The Corner

Those ‘Authoritarian’ Trump Supporters

At Politico, Matthew MacWilliams argues that your inclination toward authoritarianism predicts whether you will support Donald Trump. What does MacWilliams mean by “authoritarianism”? That, he says, can be predicted by views on child-rearing.

Is it more important “to have a child” who is respectful, or independent? Obedient, or self-reliant? Well-behaved, or considerate? Well-mannered, or curious?

Voters who choose the first option are “authoritarian,” according to MacWilliams, but that’s an awfully heavy word to load onto people who may well be only reporting their opinion that you should stop your toddler from screaming and racing around church or the restaurant. If you’re letting him do that because you want to encourage him to be “independent” and “curious,” no.

And someday, you hope, he will have sound judgment to rely on when deciding whether to cross the street — “No moving car within two hundred yards, I can cross” — but today is not someday. It’s today, so you tell him not to cross the street, and you hope he obeys.

As for the exquisite distinction between “well-behaved” and “considerate,” a toddler’s capacity for being considerate is a work in progress. He sees strangers smoking cigarettes and, because he has their best interest at heart, tells them they’ll die if they don’t stop. You tell him not to do that. You tell him to behave, and you hope he obeys.

MacWilliams’s “to have a child who” is too big a phrase. What you want your grown children to be is different from what you want your infant, toddler, preteen, or teen to be. Some respondents are liable to have heard “child” and imagined toddlers; others, their adult children.

But the fundamental flaw of MacWilliams’s exercise is his reliance on the scare-term “authoritarianism,” which is fraught with unpleasant associations and means different things to different people. For example, anyone can see what the “authoritative,” politically correct options are in the choices that MacWilliams offers up. Granted, anti-pc sentiment can be reflexive — “Give me a bunch of whatever the bleeding hearts are boycotting this month,” said the old man at the supermarket in the New Yorker cartoon — and thoughtlessly submissive to the the spirit of “Don’t Tread on Me,” but first of all it’s defiance of the authoritarianism of political correctness. It is possible (likely, I would think) that some of MacWilliams’s respondents who chose what he calls the “authoritarian” option were deliberately disobeying the answer that they perceived was wrapped in the authority of academic, progressive, received wisdom.

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