Conspiracy Thinking and Racial Resentment In. Blatant Chaos and Disruption Out.

The New York Times has a columnist, Thomas Edsall, who tends to write long, rather bland articles that cite a lot of academic studies. So I was struck by the first paragraph of his most recent column, parts of which are below:

Over the past eight years, the Republican Party has been transformed from a generally staid institution representing the allure of low taxes, conservative social cultural policies and laissez-faire capitalism into a party of blatant chaos and disruption….

What drives the members of the Freedom Caucus, who have wielded the threat of dysfunction to gain a level of control within the House far in excess of their numbers? How has this group moved from the margins to the center of power in less than a decade?

Since its founding in 2015, this cadre has acquired a well-earned reputation for using high-risk tactics to bring down two House speakers, John Boehner and Paul Ryan. During the five-day struggle over [Kevin] McCarthyโ€™s potential speakership, similar pressure tactics wrested crucial agenda-setting authority from the Republican leadership in the House.

โ€œYou donโ€™t negotiate with these kinds of people,โ€ Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Alabama and chairman of the Armed Services Committee,ย declaredย as the saga unfolded. โ€œThese are legislative terrorists.โ€

โ€œWe have grifters in our midst,โ€ Representative Dan Crenshaw, Republican of Texas,ย told the Texas Liberty Alliance PAC….

In his paper โ€œPublic Opinion Roots of Election Denialism,โ€ published on the second anniversary of the storming of the Capitol, Charles Stewart III, a political scientist at M.I.T., argues that … the two most powerful factors driving Republicans who continue to believe that [the con man] actually won the 2020 election are receptivity to conspiracy thinking and racial resentment.

โ€œThe most confirmed Republican denialists,โ€ Stewart writes, โ€œbelieve that large malevolent forces are at work in world events, racial minorities are given too much deference in society and Americaโ€™s destiny is a Christian one.โ€

Along parallel lines,ย Neil Siegel, a law professor at Duke, argues in his 2021 article โ€œThe T____ Presidency, Racial Realignment and the Future of Constitutional Norms,โ€ that D____ T____ โ€œis more of an effect than a cause of larger racial and cultural changes in American society that are causing Republican voters and politicians to perceive an existential threat to their continued political and cultural power โ€” and, relatedly, to deny the legitimacy of their political opponents.โ€

In this climate, Siegel continues, โ€œIt is very unlikely that Republican politicians will respect constitutional norms when they deem so much to be at stake in each election and significant governmental decision.โ€

These developments draw attention to some of the psychological factors driving politics and partisan competition.


Mr. Edsall then discusses a series of studies that attempt to figure out what’s going on in these people’s brains, in addition to the conspiracy thinking and racial resentment. I’ll share some of it soon.