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] McCarthy’s potential speakership, similar pressure tactics wrested crucial agenda-setting authority from the Republican leadership in the House.

“You don’t negotiate with these kinds of people,” Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Alabama and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, declared as the saga unfolded. “These are legislative terrorists.”

“We have grifters in our midst,” Representative Dan Crenshaw, Republican of Texas, told the Texas Liberty Alliance PAC….

In his paper “Public Opinion Roots of Election Denialism,” 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.

“The most confirmed Republican denialists,” Stewart writes, “believe that large malevolent forces are at work in world events, racial minorities are given too much deference in society and America’s destiny is a Christian one.”

Along parallel lines, Neil Siegel, a law professor at Duke, argues in his 2021 article “The T____ Presidency, Racial Realignment and the Future of Constitutional Norms,” that D____ T____ “is 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 — and, relatedly, to deny the legitimacy of their political opponents.”

In this climate, Siegel continues, “It 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.”

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.