Are Trump Supporters Authoritarian?

A recent Politico headline reads: “The One Weird Trait That Predicts Whether You’re a Trump Supporter …And it’s not gender, age, income, race or religion.”

What is it? Authoritarianism. The author never fully defines the term; presumably he means people who wish to control others at the expense of liberty. However, he does point out that authoritarians are found among Republicans, Democrats and independents alike.

I understand the point. I remember this same phenomenon when Ross Perot ran for president back in 1992, where he ran a strong third and probably threw the election to Bill Clinton. Perot, like Trump now, talked about “getting under the hood and fixing things.” He wasn’t as harsh and personal as Trump in his attacks, but his message was essentially the same.

It’s really a fantasy that one person can fix everything at once. I doubt it’s even necessary. But even before you talk about the fantasy, you have to define “fixing.” What does fixing actually mean? That’s where ideology becomes inescapable. If you’re a progressive or a Democrat, fixing usually means more government programs, higher spending and higher taxes on the rich. If you’re a pro-liberty Republican, fixing usually means getting the government off the backs of the people, generally by lowering taxes and regulations. If you’re a social conservative, fixing means banning gay marriage and abortion.

Trump, like Perot before him, manages to get away with promising to fix everything without ever defining his terms. We know he will build a wall on the southern border, and probably lower corporate taxes. That’s about it. I do not call this authoritarianism. I call it an ideology deficit. It’s the false beliefs that ideas don’t matter, and that ideology is a dirty word, which get us into trouble.

Authoritarianism is the easy way out. It’s a short-cut to solutions. Instead of defining your ideas and why you hold them, you look to a particular person to “get in there and shake everything up.” By what methods and based on which ideas? Somehow, the underlying magical thinking implies, the strength of personality will take care of it all without ever taking responsibility for developing and accepting ideas.

It’s probably true that many authoritarian personalities are drawn to Donald Trump’s candidacy. But so are many authoritarians drawn to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, just like Obama’s before her. Leftism represents a controlling philosophy, even more than Donald Trump. For virtually every problem, there’s a government solution. If government has visibly made things worse, as in health care, then the only possible solution must be more spending, more government, more red tape and more taxes. Liberty and leftism are totally at odds. To hear a progressive talk, the only things we should be free to do are participate in oral sex, have abortions and smoke pot. Beyond that, with everything from health care to mortgages to spending your wealth to eating fatty foods to educating your children to buying guns, government oversight must be everywhere.

If Trump were an ideological conservative along the lines of a Ronald Reagan or a Barry Goldwater, then I’d defend his ideology over the authoritarian ideology of the socialist progressives. However, Donald Trump is not ideological. He appeals to a lot of people precisely for that reason. He’s neither Democrat nor Republican; and yet he’s both at the same time. Trump’s politically incorrect and he’s willing to speak the truth on matters we usually reserve for walking on eggshells. That’s also appealing and refreshing, but it’s still no substitute for an ideology. I am against many of the things Donald Trump is against; but what exactly is he for?

If you want a clear and coherent example of an ideology, read people like James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine. And lesser known but equally important figures such as Frederic Bastiat. And, closer to our own era, the controversial but right-on-the-money Ayn Rand. Ideologues get a bad name, but ideologues with rational ideas are the movers and shakers of history. We still move on the momentum created by the likes of Jefferson and Madison, and given the awful lack of inspiration and intellectual integrity today, that’s a fortunate thing.

Don’t blame Donald Trump for authoritarianism. We were already the victims of that attitude long before his candidacy came along. Two terms of Barack Obama prove that. Without a coherent, pro-liberty and pro-individual rights ideology of his own, it’s unlikely we can expect anything fundamentally different with Donald Trump in charge.

Individuals move the world, but only when they’re moved by ideas – good ones. If you want better leaders, start by leading yourself and learning about the best ideas. The brilliant ideas of men such as Jefferson and Madison are the only things standing between our present government and dictatorship. It’s up to us to give those radical, proven ideas new life in the twenty-first century.

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