The Authoritarian Vote

Donald Trump: AuthoritarianAmericans love a good authoritarian!

Last night, I spoke to my father about the presidential campaign. He indicated that he was going to vote for Trump. He didn’t say it explicitly, but I got the idea. It really isn’t about Trump, of course. It is about Hillary Clinton. She just can’t be trusted! Or something. I asked him to name something that she had lied about. He said, “Benghazi.” I asked for clarification. He mentioned the stand down order that stopped the military from rescuing the people at the embassy. The fact that this assertion has been refuted by three different Republican investigations means nothing.

I gave him information about this, but it doesn’t matter. The truth is that since 1992, the right wing has been piling so much garbage on Hillary Clinton that now people like my father simply have a generalized notion that she is not trustworthy. Where there’s smoke, there must be fire. Somewhere. If 25 years of investigations have not turned anything up, it just means that we haven’t looked thoroughly enough.

The Lying Double Standard

On the other hand, Trump has been caught lying again and again and again. But apparently, while smoke implies fire, actual fire does not. Or rather, actual lying does not matter because we know about it. Having a general idea that there might be lying causes conservatives to obsess about it the way they might a clever magic trick. Trump’s obviousness makes him immune.

Hillary ClintonOf course, it doesn’t matter. If it weren’t this, it would be something else that made Hillary Clinton unacceptable. The truth is that Trump is the man that many conservatives have been waiting their whole lives to vote for. As I watched some of the DNC last night, I was struck by how soft it appeared to be. It was totally lacking in the one thing that the RNC had in abundance: authoritarian chest pounding.

Americans Want an Authoritarian

There are a lot of Americans who want nothing more than a tough guy as president. And sad to say, my father is one of them. There is nothing to discuss. My father, for example, thinks the economy is terrible and that it is the Democrats’ fault. He mentioned that our infrastructure is crumbling. There is much truth in all of this. But the reason for it is the Republicans. And voting for an authoritarian is not going to fix it.

My father has a certain fondness for Bernie Sanders. This is probably more because he isn’t Hillary Clinton than anything else. Yet he asked how Sanders was planning to pay for his plan for free college. I told him how and we had a nice discussion of financial transaction taxes. He approves of them — at least until Charles Krauthammer tells him not to. But I was struck by the fact that my father is not interested in how Donald Trump is going to pay for his hugely regressive tax cut. That’s the great thing about authoritarians: all you have to do is put your trust in them and all will be well.

Things Look Bad at the Moment

After seeing the most recent polls that have Trump tied or leading Clinton, talking to my father was helpful. How is it that Trump could even be close in this election, much less potentially winning? Well, there you are! Elections are not about ideas. They are about gut feelings. They are about a country desperate for any authoritarian who comes along and tells them he is the one weird trick for national happiness.

I find it exhausting. It really makes me wonder why I follow politics and why I write about it. Over the last six months, I’ve thought a lot about Leonard Peikoff’s book, The Ominous Parallels. It’s filled with a lot of Randian nonsense, of course. But the truth is that Americans really do have a profound attraction toward strongmen. And there isn’t much the rest of us can do about it.

This is not fun.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

14 thoughts on “The Authoritarian Vote

    • All that stuff is scary. It’s scary we have a portion of the electorate that wants those things.

      I’m not scared of Trump doing any of them. Except cutting taxes for the rich. He could and would do that. If he were insane enough to order a nuclear strike (I think he’s insane, not that insane) the Pentagon would just tell him “no.” Yeah, they theoretically can’t disobey any order from a President. They would. They’re deranged, not crazy.

      I am scared of Trump supporters; not all of them, the really fascist ones who have been that party’s backbone for ages. They are feeling loud and proud right now about their dream coming true. Their dreams won’t come true, no matter who wins in November. I didn’t realize how many we had. They honestly want anyone different rounded up and killed. They are currently too disorganized to round up and kill anyone by themselves; we don’t have an army of fascists for a demagogue to command. Can they become that organized? I always assumed not, I thought there weren’t enough of them, and given the Bundys/the militia movement I don’t have a lot of respect for their organizational skills.

      But there’s more of them than I was aware of. And they might get better at organizing. And that’s deeply scary.

  1. I would argue that this desire for a strongman is not uniquely modern or uniquely American. Most people have had a desire for a big strong protector. “Only I can protect you from (fill-in-the-blank)” has been a successful rallying cry as long as we’ve been human. It’s only because this contrasts w/ modern ideals of freedom and self-determination that we’re even aware of it.

    See also

    • I agree. The reason I focus on the US is because we are so loud about supposed ideals. And the loudest of them all are the Trump supporters.

      As for the superheroes, I’ve written about all of those at different times. Take the ending of Man of Steal. It’s only nice if we assume that Superman is a Good Guy. Otherwise, it is a chilling ending. The whole genre is fascistic. It’s very troubling.

  2. Anybody who runs for US president is a bit of an egotistical lunatic. Why would any sane person want the position? It reminds me of the old Onion headline from 2008, “Black Man Given Nation’s Worst Job.” Conservatives see Clinton’s naked ambition and of course they dislike it; it’s an odd trait.

    Yet they don’t see it in Trump, they didn’t see it in Reagan or the Bushes. I’m working on understanding this, but I haven’t gotten there yet.

    • I might write about this tonight. I think it is simple: they don’t like Clinton. They don’t have anything concrete to complain about: “She wants to nationalize the banks!” So it’s, “She’s not authentic!” Or some other vague complaint that applies to literally everyone. Sad.

    • The US has two major political parties that committed to the American empire. Most Americans are fully in support of that. It’s not a partisan issue. And Trump isn’t against war; he just thinks we should be paid for it. One can’t be a nationalist without being very pro-war. But I suppose there are those who are delusional enough to think that Trump will be a peace president. Regardless, it’s not Trump’s occasional isolationist rhetoric that makes liberals dislike him. It’s one of the few things they do like about him.

  3. “It is a well known fact, that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.”

    — Douglas Adams

    • It’s so true. The person who doesn’t want to be a boss, because they don’t want to become like the power-happy bosses they’ve known, is probably well qualified to be a boss. The person who doesn’t want kids because they hate it when adults are mean to kids would probably be an excellent parent. The person who says “I’m not working at that job, it’s immoral” is the one most likely to make it less immoral. And so on.

      So our candidates for the insane job of President are themselves a bit loopy. How to we judge between them? We look at their record, we look at their policy proposals. What is Secretary Clinton’s record? That of a centrist with a liberal bent. What is Mr. Trump’s? A rank swindler who seems to have no other interest in life than validating his thirstless ego by screwing over as many people as possible. It makes him feel better, I guess.

      What are Clinton’s policy proposals? Some things she’s probably aware are unrealistic, yet still worthwhile goals to work towards. What are Trump’s? 50% warmed-over reheats from the last five decades of conservative “thought,” 50% nonsense he knows full well are impossible. It’s all a game, a con to him. He doesn’t know the first thing about being a successful business owner, but he’s played one for decades and the cons keep buying it. That’s its own thrill, like being a serial killer and a respected community member. He’s not an Andy Kaufman, though, who pushes the scam as far as it can go. He’s a Uri Geller. He doesn’t just want people to believe his bullstuff. No, he wants to be Taken Seriously for it. He wants the suckers to Respect him.

      Hillary is spookily ambitious, but she has a long record of taking public service seriously — and is clearly highly intelligent to boot. Trump is a pathetic wimp.

      Side note; why are we getting all these GOP candidates with daddy issues? Trump, Romney, Bush, they all need to prove they can outdo Poppa. It’s so strange…

      • To answer your last question: because they know that they didn’t earn what they got. I don’t think anyone did. But Trump must know that he’s a fraud.

    • I generally agree with that. But I least want to rule people and would be similarly least suited to do it. Just as most authoritarian leaders are good authoritarian followers, I believe I’m typical of a certain opposite psychology: I don’t want to lead just as much as I don’t want to be led.

    • From Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

      The President is very much a figurehead – he wields no real power whatsoever. He is apparently chosen by the government, but the qualities he is required to display are not those of leadership but those of finely judged outrage. For this reason the President is always a controversial choice, always an infuriating but fascinating character. His job is not to wield power but to draw attention away from it…

      On those criteria Zaphod Beeblebrox is one of the most successful Presidents the Galaxy has ever had. He spent two of his ten Presidential years in prison for fraud.

      Honestly, if this is what a president should be, then Trump IS the best possible choice.

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