Trump’s America has accelerated “the authoritarian dynamic.”
In the continuing debate over whether liberals or conservatives are more open minded, whether those on the left or the right are more rigid in their thinking, a team of four Canadian psychologists studied patterns of “cognitive reflection” among Americans.
They found that a willingness to change one’s convictions in the face of new evidence
was robustly associated with political liberalism, the rejection of traditional moral values, the acceptance of science, and skepticism about religious, paranormal, and conspiratorial claims.
Those who ranked high on a scale designed to measure the level of a respondent’s “actively open-minded thinking about evidence” were linked with the acceptance of “anthropogenic global warming and support for free speech on college campuses.”
Conversely, the authors — Gordon Pennycook of the University of Regina, and James Allan Cheyne, Derek J. Koehler and Jonathan A. Fugelsang of the University of Waterloo — found that an aversion to altering one’s belief on the basis of evidence was more common among conservatives and that this correlated “with beliefs about topics ranging from extrasensory perception, to respect for tradition, to abortion, to God.”
In their forthcoming paper, “On the belief that beliefs should change according to evidence,” the authors develop an eight-item “Actively Open-minded Thinking about Evidence Scale.” People taking the test are asked their level of agreement or disagreement with a series of statements including:
“A person should always consider new possibilities.”
“Certain beliefs are just too important to abandon no matter how good a case can be made against them.”
“One should disregard evidence that conflicts with your established beliefs.”
“No one can talk me out of something I know is right.”
“I believe that loyalty to one’s ideals and principles is more important than ‘open-mindedness’.”
Pennycook and his co-authors concluded:
People who reported believing that beliefs and opinions should change according to evidence were less likely to be religious, less likely to hold paranormal and conspiratorial beliefs, more likely to believe in a variety of scientific claims, and were more politically liberal in terms of overall ideology, partisan affiliation, moral values, and a variety of specific political opinions.
In other words, there is one more item to add to the constantly growing list of factors driving polarization in America: Those on the left and right appear to use substantially different cognitive processes to interpret events in the world around them, large and small.
At the same time, there are scholars who raise questions about these and similar conclusions concerning the reported differences in open-mindedness between conservatives and liberals.
“Discrimination Across the Ideological Divide: The Role of Value Violations and Abstract Values in Discrimination by Liberals and Conservatives,” a 2013 paper by Geoffrey A. Wetherell, Mark J. Brandt and Christine Reyna of Valparaiso University, Tilburg University in the Netherlands and DePaul University, challenges the common notion that there are marked differences between liberals and conservatives on measures of tolerance and bias: “Despite ample research linking conservatism to discrimination and liberalism to tolerance, both groups may discriminate,” they write.
In their research, Wetherell and his colleagues demonstrate that
liberals and conservatives supported discrimination against ideologically dissimilar groups, an effect mediated by perceptions of value violations. Liberals were more likely than conservatives to espouse egalitarianism and universalism, which attenuated their discrimination; whereas the conservatives’ value of traditionalism predicted more discrimination, and their value of self-reliance predicted less discrimination.
Disputes over differences in judgment, character and moral values between liberals and conservatives are among the most fraught topics in political psychology.
Look, for example, at the controversial conclusion reached in “Combating Fake News: An Agenda for Research and Action,” a research report released in May 2017 by Harvard’s Kennedy School and Northeastern University: “While any group can come to believe false information, misinformation is currently predominantly a pathology of the right.” Some conservative voters “are even suspicious of fact-checking sites,” the report continued, leaving them “particularly susceptible to misinformation.”
The report also noted that “there is at least anecdotal evidence that when Republicans are in power, the left becomes increasingly susceptible to promoting and accepting fake news.”
Or consider a 2019 paper, “False Equivalence: Are Liberals and Conservatives in the United States Equally Biased?” by Jonathan Baron and John Jost, professors of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and N.Y.U., who write, “Nowadays we read that liberals are every bit as authoritarian as conservatives; as rigid and simple-minded; as intolerant; as prejudiced.”
The authors found it
ironic and more than a little bewildering that social psychologists are drifting into this relativistic view of morality and politics just as authoritarian conservatism (and illiberal hostility to democratic norms) seem to be reaching new heights of popularity and brazenness not only in Trump’s America but also in Erdogan’s Turkey, Orban’s Hungary, and Netanyahu’s Israel.
Baron and Jost also cite studies suggesting that those on the right are more susceptible to authoritarian appeals:
Conservatives score higher than liberals on measures of personal needs for order and structure, cognitive closure, intolerance of ambiguity, cognitive or perceptual rigidity, and dogmatism.
Liberals, they write, “perform better than conservatives on objective tests of cognitive ability and intelligence” while conservatives “score higher than liberals on measures of self-deception” and “are more likely than liberals to spread ‘fake news,’ political misinformation, and conspiracy theories throughout their online social networks.”
In a 2018 paper, Baron argues for the necessity of flexible thinking in a democracy:
In order for a democracy to function well (both for its own citizens and outsiders), its citizens need to endorse three (somewhat synergistic) social norms, which I called cosmopolitanism, anti-moralism, and actively open-minded thinking.
In making his case, Baron cites John Stuart Mill’s essay “On Liberty,” specifically this famous passage:
The whole strength and value, then, of human judgment, depending on the one property, that it can be set right when it is wrong, reliance can be placed on it only when the means of setting it right are kept constantly at hand. In the case of any person whose judgment is really deserving of confidence, how has it become so? Because he has kept his mind open to criticism of his opinions and conduct. Because it has been his practice to listen to all that could be said against him; to profit by as much of it as was just, and expound to himself, and upon occasion to others, the fallacy of what was fallacious.
It may be, however, that the very complexity of thought and resolve proposed by Baron and Mill would be resisted, and indeed resented, by many on the right.
In a February 2019 paper, “Liberals lecture, conservatives communicate: Analyzing complexity and ideology in 381,609 political speeches,” four political scientists, Martijn Schoonvelde, Anna Brosius, Gijs Schumacher and Bert N. Bakker, argue that “speakers from culturally liberal parties use more complex language than speakers from culturally conservative parties” and that this variance in linguistic complexity is
rooted in personality differences among conservative and liberal politicians. The former prefer short, unambiguous statements, and the latter prefer longer compound sentences, expressing multiple points of view.
The authors cite studies suggesting that this linguistic divide is persistent: “The Readability and Simplicity of Donald Trump’s Language,” published in The Political Studies Review and
Research on linguistic habits of American and British politicians shows that conservative politicians make less complex statements than liberal politicians.
One study showed that
the speeches of liberal US presidents score higher on integrative complexity than those of conservatives, as measured by the presence of “words involved in differentiation (exclusive words, tentative words, negations) as well as integration of different perspectives (conjunctions).”
Another found that
conservative political bloggers use less complex language than their liberal counterparts and conservative citizens use language that scores lower on integrative complexity than liberal citizens.
Separate studies of the language used by presidents — both “The Readability and Simplicity of Donald Trump’s Language,” and an analysis of the language used by the last 15 presidents on the blog Factbase — concluded that President Trump speaks at the lowest level of all those studied, as measured on the on the Flesch-Kincaid index. As Factbase put it:
By any metric to measure vocabulary, using more than a half dozen tests with different methodologies, Donald Trump has the most basic, most simplistically constructed, least diverse vocabulary of any president in the last 90 years.
Some scholars argue that a focus on ideological conflict masks the most salient divisions in the era of Donald Trump: authoritarians versus non-authoritarians.
It’s really critical to help people understand the difference between conservatives and authoritarians. Conservatives are by nature opposed to change and novelty, whereas authoritarians are averse to diversity and complexity. It’s a subtle but absolutely critical distinction.
“What we’re facing,” she continued,
is an authoritarian revolution — not a conservative revolution, the term is inherently contradictory — which in the U.S. has been creeping up since the 1960s.
Authoritarianism, Stenner continued, is
clearly distinct from what I call “laissez faire conservatism.” In fact, in cross-national research I consistently find that these two dimensions are actually negatively related. If anything, authoritarians tend to be wary of free markets and more supportive of government intervention and redistribution, perhaps even schemes of equalization and progressive taxation.
For Stenner, the “overriding objective of the authoritarian is always to enhance oneness and sameness; to minimize the diversity of people, beliefs and behaviors.”
In a 2009 paper, “ ‘Conservatism,’ Context-Dependence, and Cognitive Incapacity,” Stenner wrote:
Authoritarianism is a functional disposition concerned with maximizing “oneness” and “sameness” especially in conditions where the things that make us one and the same — common authority, and shared values — appear to be under threat.
Threat, she continued, sets in motion an “authoritarian dynamic” that activates
latent predispositions to authoritarianism and increases their expression in manifest intolerance. That is to say, intolerance is a function of the interaction of authoritarian predisposition with conditions of normative threat.
In her email, Stenner argued that “non-authoritarian conservatives, opposed to change, dedicated to upholding laws, and to the defense of legitimate political and social institutions that underpin societal stability and security” are a crucial pillar of democratic governance.
In the real world, she continued, “it is the authoritarians who are the revolutionaries.”
Because of this authoritarian revolution, here and abroad, Stenner contends that
the whole of liberal democracy is in grave danger at this moment. But the fault lies with authoritarians on both the right and the left, and the solution is in the hands of non-authoritarians on both sides.
Stenner makes the case that the authoritarian revolution began in the 1960s: “Once the principle of equal treatment under the law was instituted and entrenched by means of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act,” traditional conservatism — “fidelity to the laws of the land and defense of legitimate institutions” — took a back seat to authoritarianism “as a factor driving expressions of racial, moral and political intolerance.”
Stenner takes the analysis of contemporary conflict and polarization full circle back to the fundamental American divide over race, a subject that touches on virtually every issue facing the nation.
And Trump is determined to use authoritarian means to restore race to the core of his campaign.
Last week, Trump sent dozens of armed federal forces in camouflage to quell Black Lives Matter protests in Portland.
On July 19, Trump responded to a direct question from Chris Wallace of Fox News about whether he would “accept the election” win or lose. Trump answered: “I have to see. Look, you — I have to see. No, I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no.”
And on July 20, Trump threatened to send more armed troops to New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore and Oakland to quell dissent, noting that these cities’ mayors were all “liberal Democrats.”
Put another way, Trump plans to echo George Wallace and take his stand in the schoolhouse door or, even more ominously, to use urban America as his Alamo.
You must have know at this point in 2001 or 2003. Wikipedia was growing really fast.
You decide, I guess around 2003. What was the thinking behind that? Why did you do that?
The community of volunteers very much wanted it to be a non-profit.
Finally for me, it just made sense. Aesthetically, my ambitions for Wikipedia.
really make a nonprofit option more senseible. I think if we had gone a different route it would be very different today.
Imagine a world in which every person on the planet were given access to the sum of all human knowledge.
But I wonder why you could not have done that same thing and still have put ads on Wikipedia, like banner ads and stuff.
So here’s the thing — think about the DNA of an organization.
It is very difficult to have an organization from following the money. So Wikipedia is a non-profit, we could run ads. There is no prohibition of non-profits running ads.
Suddenly, people would start to care a lot more about our traffic in highly developed advertising markets. We would begin to care more about which pages you’re reading.
If you’re reading about Queen Victoria.
If you’re reading about Tesla cars or vacations in Las Vegas, we would have an incentive to
We an encyclopedia. We don’t think about adding page views.
We just think about how we make the encyclopedia better and how do we reach more people in the developing world. That’s just fundamental to what this is all about.
How do you even fund that. How do you even get the money to even fund the servers.
The main reason why we started the non-profit is exactly thinking about that for the future but I had no idea whether it was going to be possible. So we setup the non-profit in June.
Then we had this disaster on Christmas day and I had to scramble to get the site running on 1 server and it was painfully slow. And it was painfully obvious because the traffic was doubling.
That was the first time I decieded to do a fundraising campaign.
These days we call that crowd funding.
I remember very clearly that had hoped to raise $20,000 in a month’s time. But in about 2 weeks time we had raised $30,000.
A lot of small donors. And that is today the model for Wikipedia. People who believe in Wikipedia, who think it is useful for their lives.
Hey I should chip in.
When you think about this thing that you built and your role in the history of the internet, how much of the success of Wikipedia do you think was because of your brilliance and your hard work and how much was luck?A huge amount due to luck.
A huge amount of luck
I do think a component of the success of Wikipedia is that I’m a very friendly and nice person and I’m very laid back and so therefore I was able to work in a community environment where people basically yell at you and just have to kind of roll with it and you’re in some sense a leader but you can’t tell anyone what to do. They’re volunteers, so you have to work with love and reason and move people on in a useful way.
So I do think that I’m not irrelevant to the process, but I also think that the community is amazing and the luck of the timing of really hitting that moment when it was possible to build Wikipedia.
Jimmy, you’ve seen the estimates that if Wikipedia were a for-profit, it could be worth at least $5 billion dollars, maybe more.
Does mean anything to you?
Not really. I mean. It’s you know.
People, they love to write about how Jimmy Wales is not a billionaire.
I think that there are actually articles with the headline. Jimmy Wales in not an internet billionaire.
Exactly. And for that’s a bit odd. My life is unbeelivable interensting. amazing. I have the ability to meet almost anyone in the world. And usually I introduce myself an say I’m Jimmy Wales founder of Wikipedia. And usually they say “Oh Wow”. And if I say: “I’m Jimmy Wales. I own the largest group of car dealers across the southern part of America.” Not that interesting.
At least in that regard, no one will remember me in 500 years, but they will definitely remember Wikipedia.
That’s something that you can hardly get your head around.
There have been comparisons to the Gutenberg Press. This is the biggest dissemination of human knowledge in modern world history.
But its a bit embarrassing to talk about it that way. I just try to have fun.
For years, the company has moved billions in profits to Puerto Rico to avoid taxes. When the IRS pushed it to pay, Microsoft protested that the agency wasn’t being nice. Then it aggressively fought back in court, lobbied Congress and changed the law.
Impeachment is moving forward and going nowhere. There is new information but it doesn’t really tell those who’ve paid attention anything they didn’t know. Putative administration operative Lev Parnas said on “The Rachel Maddow Show” Wednesday that the president knew everything about efforts to lean on Ukraine. But this was clear in testimony throughout the impeachment hearings. His own ambassador to the European Union said it! The ambassador to Ukraine knew she was being schemed against, lost her job because of it, and spelled it out under oath.
It’s icing on a cake that’s already sagging. The president will be acquitted for a host of reasons, from partisanship to a prudential judgment that his actions don’t warrant removal with a presidential election 10 months away.
What did Speaker Nancy Pelosi gain by playing her monthlong game of peekaboo, waiting to send the charges to the Senate? She withheld from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell papers he didn’t wish to receive and she saw that as leverage? It appears she was playing for time as investigators tried to develop more evidence. But again, for what? The president couldn’t look more guilty.
Meantime impeachment as a dramatic and distinct event lost all momentum. In the month after the House vote the story lost lift, then got lost in the Iran drama. This second stage feels not like the continuation of the first but a brand new second impeachment, which a lot of people will experience as overkill.
On the creepiness of the signing ceremony for the impeachment articles: Modern presidents have always held such ceremonies and signed big, happy legislation with many pens. Lyndon B. Johnson liked clutching bunches of them in his thick, meaty fist and handing them out personally. But the impeachment of a president is a grave and unhappy event. It’s not celebratory. Enacting triumphalism was shallow and looked like a tell. Why pens, why not a scalp?
Serious people understand the implications of things. Impeachment has now been normalized. It won’t be a once-in-a-generation act but an every-administration act. Democrats will regret it when Republicans are handing out the pens.
To the Democratic debate Tuesday night in Des Moines.
It contained my favorite panel-candidate moment of this cycle.
Bright young woman journalist: “Sen. Sanders, I do want to be clear here, you’re saying that you never told Sen. Warren that a woman could not win the election?”
Sanders: “That is correct.”
BYWJ: “Sen. Warren, what did you think when Sen. Sanders told you a woman could not win the election?”
Warren: “I disagreed.”
It was like Judge Judy on drugs:
“Ernie, did you hit Peggy on the head?”
“No, of course not.”
“Peggy, how did you feel when Ernie hit you on the head?”
The moment went uncorrected. This is why people hate the press.
I found myself watching Elizabeth Warren. She has proved she can take a punch and throw one (“Look at the men on this stage. Collectively, they have lost 10 elections.”) Of the candidates in their 70s she’s the highest-energy and most indefatigable. Actually she’d have high energy for a 50-year-old. All candidates now have to be actors but she’s a good one, telling her stories over and over, her voice growing husky at the moving parts.
Her challenge is not that she’s a woman, it is her policies, and maybe something else. I watched the debate with a man who’s a sophisticated observer with no dog in the fight. Ms. Warren was doing her magical thinking about how universal Medicare won’t cost people a thing, it’s all savings with a few small tax increases on people we don’t like. I asked aloud, “Does she believe what she says or does she know it’s make-believe?”
He considered: “She did.” he said. That sounds right, that she started with belief but at this point sees the holes in what she’s saying. She’s caught, because she’s said it too often and now can only repeat it.
Bernie Sanders has the same magical thinking about the cost of things, who’ll pay, and what effect that will have on the nation’s life. But he gets away with it because he’s a declared socialist. His supporters don’t want realism and his foes don’t expect it. Ms. Warren says she’s a capitalist with a critique, so she faces a different burden.
There was also in the debate a kind of detachment from real life. A voter asked: “How will you prioritize accessing quality affordable child care?” The candidates were indignant that women can be held from the workforce by the high cost of child care. Pete Buttigieg vowed to get “federal dollars” involved, and spoke of stunted careers. Ms. Warren said, “My plan is universal child care for everyone.” She told of how she was almost forced “off track” by child care problems. Mr. Sanders said, “Every psychologist in the world knows 0 through 4 are the most important years of human life, intellectually and emotionally.”
No one spoke with compassion for parents, for mothers who forgo the earnings and status (“I have a job”) and relationships (“I’m not lonely all day”) of having a job to stay home with kids under 4. No one said that actually a lot of parents think the most important thing is to stay home and raise the kids, that many struggle to do it, and we might want to help them. No one noted we don’t give any particular honor to those who stay home, even though our culture depends on them.
What seemed to guide all the answers was a technocratic assumption that it’s best for little children to be raised by well-compensated strangers as mom is absorbed into the workforce, where she’ll finally achieve full self-actualization.
It was all so . . . cold. And detached from real life as many live it.
Meanwhile in full-employment America, Donald Trump is taking out terrorists with drones and announcing trade deals with China and seemingly weathering every storm. In the China ceremony Tuesday, in the East Room, after a booming “Hail to the Chief,” with a palpable sense of triumph filling the room, with the golden frames of the great portraits shining, Mr. Trump rolled off the names of the CEOs in the audience. There were a lot! It was in a way a fabulous celebration of the riches produced by capitalism. But it also seemed an almost sinister declaration of the intimate ties between great U.S. corporations and the federal government. The CEO of Boeing is here, the chief of eBay. “How’s General Electric doing, Nels?” “Ryan Lance, ConocoPhillips, you’re doing fantastically well!” “I made a lot of bankers look very good, but you’re doing a great job.” “Ken Griffin, Citadel, what a guy he is.”
It was reminiscent of the scene in “The Godfather: Part II” where Fulgencio Batista hands around the solid gold telephone. “I’d like to thank this distinguished group of American industrialists for continuing to work with Cuba for the greatest period of prosperity in her entire history. Mr. William Shaw, representing the General Fruit Company . . . Messrs. Corngold and Dant of the United Telephone and Telegraph Company . . . and of course our friend Mr. Robert Allen of South American Sugar.”
We all think our breathless recitations of the latest revelations matter but I don’t know, it keeps feeling like 2016. Only this time with full employment.