Well, this didn’t take long:
Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 11, 2016
Think about it: here’s a guy who just won the presidency in the most stunning political upset in American history, and he’s going to send a pissy tweet about the media and protesters. See, this is the main reason I worry about him as president. He’s unhinged. [Nixon’s insecurity x 500] – Nixon’s smarts = Donald Trump.
I concede that there’s a lot to be worried about regarding the future of a Trump-led America. Still, it’s been hard for me to feel sorry for the liberals falling to pieces over it. What, exactly, do they think the Hillary Clinton win we all expected would have done to the feelings of religious conservatives? Like many people like me, I was gearing down for four more years of losing ground to aggressive efforts by progressives in government to take away our religious liberties in the name of anti-discrimination. I’m not happy that Trump is going to be our president, but I would have been even more miserable had Hillary Clinton been chosen, because of what four more years of Democratic rule in the White House would have meant for my own community. Point is, I have empathy, but it’s limited. I know I’m supposed to feel like a winner, but I don’t; Trump has probably solved the biggest problem facing us, from my point of view, but his ascension will have caused others. Trump’s tweet above gives us a preview of the rest of this decade. It’s going to be one damn thing after another.
Anyway, one of the key voices to read over the next four years is social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. His new piece “How Nationalism Beats Globalism” is must reading. Excerpts:
Globalization and authoritarianism are both essential parts of the story, but in this essay I will put them together in a new way. I’ll tell a story with four chapters that begins by endorsing the distinction made by the intellectual historian Michael Lind, and other commentators, between globalists and nationalists—these are good descriptions of the two teams of combatants emerging in so many Western nations. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French National Front, pointed to the same dividing line last December when she portrayed the battle in France as one between “globalists” and “patriots.”But rather than focusing on the nationalists as the people who need to be explained by experts, I’ll begin the story with the globalists. I’ll show how globalization and rising prosperity have changed the values and behavior of the urban elite, leading them to talk and act in ways that unwittingly activate authoritarian tendencies in a subset of the nationalists. I’ll show why immigration has been so central in nearly all right-wing populist movements. It’s not just the spark, it’s the explosive material, and those who dismiss anti-immigrant sentiment as mere racism have missed several important aspects of moral psychology related to the general human need to live in a stable and coherent moral order. Once moral psychology is brought into the story and added on to the economic and authoritarianism explanations, it becomes possible to offer some advice for reducing the intensity of the recent wave of conflicts.
Haidt brings up the complicated question of patriotism, and how cosmopolitan internationalists and nationalists understand its meaning. The European migration crisis brought it all to a head there:
But if you are a European nationalist, watching the nightly news may have felt like watching the spread of the Zika virus, moving steadily northward from the chaos zones of southwest Asia and north Africa. Only a few right-wing nationalist leaders tried to stop it, such as Victor Orban in Hungary. The globalist elite seemed to be cheering the human tidal wave onward, welcoming it into the heart of Europe, and then demanding that every country accept and resettle a large number of refugees.
And these demands, epicentered in Brussels, came after decades of debate in which nationalists had been arguing that Europe has already been too open and had already taken in so many Muslim immigrants that the cultures and traditions of European societies were threatened. Long before the flow of Syrian asylum seekers arrived in Europe there were initiatives to ban minarets in Switzerland and burkas in France. There were riots in Arab neighborhoods of Paris and Marseilles, and attacks on Jews and synagogues throughout Europe. There were hidden terrorist cells that planned and executed the attacks of September 11 in the United States, attacks on trains and buses in Madrid and London, and the slaughter of the Charlie Hebdo staff in Paris.By the summer of 2015 the nationalist side was already at the boiling point, shouting “enough is enough, close the tap,” when the globalists proclaimed, “let us open the floodgates, it’s the compassionate thing to do, and if you oppose us you are a racist.” Might that not provoke even fairly reasonable people to rage? Might that not make many of them more receptive to arguments, ideas, and political parties that lean toward the illiberal side of nationalism and that were considered taboo just a few years earlier?
Of course. You can only tell yourself that what you see with your own eyes is a lie for so long. Eventually, you stop believing the narrative that cultural elites in government, media, and academia tell you. Here’s a very important paragraph, about why the left’s standard slur intending to shut down debate — “racism!” — obscures rather than explains:
But that is not all we need to know. On closer inspection, racism usually turns out to be deeply bound up with moral concerns. (I use the term “moral” here in a purely descriptive sense to mean concerns that seem—for the people we are discussing—to be matters of good and evil; I am not saying that racism is in fact morally good or morally correct.) People don’t hate others just because they have darker skin or differently shaped noses; they hate people whom they perceive as having values that are incompatible with their own, or who (they believe) engage in behaviors they find abhorrent, or whom they perceive to be a threat to something they hold dear. These moral concerns may be out of touch with reality, and they are routinely amplified by demagogues. But if we want to understand the recent rise of right-wing populist movements, then “racism” can’t be the stopping point; it must be the beginning of the inquiry.
So authoritarians are not being selfish. They are not trying to protect their wallets or even their families. They are trying to protect their group or society. Some authoritarians see their race or bloodline as the thing to be protected, and these people make up the deeply racist subset of right-wing populist movements, including the fringe that is sometimes attracted to neo-Nazism. They would not even accept immigrants who fully assimilated to the culture. But more typically, in modern Europe and America, it is the nation and its culture that nationalists want to preserve.
The importance of this point cannot be overstated. If the left characterizes all of this nationalism and populism as an expression of bigotry, it relieves itself of the responsibility of having to understand it. There’s no reasoning with bigots, after all. We on the traditionalist side of the marriage debate had to deal with this constantly, especially coming from the media. The only possible reason in their minds for our traditionalism was sheer bigotry, end of story. They were rolling over us — are rolling over us — and expecting us to be ashamed of our resistance, as if all we wanted to protect was our hatred.
Haidt, drawing on the work of Karen Stenner, explains the difference between pro- and anti-Trump conservatives:
One of Stenner’s most helpful contributions is her finding that authoritarians are psychologically distinct from “status quo conservatives” who are the more prototypical conservatives—cautious about radical change. Status quo conservatives compose the long and distinguished lineage from Edmund Burke’s prescient reflections and fears about the early years of the French revolution through William F. Buckley’s statement that his conservative magazine National Review would “stand athwart history yelling ‘Stop!’”
Status quo conservatives are not natural allies of authoritarians, who often favor radical change and are willing to take big risks to implement untested policies. This is why so many Republicans—and nearly all conservative intellectuals—oppose Donald Trump; he is simply not a conservative by the test of temperament or values. But status quo conservatives can be drawn into alliance with authoritarians when they perceive that progressives have subverted the country’s traditions and identity so badly that dramatic political actions (such as Brexit, or banning Muslim immigration to the United States) are seen as the only remaining way of yelling “Stop!” Brexit can seem less radical than the prospect of absorption into the “ever closer union” of the EU.
Boy, this is good. Describes me perfectly. Everything in me is suspicious of Trump, and that has not changed with his victory. But on the question of religious liberty, there is reason to believe that he will act to give Republicans a damn spine, and a voice. I hope so.
Where to go from here? Haidt quotes Stenner:
[A]ll the available evidence indicates that exposure to difference, talking about difference, and applauding difference—the hallmarks of liberal democracy—are the surest ways to aggravate those who are innately intolerant, and to guarantee the increased expression of their predispositions in manifestly intolerant attitudes and behaviors. Paradoxically, then, it would seem that we can best limit intolerance of difference by parading, talking about, and applauding our sameness…. Ultimately, nothing inspires greater tolerance from the intolerant than an abundance of common and unifying beliefs, practices, rituals, institutions, and processes. And regrettably, nothing is more certain to provoke increased expression of their latent predispositions than the likes of “multicultural education,” bilingual policies, and nonassimilation.
Read the whole essay. Seriously, do. This is vital wisdom for our time.
Can the left, and the globalists on the right, absorb it and act on it? Don’t know about the right, but I doubt the left can. This is their religion. There’s a reason neoreactionaries call it the Cathedral. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think I will be. And as Ross Douthat has said, if you don’t like the Religious Right, just wait till you get the Anti-Religious Right.
Finally, a word for my fellow conservative Christians. Assuming that Trump will govern in a way more or less consonant with what we believe — and this is not an assumption I, personally, make — Donald Trump won’t live forever, nor will Trumpism, whatever it means. Our norms are increasingly out of step with post-Christian America’s, and we are likely to be increasingly a minority in this country. Donald Trump’s election is not going to stop history’s currents. If Trump and the GOP majority overstep in forcing their own values onto unwilling groups, the backlash against us is going to be horrific when the left comes back to power. We are going to be scapegoated, and made to be outliers and freaks, threats to the common good. The public square may be governed like a left-wing college campus. One reason I keep harping on the Benedict Option is that we need to exercise what power we may have under the Trump administration prudently, and we also need to avoid putting our trust in princes. If we are wise, we will use this interlude as a time of preparation.