The authoritarian voter

By: 
LAWRENCE K. PETTIT

Newspaper coverage of the Franklin Graham Aug. 9 rally in Helena suggests that science and religion have finally come together. But not in reconciliation.
First the science: After World War II, our government funded a massive project by social psychologists to try to understand why so many Germans had been receptive to Hitler’s brand of fascism. The result was a two-volume tome titled “The Authoritarian Personality.”
The authors, T. W. Adorno and his associates, described the typical personality of one who would be receptive to strong, non-democratic leadership based on nationalism, bigotry and exclusion. The authoritarian personality, they wrote, believes that we live in a threatening world, and one way to cope is to stick to the straight and narrow path of conventional morality. Additionally, he sees the world in black-and-white terms; is uncomfortable with ambiguity; seeks answers from strong authority figures; has a we-they orientation, being suspicious of the “other;” and is extremely nationalistic. Subsequent research in political science, psychology and sociology has replicated this description, and since authoritarianism is seen predominantly among political conservatives, some studies use the term “conservative personality.”
Recently, the New York Times quoted from a political science study that found the single factor that most accurately predicts a Donald Trump supporter is being relatively high on an “authoritarian index.” This is something that we see every day played out in the news.
I think it fair to say that in religion this personality type is usually a fundamentalist/evangelical, whether the religion be Christianity, Islam, Judaism or something else. In my last book, “If You Live by the Sword,” I suggested that no matter what the religion, there are two basic approaches: (1) the liberal, love-and-forgive, social justice model; and (2) the conservative, judge-and-condemn, social control model. Authoritarians seem to flock to the second.
That religious conservatives in America seem to be Republicans first and Christians second, and that the evangelicals who attended the Graham rally are overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, in spite of his decidedly non-Christian beliefs and behavior, in contrast to Hillary Clinton’s lifetime of adhering to her Methodist faith and the beatitudes, should not surprise us. Disappointment, yes, but surprise, no.

Dr. Pettit taught political science at Penn State and Montana State, was Montana’s first Commissioner of Higher Education, and subsequently headed universities in Texas, Illinois and Pennsylvania. He is retired and lives in Helena.

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