So you say you want a daddy for your president?
OK, so maybe you didn’t say it, but on a subliminal level, you may have felt it, especially if you’re a Republican primary voter leaning toward Donald Trump.
Such is the finding of a recent national poll unveiled in the current issue of Politico magazine. The survey’s author, political consultant Matthew MacWilliams, found that Trump supporters tend to be primarily “authoritarians.”
This shouldn’t come as a surprise since “authority” sums up the content of both Trump’s persona and his campaign. How many times have you heard him say, “Believe me,” usually following some sweeping promise that has virtually no basis in reality?
But Big Daddy’s the boss. What he says goes. Case closed.
For many Republicans, this trope apparently offers comfort. Fathers, after all, are brave, strong and filled with correctitude. They lay down the law; you follow it. So much for Republican allegiance to independence and self-sufficiency. When it comes to government authority, the only difference between a daddy state and a mommy state is the number of bullets in the clip.
The problems Trump cites, whether China’s currency manipulation or illegal immigration, are real enough. It’s his build-it-and-ban-’em solutions that are overbroad and draconian.
What voters hear when Trump speaks is validation of their anger, resentment, fear and loathing. This folie a deux between demagogue and populace is nothing new, but a substantial percentage of GOP voters are managing to overlook Trump’s parallels to history’s other authoritarian figures. They, too, invariably appealed to nationalistic, nativist pride and made enemies of “the others.”
Republicans don’t have a monopoly on such characteristics or characters – there’s no tyranny like the left’s imposition of absolute equality – but Trump is the only candidate of either party for whom the variable of “authoritarianism” was statistically significant in this survey of 1,800 registered voters. And none of the usual variables – education, income, gender, age, ideology or religiosity – were significant among likely Trump voters.
So exactly what does it mean to be “authoritarian,” in MacWilliams’ parlance? In a word, it means you obey – and that you value obedience.
Authoritarians are attracted to strong leaders and react strongly to outsiders when they feel threatened. These qualities aren’t necessarily an indictment of either Trump or his supporters. It is natural to want to protect one’s home (land) when intruders are reportedly about. And who in her right mind wants a weak leader? Been there, haven’t we?
Trouble is in the details, or, in Trump’s case, the lack thereof. His plans and policies are amateurish to pretend-ish, certainly as compared with someone’s like Jeb Bush, who has offered detailed plans for tackling complicated issues. Not that voters are going to read them.
On the Democratic side, authoritarianism didn’t register as statistically significant – at least not yet. Bernie Sanders may seem the amiable if crotchety grandfather, but anyone who thinks government ought to control large portions of the economy and who promises to transfer wealth from one group to another won’t be a sweetheart for long.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton, who has endured decades of authoritarian comparisons – from the finger-wagging teacher to the emasculating Nurse Ratched – is today a kinder-gentler, head-nodding version of her former self.
Of the three – Trump, Sanders and Clinton – Hillary is by far the most rational, which surely comes as a surprise even to the many Republicans, anecdotally, who have told me they’d vote for Clinton over Trump. Companion to this anomaly is the New Hampshire voter who can cast a ballot in either primary and is torn between Sanders or Trump. Eh? What’s that?
That could only be explained by the straight-talk effect for which both Trump and Sanders are known. But the world of difference between them suggests that our next president could be just anybody and for no particular reason whatsoever.
Today’s voters are so mad they can’t see – or think – straight. They want simple solutions and simplistic slogans. With Trump, they get both, as well as a furious father figure, who, snapping off his belt for a good whuppin’, will build a wall, bomb the hell out of ’em, and bravely defend “Merry Christmas.”
Kathleen Parker’s email address is email@example.com.