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1. In this thread, I’ll be delving into the psychology of white supremacy to answer the question of why Donald Trump’s base has stuck with him. You may know what white supremacy is ideologically, but you may not see how it could come to be viewed as the most important thing.
2. This is because I still see people lament that Trump’s base is still rallied around him despite botching our initial response to a viral pandemic. I believe this is ultimately rooted in a lingering refusal to completely accept why Donald Trump is president.
3. This is not the thread I originally intended to compose. I originally was composing a thread that was meant to be an overview of the latest research regarding right-wing authoritarianism.
4. The purpose of this thread is entirely different. It is to supply well-intentioned white people with the information required to understand the psychology of racism and to frame that information in helpful ways. I hope it is successful.
5. Let’s lay out some first principles regarding human behavior: we care about how we’re doing relative to others. Like it or not, doing well relative to others tends to have a positive effect on our well-being, whereas doing poorly relative to others has a negative effect.
6. But we also have the unique capacity to care about how we’re doing relative to others MORE than how we’re doing in absolute terms. I want you to bear this observation in mind as you read my thread.
7. I’ve shown you my favorite example of this. An old study that looked at whether people want to make $50,000 where everyone else makes $25,000 or make $100,000 where everyone else makes $200,000. Approximately 50% opted for the former scenario. albany.edu/~gs149266/Soln…
8. The purchasing power of money is the same in both scenarios. You can buy more things if you opted for scenario B. Yet people are willing to forgo that over positional concerns. For plenty of people, being at the top of an established hierarchy is what is paramount.
9. That said, people don’t just evaluate their social status based on how they’re doing relative to others as individuals. They evaluate their social status based on how the groups in which they identify are doing relative to other groups of people as well.
10. This is a byproduct of human nature. We have an individual and a collective sense of identity. We do not just conceive of ourselves as individuals. We conceive of ourselves as belonging to certain groups of people.
11. This is a seminal paper that conceptualized race prejudice as arising from the awareness of belonging to the dominant racial group. Intergroup attitude research has evolved since this was published, but this is still cited in modern research. vanderbilt.edu/diversity/wp-c…
12. The author composed this paper because prior to this conceptualization of race prejudice, people were conceptualizing race prejudice as mainly the result of a set of specific feelings that arise within the individual.
13. The author’s intent was to demonstrate that the formation of race prejudice is a collective process that arises from a sense of group position of the dominant race relative to minorities. This brings me to the next major point: racism is inherently a group positional concern.
14. This is why it’s reductive to think of racism as hating/fearing another race. Not enough dimension. It’s a set of feelings that arises specifically from a feeling of superiority of one group relative to another. A feeling of superiority is itself a positional description.
15. Here are the four requisites for the formation of race prejudice in the dominant racial group that the author listed. There is a theme to them, which the author goes on to note: they are ALL position-oriented.
16. 1) A feeling of superiority is a feeling of being ABOVE. 2) The subordinate races are BEYOND our understanding. 3) The subordinate races must be EXCLUDED from certain privileges. 4) There is a fear of subordinate races upending the DOMINANT race’s group position.
17. Race prejudice is thus framed as a means of justifying the dominant status of a dominant racial group. If the image and perception of minority races can be sufficiently distorted, in that distortion, you can find justification for conferring minorities with lower status.
18. This fixation on relative position between racial groups is what I think a lot of white people miss when they think about racism. As the author notes, it cannot be reduced to any individual negative emotion. It is motivated by a sense of where the races belong.
19. I think a lot of disbelief by white people who wonder why Trump’s base hasn’t turned on him is rooted in a refusal to see how white supremacy can appeal to white people. That an awareness of being in the dominant racial group can provide affirmation for white people.
20. Maybe because a white person is afraid of feeling guilty for contemplating why white supremacy may have appeal. Or they fear seeing this appeal in white people within their social circles, and may have to confront that the nature of its appeal is as simple as it sounds.
21. Furthermore, I think otherwise well-intentioned white people tend to construe racists as arriving at this state of mind solely due to negative life experiences or poor life satisfaction. Something MUST have happened to them to make them endorse such a toxic mindset.
22. And yet this construal of how racism psychological begins does not line up with the reality that people of color are far more likely to report negative life experiences or poor life satisfaction, and... there's no hateful equivalent to white supremacy among them.
23. What's really required for racism is an awareness of belonging to the dominant racial group, a sense of identity built around that, and a desire to maintain dominant racial group status.
24. To see how white supremacy can shape a white person’s sense of identity and be used to affirm one’s place in society, I’ll reframe its appeal in different ways.
25. White supremacy can provide the foundation for a white person’s sense of collective identity. They are comforted by the idea of belonging to the dominant race. Political, social, and economic deference is comforting. Every white person can benefit? Comforting.
26. White supremacy thus offers a psychological reservoir for continuous affirmation for a white person if his or her sense of collective identity is highly intertwined with a sense of being in the dominant racial group.
27. It is a status signifier with far less volatility than the economy. The economy has collapsed, but the racial order did not collapse alongside it. White supremacy offers the guarantee of ubiquitous deference from institutions regardless of the economic conditions.
28. White supremacy offers white people enhanced status in exchange for no effort spent in pursuit of it. It offers white people a status differential with respect to people of color that is visibly and immediately obvious.
29. White supremacy supplies all white people with a common sense of orientation regardless of their individual status. A white person can exult in the power to view a person of color, regardless of his or her achievements, as inferior and rightfully assigned lower social status.
30. The appeal white supremacy offers for a white person is a dimension where he or she is viewed as elite. White people do not necessarily see the elite members of their own race as their oppressors. They may actually see instead their desired sources for emulation.
31. White supremacy offers white people the sense of being able to wield power over people of color in a way that the elites of their own race wield power over everyone. And THAT unfortunately has appeal to white people at every level of socio-economic status.
32. My overall point is that we must acknowledge why white supremacy has appeal. The futile exercise of asking yourself over and over “Why hasn’t Trump’s base turned on him?!” and then going on to refuse to name the actual answer needs to stop.
33. Furthermore, I have stated the appeal of white supremacy in ways such that you will be able to understand why racial group status is often treated with more primacy than individual economic status.
34. If a white person is supplied with a dimension—race—in which he or she can view himself or herself as elite, then he or she will be incentivized to look away from the dimensions in which he or she is oppressed (e.g. class).
35. Now I have only covered one major aspect of white supremacy, which is the fixation on the relative position of the advantaged racial group, and how turning to that can provide the foundation for a collective sense of identity centered on this group dominance.
36. This explains why white supremacy has appeal to white people, but it’s not sufficient to explain why Trump supporters are largely still with him.
37. You can see how white supremacy appeals to white people. What you may not see yet is how white supremacy can come to be viewed as THE most important thing. That’s the psychological leap you may not understand.
38. Well-intentioned white people want to conceive of Trump’s base finally surrendering to rational considerations—namely concerns such as how he handled the viral pandemic—and turn on him en masse. This has been the fantasy of well-intentioned white people for years.
39. But the presumption that Trump’s base will surrender to rational considerations is really a case of projecting your own individual rational sense of self-interest onto a collective behavior that is inherently irrational.
40. One must bear in mind that the psychology of white supremacy flows from an inherently IRRATIONAL positional premise, namely that white people are superior and deserve dominant status by virtue of being white.
41. Because the premise of white supremacy is inherently irrational, this means the standard of perception, framework of thought, temperament, and moral imperatives will be distorted when compared to someone acting in accordance with what you perceive as rational self-interest.
42. White supremacy is not just irrational in the logical sense, but the very act of granting it legitimacy and behaving in accordance with it takes irrationality in the behavioral sense, and a very specific kind of irrationality. This will be key to understanding Trump’s base.
43. There is an individual behavior obsessed with positional concerns that will be used to illuminate the psychological underpinnings of white supremacy, and it too cannot be reduced to feelings of fear, hatred, and anger.
44. If you were looking for an individual behavior that served as the best basis for explaining how white supremacy psychological operates, I would opt for narcissism. Because narcissism, much like racism, entails an overriding obsession with social status.
45. My justification for making this comparison is that the chief assertion of white supremacy, namely that white people are superior and this should be reflected with dominant social status, is an inherently narcissistic notion. It has no objective basis.
46. Similarly, the narcissist’s justification for dominant social status is fundamentally irrational: “I deserve high status because I am me” is not really that far removed from “We deserve high status because we are white.”
47. I hope to demonstrate that understanding the individual concerns and behavioral qualities of a narcissist provides an elegant way to understand the priorities and emotional proclivities of someone who accepts white supremacy. And why Trump’s base has stuck with him.
48. The kind of narcissism I am invoking here is a level of narcissism that rises to the level to be considered abusive, so before proceeding any further, I feel like a TRIGGER WARNING is required for succeeding tweets since they will get into the dynamics of narcissistic abuse.
49. The narcissist is not motivated to seek out people with whom he or she can affiliate. He or she is obsessed with the pursuit of dominant social status relative to his or her peers. How he or she is doing relative to his or her peers is entirely the point.
50. Likewise, the racist is not driven to seek affiliations with people of color. He or she is obsessed with the maintenance of dominant social status relative to races perceived as inherently subordinate. Maintaining that hierarchy is entirely the point.
51. Furthermore, the narcissist navigates the world of status with no empathy for those around him or her. Much like the racist navigates the world of status with no empathy for racial groups perceived as a subordinate and who he or she is encouraged to treat as alien.
52. The narcissist conceives of himself or herself as an exception to the rules, which encourages him or her to cross boundaries. The racist sees his or her dominant racial status as conferring a feeling of being exempt from rules that really should only apply to other races.
53. Remember that list of the four requisites necessary for the formation of race prejudice? Here’s where it gets interesting: they ALL have individual behavioral correlates in narcissism.
54. 1) A narcissist feels superior to his or her peers. 2) He or she lacks empathy for others. 3) He or she feels entitled to higher status and high-status spaces. 4) He or she fears status challenges because he or she conceives of everyone else as being just as self-interested.
55. Again, what is race prejudice? It’s the act of assigning preconceived notions to other races that are not based in logic or empirical data. It is used to justify keeping races in subordinate group status.
56. Narcissists frequently spread falsehoods about other people. They also grossly exaggerate their own accomplishments, and it’s for the purpose of justifying the acquisition and maintenance of higher status.
57. Anyone who has experience with a pathologically narcissistic family member can tell you that they are animated by a sense of where everybody belongs. Because narcissists see people with whom they have social connections as extensions and reflections of themselves.
58. Racism also operates with a sense of where the races belong. The subordination of other races is so that the dominant race sees their dominant status reflected back. The narcissist exploits and abuses to see his or her dominant status reflected back.
59. Narcissists are also fixated on ideals. Ideal love. Ideal control. Racism is obsessed with where racial groups belong in relation to each other because it has a conceptualization of an ideal racial order.
60. Much like the narcissist craves unwarranted admiration, so too does the racist. White people should be represented the most in cultural media. And the most favorably. By virtue of being white.
61. But the racist is very much like the narcissist in how he or she responds to perceived status challenges. When a perceived challenge to status rises to a threshold that the narcissist deems worthy of response, that’s when the abuse starts.
62. Adam Serwer gave us two popular notions in his writings that I want to seize on here: the notion of delusion being essential to white nationalism and the notion that the cruelty is the point. Both of these notions actually capture the essence of narcissistic abuse.
63. In The Nationalist’s Delusion, Serwer brought up Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, who delivered the infamous Cornerstone Speech justifying slavery and the subordination of Black people in the Confederacy. Post-war though, he rewrote why the South rebelled.
64. This is exactly how the cycle of narcissistic abuse works. First, the narcissist profoundly hurts you. But some time after the event when you discuss the incident, he or she completely rewrites the extent of the damage he or she did as well as his or her motivations.
65. A narcissistic abuser will engage in gaslighting so extreme that he or she will seem dedicated to convincing you that he or she is not doing the very thing that he or she is actually doing. This is to reproduce within you the rupture with reality that he or she feels.
66. Delusion is essential to white nationalism because white supremacy is predicated in delusion. The central premise to be legitimized is inherently irrational, yet it is to be legitimized regardless. The nature of its irrationality can be explained by its inherent narcissism.
67. This is very much akin to how narcissism entails a distorted sense of self and his or her importance to justify the acquisition and maintenance of higher status.
68. As for the cruelty being the point, that’s definitely true in relationships with a narcissistic abuser. The overall objective of a narcissistic abuser is power over someone else. Cruelty facilitates the pursuit of that end.
69. For the narcissistic abuser to justify power over you, you must be diminished, hurt, erased, confused. You must be made to question your perception of reality. You must be completely disincentivized from changing the direction in which power flows within the relationship.
70. Likewise, you should think of cruelty as the law enforcement arm of white supremacy. It serves a function. It is to keep members of perceived subordinate races confused, exhausted, demoralized. So they are disincentivized from challenging the racial order.
71. Why is white supremacy cruel when challenged? Because it views its central assertion as sufficient justification. The notion of having to justify itself any further worthy of ridicule. This is how narcissists view themselves. Their mere existence is sufficient justification.
72. Furthermore, cruelty is a way for the narcissistic abuser to mask his or her feelings of insecurity from both his or her victim and from himself or herself. Which brings me to another point of comparison: white supremacy entails being fundamentally insecure.
73. After all, one of the components necessary for the formation of race prejudice is a constant fear that minorities will infringe upon the prerogatives and privileges of the dominant race.
74. I want to be clear on four things: first, I am far from the first to point out the similarities between narcissism and racism as a behavior. It is not an original observation. I can only take credit for the way I have framed the issue personally.
75. Second, this thread in no way should be used to construe racism as a spectrum disorder, which narcissism is. Racism is an unambiguous evil, period. I am merely using narcissistic psychology as a way of illuminating racist psychology.
76. Third, narcissism and racism should not be treated as interchangeable. That would erase distinctions between the lived experiences of people of color and lived experiences of victims of narcissistic abuse. They are distinct experiences that operate on different dimensions.
77. Fourth, racism is a choice. You can frame your sense of collective identity in other ways. The fact that it has appeal and can become psychologically entrenched should not obfuscate the reality that it is still an evil choice.
78. All of that said, I am not merely comparing narcissistic behavior to racist behavior. I do so because I am appealing to something that is true of white supremacy itself, which is that its chief assertion is inherently a narcissistic one.
79. And this means that the act of behaviorally granting white supremacy legitimacy entails not just a suspension of reason, but a narcissistic suspension of reason. An awareness of this is key for really understanding the emotional proclivities of Trump’s base.
80. Here’s the overall point I have attempted to make: you cannot evaluate white supremacy or Trump’s base through the framework of a rational sense of self-interest. Because the foundations of white supremacist psychology are inherently irrational.
81. And because white supremacy flows from an irrational, narcissistic premise, you must evaluate the behavior associated with it while factoring in that it answers to a specific distortion of collective self that is attributable to its inherently narcissistic nature.
82. So with that in mind, I have seen this take offered multiple times: “If Donald Trump just does the right thing, allows mass testing, gets resources to everyone who needs it, his approval rating would go up! Why can’t he see it’s that simple?!”
83. Once again, this is a case of projecting a rational sense self-interest onto a man and his base who are not chiefly motivated by rational considerations of individual self-interest. They answer to a collective sense of self-interest that is irrational.
84. You framed your question in ways that do not take into account the delusion that is essential to white supremacy. A narcissistic delusion that is at all times animated by maintaining dominant racial status.
85. Furthermore, I think a lot of well-meaning white people want to conceive of some level of threat to an individual's rational sense of self-interest that once felt, the psychology of white supremacy will finally collapse and that individual will turn on Trump.
86. This ill-backed presumption has a parallel common mistake when it comes to a when dealing with narcissists: presupposing that their narcissism has limits.
87. One of the most important tips for dealing with a narcissist is to see them for who they really are. I'd extend that to racists too. You need to accept that this *gestures broadly* is exactly what they want.
88. Trump's unfitness is what they want. His disdain for learning and curiosity is what they want. His corruption is what they want. When he transgresses, they revel in his impunity. And he's personally a narcissist? NEAT! It's like seeing the face of white supremacy itself!
89. This can ONLY make sense through a narcissistic framework where the priorities, the standards of perception, the moral imperatives all suffer a distortion due the inherently distorted way those who accept white supremacy come to view their collective selves.
90. Unfortunately, the fact that white supremacy is inherently narcissistic explains the conduct of Trump supporters during a crisis such as a viral pandemic as well.
91. How does a narcissist handle criticism of his or her handling of a crisis? They act like everything is fine. The ridicule your concern. They downplay the extent of the crisis. Should evidence of a crisis prove impossible to conceal, the tactics shift to blaming other people.
92. If you make a rational suggestion about what he or she could do better, they aren't receptive to it. The narcissist perceives your rational suggestion as an attempt to indict his or her abilities, and is fixated on possible loss of status that may result from that indictment
93. Similarly, the psychology of white supremacy is a constantly paranoid lens that sees all our discussions about restructuring our society to combat current and future pandemics as a threat. Because what if society gets restructured such that white supremacy goes away?!
94. That’s why his worst supporters want Dr. Fauci gone. That’s why they’re protesting. That’s why they want to reopen everything. That’s why they’re downplaying the death toll and the virus itself. They see every stepping stone to restructuring society as a slippery slope.
95. His most fervent supporters simply see our criticisms of Trump’s response to coronavirus as a pretext for dismantling white supremacy. In more direct terms, they can only see our criticisms of Trump’s response to coronavirus as JUST a pretext for getting rid of him.
96. If you resist all attempts to restructure society, then you ensure white supremacy itself won’t be restructured. That sounds extremely fucked up, right? It is! But you try telling me with a straight face that isn't modern American conservatism in a nutshell.
97. So let us name the essential function Donald Trump serves for his base: to symbolically cancel out Barack Obama’s presidency for white people who processed having a Black President as something akin to a trauma and as an assault on their collective sense of identity.
98. This can only be viewed as an essential function of the presidency from the perspective of narcissistic psychology and from recognition that white supremacy itself is an inherently narcissistic psychology.
99. So despite the reality that he's presiding over a disastrous response to a viral pandemic, in the eyes of his base, Trump's presidency is still a symbol of the reassertion of white supremacy on which his base can project themselves. And that's why they won't leave him.
100. I hope framing white supremacy as an obsession with dominant social group position and as inherently narcissistic helped convey its dimensions, its appeal, and the inherently narcissistic behavioral framework on which it sustains itself. Thank you for reading.
101. I'd like to personally thank my best friend,
@HawaiiDelilah, who has been there for me time and time again, and who acted as invaluable sounding board for the ideas expressed in this thread. If you thought this thread was incisive, it's because of her incisive feedback.
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