12 Sep '16     home | previous

The Rightist Mind

Corey Robin's book the Reactionary Mind was reviewed a few days ago on this site, but I'm not comfortable with it and want say more on the subject. Some of it will be obvious bias. Some not. What interests me are rightists we can call working class, or lower middle class. I'm departing from the old Marxist class analysis that sees one's politics as a product of one's economic position in society. Something else is going on. Class analysis is too simplistic (as is the phrase "working class").

I am interested in the role of culture on the rightist mind. But first, a look at the psychological described in an article in Scientific American (September 1, 2012). The article claimed that liberals and conservatives are different "in their personalities and even their unconscious relations to the world around them."

For whatever it is worth, the article described a team of psychologists who found:

when viewing a collage of photographs, conservatives' eyes unconsciously lingered 15 percent longer on repellent images, such as car wrecks and excrement – suggesting that conservatives are more attuned than liberals to assessing potential threats.

And a study of college students' bedrooms revealed:

conservatives possess more cleaning and organizational items, such as ironing boards and calendars, confirmation that they are orderly and self-disciplined. Liberals owned more books and travel-relation memorabilia, which conforms with previous research suggesting that they are open and novelty seeking.

So much for this kind of psychological study. Regarding the cultural and choice in television news, why do some have a preference for Fox News and the conservative (or rightist) Sean Hannity over the liberal Lawrence O'Donnell and MSNBC?

My bias has it that those who like viewing Hannity have more of a sports culture way of looking at the world. They find pleasure identifying with the grandeur of their team winning. At the Olympics they would be inclined to chant "USA USA." They are more rah-rah than I (a Korean War veteran with combat experience.) They (and I) are fortunate in living in a democracy that leads the world economically, and they are proud that their country "won" the last two world wars. (No one won World War One.) They like to think of their country as doing right, and their patriotism is one of the fundamentals of their political perspective. During the war in Vietnam they were inclined to analyze the war in terms of winning against the enemy. The dynamics that contributed to our losing that war, including our stupidity, they hardly consider.

Staying with the culture factor, these are people who might choose Fox News because it has more of an appeal to their kind of patriotism than does MSNBC.

To return to the psychology factor, rightists appear to me to be more alarmist. In addition to loving their country, people with a rightist perspective are intense in what they are against – nothing wrong with that in the abstract. Sometimes, however, it gets absurd. If I may label Ann Coulter a rightist, she sees a Trump victory this coming November as saving civilization. She writes:

We are talking about the future of not only of America but of the last genuinely Christian country on earth and thus the world. If we lose America, it is lights out for the entire world for a thousand years."

In Sean Hannity's book, published in 2004, titled Deliver Us from Evil. Hannity opposes what he sees as a cowardly response to terrorism. To quote a favorable Amazon customer review of the book, Hannity

urges Americans to recognize the dangers of putting our faith in toothless ''multilateralism" when the times call for decisive action.

Staying with pschycology, the Scientific American article mentioned above included the following:

Anxiety is an emotion that waxes and wanes in all of us, and as it swings up or down our political views can shift in its wake. When people feel safe and secure, they become more liberal; when they feel threatened they become more conservative.

By September 2016, Hannity was devoting his program to what he sees as Donald Trump's stands against the evils of illegal immigration and what he sees as the weakness of the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton against ISIS and terrorism. In supporting Trump, Hannity maximizes his criticism of Hillary, including the Benghazi scandal, her email and foundation scandals, and he doubts her health.

Hannity is just one cultural influence (and he has been influenced by others), but staying with him for a moment, in his book Conservative Victory (published in 2010) he wrote of "defeating Obama's radical agenda." He went to a dictionary definition socialism, and then he was asked whether he believed that Barack Obama is a socialist. He said "Yes." It was a simplified view of socialism that has become common with rightists. Someone sends a comment to the Washington Post:

The Democratic Party has become a socialist, left wing revolutionary party, which makes traditional American seem "right wing" to the Marxist imagination.

Most Democrats do not like the socialism of Lenin, Stalin and Mao. These men were maximalist in their view about the evils of private investment, free-enterprise, private businesses large and small, to an absurd degree. In Europe at least, the Leninists lost. Their kind of socialism in has been declining also in China and Cuba. Britain's socialism is not Lenin's socialism. Neither is Sweden's or Denmark's. Social Democrats support private financial institutions and capitalist industries and benefit from free markets. But blurred and simplistic language regarding socialism has become a part of a rightist attempt to measure radicalism.

More on media choices, the authors of a new book, Asymmetric Politics: Ideological Republicans and Group Interest Democrats, have an article in the Washington Post that claims:

Today, Republican voters report that they trust only Fox News and other explicitly conservative news outlets. Democratic voters, in contrast, say they trust and consume a wide variety of mainstream news outlets.

Republican voters, activists, and politicians are "more likely to live in an information cocoon, walled off from ideologically inconvenient evidence.

The authors, Matt Grossmann and David A Hopkins, go on to describe liberals as accessing a greater variety of sources than rightists. This might explain the left's greater acceptance of scientific opinion regarding global warming, and perhaps greater acceptance of biological evolution.

And higher education introduces people to a great many sources, which might explain Hillary Clinton leading Trump among those with a university degree.

Donald Trump was attempting to appeal to those leaning toward limited sources when he said that he loves "the poorly educated", and in 2011 when he told David Brody that "The Bible is certainly, it is THE book. It is the thing.

Meanwhile, at least a few Republicans and people on the political right see a wicked influence from the nation's more reputable education establishments, where secular progressives are said to rule. They rage against the Clinton Foundation, which puts money into saving lives and not one nickel in Clinton pockets. They rage against the New York Times and against the Washington Post (owned by a most successful entrepreneur, Jeff Bezos, who also owns Amazon).

In the Washington Post, Matt Grossmann and David A. Hopkins write:

Conservative media exerts enough political power among the Republican electorate that some critics, even within the party, fear that its leaders have more influence than traditional Republican leaders and organizations, and stir up dissension and rebellion among the party faithful.

I'm still on the subject of cultural influence, and countering the professionals at the New York Times and the Washington Post we have the biases on Fox News – despite its occasional effort at being fair and balanced – and we have the much read conservative Washington Times (once owned by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon) representing the conservative point of view. The paper's columnists include people whose politics annoys some of us at or to the left of center: Monica Crowley, Lawrence Kudlow, Ben Carson, New Gingrich and Charles Hurt, who, like Crowley is also with Fox.

In May this year, TV ratings have Fox leading CNN and MSNBC for the 173rd consecutive month, with Hannity surpassing Megyn Kelly in viewer numbers and Bill O'Reilly still ahead of both. Fox takes pride in its popularity, and it has an entertainment component to its appeal – plus some I suspect who like to watch its absurdity. Rightists are mad as hell but they also like what they consider humor – much of it ridicule of liberals – not quite the same kind of humor that as has been on the Daily Show, Steven Colbert or Samatha Bee.

It's great that we live in a country that lets us choose between sources that give us good journalism and sources that give us crap.

I predict that when the TV ratings for October 2016 are published they will show a decline for Fox News compared to what they were in May.

A conclusion and apology:

This is an incomplete examination of the rightist perspective, and I haven't described a clear difference between the rightists, or the alt-right and those traditional conservatism being derided as establishment. Some people might be considered rightists who support Trump on immigration and don't accept multiculturalism – a phenomenon taking place in Europe. Also, I'm obliged to admit that Fox News is a product of our culture as well as an influence on it.

I wish I could point to a comprehensive work in sociology that describes recent history and attitudinal changes regarding politics. If I find such a book I'll let you know.

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