The authors of the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group pose this question: Is Trump Giving Authoritarianism a Bad Name? (You may recall that I have asked a similar question, whether he’s giving bigotry a bad name.)
The study and the op-ed repay reading. I’ll aim to hit the high spots here.
The study asked American voters whether they prefer “a strong leader who does not have to bother with Congress and elections” or “army rule” or “a democratic political system.”
The study reports that, “Notably 29 percent of respondents show at least some support for either a ‘strong leader’ or ‘army rule.’” It continues,
Comparing supporters of different candidates in the presidential primaries, the highest level of openness to authoritarian political systems is among those voters who supported Donald Trump in the primaries. Thirty two percent of Trump primary voters support a “strong leader.” The level of support for this option is especially high (45 percent) among those who voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and then switched parties to vote for Donald Trump in 2016. Perhaps more unexpectedly, 20 percent of Hillary Clinton’s primary voters support a “strong leader” unbound by Congress and elections and 15 percent go so far as to support “army rule” …
Viewed through an ideological lens, the highest support for democracy comes from respondents who are either consistently liberal or consistently conservative. In contrast, more than half of those who hold both economically liberal and culturally conservative views support a “strong leader” who does not have to bother with Congress or elections.
The highest levels of support for authoritarian leadership come from those who are disaffected, disengaged from politics, deeply distrustful of experts, culturally conservative, and have negative attitudes toward racial minorities.
The Good News
According to the op-ed,
[A] year into the Trump administration, Americans are rejecting authoritarian alternatives to democracy. … [W]e found that the percentage of Americans who expressed support for a “strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with elections or Congress” fell to levels not seen since the mid-1990s. In particular, young people overwhelmingly reject authoritarian rule, despite concerns about a rising generation retreating from democracy …
Mr. Trump is almost certainly giving authoritarianism a bad name. Support for authoritarian rule declined most among Democrats and young people, while significantly increasing among Republicans.
Meanwhile, Trump is Evolving Along with his Base
Today, Max Boot expatiates on how Trump is perfecting the art of the Big Lie:
Like Trump’s claims that Gen. John J. Pershing slaughtered Muslims, or that his inauguration drew record crowds, or that he would have won the popular vote if millions of illegal immigrants had not voted, this is another example of a would-be dictator’s desire not just to sneak lies by us but to shove them down our throats. Trump is signaling that he doesn’t care what the truth is. From now on the truth will be whatever he says, and he expects every loyal follower to faithfully parrot the official party line. Or else. …
As his presidency advances, Trump is becoming increasingly intolerant of disagreement and defiance, especially from aides who know what they are talking about. Economic adviser Gary Cohn tried to tell him that tariffs and trade wars are bad economics; Trump didn’t listen and Cohn resigned. Tillerson tried to tell him that scrapping the Iran nuclear deal is a bad strategy, and now he’s gone. National security adviser H.R. McMaster is said to be the next candidate for the heave-ho, because he reportedly rubs Trump the wrong way. Of course he does. McMaster is well known in the Army for his blunt willingness to disagree with superiors when he thinks they’re wrong. Trump’s ego is too fragile to handle the truth.
Both op-eds contain plausible speculations about what this portends for the 2018 elections. But well before we get to the elections later this year, the country club Republicans, the empty suits they elect to Congress, and the plutocrats who fund the enterprise are going to have a choice to make: will they side with the 29 percent of voters—mostly older voters—who “show at least some support for either a ‘strong leader’ or ‘army rule’”? Or will they change their playbook and find a way to gain support from the other 71 percent?
When trying to anticipate my legal adversary’s likely strategy, I often asked myself, what would a rational bad person do?
I think a rational, amoral, manipulative plutocrat would realize that the jig is up. His side is losing. And he had better jump over to the other side and see whether he can manipulate them.
The Democrats, I think, are in for some really big monetary contributions.