What unites Donald Trump's supporters, apparently, is not their racism, their class position, their xenophobic anti-immigrant positions. In fact, according to a University of Massachusetts political scientist, these political positions are actually manifestations of a psychological disposition. What unites Trump's minions is their authoritarianism.
Matthew MacWilliams channels a theory from the 1950s to explain the personality type that are today's Trump Stumpers. And, surprisingly, it has to do with gender.
You might not remember the reams of studies about authoritarianism that followed the end of World War II. How could we explain the fact that an entire nation followed a totalitarian madman to perpetrate the greatest attempt at genocide in history? Surely there was some flaw in the German character that made them, as a people, especially prone to obeying authority, blindly, without question.
Countless social psychology experiments later, especially those infamous ones by Stanley Milgram, we came to the sad conclusion that Americans were just as likely to blindly follow orders towards terrible results.
What may be more interesting to us today, however, is what, exactly constituted that authoritarianism. According to the authors, including the famed Frankfurt School sociologist Teodor Adorno and the young social psychologists Nevitt Sanford and Daniel Levinson (who would later invent the "male midlife crisis") the authoritarian personality was the psychological disposition that was most prone to racism, anti-Semitism, schoolyard bullying.
And, at its base, it was about gender. Actually, it was about masculinity.
Here's how the explanation worked. Each of us -- well, each man, since women seemed largely immune to authoritarianism -- has two components to our gender identity as men: our inner sense of ourselves as masculine and our external presentation of our selves as masculine. So, in principle, those who are healthily masculine inside and expressed that on the outside would be coded as MM (inner and outer, see?) If you were internally feminine but expressed your masculinity externally, you'd be coded as FM, and if you were internally confident of your masculinity on the inside and expressed yourself in ways typically feminine (emotionally expressive, colorful clothing, whatever), you'd be coded as MF.
So, guess who is the authoritarian personality?
Mr. FM. Internally insecure in his masculinity, he takes to all sorts of loud hypermasculine over-compensation to prevent anyone seeing his cowering little insecure masculine self. The social psychologists thought he doth protesteth too much. These studies were the origins of the idea, for example, that the schoolyard bully was the one who as least secure in his masculinity. As Adorno wrote, the tough guys are the truly effeminate ones, who need the weaklings as their victims."
(This idea held sway for decades, until recent research found that bullies had relatively higher self-esteem than their victims, and that most bullies had, themselves, been bullied. Today we understand these categorical personality types more as performances of various continua.)
In a masterpiece of psychological reductionism, political authoritarianism was reduced to a gender disorder, insufficient masculinity. (Oh, the MF was the most artistic, creative, and emotionally centered, so the researchers promptly ignored him.)
Of course, one cannot explain the millions of Americans who are Trumpeters and will follow him, lemming like, off the racist, nativist cliff, simply by reference to a psychological variable. Nor, however, can we ignore it entirely either. For whatever might be the social, economic and political grievances that are congealing in support for his candidacy, Trump's supporters are bathing in his testosterone spray.