While we’re all wringing our hands over the details of the debt ceiling deal, let’s think about how we got here. I know people think Obama has a lot of power, and he does, but in our system Congress also has a lot of power. We are at this point because voters put in office an unusually large number of hard-core authoritarian conservatives. John Dean wrote a book called Conservatives Without Conscience which explained authoritarian personalities and their relationship with political conservatism (recommended read). He explains the Tea Party is the same group of conservatives under a new brand name.
Bob Altemeyer explained in his Comment on the Tea Party Movement that he was “amazed” by what he discovered in the Tea Party movement: “It seemed as if [the Tea Party followers] had read the [social science] research findings on authoritarianism and then said, ‘Let’s go out and prove all those things are true.’ Whatever else the Tea Party movement has accomplished, it has certainly made the research [by social scientists] on authoritarianism look good.”
Authoritarians can be divided into leaders and followers. Because there are more followers than leaders, much of the research has focused on them. Although Bob Altemeyer has done a good bit of work on authoritarian leaders, his observations on the Tea Party address the followers. (Tea Party leaders like Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, and Congresswoman Michelle Bachman, like all authoritarian leaders, raise a host of additional issues.)
Allow me to summarize Bob Altemeyer’s core findings. For purposes of illustration, he highlighted a dozen conspicuous authoritarian traits in the Tea Party: (1) they are more submissive than most to their leaders, and they take direction without question; (2) they are easily frightened and their leaders keep them that way; (3) they wear their self-righteousness on their sleeves, e.g., with their assertion that they are “the true Americans;” (4) they are highly aggressive, so they lash out at those with whom they do not agree; (5) critical thinking and logic escapes them, and they rely upon simplistic slogans to answer complex questions; (6) they inflate problems, and they find an endless supply of our “biggest problems”; (7) they hold conflicting and contradictory beliefs, which does not trouble them, because their thinking is compartmentalized; (8) double standards are totally acceptable to them, so they can be highly critical of others who do exactly what they do, or have done; (9) they feel empowered when in groups, and gain strength by remaining together with like-minded others; (10) they are highly dogmatic, since they do not know why they believe what they do, and they do not question themselves; (11) they are ethnocentric and constantly judge others and events from an “us versus them” point of view; and (12) they are prejudiced, and often racist, although some do not realize it or believe it when confronted.
Sound familiar? In the article he says the Tea Party is delighted with the chaos they’re causing. (Indeed, many would be very happy if the US government defaulted because the US government has been identified as the enemy.) As Jason says, they believe chaos will lead to their Conservatopia.