The Anti-P.C. Vote >>>
Six months ago, I wrote that Donald Trump’s “presidential campaign was following the path of right-wing working class parties in Europe.” In the United States since then, Democratic politicians and the media have struggled to enter the minds of Trump voters, who are evidently enraged by the imposition of norms of political correctness that they see as enforced by “Stalinist orthodoxy.”
Trump has capitalized on the visceral belief of many white voters that government-enforced diversity and other related regulations are designed “to bring Americans to submission” by silencing their opposition to immigration — legal and illegal — to judicial orders putting low-income housing in the suburbs, and to government-mandated school integration — to name just a few of their least favorite things.
Trump’s supporters, judging from the venom with which they refer to “political correctness,” perceive the network of state, local and federal anti-discrimination laws and directives as censorious and coercive….
Jonathan Haidt, a professor at N.Y.U., suggested to me that one way to better understand the intensity of Trump’s appeal is by looking at something called “psychological reactance.” Haidt describes reactance as
the feeling you get when people try to stop you from doing something you’ve been doing, and you perceive that they have no right or justification for stopping you. So you redouble your efforts and do it even more, just to show that you don’t accept their domination. Men in particular are concerned to show that they do not accept domination.
The theory, first developed in 1966 by Jack W. Brehm in “A Theory of Psychological Reactance,” is directly relevant to the 2016 election, according to Haidt. Here is Brehm’s original language:
Psychological reactance is an aversive affective reaction in response to regulations or impositions that impinge on freedom and autonomy. This reaction is especially common when individuals feel obliged to adopt a particular opinion or engage in a specific behavior. Specifically, a perceived diminution in freedom ignites an emotional state, called psychological reactance, that elicits behaviors intended to restore this autonomy.
Haidt applies this to the 2016 election:
Translated to the Trump phenomenon, I would say that decades of political correctness, with its focus on “straight white men” as the villains and oppressors — now extended to “straight white cis-gendered men” — has caused some degree of reactance in many and perhaps most white men.
In both the workplace and academia, Haidt argues,
the accusatory and vindictive approach of many social justice activists and diversity trainers may actually have increased the desire and willingness of some white men to say and do un-PC things.
In this atmosphere, according to Haidt,
Trump comes along and punches political correctness in the face. Anyone feeling some degree of anti-PC reactance is going to feel a thrill in their heart, and will want to stand up and applaud. And because feelings drive reasoning, these feelings of gratitude will make it hard for anyone to present arguments to them about the downsides of a Trump presidency.
Trump’s anger at being policed or fenced in apparently speaks to the resentment of many American men and their resistance to being instructed, particularly by a female candidate, on how they should think, speak or behave.