According to political scientists, authoritarianism is a worldview that values order and authority and distrusts outsiders and social change. And when authoritarians feel threatened, they look for strongmen leaders who are punitive, who target minorities, outside groups and have a simple, forceful leadership style. Sound familiar?
To be clear, authoritarianism is not necessarily a partisan issue. For most of the country’s history, authoritarians were likely divided between the two major parties. But now, only one of the parties really appeals to them: The Republican Party.
This began when the Republican Party started to embrace traditional values, standing against a series of major social changes, e.g. civil rights. During the 1968 presidential election, Republicans developed the “Southern strategy” and began courting southern white voters who opposed racial integration. As a consequence of this new strategy and realignment, Republicans turned against the Equal Rights Amendment, denounced abortion, and later, fought against same-sex marriage.
More recently, foreign threats like terrorism have become major political issues, with Republicans taking positions that align with authoritarian fears and preferences.
According to political scientists Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler, who have tracked data over several decades, authoritarian voters were shifting into the Republican Party after becoming activated by social changes and intensified by foreign threats, and as a result creating a ready-made constituency for a candidate like Donald Trump.
According to a survey by Matthew MacWilliams, a PhD student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the best predictor of Trump support isn’t gender, education, age, ideology, party identification, income, race, or even evangelicalism. It’s authoritarianism.
Trump’s strongman rhetoric has activated, energized, and successfully gravitated American authoritarians to his candidacy, presidency, and now the Republican Party. Trump voters are ready to suspend constitutionally guaranteed rights such as Habeas Corpus, reject the protection of minority rights, and support the abridgment of religious freedom through the closure of mosques across the United States. In South Carolina, a CBS News exit poll found that 75% of Republican voters supported banning Muslims from the United States. And a PPP poll found that a third of Trump voters support banning gays and lesbians from the country, while 20% said that Lincoln shouldn’t have freed the slaves.
In addition, Trump’s praise for Putin and his attacks on the free press, independent judiciary, and now his predecessor are clear signs of authoritarianism and what is to come.
Maybe it’s time libertarians finally gave up their liberal-bashing and came home to the left in order to oppose this dictator of a president and overcome any lingering right wing cultural contamination of their libertarian views.