Another, and very good attempt to explain the Trump phenomenon

I wrote a while back about how the social scientists have not yet been able to explain the Trump phenomenon. They really haven’t. Now comes George Lakoff, the Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He wrote the groundbreaking “Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think,” which essentially analogized politics to the style of family units, under which theory conservatives prefer authoritarian family units and progressives prefer nurturing family units. As Lakoff recently explained it:

How do the various policy positions of conservatives and progressives hang together? Take conservatism: What does being against abortion have to do with being for owning guns? What does owning guns have to do with denying the reality of global warming? How does being anti-government fit with wanting a stronger military? How can you be pro-life and for the death penalty? Progressives have the opposite views. How do their views hang together? The answer came from a realization that we tend to understand the nation metaphorically in family terms: We have founding fathers. We send our sons and daughters to war. We have homeland security. The conservative and progressive worldviews dividing our country can most readily be understood in terms of moral worldviews that are encapsulated in two very different common forms of family life: The Nurturing Parent family (progressive) and the Strict Father family (conservative).

What do social issues and the politics have to do with the family? We are first governed in our families, and so we grow up understanding governing institutions in terms of the governing systems of families.

In the strict father family, father knows best. He knows right from wrong and has the ultimate authority to make sure his children and his spouse do what he says, which is taken to be what is right. Many conservative spouses accept this worldview, uphold the father’s authority, and are strict in those realms of family life that they are in charge of. When his children disobey, it is his moral duty to punish them painfully enough so that, to avoid punishment, they will obey him (do what is right) and not just do what feels good. Through physical discipline they are supposed to become disciplined, internally strong, and able to prosper in the external world. What if they don’t prosper? That means they are not disciplined, and therefore cannot be moral, and so deserve their poverty. This reasoning shows up in conservative politics in which the poor are seen as lazy and undeserving, and the rich as deserving their wealth. Responsibility is thus taken to be personal responsibility not social responsibility. What you become is only up to you; society has nothing to do with it. You are responsible for yourself, not for others — who are responsible for themselves.

Trump clearly appeals to people who are partial to the authoritarian family model of politics. As Lakoff further suggests:

In the strict father family, father knows best. He knows right from wrong and has the ultimate authority to make sure his children and his spouse do what he says, which is taken to be what is right. Many conservative spouses accept this worldview, uphold the father’s authority, and are strict in those realms of family life that they are in charge of. When his children disobey, it is his moral duty to punish them painfully enough so that, to avoid punishment, they will obey him (do what is right) and not just do what feels good. Through physical discipline they are supposed to become disciplined, internally strong, and able to prosper in the external world. What if they don’t prosper? That means they are not disciplined, and therefore cannot be moral, and so deserve their poverty. This reasoning shows up in conservative politics in which the poor are seen as lazy and undeserving, and the rich as deserving their wealth. Responsibility is thus taken to be personal responsibility not social responsibility. What you become is only up to you; society has nothing to do with it. You are responsible for yourself, not for others — who are responsible for themselves.

The strict father logic extends further. The basic idea is that authority is justified by morality (the strict father version), and that, in a well-ordered world, there should be (and traditionally has been) a moral hierarchy in which those who have traditionally dominated should dominate. The hierarchy is: God above Man, Man above Nature, The Disciplined (Strong) above the Undisciplined (Weak), The Rich above the Poor, Employers above Employees, Adults above Children, Western culture above other cultures, Our Country above other countries. The hierarchy extends to: Men above women, Whites above Nonwhites, Christians above non-Christians, Straights above Gays.

This also goes some way to explaining Trump’s appeal to white evangelical Christians:

Those whites who have a strict father personal worldview and who are religious tend toward Evangelical Christianity, since God, in Evangelical Christianity, is the Ultimate Strict Father: You follow His commandments and you go to heaven; you defy His commandments and you burn in hell for all eternity. If you are a sinner and want to go to heaven, you can be ‘born again” by declaring your fealty by choosing His son, Jesus Christ, as your personal Savior.

So all of this I get, and it makes a lot of sense. It’s also very much in keeping with other articles I’ve read, including those that have commented on the rise of American authoritarianism.

But there is one thing that still escapes me, and I think has still escaped the social scientists. And that one thing is: why Donald Trump? This guy is the biggest blowhard we’ve had in a generation. He is epitome of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. These traits are so obvious that it is beyond my comprehension how this is not the first and most important thing that everybody notices about the man.

  • He doesn’t care about you.
  • He doesn’t care about me.
  • He only cares about getting attention.
  • And like all great narcissists, even extremely negative attention is better than no attention at all.

This is why I wrote the other day that we have to stop talking about the “intelligence” of the American voter. If the American voter can’t understand that – even though it’s displayed almost literally in neon lights – then the “common sense” intelligence on which we’re supposed to be able to rely, has deserted a fairly large number of the American voter.

About a1skeptic

A disturbed citizen and skeptic. I should stop reading the newspaper. Or watching TV. I should turn off NPR and disconnect from the Internet. We’d all be better off.
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