A Conservative Explains Why Right-Wingers Have No Compassion
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An observer of the right-wing phenomenon must explain the paradox of followers who would escape from freedom even as they incessantly invoke the word freedom as if it were a mantra. But freedom so defined does not mean ordinary civil liberties like the prohibition of illegal government search and seizure, the right of due process, or the right not to be tortured. The hard right has never protested the de facto abrogation of much of the Bill of Rights during the last decade. In the right-wing id, freedom is the emotional release that a hostile and psychologically repressed person feels when he is finally able to lash out at the objects of his resentment. Freedom is his prerogative to rid himself of people who are different, or who unsettle him. Freedom is merging into a like-minded herd. Right-wing alchemy transforms freedom into authoritarianism.
Robert Altemeyer, a Canadian psychologist, has done extensive testing to isolate and describe the traits of the authoritarian personality. His results are distilled in his book "The Authoritarians." He describes religious fundamentalists, the core of the right-wing Republican base, as follows:
They are highly submissive to established authority, aggressive in the name of that authority and conventional to the point of insisting everyone should behave as their authorities decide. They are fearful and self-righteous and have a lot of hostility in them that they readily direct toward various out-groups. They are easily incited, easily led, rather un-inclined to think for themselves, largely impervious to facts and reason and rely instead on social support to maintain their beliefs. They bring strong loyalty to their in-groups, have thick-walled, highly compartmentalized minds, use a lot of double standards in their judgments, are surprisingly unprincipled at times and are often hypocrites.
There are tens of millions of Americans who, although personally lacking the self-confidence, ambition and leadership qualities of authoritarian dominators like Gingrich or Sarah Palin, nevertheless empower the latter to achieve their goals while finding psychological fulfillment in subordination to a cause. Altemeyer describes these persons as authoritarian followers. They are socially rigid, highly conventional and strongly intolerant personalities, who, absent any self-directed goals, seek achievement and satisfaction by losing themselves in a movement greater than themselves. One finds them overrepresented in reactionary political movements, fundamentalist sects and leader cults like scientology. They are the people who responded on cue when Bush's press secretary said after the 9/11 attacks that people had better "watch what they say;" or who approved of illegal surveillance because "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear;" or who, after months of news stories saying that no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq, nevertheless believed the weapons were found. Altemeyer said:
Probably about 20 to 25 percent of the adult American population is so right-wing authoritarian, so scared, so self-righteous, so ill-informed and so dogmatic that nothing you can say or do will change their minds. They would march America into a dictatorship and probably feel that things had improved as a result.... And they are so submissive to their leaders that they will believe and do virtually anything they are told. They are not going to let up and they are not going away.
Twenty to 25 percent is no majority, but enough to swing an election, especially since the authoritarian follower is more easily organized than the rest of the population. As for Altemeyer's warning that such personality types "are not going away," the rise of the Tea Party after 2008 showed that he was a better prognosticator than Max Blumenthal, who thought the radical takeover of the GOP during the Bush presidency had "shattered the party."