The Resurrection of Dark Politics

Police form a line to contain protesters outside a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Thurs
Police form a line to contain protesters outside a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Thursday, June 2, 2016, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Robert Kagan writes in the Washington Post, regarding Trump, "Republican politicians marvel at how he has 'tapped into' a hitherto unknown swath of the voting public."

We've all seen those cute little political charts that basically dissect American politics into four spheres.

There are those who are pro social freedom and pro economic freedom, we call them libertarians. Some desire economic freedom, but have a dislike for social freedom, preferring social conformity instead. They are conservatives. The "liberals" want social freedom and diversity, but want to micromanage people's economic affairs. Then there's the Dark Sector, those individuals who aren't fond of economic freedom, demand social conformity and control, and oppose social freedom.

The psychology of these people is not hard to understand. When it comes to life in general, fear is their dominant emotion. They fear diversity, others, anything or anyone they can't understand -- which is a lot. They are afraid of foreigners, other religions, world events, and people who are different. They oppose individualism. They yearn for a strong leader to take matters under control. They'd goose-step their way into fascism in a heartbeat.

These are envy-ridden individuals who resent the wealth or good-fortune of others -- though they often want their Great Leader surrounded by opulence. They project onto their Great Leader their own aspiration to have power and wealth. They live vicariously through him.

That is the Dark Sector of American politics. When Kagan says Trump has tapped into "a hitherto unknown swath of the voting public" he is right, but also wrong. Trump tapped into that Dark Sector -- the authoritarians in American politics. Those famous charts of political ideology have always shown that "swath of the voting public," it's just that in the American context no one paid much attention to it. That is why Kagan is also wrong. This was not an unknown swath, it was just one we ignored. But, it's been on those charts for decades.

Until now the Dark Sector divided itself depending on what they resented the most: economic freedom or social freedom. Those who hated economic freedom foremost tended to support the Democrats who wanted to control economic life. Social conformists or authoritarians flocked to the Religious Right and the Republicans. The authoritarianism of this sector was hidden because it divided itself between the two major parties. It went unnoticed because the pro-social freedom views of Democrats, and the pro-economic freedom views of Republicans, provided a cover for the polar opposites of libertarians: authoritarians.

Donald Trump is tapping that swath of voters.

Trump is the first demagogue, since George Wallace in 1968, to openly appeal to the authoritarian quadrant of the political spectrum. Trump is attempting to unify the most anti-American ideology within the United States. Kagan is correct when he notes:

This phenomenon has arisen in other democratic and quasi-democratic countries over the past century, and it has generally been called "fascism." Fascist movements, too, had no coherent ideology, no clear set of prescriptions for what ailed society. "National socialism" was a bundle of contradictions, united chiefly by what, and who, it opposed; fascism in Italy was anti-liberal, anti-democratic, anti-Marxist, anti-capitalist and anti-clerical. Successful fascism was not about policies but about the strongman, the leader (Il Duce, Der Führer), in whom could be entrusted the fate of the nation. Whatever the problem, he could fix it. Whatever the threat, internal or external, he could vanquish it, and it was unnecessary for him to explain how. Today, there is Putinism, which also has nothing to do with belief or policy but is about the tough man who single-handedly defends his people against all threats, foreign and domestic.

Benito Mussolini, who Trump channels with amazing skill, started his career as the editor of the local Socialist newspaper. From them he learned a disdain for economic freedom, wanting control instead. He took socialist economics and mixed it with his distrust of individualism and social freedom. His strutting fascism was the Dark Sector in power. Trump, with his pompous narcissism, his incoherent rhetoric, his utter contempt for limited government and individual rights, is just the newest incarnation of an old, and very dangerous, ideology.

The Republican Party could have survived losing this election with a divided party. But, a unified Party, behind a leader like Trump, will be the death of them. It is one thing to have Trump foisted on them, it is another to get into bed with him.