NB: Because Amherst College Press is open-access, this book is available free for download here. Just when I thought I had a pretty good...

NB: Because Amherst College Press is open-access, this book is available free for download here.

Just when I thought I had a pretty good handle on the ways and means of American politics, Donald Trump “happened.” I watched with amazement as he insulted just about every establishment figure in the US–including the untouchable war-hero and senator John McCain!–and alienated large swathes of the American electorate–hispanics, women, people who think it’s important to be polite. And yet he rose; millions of right-thinking Americans continued to vote for him through the primaries and support him after he won them. Every time I said, “Well, that’s it, his run is over,” he trundled on, accompanied by a devoted, Trump-loving “base.”

I don’t think I’m alone in my confusion about the Trump phenomenon, and I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to know how Trump did what he did. Happily, the political scientist Matthew MacWilliams provides some answers in his excellent, short book The Rise of Trump: America’s Authoritarian Spring (Amherst College Press, 2016). What’s especially nice about MacWilliam’s work is that it’s based on evidence and logic, not partisanship and vitriol. What MacWilliams discovered is, well, surprising: there are, he shows, a goodly number of Americans who possess values that can only really be be called “Authoritarian,” and those Americans who have these values overwhelming support Trump. What’s most interesting is that these values were, in a sense, always there; they were, however, largely unrepresented among Americans’ political choices. Trump was, if not exactly the first (remember Pat Buchanan?), then the most expert at presenting them and “activating” the Authoritarian impulse in this reasonably large cohort of Americans. Trump uncovered or exposed Americans’ latent Authoritarianism. What the political parties will do with it now that it’s there for the taking is anybody’s guess.

 

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