With the rising popularity of Donald Trump; at least within the GOP, I made the following observations on Twitter:
“Things would be better if everyone just shut up and listened to me. Trust me, I will make things much better.”
— Ghaati Masala (@ghaatimasala) March 14, 2016
Responding to the tweet, Supremus sent me this link documenting the rise of American authoritarianism. Rooted in political science research, the article makes an effort to understand this recent fondness for Trump. It’s the perfect storm of having just the right bigoted/racist individual running at the time when racial diversity is on the rise.
In an influential 2005 book called The Authoritarian Dynamic, Stenner argued that many authoritarians might be latent — that they might not necessarily support authoritarian leaders or policies until their authoritarianism had been “activated.” This activation could come from feeling threatened by social changes such as evolving social norms or increasing diversity, or any other change that they believe will profoundly alter the social order they want to protect. In response, previously more moderate individuals would come to support leaders and policies we might now call Trump-esque.
Other researchers, like Hetherington, take a slightly different view. They believe that authoritarians aren’t “activated” — they’ve always held their authoritarian preferences — but that they only come to express those preferences once they feel threatened by social change or some kind of threat from outsiders.
But both schools of thought agree on the basic causality of authoritarianism. People do not support extreme policies and strongman leaders just out of an affirmative desire for authoritarianism, but rather as a response to experiencing certain kinds of threats.
I found this interesting because not only does it confirm our fears of what is happening right now in the Presidential race but it also confirms a theory in housing and neighborhood change; something that’s up my alley.
Thomas Schelling in his seminal paper published in 1971, Dynamic Models of Segregation [PDF], argues that: extreme segregation can arise from social interactions from preferences – once the minority share in a neighborhood exceeds a “tipping point”, all whites leave (quoted from Card et al.) Subsequent research showed that tipping point to be 30 percent. Card et al. in their 2006 paper, Tipping and Dynamics of Segregation, wrote that this was observed at varying levels across regions and cities and even otherwise liberal cities with more racially tolerant whites also exhibited this behavior albeit at higher tipping points.
So not only do Americans change their housing preferences based on perception of “threat” on racial grounds but also their voting preferences. The interaction of neighborhood dynamics and voting preferences is also borne out by the fact that counties with higher proportion of black people voted overwhelmingly for Trump. Note that the black people in these counties didn’t vote for Trump but in fact the minority white people did. Tapping into fear has always been a factor in American politics right from Johnson’s Daisy ad to Bush Senior’s Willie Horton but rarely have entire communities of people been overtly smeared with fear mongering and been this popular.
The more interesting question is whether this is mostly an American phenomenon or can be observed across the world? What’s the tipping point for Muslim neighbors in an erstwhile Hindu-dominated neighborhood. Based on anecdotal information, it is probably lot lower than 30 percent. What’s the tipping point for Dalits in a Brahmin neighborhood? Or coming back to America, do all minorities have a similar tipping point? How many Indian-Americans would it take to make whites leave? Considering that there are several Indian-American dominated-neighborhoods across the country, it would be interesting to trace back to the tipping point, if there was one. The promise of mixed-income neighborhoods by the New Urbanism movement never really panned out beyond certain enclaves. So it begs the question that, are we re-segregating after a brief flirtation with integration? Or is integration inevitable? As the comic Russell Peters once remarked, “we’re all going to be beige. Run all you want but some day, we’re going to hump you.” Crudely put but perhaps that’s the future, whether the powers to be like it or not.