The Right Wing in a Few Words

Somebody on Twitter, Ethan Grey, who says he’s an ex-Republican, tried to summarize the basic “Republican message on everything of importance”:

1. They can tell people what to do.  2. You cannot tell them what to do.

You’ve watched the Republican Party champion the idea of “freedom” while you have also watched the same party openly assault various freedoms, like the freedom to vote, freedom to choose, freedom to marry who you want and so on.

If this has been a source of confusion, then your assessments of what Republicans mean by “freedom” were likely too generous. Here’s what they mean:

1. The freedom to tell people what to do.  2. Freedom from being told what to do.

When Republicans talk about valuing “freedom”, they’re speaking of it in the sense that only people like them should ultimately possess it.

He cites Covid-19 as a recent example:

We were told by experts in infectious diseases that to control the spread of the pandemic, we had to socially distance, mask, and get vaccinated. So, in a general sense, we were being told what to do. Guess who had a big problem with that.

All Republicans saw were certain people trying to tell them what to do, which was enough of a reason to insist that they would not be told what to do. Even though what they were told to do would save lives, including their own.

Another instance:

They claim to be for “small government”, but that really means government that tells them what to do should be as small as possible. But when [they see] an opportunity to tell people what to do, the government required for that tends to be large.

My favorite example of this is how Republicans hate government spending unless it’s for the “Defense” Department, which gets an enormous percentage of the federal budget and is the part of our government best positioned to forcefully tell other people (i.e. the rest of the world) what to do. But parts of the government that can tell Republicans what to do, like the Internal Revenue Service (pay your taxes) and the Environmental Protection Agency (stop polluting), should be starved of funds whenever possible (or abolished, like the Department of Education).

Maybe a Republican could complain about Democrats in the same way — we want to tell them what to do but we don’t want them telling us — but I’m hard-pressed to think of Democratic behavior that fits.

Anyway, Frank Wilhoit, a classical music composer, once tried to summarize conservatism too. This is sometimes called “Wilhoit’s Law”:

Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.

It’s really the same point Mr. Grey made on Twitter. In fact, Grey offered his own, less elegantly stated, version of Wilhoit’s Law further down in his thread:

1. There are “right” human beings and there are “wrong” ones.  2. The “right” ones get to tell the “wrong” ones what to do.  3. The “wrong” ones do not tell the “right” ones what to do.

Thus, we have various ways to summarize what’s been called “the hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy of the modern Republican Party”. Take your pick.

Not 1930s Germany, But 1820s Britain

Prof. Corey Robin, author of The Reactionary Mind, doesn’t see our former president as a political strongman, the harbinger of an American brand of fascism. He sees the Republican Party using the Constitution to hold the line against the majority’s desire for progress, and therefore truly conservative. From The New Yorker:

. . . Fascism called the young to the cause of novelty and creation. Today’s right is nothing like that. It is an artifact of the world’s most ancient and extant legal order, holding on to the Constitution, and the institutions it authorizes, for dear life. . . .

. . . Seeking to counter their waning position, the Republican Party and the conservative movement have come to depend upon three pillars of counter-majoritarian rule: the Senate, the Electoral College, and the Supreme Court. These institutions are not authoritarian or fascist—indeed, they are eminently constitutional—but they are antidemocratic. They are also mainstays of the right. In a remarkable statement, now forgotten, issued three days before January 6th, seven conservative members of the House warned their colleagues that [Republican] presidential candidates have

depended on the electoral college for nearly all presidential victories in the last generation. If we perpetuate the notion that Congress may disregard certified electoral votes—based solely on its own assessment that one or more states mishandled the presidential election—we will be delegitimizing the very system that led [our party] to victory in 2016, and that could provide the only path to victory in 2024.

The current moment is less reminiscent of the last days of Weimar than of Britain in the years before the Reform Act of 1832. With a scheme of representation dating back to the twelfth century, Parliament was the playground of grandees from rural and sparsely populated regions of the South. Growing cities in the Midlands and the North had no representation at all.

Standing atop this “aristocracy of mere locality,” in the words of the historian and Whig politician Thomas Macaulay, were the Tories. For six decades, virtually without interruption, they leveraged this Senate-like system of rotten boroughs to keep the Whigs out of power, enabling an increasingly isolated group of aristocrats and gentry to maintain their privileges. While “the natural growth of society went on” among the middle classes and in the cities, Macaulay said, “the artificial polity continued unchanged.”

Other features of this system will sound familiar. Polling places were few and far between; one of the leading items on the reform agenda was to increase their number. Electoral laws were so byzantine, and generated results so murky, that an army of well-paid lawyers was on the payroll for years, sorting out the returns and arguing over their validity. The “artificial polity” kept politics frozen in time, discouraging both parties from taking up vital economic questions of the day, and preventing new social forces and the partisan realignment that was eventually to come . . .

They Merely Want To Protect Themselves and What’s Theirs

This is by an NBC News reporter, Ben Collins, who jokes that he works the “dystopia beat”:

What people say on Facebook and in comments sections is what they actually mean. The comments section may be our id, but social media networks exclusively target our id with a nonstop barrage of fear and hatred. . . .

I did this story over the summer about two women who became minor celebrities because of viral QAnon tirades. . . . Before the pandemic, they weren’t particularly political. By the summer, they were throwing masks on the ground at Target or calling their county commissioners pedophiles who needed to be executed.

. . . During the pandemic, some people lost their jobs. Others lost their ritualized social lives, real-life brunches or bowling leagues or church. . . So with the time they used to spend at work or church or with their family, they filled it with Instagram and Facebook. Extremist movements from QAnon to anti-vaxxers had been waiting for this precise moment for years and they pounced.

Algorithms catered to our worst fears, and “otherized” anyone who didn’t look and think exactly like you to the point of literal demonization. By demonization, I mean your newsfeed was telling you that Democrats are literal, child-eating Satanists.

In turn, social media created a world you could control: Bad guys were creating the pandemic, shutting down the economy, and you had secret knowledge that could stop it. It fed you autonomy and identity . . .

It was extremely alluring to so many people, and people in power winked at it for months. [Many of us] know someone who overtly believes this stuff. Many other entertained it, or believe pieces or variations of it. They brought it to the ballot box with them.

The QAnon Karen who destroyed [a display of masks at] Target realizes she was a victim of social media brainwashing, and she’s trying to stop it. But . . . she had a multi-million person intervention on Twitter. As our parents or friends or siblings get radicalized in less public ways, there’s no one there to step in.

I’m inundated with people asking for help, saying their family members need resources for someone in their life who has recently become divorced from reality and militant because of extraordinarily comforting lies on social media.

They want to know why people aren’t taking this more seriously and why we can’t quantify these things. Well, we can’t quantify these things because social media networks don’t want people to know how bad this problem is . . .

There are so many people out there earnestly struggling right now . . . They are being fed lies for power and profit. Its no wonder they believe them. . . . We need to take their emotions as seriously as the people manipulating them have been for the last ten years.

Unquote.

Of course, there are millions of people struggling who aren’t tempted by bizarre right-wing conspiracy theories, or conspiracy theories at all. What might distinguish the people who are?

John Hibbing, a professor of political science at the University of Nebraska, published a book this year called The Securitarian Personality: What Really Motivates Txxxx’s Base. This is from the publisher’s site:

The Authoritarian Personality, . . . published by Theordor Adorno and a set of colleagues in the 1950s, was the first broad-based empirical attempt to explain why certain individuals are attracted to the authoritarian, even fascist, leaders that dominated the political scene in the 1930s and 1940s. Today, the concept has been applied to leaders ranging from Txxxx to Viktor Orban to Rodrigo Duterte. But is it really accurate to label Txxxx supporters as authoritarians?

In The Securitarian Personality, John R. Hibbing argues that an intense desire for authority is not central to those constituting Txxxx’s base. Drawing from participant observation, focus groups, and especially an original, nationwide survey of the American public that included over 1,000 ardent Txxxx supporters, Hibbing demonstrates that what Txxxx’s base really craves is actually a specific form of security.

His supporters do not strive for security in the face of all threats, such as climate change, Covid-19, and economic inequality, but rather only from those threats they perceive to be emanating from human outsiders, defined broadly to include welfare cheats, unpatriotic athletes, norm violators, non-English speakers, religious and racial minorities, and certainly people from other countries. The central objective of these “securitarians” is to strive for protection for themselves, their families, and their dominant cultural group from these embodied outsider threats.

Unquote.

The publisher could have said they strive for protection from outsider threats, real or imaginary. The point is that they feel threatened by those they view as outsiders, those who have been “otherized” (using the NBC reporter’s term). And once you view your fellow citizens as outsiders, it’s easy to mistrust everything they say and do. The standard Democratic rhetoric about us all being in this together and providing opportunity for everybody sounds like an attack to them.

Thus, we hear from an older couple who live in Mason, Texas, 50 miles east of Austin. They’re deeply concerned about immigrants and protesters, as if their isolated town with a population of 2,000 is on the frontlines of the culture wars:

Ms. Smith, 67, and her husband, Dennis, 69, tied their unequivocal support for the president — even in defeat — to larger cultural concerns.

Like Mr. Biden and his supporters, the Smiths saw this election as a battle for the country’s soul. To unify with Mr. Biden would be an admission that the battle is lost, and that the multicultural tide powering his victory will continue its ascension.

“Everything I worked for, Biden wants to give to the immigrants to help them live, when they don’t do nothing but sit on their butts,” Mr. Smith said.

“And if those protesters come here, if they go tearing up stuff, I guarantee you they won’t be in this town very long,” he added. “We’ll string them up and send them out of here . . . 

A Conservative Confesses

Matthew Sheffield is a conservative journalist who admits there’s something radically wrong with most “conservative” media. He wrote this on Twitter a few days ago:

As a former conservative activist and journalist, it has been so frustrating to see my former compatriots spreading wild and unchecked claims about “voter fraud.”

As the co-creator of NewsBusters, the most prominent anti-media website, I was part of a decades-long tradition of complaining about media elites being “unfair” to conservative views. There is still much to that argument, but eventually I saw that I was missing context.

What I did not realize until I began expanding my work into creating actual media and reporting institutions such as the Washington Examiner (I was the founding online editor) was that U.S. conservatives do not understand the purpose of journalism.

This became evident to me as I saw that conservative-dominated media outlets were MUCH more biased than outlets run by liberals. The latter had flaws that arose from a lack of diversities (note plural) but they operated mostly in good faith. That’s not how the former operated.

I eventually realized that most people who run right-dominated media outlets see it as their DUTY to be unfair and to favor Republicans because doing so would some how counteract perceived liberal bias.

While I was enmeshed in the conservative media tradition, I viewed lefty media thinkers like @jayrosen_nyu as arguing that journalism was supposed to be liberally biased. I was wrong. I realized later that I didn’t understand that journalism is supposed to portray reality.

This thought was phrased memorably by [Stephen Colbert] as “reality has a well-known liberal bias”, which is an oversimplification but is more accurate than the conservative journalist view which is that media should promote and serve conservative politicians.

I also discovered as I rose through the right-wing media ranks that most conservative media figures have no journalism training or desire to fact-check their own side. I also saw so many people think that reporting of information negative to [Republican] politicians was biased, even if it was true.

If you would like to get a great look at the tensions and origins of conservative journalism, there is a wonderful, fabulous book by my friend [Nicole Hemmer], Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics, which I cannot commend enough. My career was an updated version of what she chronicled.

People ask sometimes if conservative media figures like Sean Hannity or anyone associated with the Federalist could actually be so credulous as to believe unfounded and non-specific allegations of “voter fraud.” But the reality is that they don’t actually even think that far.

Truth for conservative journalists is anything that harms “the left.” It doesn’t even have to be a fact. Trump’s numerous lies about any subject under the sun are thus justified because his deceptions point to a larger truth: that liberals are evil.

This assumption is behind all conservative media output. They never tell you what their actual motives are. Most center-left people don’t realize just how radical many conservative elites are, largely because they don’t wear it on their sleeves.

Just as a for-instance of this point, most people have no idea that the top two Trump White House figures, Mike Pence and Mark Meadows, think that biological evolution is a lie.

This is an extraordinarily dangerous viewpoint in light of the SARS2 coronavirus epidemic because the entirety of virology and epidemiology is based on evolution. If you think it’s “fake” then you’ll believe ludicrous nonsense like “herd immunity.”

The same thing is happening with right-wing media and specious claims of voter fraud. Conservatives are willing to believe them even if there is no evidence, simply because anything negative about liberals is true. This mentality extends to the very highest ranks.

Newt Gingrich, William Bennett, and a bevvy of GOP elected officials have no problem parroting unverified rumors as fact because conservative journalism is about supporting conservatives, not about finding facts.

I tried for over a decade to inculcate some standards of independence and professionalism among conservative writers but my efforts made me enemies, especially when I argued that the GOP should be neutral on religion, instead of biased toward Christians.

I began work on a manuscript in 2012 fearing that Mitt Romney would lose his election because conservatives had not learned how politics actually works and that we should adapt to serve public needs and make peace with secular people.

I showed my manuscript to several people who I thought were my friends because I wanted to get the perspective of religious conservatives. Instead of helping me, some of them began trying to expel me from the conservative movement.

I eventually realized that many conservative activists were committed to identity rather than ideas. One of my friends literally told me in 2016 that he would support Senator Ted Cruz because “that’s what the Christians are doing.”

We’re at a critical moment in U.S. politics right now because the Christian identity politics that is the edifice of Republican electioneering is teetering. Millions of Americans have for decades thought that their countrymen are evil.

You can watch this play out right now on a television stage when you tune into Fox News as they cover the election. Fact-based journalists have finally realized that the identity rage of the GOP is going into a raging crescendo.

On an hourly basis now outside of the rage-filled lie-fests of primetime, Fox reporters are gently trying to explain to guests that they need actual evidence before accusing people of crimes. The guests, such as Gingrich, have NEVER been challenged like this on Fox.

Bret Baier, Chris Wallace, Martha MacCallum, and others are trying to save conservatism from itself. It’s like watching a modern-day adaptation of Aeschylus or Sophocles. Sadly, the rest of us are not just spectators in this tragedy.

How American conservatism dies is the most important story, by far, of this moment. Conventional media will never tell this story because their business is built on the lie that Trump is an aberration rather than apotheosis. . . .

At the same time, the tens of millions of people who vote Republican are not deplorable. They are misled. And the mocking and tribalistic coverage that lefty media often engage in only makes things worse. Only love can defeat hate.

And just to clarify my point about people who are “misled.” It’s the people that Trump referred to when he said “I love the poorly educated.” They are the people who work hard, go to church, and feel they have no future in a secular America.

Not the leaders, but the led.

Unquote. 

Unfortunately, many of our fellow citizens choose to be misled because it makes them feel better. This is a comment I left after reading “Welcome the Txxxx Voters Back”, a piece by a philosophy professor calling on us to be nicer to the president’s supporters (in my comment, I quote the author of the article while making a few changes):

Speaking for the majority of American voters, I hereby welcome the minority to join us in “[cultivating] an information environment in which people [can] distinguish between truth and falsehood, in which expert claims are [not] treated with suspicion, and in which fringe figures and theories are [not] valued more highly than mainstream ones”.

Unless more of the “conservative” minority are willing to do that, it’s not going to make a damn bit of difference whether we in the majority “appreciate the bond of citizenship” [and welcome them back] more than we already do.

Why Many Others Support Him

If all you care about, and I mean “all”, is making rich people richer, or you’re a “single-issue voter” who only cares about something like abortion or guns, or you’re a stone-cold racist,  he’s your candidate. Thomas Edsall of The New York Times, with the assistance of several studies, explains the seemingly unfathomable behavior of millions of others:

The center-right political coalition in America — the Republican Party as it stands today — can be described as holding two overarching goals: First, deregulation and reductions in corporate and other tax liabilities — each clearly stated on the White House website — and second, but packing a bigger punch, the preservation of the status quo by stemming the erosion of the privileged status of white Christian America. . . .

Last week, I argued that for Democrats the importance of ethnicity and race has grown, not diminished, since the mid-1960s. The same thing is true for Republicans — and many of the least obvious, or least comprehensible, aspects of Republican political strategy have to do with the party’s desire to cloak or veil the frank racism of the contemporary Republican agenda.

Robert P. Jones, the founder and C.E.O. of the Public Religion Research Institute, in his 2014 book, “The End of White Christian America,” described the situation this way:

America’s still segregated modern life is marked by three realities: First, geographic segregation has meant that — although places like Ferguson and Baltimore may seem like extreme examples — most white Americans continue to live in locales that insulate them from the obstacles facing many majority-black communities. Second, this legacy, compounded by social self-segregation, has led to a stark result: the overwhelming majority of white Americans don’t have a single close relationship with a person who isn’t white. Third, there are virtually no American institutions positioned to resolve these problems. Social segregation persists in virtually all major American institutions.

Firm allegiance to the conservative agenda has become crucial to the ability of Txxxx and the Republican Party to sustain the loyalty of an overwhelmingly white coalition that experiences itself as besieged and under the threat of losing power. The time when a major political party could articulate a nakedly racist agenda is long past, although Txxxx comes as close as possible.

Txxxx goes all-in on race,” declared the headline on a story in Politico just after the close of the first night of the Republican convention on Monday.

While some speakers portrayed Txxxx as a friend of Black America, “others took a harder-edged tack that undercut the message of inclusion,” according to Politico. . . .

In a series of studies published from 2014 to 2018, Maureen A. Craig and Jennifer A. Richeson, professors of psychology at N.Y.U. and Yale, demonstrate how whites, faced with the prospect of becoming a minority, have embraced the Republican Party for institutional protection of their imperiled status.

In their 2014 paper, “On the Precipice of a ‘Majority-Minority’ America: Perceived Status Threat From the Racial Demographic Shift Affects White Americans’ Political Ideology,” Craig and Richeson took a national sample of whites who said they were unaffiliated with either political party and broke them into two groups.

One group was asked “if they had heard that California had become a majority-minority state,” thus making the issue of white minority status salient, and the other was asked “if they had heard that Hispanics had become roughly equal in number to Blacks nationally,” with no reference to the status of whites.

At the end of the survey, participants were asked whether they leaned toward either party. Those who had been informed about the minority status of whites in California said they leaned to the Republican Party by a margin of 45-35. Those who had not been informed of whites’ minority status leaned to the Democratic Party 40.5 to 24.3.

In a subsequent 2018 paper, “Racial and Political Dynamics of an Approaching ‘Majority-Minority’ United States,” Craig and Richeson . . .  reported that “whites for whom the impending racial demographic changes of the nation are salient” endorsed more conservative positions on a variety of policy issues and reported “greater support for Republican presidential candidate Dxxxx Txxxx.”

According to Joshua Greene, a professor of psychology at Harvard and the author of “Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them,” Txxxx is expert at sending “signals that are music to the ears of his base,” signals that ineradicably affirm his membership in the populist right wing of the Republican Party.

Greene argued in an email that when

Txxxx says that a judge of Mexican ancestry can’t do his job, or attacks women for their physical appearance, or makes fun of a disabled reporter, or says that there are good people on both sides of a violent neo-Nazi rally, or that Haiti is a “shithole,” or that the “Second Amendment People” can maybe do something about Hillary Clinton, Txxxx is very deliberately and publicly excommunicating himself from the company of liberals, even moderate ones.

In Greene’s view, Txxxx offers a case study in the deployment of “costly signals.”

How does it work? Greene writes:

Making oneself irredeemably unacceptable to the other tribe is equivalent to permanently binding oneself to one’s own. These comments are like gang tattoos. And in Txxxx’s case, it’s tattoos all over his neck and face.

At the same time, Txxxx’s “costly signals” make his reliability as a protector of white privilege clear.

John Tooby, a professor of anthropology at the University of California-Santa Barbara, described the signaling phenomenon in a 2017 Edge talk as an outgrowth of what he calls a “coalitional instinct.”

“To earn membership in a group,” Tooby says, “you must send signals that clearly indicate that you differentially support it, compared to rival groups.”

This, Tooby notes, encourages extremism: “Practical and functional truths are generally useless as differential signals, because any honest person might say them regardless of coalitional loyalty.” Far more effective are “unusual, exaggerated beliefs,” including “alarmism, conspiracies or hyperbolic comparisons.”

The success of Txxxx’s strategy will have long term consequences for the Republican Party, in Greene’s view:

Txxxx won over the base by publicly sacrificing his broader respectability. Back in 2016, the other Republican primary candidates looked ahead at the general election and thought this was a losing strategy. But Txxxx pulled it off, perhaps because he didn’t really care about winning. But now he owns the party. No Republican can get elected without the Republican base, and the Republican base trusts Txxxx and only Txxxx, thanks to his costly signals.

. . . The Republican Party is now the home of white evangelical Christians and the residents of rural, small town America who see their privilege — what they experience as their values and culture — under assault from a rising coalition of minorities, feminists, well-educated liberals and veterans of the sexual revolution.

“In the context of increased social diversity,” Alexandra Filindra, a political scientist at the University of Illinois-Chicago, writes in a 2018 paper, “portions of the public are willing to support calls for an exclusionary moral community of virtue at the expense of norms and institutions of democracy.”

Filindra argues that . . . most citizens are

prone to understand democracy through the lens of group memberships. When the social position of cherished groups is perceived as threatened, and when trusted in-group elites use narratives of group threat and out-group dehumanization to justify anti-democratic actions, group members become more vulnerable to authoritarian leaders and parties that promise protection or restoration of the group’s status but at the cost of institutional democracy.

Political polarization plays a crucial role here.

As Jennifer McCoy and Murat Somer, political scientists at Georgia State and Koç University, write in their 2019 paper, “Toward a Theory of Pernicious Polarization and How It Harms Democracies”:

Growing affective polarization and negative partisanship contribute to a growing perception among citizens that the opposing party and its policies pose a threat to the nation or an individual’s way of life. Most dangerously for democracy, these perceptions of threat open the door to undemocratic behavior by an incumbent and his/her supporters to stay in power, or by opponents to remove the incumbent from power.

The cumulative effect, McCoy and Somer continue, “is a deterioration in the quality of democracy, leading to backsliding, illiberalism, and in some cases reversion to autocracy.” 

. . . Matthew Graham [and Milan W. Svolik, politicial scientists at Yale] published a study this year showing that when voters are forced to make a choice between partisan loyalty and standing on principle, only small percentages of either party’s electorates stood on principle. The vast majority chose partisan loyalty, with little or no difference between Republicans and Democrats.

In an email, Svolik raised the next logical question: “If supporters of both parties oppose/tolerate authoritarianism at similar levels, how come it is the Republican Party that is primarily associated with authoritarian tendencies today?” In reply to his own question,” Svolik writes, “The quick answer is Txxxx.” But

The deeper answer is that the opportunities to subvert the democratic process for partisan gain have become asymmetrical. Because of the biases inherent in political geography and demographic partisan patterns, the two most easily implementable means of gaining an unfair electoral advantage — gerrymandering and voter identification laws — only offer opportunities for unfair play to Republicans.

Txxxx, in Svolik’s view, has presented

his supporters with a stark choice between his conservative accomplishments (immigration, judicial appointments, tax cuts) while portraying the Democrats as the extreme left (something he did successfully with Hillary Clinton, and why I believe he often brings up Portland, AOC, and Sanders). By doing so, Txxxx is effectively raising the price his supporters must pay for putting democratic principles above their partisan interests.

Other political scientists and psychologists argue that there are differences between Republicans and Democrats that are deeper.

Hyun Hannah Nam, a political scientist at Stony Brook University argues in an email that “there is some evidence that Republicans and Democrats respond differently to information that violates their political beliefs or allegiances — that is, cognitive dissonance in the political domain.”

A 2013 paper, ‘‘ ‘Not for All the Tea in China!’ Political Ideology and the Avoidance of Dissonance-Arousing Situations,” which Nam wrote with John Jost and Jay Van Bavel, both professors of psychology at N.Y.U., provided data from an experiment in which

supporters of Republican presidents and supporters of Democratic presidents were either asked or instructed to argue that a president from the opposing party was a better president than a president from their own party.

Nam and her colleagues

found that 28 percent of Obama supporters willingly engaged with the task of writing an essay favoring Bush over Obama, whereas no Bush supporters were willing to argue that Obama was a better president than Bush.

This suggests, Nam continued in her email,

that there may be something special about Republicans when it comes to an unwillingness to criticize their own leaders or to praise the opposition’s leaders. Although this research preceded the Txxxx era, it could be that Txxxx supporters may now similarly double down on their expressed loyalty to Txxxx, in spite of various moral and ideological violations exhibited by Txxxx — or even because of them through processes of rationalization.

In her email, Nam added,

It appears that a neural structure that guides our perception of salient threats and understanding of social group hierarchy also underlies political preferences and behaviors to keep society as it is. If voter suppression efforts are perceived as helping to maintain the existing power structures, then it is possible that our neurobiological predispositions support the legitimation of such endeavors to protect the status quo.

The emergence of a right-populist, authoritarian-inclined Republican Party coincides with the advent of a bifurcated Democratic Party led, in large part, by a well-educated, urban, globally engaged multicultural elite allied with a growing minority electorate.

Structurally, the Democratic Party has become the ideal adversary for a Republican Party attempting to define political competition as a contest between “us the people” against “them, the others” — the enemy. The short- and medium-term prognosis for productive political competition [or cooperation] is not good.

Joshua Greene, the Harvard psychologist, closed his email with an addendum: “P.S. I think that Biden will probably win and will probably be the next president. But the fact that I can’t say more than ‘probably’ is terrifying to me. . . .”