The rise of Trump has resurfaced much discussion about the right-wing authoritarian personality. This initially gained prominence after World War II as social psychologists attempted to find an explanation for why so many millions of Germans and Italians became enthralled with their fascist leaders. According to the theory as developed by people such as Theodor Adorno and Bob Altemeyer and later also popularized by philosophers like Hannah Arendt, a certain psychological profile which prioritized obedience to authority, adherence to traditional social norms and hierarchies, and punitive views towards criminal justice, as well as a general aggressiveness towards outsiders. These attitudes resulted in these personalities being particularly susceptible to far-right populist leaders, however anti-democratic and illiberal they may be.
Nailing down a left-wing authoritarian personality, however, has proven difficult. Altemeyer himself has stated that he has failed to find any evidence of it despite decades of study. Others have seen left-wing authoritarians as being mostly similar to their right-wing counterparts, except that the latter’s deference toa authority is replaced by an obsessive desire to overthrow it, as well as a willingness to engage in politically-motivated violence. Still, this is questionable. Even looking at many of the left-wing authoritarian regimes of the 20th century (the USSR, North Korea), it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the support by their populations was more a product of state intimidation and propaganda rather than personalities. Continue reading
Is Donald Trump fascist?
The knee-jerk reaction by his opponents makes this an easy answer: yes. He has made borderline racist comments about Mexicans, black people, Muslims, and as the recently leaked 2005 Access Hollywood recordings have made all but clear, is an appalling sexist as well (although this was pretty obvious back when he said he would date his own daughter who by his own admission is “a piece of ass”). But his defenders would cringe at the idea that he is an American Hitler. Hitler, after all, killed 6 million Jews (among millions of others) and launched a world war. Yes, Trump is a bully, a sleazeball, and a demagogue and seems to not care much about institutions as evidenced by his wanting to jail Hillary Clinton. But there is a pretty big gap between that and genocide. It’s kick the foreigners out, not murder them (at least yet).
Furthermore, even many people who dislike Trump feel uneasy by the fascist/Nazi/Hitler comparison. Godwin’s Law, for example, famously affirms that “as an online discussion continues, the probability of a reference or comparison to Hitler or Nazis approaches 1”. Indeed, the left (and also the right) uses comparisons to fascism, Nazism, and genocide to such an extent that in many cases they have pretty much lost their value. It is an argumentative cop out for the simple reason that nobody in the history of humanity has been as bad as Hitler (except possibly Stalin or Mao but they mostly killed their own people which seemingly carries less of a stigma). Trump is not even in power yet, and he has not started a world war or a genocide.
Although Godwin’s Law has its merit, I feel in this particular case it is a very weak defense of what Trump would be willing to do and how far his supporters would be willing to follow. And there’s one very easy thought experiment to find that out. Just ask yourself the following two questions:
Would Trump have behaved any different to Hitler had he been in Hitler’s position in 1933-45?
Would Trump’s supporters have behaved any different to Hitler’s in 1933-45? Continue reading