The Animosity Coalition

Damn, this column from Tom Edsall is something out.  Builds especially upon the work of some great political scientists:

Lilliana Mason, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins, makes the case via Twitter that Trump has “served as a lightning rod for lots of regular people who hold white Christian supremacist beliefs.” The solidification of their control over the Republican Party “makes it seem like a partisan issue. But this faction has been around longer than our current partisan divide.” In fact, “they are not loyal to a party — they are loyal to white Christian domination.” …

Julie Wronski, a political scientist at the University of Mississippi — a co-author, with Mason and John Kane of N.Y.U., of a just published paper, “Activating Animus: The Uniquely Social Roots of Trump Support” — put it this way in reply to my emailed query:

The Trump coalition is motivated by animosity toward Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims and L.G.B.T. This animosity has no bearing on support for any of the other G.O.P. elites or the party itself. [emphases mine] Warmth toward whites and Christians equally predict support for Trump, other G.O.P. elites, and the party itself. The only area where Trump support is different than other G.O.P. support is in regards to harnessing this out-group animus.

For as long as Trump remains the standard-bearer of the Republican Party, Wronski continued, “this animosity coalition will define the party.”…

The three authors go on:

Animosity toward Democratic-linked groups predicts Trump support, rather remarkably, across the political spectrum. Further, given the decisive role that Independents can play in elections, these results suggest that reservoirs of animosity are not necessarily specific to a particular party, and may therefore be tapped by any political elite.

Before Trump took center stage in 2015, Republican leaders were determined to “stymie Democratic policy initiatives, resist compromise, and make it clear that Republicans desire to score political victories and win back power from Democrats,” Kane wrote in his email, but “establishment Republicans generally did not openly demonize, much less dehumanize, Democratic politicians at the national level.”

Trump, Kane continued,

wantonly disregarded this norm, and now Trump’s base may come to expect future Republican elites to be willing to do the same. If this practice eventually comes to be seen as a “winning strategy” for Republican politicians as a whole, it could bring us into a new era of polarization wherein Republican cooperation with the “Demon Rats” is seen not just as undesirable, but thoroughly unconscionable.

Most significantly, in Mason’s view, is that

there is a faction in American politics that has moved from party to party, can be recruited from either party, and responds especially well to hatred of marginalized groups. They’re not just Republicans or Democrats, they’re a third faction that targets parties…

Adam Enders, a political scientist at the University of Louisville, and Uscinski, in their June 2021 paper “On Modeling the Social-Psychological Foundations of Support for Donald Trump” describe a “Trump voter profile”: “an amalgamation of attitudes about, for example, racial groups, immigrants and political correctness — that rivals partisanship and ideology as predictors of Trump support and is negatively related to support for mainstream Republican candidates.”

In an email, Enders described this profile as fitting those attracted to Trump’s

relatively explicit appeal to xenophobia, racial prejudice, authoritarianism, sexism, conspiracy thinking, in combination with his outsider status that gives him credibility as the anti-establishment candidate. The Trump voter profile is a constellation of social-psychological attitudes — about various racial groups, women, immigrants, and conspiracy theories — that uniquely predict support for Donald Trump.

Yowza!!  We’ve always had plenty of awful people in America (or anywhere), and, yes, based on what’s described above I don’t think “awful” is an unfair characterization.  One might even say deplorable.  What’s new is that not only have the all come together in a single political party, but they’ve come together to dominate that party (which is a huge deal in a two-party system) and set it’s agenda.  In a democracy, that’s simply scary as hell.  

All that said, believe it or not, I try not to be too judgmental towards these folks.  Those who really draw my harshest criticism are the Republicans who recognize how awful that is and simply abide it because they are 1) too cowardly; or 2) just want their tax cuts, or some combination thereof.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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