The Contract With Authoritarianism

“Remaking Partisan Politics through Authoritarian Sorting,” a forthcoming book by the political scientists Christopher FedericoStanley Feldman and Christopher Weber, who argue that

Three trends — polarization, media change, and the rise of what many people see as threats to the traditional social order — have contributed to a growing divide within American politics. It is a divide between those who place heavy value on social order and cohesion relative to those who value personal autonomy and independence.

The three authors use a long-established authoritarian scale — based on four survey questions about which childhood traits parents would like to see in their offspring — that asks voters to choose between independence or respect for their elders; curiosity or good manners; self-reliance or obedience; and being considerate or well-behaved. Those respondents who choose respect for elders, good manners, obedience and being well-behaved are rated more authoritarian.

The authors found that in 1992, 62 percent of white voters who ranked highest on the authoritarian scale supported George H.W. Bush. In 2016, 86 percent of the most authoritarian white voters backed Trump, an increase of 24 percentage points.

.. Over the last few decades, party allegiances have become increasingly tied to a core dimension of personality we call “openness.” Citizens high in openness value independence, self-direction, and novelty, while those low in openness value social cohesion, certainty, and security. Individual differences in openness seem to underpin many social and cultural disputes, including debates over the value of racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity, law and order, and traditional values and social norms.

Johnston notes that personality traits like closed mindedness, along with aversion to change and discomfort with diversity, are linked to authoritarianism:

As these social and cultural conflicts have become a bigger part of our political debates, citizens have sorted into different parties based on personality, with citizens high in openness much more likely to be liberals and Democrats than those low in openness. This psychological sorting process does not line up perfectly with older partisan differences based on class, because those higher in income and education also tend to be higher in openness.

When Is A Sandwich Not Just A Sandwich?

The point is, Brooks’s young guest was freaked out by salami and tomatoes in a way she wasn’t by enchiladas and refried beans. Though the young woman might have been of Mexican background (Brooks doesn’t say), in a place like Texas, say, Mexican food is ordinary cuisine even working-class white people.

.. I had to live with the disdain of some members of my Louisiana family for my allegedly fancypants and inauthentic tastes. It was all class anxiety on their part, but they found a way to put the knife in emotionally over these things. They were reverse snobs, and were at times really mean about it. I don’t believe that is excusable. That said, the fact that I was far more comfortable moving in cosmopolitan settings, and had more cosmopolitan tastes, meant that I had doors open for me, professionally and otherwise, that they would not have had.

.. I mentioned that when I arrived in Paris, the Dutch friends who were supposed to meet me had left a message at my hotel saying they had to cancel.

“What did you do?” said my dad, with tremendous concern.

“Checked in and spent the next few days exploring Paris on my own,” I said, as if it was no big deal. Because it wasn’t.

My father was visibly astonished.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

Said he, “I would have just sat there in the hotel until it was time to go back to the airport.”

He wasn’t joking. He was serious.

.. conservatives tend to be “low openness” individuals — that is, people who are much less willing to try new and unfamiliar things.

.. So when the culture redefines a major life milestone, such as marriage, it trivializes one’s own milestone experience by imbuing it was a sense of contingency, threatens to deprive one’s children of the same experience, and thus threatens to make the generations strangers to one another.

.. This, by the way, is why I have a very short fuse for front-row pretenses to “diversity,” which are usually only skin deep. The white man who only has a high school education, and who lives in a trailer park on the outskirts of Bunkie, La., will never enjoy the privilege of, say, Jerelyn Luther, the black Yale student whose name lives in deserved infamy as Shrieking Girl.  The refusal of the front-row Establishment to recognize the reality of class privilege, which is in large part cultural privilege, is a major barrier to meaningful reform. The way front-row kids in power assuage their status anxiety is by hiring more diversity deans, which is a lot easier than confronting the complexities of class.