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1) Donald Trump’s press conference Wednesday, and the responses to it, are an important and perhaps historic moment, beyond the controversy. It made irrevocably clear that Trump intends to rule as an authoritarian, and his followers want that. Ridiculously long thread follows.
2) @ThePlumLine has already limned the authoritarian nature of the behavior of both Trump and his minions in searing detail. I urge everyone to read this thread so they can understand the dynamic at work here.

3) This is hardly the first time Trump has attempted to assert that his version of reality is the only legitimate one, and that all others are “fake.” It’s been a trademark of his tenure. He uses the gap as a wedge to drive his followers closer.

4) This chaos is by design, something Trump positively cultivated, following the pattern set by authoritarians throughout history – using the turmoil to create so much uncertainty that his rigid positions eventually come to define the general consensus.

5) On Wednesday, you could also see Alt-America – the epistemological bubble the American right has built, an alternative universe comprised of “alternative facts” and conspiracy theories – asserting itself. This is part of the authoritarian creep.

6) Now, when most of us hear the term or think about authoritarianism, we usually do so in the context of the leaders throughout history who have headed up authoritarian regimes – everyone from Napoleon to Hitler and Stalin to any number of petty banana-republic dictators.
7) But that’s not what makes authoritarianism work, or not the whole story. No authoritarian regime has ever existed without a substantial portion of the population it rules actively supporting and preferring it. They all have large armies of followers who sustain them in power.
8) So to understand authoritarianism, it’s essential first to understand the distinctive personality types that are attracted to it and support it. Because this what is keeping Donald Trump’s presidency afloat, and what makes it a threat to democracy itself.
9) What follows is largely derived from two essential works on the subject: Robert Altemeyer’s _The Authoritarians_, and Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler’s _Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics_.


10) As these psychologists have explored, most people have some level of authoritarian tendencies, but these are often leveled out by such factors as personal empathy and critical thinking skills, which tend to lead to a less black-and-white view of the world.
11) Nor is authoritarianism relegated just to the right side of the political aisle. There are also left-wing authoritarians, as any survivor of Stalinist Russia can attest. Theirs is a variation wherein the desired utopian rule becomes the objective.
12) Current Fox propaganda notwithstanding, these authoritarian tendencies on the left remain comparatively muted. Most mainstream Democrats fall well into the zone of personality types that are resistant to authoritarianism, even if they underestimate it.
13) I say “comparatively” mainly because we are currently awash in a flood tide of right-wing authoritarianism. As I document in #AltAmerica, it has been growing steadily in the USA since the 1990s, and is now reaching a zenith never seen here before.
14) Are right-wing authoritarians born or made? Probably a combination of both, though it’s clear that people’s authoritarian tendencies increase the more fearful they are. Identifying a threat and forming a focus on it are essential to shaping these personalities.
15) Some are wired this way from birth. Early theories on authoritarian personalities, now largely discredited, argued for a Freudian model in which harsh rearing environments and traumas produce people who insist on a world in which strong authorities produce order and peace.
16) Most analysis today finds that it usually depends on circumstances. Because it is innate to human personalities, it can remain latent during periods when people do not perceive a threat, and increase when they do.

17) Periods of intense social change also can produce authoritarian backlash, as such changes are often perceived by some personalities as a kind of threat. This is why civil-rights advances, such as #BLM, have so often been perceived as an attack on whites.
18) Right-wing authoritarian (RWA) personalities are built around three behavioral and attitudinal clusters, which are closely related groups of human psychology that essentially shape our worldviews.
19) First: Authoritarian submission. This is the eager adherence to edicts, rulings, and opinions of the authorities and leaders who are deemed legitimate, built around the belief that a civil, ordered, and secure society requires such submission.
20) Next: Authoritarian aggression. This is the physical, verbal, and social aggression displayed toward anyone or any trend that runs counter to those authorities, or in the case of leadership, is deemed illegitimate.
21) Finally: Conventionalism. The adamant embrace of what is perceived as the social norm and the “real” national identity, and the belief that oneself reflects that “real” identity.
22) These three clusters interact in myriad ways, and produce a long list of identifiable traits. Altemeyer in particular has identified about a dozen such traits.
23) They are highly ethnocentric, inclined to see the world as their in-group versus everyone else.
24) They are highly fearful of a dangerous world.

25) They are highly self-righteous.
26) They are aggressive.
27) They are highly prejudiced against racial and ethnic majorities, non-heterosexuals, and women in general.
28) Their beliefs are a mass of contradictions, dependent on compartmentalized thinking.
29) They reason poorly, and they are prone to projection.
30) They are highly dogmatic.
31) They are very dependent on social reinforcement of their beliefs.
32) Because they severely limit their exposure to different people and ideas, they vastly overestimate the extent to which other people agree with them.
33) They are prone to conspiracist thinking and a gullibility about “alternative facts.”

34) Authoritarianism as a worldview always creates a certain kind of cognitive dissonance, a feeling of unreality, because it runs smack into the complex nature of the modern world.
35) The authoritarian worldview attempts to impose its simplified, black-and-white explanation of reality onto a factual reality that contradicts and undermines it every turn.

36) People with authoritarian personalities willingly slip into the alternative universe of Alt-America because it helps soothe this dissonance, allowing its occupants to glide over inconvenient facts because they participate in a larger “truth.”
37) Alt-America, as a creation of right-wing authoritarians, has always played a key role: a refuge for people who reject factual reality, a place where they can convene and reassure one another in the facticity of their fabricated version of how the world works.
38) Conspiracism appeals to people with such personality traits – the people who tell pollsters they “don’t recognize their country anymore” and bewildered by the brown faces filling the cultural landscape in places where they never used to be.

[Not the real Boston Globe, FWIW]
39) One study found conspiracy theories are compelling to “those with low self-worth, especially with regard to their sense of agency in the world at large.” They long for America with lawns and culdesacs, and are angry the world no longer works that way.

40) While the mainstream media simply present the world as it is, conspiracy theories offer narratives that explain to them why the country is no longer what they wish it to be, why it has that alien shape.
41) And so in their minds it comes to represent a deeper truth about their world, while repeatedly reinforcing their long-held prejudices, and enables them to ignore the real, factual (and often uncomfortable) nature of the changes the world is undergoing.
42) Simply put, it provides a clear, self-reinforcing answer to the source of their personal disempowerment. It also has the advantage of telling believers that they are the solo, go-it-alone action heroes in the movies of their own lives.
43) The deep irony in all this is that the overall effects of conspiracy theories are such that they are profoundly disempowering. Conspiracists disconnect from the rest of the world, who they either hold in paranoid suspicion or contempt, except the likeminded.
44) Conspiracism creates a toxic mindset, a worldview in which the world is actually being run by secretive, powerful schemers intent on suppressing them, against whose immense power an ordinary individual is almost entirely powerless. Even their neighbors are suspect.
45) There can even be outright cognitive effects, a variation of the old Upton Sinclair adage: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when the entire worldview around which his emotional life revolves depends on his not understanding it.”
46) People who are “red-pilled,” as the conspiracy-loving alt-righters have dubbed themselves, see themselves as utterly disattached from their communities, fighting a desperate battle with only the help of their fellow conspiracists against truly dark and evil forces.
47) Alex Jones constantly refers to his targets as “demonic.” It’s not just a bleak world, it’s one in which people can become overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness and anger.

48) That’s one of the primary reasons conspiracist beliefs are so often associated with horrific acts of terrorist violence: Anders Breivik’s massacre of 69 teens in Norway in 2011, or Tim McVeigh’s OKC bomb that killed 168 …

49) … Or Jared Loughner’s horrifying rampage in Tucson in 2011, or Dylann Roof’s rampage at the Charleston church in 2015, or Robert Bowers’ horrifying rampage in Pittsburgh last month.

49) … Or Jared Loughner’s horrifying rampage in Tucson in 2011, or Dylann Roof’s rampage at the Charleston church in 2015, or Robert Bowers’ horrifying rampage in Pittsburgh last month.

50) All of these people, and their many other domestic-terrorist cohorts, acted out of a desperation fueled by anger over their sense of deep disempowerment – all of it a product of a belief in conspiracy theories.

51) The violence committed by domestic terrorists serves the purposes of authoritarians in profound ways: it ratchets up the levels of fear in society generally, and a resort to the false security of authoritarianism is a common psychological response.

52) This is where the role played by authoritarian leaders is key. Because rather than ease people’s fears, as a normative democratic leader would do, authoritarians immediately reach for the panic button. Keeping the populace in a fearful state is a cornerstone of their rule.
53) Authoritarian leaders have a personality type quite distinct from their followers. It is called social dominance orientation (SDO), essentially a form of narcissism on steroids. A portrait of an SDO leader would look and act like Trump.

54) SDOs are far more interested in the personal acquisition of power than are RWAs, who by nature are more inclined to march on someone else’s behalf. They also have different reasoning capacities, and are far more calculating and manipulative.
55) What they have in common, more than anything else, is a shared dismissive view of equality as an important social view. They believe inequality is the natural state of things, and any attempts to tamper with it are doomed to fail and screw everything up. Like Jordan Peterson.
56) They both believe that there is a natural hierarchy of the gifted and the less so. The difference is that SDOs tend to see themselves among the former, while RWAs are more likely to view themselves among the latter, but harbor ambitions to achieve the former.
57) Given its innate preference for autocratic rule, authoritarianism is toxic for any kind of democratic society. The alt-right’s express hostility to democracy and its institutions makes its rise as a political phenomenon a concern not just in the USA, but around the world.
58) The attacks on democracy come both from below – by his violent and fanatical footsoldiers, people like the Proud Boys and the #MAGAbomber – and from above, from the president and his administration, as we saw in this week’s Trump turmoil, involving the press and vote counts.
59) By now, we have all learned the routine: When Trump is cornered or threatened, he lashes out and creates a distraction by doing something outrageous that throws the media into chaos. If someone asks a tough question, he personally attacks them.

60) This week, he did not want to answer questions about losing the House to Democrats. He also did not want to answer questions about his role in inspiring political violence in the form of the #MAGAbomber and the Pittsburgh shooter. So he went full-throated authoritarian.
61) The day after the election, he fired his attorney general and attempted to replace him with a personal appointment of a partisan hatchetman as “acting” AG. That raised legitimate concerns that he was plunging the nation into a constitutional crisis.

62) That was just the start. The next day, Trump’s presser went historically off the rails. He pointed at CNN’s Jim Acosta, calling CNN “fake news” and ordering him to sit down and creating a tussle. The White House then suspended Acosta’s credentials.
63) More than a few people have noticed how the White House later used a video produced by the kings of conspiracism, Infowars, to sustain its laughable claim that Acosta had “assaulted” an aide who had tried to wrest a microphone from his hand.

64) Pay careful attention: The question that Acosta was asking at the time Trump blew up at him was about his Caravan fearmongering and was related to increasing questions directed at Trump about the effects of his rhetoric in inspiring violence.

65) Trump then verbally attacked a female black journalist, calling a question about his rhetoric inspiring white supremacists “racist.” A day later, he attacked another black journalist who asked a similar question, telling her she was “stupid.” He also attacked April Ryan.
66) Trump will never confront questions about his culpability in political violence. He'll blow up any press conference where they are asked. In the end, he is winking and nudging at people who commit acts of violence in his name. He’s been doing it since at least the campaign.
67) He keeps justifying their violence. The victims have it coming. He did this during the campaign, when two men badly beat a Latino and urinated on him, then said Trump inspired them. Trump explained that some of his followers “are very passionate.”
68) When anyone asks him about his connection to the recent terrorism, he retorts that the media creates violence with “fake news.” The logic is clear: If you were submissive to my rule, reported news as I like it, you wouldn’t be facing this violence.

69) He emphasized this by underlining his own authoritarianism in the same press gaggle, lecturing the reporters on how they need to “respect” the office of the presidency, blah blah blah. (This rule obviously didn’t apply to Barack Obama.)
70) This is not going to stop. It is only going to spiral higher and higher. There are no brakes on this presidency, except perhaps the new House. And trust me, its members will soon face the same personal, vicious barrage from Trump as his previous enemies.
71) Recall what Democratic presidential adviser Ron Klain told Ezra Klein:

“If Trump became a full-fledged autocrat, it will not be because he succeeds in running the state. It’s not going to be like Julius Caesar, where we thank him and here’s a crown.
72) “It’ll be that he fails, and he has to find a narrative for that failure. And it will not be a narrative of self-criticism. It will not be that he let you down. He will figure out who the villains are, and he will focus the public’s anger at them.”
73) This is the manifestation of Altemeyer’s “lethal union” of right-wing authoritarian followers with a social-dominance-oriented leader: that moment, as Altemeyer says, when “the two can then become locked in a cyclonic death spiral that can take a whole nation down with them.”
74) We also run the very real risk of an era of scripted violence: The phenomenon that occurs when a major cultural figure uses his position and the media to call for violence against a targeted minority group, and their fanatical followers carry it out.

75) We have already, over the past two weeks, seen it gaining momentum. Trump’s response has been to ratchet up the authoritarianism. This means we are nearly certain to see an extended period of far-right violence in the near future.

Americans, defend yourselves. #30
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P.S. This great cartoon is by @MattBors.
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