(personal comment: eye-opening article and yes it has much to do with our Climate Emergency… also see next post by Mike Malloy which is related.)
Michelle Goldberg is a superlative Times columnist. To my way of thinking, she’s a quintessential liberal. I mean that in ways positive and negative. Positive in that she’s a warrior for liberty, morality and self-government. Negative in that Goldberg does not, and probably cannot, understand the authoritarian mind, nor its perennial threat to us. Liberals are right to have sympathy for the devil. But there’s such a thing as too much.
In her newest column, Goldberg talked about her experience reading Michael Bender’s book about the 2020 presidential election, Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost. Bender, who’s a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, recounts not only “White House disarray and Trump’s terrifying impulses,” Goldberg writes, but “the people who followed Trump from rally to rally like authoritarian Deadheads.”
Bender’s description of these Trump superfans, who called themselves the “front-row Joes,” is sympathetic but not sentimental. Above all, he captures their pre-Trump loneliness. … There are many causes for the overlapping dysfunctions that make contemporary American life feel so dystopian, but loneliness is a big one.
Goldberg suggests strongly that loneliness might be the cause of the current drift in the United States toward authoritarianism. She quotes The Week‘s Damon Linker, who cites Hannah Arendt: “Lonely people are drawn to totalitarian ideologies.” “‘The chief characteristic of the mass man is not brutality and backwardness, but his isolation and lack of normal social relationships,’ Arendt said in The Origins of Totalitarianism, describing those who gave themselves over to all-encompassing mass movements.”
I love Arendt, but she’s wrong here. She has things in reverse. I don’t know if the chief characteristic of the mass man is brutality and backwardness, but I do know that loneliness is the result of brutality and backwardness. In other words, authoritarianism causes alienation, not the other way around. Democracy does not, and cannot, constitute “normal social relationships” to the authoritarian way of thinking, because democracy, to the authoritarian way of thinking, is a moral perversion of the natural order of things, which is to say, “normal social relationships”: God over Man, men over women, black over white, etc. Democracy always runs against the grain of “God’s law.” The authoritarian is always already alienated—from her nation but mostly from herself.
Goldberg cites the American Enterprise Institute’s Daniel Cox, who found a link between loneliness and support for the disgraced former president. The “share of Americans who are more socially disconnected from society is on the rise,” Cox said. “And these voters disproportionately support Trump.” His survey found that “17 percent of Americans said they had not a single person in their ‘core social network.'” He added that these “socially disconnected voters were far more likely to view Trump positively and support his re-election than those with more robust personal networks.”
Like I said, Michelle Goldberg is a quintessential liberal. She’s reading Cox’s findings as loneliness causing authoritarianism. It’s the reverse, though. How can I be so sure? If loneliness causes authoritarianism, what are potential solutions? Among them would be more social networks, more community, more human bonding, and so on, right?
Guess what? White evangelical Protestants are very social, very communal and very bonded by religion and conviction. God over Man, men over women, black over white, etc.—God’s law is the basis for their “normal social relationships.” White evangelical Protestants are, moreover, united by their collective authoritarian belief that they have been chosen by God to rule America in God’s name for the purpose of hastening the End Times, so that anything is justified as long as it serves Him. Put more plainly, nothing matters but authority and power. There are plenty of lonely people in this world, but making them less lonely isn’t going to make many of them less fascist.
How can the authoritarian be alienated from her nation but especially herself while at the same time appear to find connection in communities like white evangelical Protestants? That’s a very good question! It gets to the heart of the real problem. The authoritarian mind is taught to never ever ever come to its own conclusions about the world. Truth is whatever Dear Leader says, not what your eyes and ears tell you. This “education” begins before birth and lasts a lifetime. As a consequence, there’s no such thing as independent thinking. There’s no such thing as freedom of choice. In the collective, there’s no such thing as you. As a result, you will always be lonely. Big rallies might seem communal, but they’re illusory. You’re filling a hole that can’t be filled.