is much broader than
that. Dismissing his supporters only as bigots risks ignoring something much bigger.

Matthew MacWilliams, a political scientist, suggests
that of all the variables that may explain Trump’s support, authoritarianism is the most persuasive.
Variables like income, gender, and race, in other words, are not as decisive as
authoritarianism in predicting who will support Trump.

So what is authoritarianism? As noted in a piece from Vox,
when MacWilliams uses the term authoritarianism
he is not talking about tyrants or dictatorships, but rather a psychological profile of
Authoritarianism in this context describes voters who place
high value on social order and hierarchies. These voters have a desire
for order where they perceive dangerous change, and, they want a leader who will
demonstrate the strength to use force and overcome the perceived dangers. Trump fulfils
 this desire for the voters.

Some also suggest that in a world rife with dangers and complexity Trump’s authoritarianism is seen as a refreshingly
comprehensible approach to an otherwise incomprehensible world. He speaks in terms of
black and white. The grey area, where all the complexity lies, is largely
ignored. Something is either “good” or it is “bad”. Simple.     

In an insightful article Salon notes as much, stating it is this
simplicity that provides Trump such appeal: 
“When Trump
speaks, he tells you three things: 1) What’s wrong with the world; 2)
Which stupid people (or countries) are responsible for ruining
it; and 3) How he’s going
to take it back.”
It’s also
important not to overlook voter fatigue with “establishment” politicians. For
years people on either side of the aisle have seen trade deals they were told
would create jobs actually lead to the offshoring of jobs, witnessed the continued
destruction of the middle class, been sold on seemingly endless wars, lost their homes while obscene amounts were to bail-out Wall-Street, been convinced there is
corruption at all levels, and experienced a degrading quality of life. These
issues reflect a system in which people feel increasingly powerless, ignored,
and mistrustful of their elected representatives. In other words, there’s a
sense that people are being exploited in a rigged game.
Trump is
viewed as authentic and uninfluenced by political lobbyists, an antidote to a system that’s rigged against them. In
the eyes of many, there’s no double-speak with Trump. He says what he believes and
he believes what he says. It doesn’t matter that
has found much of Trump’s statements either false or misleading. What
matters is that Trump, with his unapologetic bravado and willingness to say the
things others shrink from saying, presents as a cure to politicians who seem to have abandoned the average voter.
relative “outsider” status in politics, his bravado and simplification of the
world, appeals to the authoritarian search for order. That, it seems, is the
foundation of his success. 
The Dangers
of a “President Trump”
The dark side of
authoritarianism is, of course, not the desire for order, but rather how one
responds to the sense of threats to that order. In MacWilliams estimate,
diversity and an influx of outsiders can be regarded as a threat to order and
therefore may be experienced as personally threatening to the order that people
hold as important to their security.
In an
uncertain world, Trump’s approach holds the promise of restoring order and
security. This promise may be false and ultimately disappointing, but it offers
immediate comfort to worried voters. His usual tack goes something like: Concerned about immigration? No problem:
we’ll build a “big big wall”. Worried about terrorists? No problem: we’ll take
away their wealth.
It’s simple “solutions” like this that Trump offers and which
alleviate the anxiety of many voters.
But it’s
vital not to ignore that what he’s selling to voters may be dangerous. As
reported by the
BBC, a Trump
presidency is regarded as one of the top risks facing the world. Despite
Trump’s apparent strength as a business success, the Economist Intelligence
Unit warns that Trump could “disrupt the global economy and heighten political
and security risks in the U.S.”
During his
campaign thus far, Trump has essentially advocated committing war crimes when
he said the families of terrorists ought to be killed. Besides that, Trump has
advocated an invasion of Syria to eliminate Islamic terrorists and take their
oil (note: this is part of his strategy to take away their wealth).
The EIU has
also noted that far from enhancing the security that likely appeals to his
support base, Trump’s policy prescriptions may threaten the security of voters:
“His militaristic tendencies towards the Middle East and ban on all Muslim
travel to the US would be a potent recruitment tool for jihadi groups,
increasing their threat both within the region
and beyond.”
With his
frequent revisions of his own policies, it is difficult to get a sense of Trump
true policy prescriptions. In many ways he is an unknown quantity. But from
what we do see, Trump simply panders to the underlying anger and disillusionment
among the voting public, finding scapegoats in immigrants or Muslim air travel.
In stoking the anger and fears of voters, Trump appears to be profiting from a
well-worn observation made by George Eliot in the 19th Century,
which states: “
Cruelty, like every other vice, requires no motive
outside of itself; it only requires opportunity.”

Trump is leading people down the road to a much more
dangerous and insecure world. We would all do well not to follow him into a
world so ugly.

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