The Republican Crazy Train: The Emotional Appeal of Right-Wing Populism and the MAGA Cult
Furthermore, there is a particular aspect to “Trumpism,” typically referred to as MAGA, which is not directly addressed in the cited article. Perhaps it is a unique strain of right-wing populism, native in particular to the United States, although I do think it shares much in common with right-wing populism elsewhere. In particular, I am referring to the egotistical nature of right-wing populism, which in my observation has been occurring since at least the time of Ronald Reagan’s initial, successful candidacy for the presidency in 1980. This is related to the second factor mentioned by Salmela and von Shcve, the bolstering of self-esteem through identity processes, and perhaps they would argue that it is the same thing, but what we see in the United States, specifically relates to the idea of “American exceptionalism” (which this post is addressing, and will be further addressed in a subsequent post). Right-wing populist politicians in the United States, such as Reagan and Trump (both of whom were celebrities and political novices before seeking the political spotlight), use specific language designed to make people not only feel good about themselves for being “a true American,” but actually use dog-whistle (or sometimes more direct language in the case of Trump) to make their base feel superior to other people – morally, culturally, and intellectually, in addition to racially, religiously, or any other convenient categorization which may be used to divide people.
The underlying message of American right-wing populists, is that “We are the true Americans, who are superior and will restore America to its former greatness – which has been ruined by those who are not “real Americans,” such as immigrants of other ethnicities, races and religions, or people such as African-Americans who have traditionally been excluded from full participation in “The American Dream.” Perhaps this is similar to the current backlash in Europe against immigrants, although I have the impression that in Europe, the focus is more on resentment and anger over feeling imposed upon by “outsiders,” rather than having a superiority complex which leads to proclamations of being “the greatest people in the world.” Perhaps the best historical example of that from another nation is that of the Nazis, which is a scary comparison that accentuates the danger of right-wing populism in the United States, especially in the hands of the worlds’ most powerful military. Even the Japanese during World War II did not show that kind of egotism although they aggressively pursued power and resources throughout Asia.
What is the solution to right-wing populism? Largely the same solution that applies to the entire delusional mindset of the cult that the Republican Party has become. Right-wingers need exposure to other ideas and other people who don’t think or believe the same way that they do. The right-wing propaganda devices in our media, such as Fox News, OAN and Newsmax – and Donald Trump himself — need to be muted, and people need to be exposed to exercises in critical thinking skills. Some progress in this regard has been made, particularly relating to Donald Trump, who has been removed from the presidency, although he still claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent, and dreams about being reinstated or reelected as president, and furthermore, he has been banned from popular social media. However, the right-wing media continues unabated, and free speech issues make blocking their voices problematic and difficult.
I do not think this task is impossible, though. These echo chambers may lose their appeal over time as more right-wingers awaken from their delusional reveries. Furthermore, legal problems may mount for them as people legally challenge their use of misinformation and the resulting deleterious effects such as the stochastic terrorism which led to the January 6 insurrection. Finally, let it be noted that the seeds of its own self-destruction are rooted in this American form of right-wing populism. As I have often pointed out, conservatives are fighting an uphill political battle of their own choosing, by boxing themselves in demographically to appeal to a specific, shrinking albeit still large, portion of the population. I do not see them doing anything, or even having any real way to, significantly broaden their base, given their unpopular policies and divisive language. Thus, their main hope politically is to manufacture a situation in which they maintain minority rule of the United States.
As individuals, we shall continue to promote rationality one thought at a time, and fight for democracy.