President Trump is a despicable authoritarian leader. Dr. Bob Altemeyer, a psychologist who has studied authoritarianism for many years, describes such leaders as social dominators who thrive on controlling people, winning at any cost, accumulating money, wealth and luxuries, being ruthless, instilling fear in others, and will readily destroy anyone who interferes with their plans. Such people are vengeful and would much rather be feared than loved. They are not particularly loyal to any cause or group except themselves, but they expect their followers to be super loyal. They are very narcissistic and not at all empathic or compassionate with others. They will do almost anything if they think it will benefit them. Social dominators are not very religious, but they frequently pretend to be religious to manipulate gullible followers.
Social dominators tend to be highly prejudiced. They do not believe in equality or social justice. Dominance is the first order of business. Being right is irrelevant. What is “right” is whatever benefits them and what they can get away with. Being on top is all that counts. The people who are on top (themselves) deserve to be on top and to have all the perks that come with that. Those on the bottom deserve to be there. They think some people are just naturally inferior to others. “Equality” is for fools and suckers (and would mean dominators might have fewer advantages).
However, none of this would matter if social dominators did not have authoritarian followers. These are people who eagerly seek out and submit to established authority, especially an authority they perceive to be a strong and decisive person who will defeat the radicals who oppose conventional values. Authoritarian followers are eager to be aggressive against anyone their leader says is an enemy. They do not particularly care whether or not their leader is dishonest, corrupt, unfair, or evil. They believe in almost total respect for authorities such as fathers, bosses, religious leaders, and even political leaders, as long as the political leaders promote conservative policies (law and order, anti-immigrant, anti-abortion, etc.). They believe their leader is above the law and the Bill of Rights should not protect those who do “bad” things (things with which they disagree). They excuse their leader from outrageous, immoral, unethical, and even blatantly provable illegal activities.
Authoritarian followers are aggressive when they are convinced they are right and feel protected by their leader. They are not courageous fighters who will initiate a “fair” fight but will fight when convinced their target is inferior and the fight is in their favor. They readily react in groups because individual responsibility is diminished and social pressure is strong.
They believe strongly in severe punishment for criminals, sinners, and other wrong-doers. They even relish the natural consequences of poor choices, such as a bad drug reaction or unintended pregnancy. They seem to harbor a pool of hostility waiting for a safe release. They hold prejudices against many groups of people and would wholeheartedly join a “posse” to round up or turn in anyone their leader says is an adversary. They see the world as a threatening, dangerous place, and anyone not in their self-defined group is an enemy.
The chant “send her back” that Trump unleashed and did nothing to stop is a perfect example of how a social dominator and authoritarian followers collaborate and reinforce each other. Authoritarian followers abdicate their responsibility to think for themselves and almost blindly follow their chosen leader. What makes this particular group action so dangerous is that it advocates undemocratic and anti-American thinking. It proposes that criticizing the government or president is anti-American when it is, in fact, one of the core American principles. The Constitution of the United States begins with the premise that “We the people of the United States, in order to form a perfect union” . . . “establish this Constitution.” Amendment I then states that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, . . . or the right of the people . . . to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” If our mandate is to form a more perfect union, and if our people cannot be restricted from petitioning the government with grievances, how can complaints or criticisms of government actions or policies be considered un-American?
Although our Declaration of Independence does not carry the weight of our Constitution, it is a proud part of our traditions and precepts. It states ” that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it. . . . ” Altering a destructive form of government cannot be accomplished without criticism and debate. For anyone, let alone our President, to suggest that any citizen who disagrees with him or a government policy should leave the country is completely unacceptable in America.
The rhetoric of “love it or leave it” has a long history of intolerance disguised as patriotism. Also, focusing on people who are not white or native born is clearly racist and part of the white supremacist dogma. The United States is not an exclusively white or Christian nation. White Christians should not be considered the norm against which all others are compared. Much of President Trump’s rhetoric and the reactions of his followers is frighteningly similar to what happened in Germany in the 1930s. Reasonable people must protest vigorously and stop this despicable demagoguery as quickly as possible.