So Professor Taub has now said: A terrible but important fact just keeps on emerging.
Here it is:
Along with our intellectual leaders, we the liberals just aren't especially sharp.
This flies in the face of our tribal self-image, which holds that we liberals are the smart honest people while the dimwits are all Over There.
That said, it's more clear all the time that we just aren't especially sharp. Consider something Amanda Taub wrote last week in a long, lengthy piece at Vox.
Taub is an adjunct professor in International Law and Human Rights at Fordham. She's also a lawyer who's nine years out of Georgetown Law.
Her most recent Vox piece, which is quite lengthy, appeared on March 1. The lengthy report bears this scary headline:
"The rise of American authoritarianism"
Taub's piece inspired Colbert King's bomb-dropping column in Saturday's Washington Post. King's column carries this headline on line:
"Trump: The authoritarian’s candidate of choice"
For our previous report on King's piece, you can just click here.
We expect to spend a few more days looking at different aspects of Taub's lengthy piece. For today, let's consider one particular thing she wrote.
In her piece, Taub excitedly claims that recent work in the social sciences has uncovered "an unnoticed but surprisingly large electoral group [in the United States]—authoritarians."
In her next paragraph, she expands on that claim in dramatic fashion. She says that, by 2009, "the GOP, by positioning itself as the party of traditional values and law and order, had unknowingly attracted what would turn out to be a vast and previously bipartisan population of Americans with authoritarian tendencies."
Let's ask and answer two questions:
Does the American electorate contain a "surprisingly large" number of "authoritarians?"
Everything is possible! Needless to say, it all depends on what the meaning of "authoritarian" is! Also "surprisingly large!"
Does the electorate contain "a vast and previously bipartisan population of Americans with authoritarian tendencies?"
Once again, it all depends on what the meaning of "authoritarian tendencies" is! Also, how big is "vast?"
How many "authoritarians" are found in the U.S. electorate? We can't answer that question. That said, sensible people should perhaps be a bit careful when they start employing that term—a term which is almost guaranteed to produce more heat than light.
Professor Taub isn't that person! Later in her lengthy report, she describes the result of some polling she and Vox undertook in connection with her piece. She wrote what follows without betraying the slightest sign that her findings may perhaps seem a bit odd:
TAUB (3/1/16): The first thing that jumped out from the data on authoritarians is just how many there are. Our results found that 44 percent of white respondents nationwide scored as "high" or "very high" authoritarians, with 19 percent as "very high." That's actually not unusual, and lines up with previous national surveys that found that the authoritarian disposition is far from rare.For whatever reason, Taub doesn't say how many black or Hispanic respondents turned out to be authoritarians. That said, let's marvel at the outcome she was prepared to report:
The key thing to understand is that authoritarianism is often latent; people in this 44 percent only vote or otherwise act as authoritarians once triggered by some perceived threat, physical or social. But that latency is part of how, over the past few decades, authoritarians have quietly become a powerful political constituency without anyone realizing it.
At first glance, a reader might think that Taub said the following: A reader might think she said that 44 percent of white respondents turned out to be authoritarians.
To our mind, that would be a rather remarkable finding. But that isn't what Taub said. She said something much more striking.
Here's what Taub and Vox actually found in the course of their research. They actually found that 44 percent of white respondents are "high" or "very high" authoritarians!
Presumably, the total number of authoritarians would be substantially larger than that! That 44 percent just represents the number of folk who are highly authoritarian, perhaps very highly so.
At times when tribal juices are flowing, does any result make a person like Taub stop to rethink her procedures, her assumptions, her claims?
Based upon what Taub has written, it seems that substantially more than half of all white Americans turned out to be "authoritarians" in the course of her research. A walloping 44 percent were determined to be "high" or "very high" authoritarians.
Depending on one's definitions, of course, everything is possible. Tomorrow, we'll look at the questions Taub seems to have used to determine Where The Authoritarians Are.
When we do, you may start to feel that her findings aren't quite as startling as they may seem at first glance. But we'll put that off till tomorrow.
That said, the term "authoritarian" carries a very large amount of historical baggage. In our view, people who work with such loaded terms ought to be careful if they venture outside the narrow, egg-headed environments found inside academe.
(Tomorrow, we'll note a peculiar passage from Taub's report concerning this very problem.)
Taub and Vox haven't been especially careful as they have toyed with this term. Last Saturday, they got their first major result—a name-calling column in which Colbert King said he didn't want to paint all Trump voters with the same brush, then proceeded to do something that looked very much like that.
Are 44 percent of us the people highly authoritarian? Taub reported that startling result without even batting an eye.
On the merits, that strikes us as a very unwise claim to make in a non-academic setting. On the politics, it strikes us as the latest horrible gift to Candidate Trump—but when people like Taub start getting scared, they start doing damn-foolish things.
For the past few months, we've been asking a basic question: Do we liberals know how to talk about politics at this point except by dropping our various bombs on the heads of The Others?
Professor Taub and her dean, Ezra Klein, have emerged with a lusty response to our question.
Tomorrow: The banality of (testing for) evil