Purity / Disgust and Conservatives re Trump

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Purity / Disgust and Conservatives re Trump

Postby Keep The Reason » Thu Jan 07, 2016 3:13 pm

This is a totally fascinating article.

What has Donald Trump tapped into that other Republican candidates are missing? I posed this question to some of my best sources.

Jonathan Haidt, the author of “The Righteous Mind,” emailed me his response.

Many American voters, Haidt wrote,

perceive that the moral order is falling apart, the country is losing its coherence and cohesiveness, diversity is rising, and our leadership seems to be suspect or not up to the needs of the hour. It’s as though a button is pushed on their forehead that says “in case of moral threat, lock down the borders, kick out those who are different, and punish those who are morally deviant.”

Haidt, a professor at N.Y.U.’s Stern School of Business, argues that Trump

is not a conservative, and is not appealing to classical conservative ideas. He is an authoritarian, who is profiting from the chaos in Washington, Syria, Paris, San Bernardino, and even the chaos on campuses, which are creating a more authoritarian electorate in the Republican primaries.

In other words, the segment of the electorate drawn to Trump is especially receptive to mobilization at times of perceived disorder — of a belief in looming external threats, from the Islamic State to Syrian refugees to illegal immigration from Latin America.

Noting that conservatives are preoccupied with notions of purity and disgust, Haidt also offers an explanation of some of the more remarkable oddities of Trump’s political approach in an online posting:

If morality is about how we treat each other, then why did so many ancient texts devote so much space to rules about menstruation, who can eat what, and who can have sex with whom? There is no rational or health-related way to explain these laws. The emotion of disgust seemed to me like a more promising explanatory principle. The book of Leviticus makes a lot more sense when you think of ancient lawgivers first sorting everything into two categories: “disgusts me” (gay male sex, menstruation, pigs, swarming insects) and “disgusts me less” (gay female sex, urination, cows, grasshoppers).

Jesse Graham, a professor of psychology at the University of Southern California, elaborated on the purity-disgust dimension of this year’s political campaign:

More than any other Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump has been appealing to a particular combination of in-group loyalty and moral purity concerns. On the purity side, he often expresses disgust, often toward women and women’s bodies (e.g., Clinton’s bathroom break during a Democratic debate). But his purity appeals are most commonly in the context of group boundaries, like building walls on our national borders to prevent contamination by outsiders, who are cast as murderers and rapists, both morally and physically dirty.

These themes, in Graham’s view, have laid the groundwork for Trump’s popularity with explicitly racist and fascist groups:

The National Alliance and National Vanguard spawned The Turner Diaries, which imagined a dystopian future where America is ruled by lazy and corrupt Jews and Blacks, until a morally pure white resistance group nukes the Pentagon. Trump of course is not advocating anything like these horrors, but the moral intuitions he’s playing on can lead in this direction if unrestrained by other moral concerns, such as injustice and the suffering of out-group members.

According to Graham, Trump’s personal style attracts voters, including current and former Democrats, who are drawn to authoritarian leaders:

Trump is more domineering than the other candidates, bullying opponents and reporters alike, calling them losers, refusing to ever apologize for anything. This could indeed appeal to those high in social-dominance orientation and authoritarianism, particularly those who mistake such domineering for actual authority.

John Jost, a professor of psychology at N.Y.U., picks up some of the same themes as Haidt and Graham. In an email he writes that Trump

is tapping into and indeed amplifying anger and fear, primarily among white citizens who are older and less educated than the average Republican voter. He is answering that anger and fear with tremendous self-confidence and 100 percent certainty, which some people find impressive and reassuring.


This seems to hone with the theistic nature of many Americans as well, especially the religious right, and especially those I interact with here. How often do we hear how "society is more evil now than ever" from these people (even though in the USA, crime actually is pretty low compared to our past)? And how things that are none of the business of people (like men whining about gay sex and women's right to reproductive liberty) is tied into what comes across as a lack of purity and disgust, rather than it having any real relation to objective moral actions?

And how theists, inclined to a Super Authoritarian in the sky would feel most at home with authoritarianism, which each of the Republican candidates have in droves. There's a lot of synergies here -- it explains a lot.

And by the way, the poll was huge. Over 187,000 respondents. That's platinum level research.

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To cut some folks off at the pass, I don't advocate for violence, oppression, genocide, war, hatred or intolerance. Instead, I advocate for education, organization, activism, and the democratic process. ~~ KtR
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