“Republican” as an identity

by John Q on September 5, 2022

Like John H, I was struck by Ross Douthat’s latest piece in the New York Times, but, unlike John, I wasn’t much interested in engaging with the argument, such as it was. Rather, I took at as providing insight into the extent to which being a Republican is central to Douthat’s identity, over-riding any concerns about democracy, justice and so on.

In this respect, Douthat is similar to the great majority of the “good Republicans” implicitly distinguished from the MAGA fascists in Biden’s recent speech (and also in Hillary Clinton’s reference to the “basket of deplorables”). Just as Douthat is the archetypal intellectual in this respect, Susan Collins is the archetypal politician. They want to be seen as decent and caring, but in the end, they are Republicans first and foremost. And it is the Douthats and Collinses who will, in all likelihood, destroy American democracy.

Throughout his career as a public intellectual, Douthat’s central theme has been the need for the Republican party to do something, anything, that would justify his unshakeable support. His first big outing Grand New Party with Reihan Salam in 2008 called for a Republican party that would stand up for the material interests of working people. They offered a laundry list of proposals including

family-friendly tax reform that vastly expands the child tax credit and provides both pension credits for household labor and tuition credits for years spent rearing children. They call for improving the stock of affordable housing and also for “progressive cost-sharing,” so that more out-of-pocket health costs are paid by the well-to-do. They want a reduction in payroll taxes for lower-income workers in return for means-testing Social Security benefits, along with wage subsidies for low-income workers to make less-educated single male workers more desirable marriage partners.

To say that the Republican Party has done nothing of the kind, while the Democrats have pushed many policies on this list, is to state the obvious. Yet Douthat continues to come up with ways the Repubs could be kinder and gentler, while playing down the insurrection, attempted election theft and more.

In Douthat’s case, it seems likely that the original cause of his Republican attachment was opposition to abortion. But even as it’s become obvious there will be no grand resolution of this issue, there’s no likelihood he will change. And the same is true of Collins, who is supposedly a moderate on the question.Hardly any Republican officials have changed sides, even those who have opposed Trump and quit, or been driven from politics.

The sad fact is that being a Republican (or maybe, not a Democrat) is a central part of personal identity for the great majority of Republican voters, as being a Labo(u)r voter used to be in Australia and the UK. Is this also true of Democrats? It’s hard to say, since there’s been no Democratic equivalent of Trump and MAGA. But from a distance, I don’t see anything like the reflexive loyalty shown by the likes of Douthat and Collins.

No matter what Trump or other MAGA leaders do, they will follow. The Repubs are losing a few previous loyalists, notably in the suburbs, but probably not enough to outweigh the normal back-and-forth swings that go with shifts in the economy and so on. And that’s hugely dangerous. If the Republicans win control of the House of Representatives, as seems likely, it’s virtually certain they will overturn a Democratic win in 2024, if that happens. Even as Trump is installed as President for Life, Douthat will still be looking for silver linings, and Collins will be sure that this time, he has really changed for the better.



Timothy Wong 09.05.22 at 6:50 am

Tribal party loyalties as described by John Quiggin above are merely epiphenomenal, surface events. Over-examination of party membership, party loyalty or “identity” – in most cases openly related to the careerist ambitions of the individual or group – tells us very little if anything. The GOP and the Democrats are the names given to the Janus-faced factions of the oligarchical power elites and their prosecution of capitalist class-warfare. Viewed as such, Quiggin’s problem can be solved and then discarded. Whether donkey or elephant, the essential nature of the beast remains the same. Taken together, they are the set of hands that wield the whips and trammels of power-elite rule. For an individual such as Douthat, having cultivated and invested his careerist ambitions with one party, why change horses mid-stream?

As Max Horheimer observed, “Whoever is not prepared to talk about Capitalism should also remain silent about Fascism”
Fascism and Liberalism do not dwell apart in demarcated zones separated and held apart in a manner that can be distinguished by the self-purported doctrines of the political actors who wear either fascist or liberal slogans printed upon their t-shirts. Rather, liberalism and fascism exist along a continuum. Liberalism and fascism are two possible forms of single phenomena. Namely, the various forms that may adopted in order to perform the function of acting as the ruling political ideology of the capitalist economic material base.

For further detail see e.g. Immanuel Wallerstein and his school of World-Systems Analysis.

There have been two excellent books in recent years on the subject of the ideological and political inter-relationship between fascism and liberalism as ruling capitalist ideologies. These are:
Domenico Losurdo – “Liberalism: A Counter-History”.
Ishay Landa – “The Apprentice’s Sorcerer: Liberal Tradition and Fascism”

A review of Losurdo’s book found on Amazon provides a good summary of its thesis.
“1. Liberalism does not expand the boundaries of freedom in an organic dialectical process. Liberalism has undergone profound changes in its history, but not because of any sort of internal tendency towards progress. The expanders of liberty have been rebellious slaves, socialists, organized workers, anti-colonial nationalists, and other forces outside of the Community of the Free. Generally, the Community of the Free only grants accessions when faced with powerful opposition from outside its walls.
2. Ideologies such as white supremacy, social Darwinism, and colonialism were created by liberals as a means of defending the liberty of the Community of the Free. When the American Founding Fathers rebelled against Britain, one of their most commonly stated reasons for doing so was that the British government didn’t respect the freedom Americans had imbibed through their Northern European blood. The Framers saw themselves as the preservers of the freedoms of the Glorious Revolution, a revolution based on the right of freedom-worthy peoples to dominate the supposedly insipid masses. They were explicit in this respect, and the later history of liberalism continued to attest to this tendency.
3. Liberalism contains within itself the semi-hidden corollary that human behaviour must be strictly regulated in order for freedom to be maintained. In liberalism, individuals have the freedom to compete with one another and rise to the top based on merit. Liberal elites have often interpreted this as proof that those at the top of the social ladder deserve their place. The other conclusion that stems from this is that criminals, the uneducated, the poor, and non-Western cultures fully deserve their servile status. If nature wanted them to be part of the Community of the Free, so goes the logic, then it would allow them to participate in liberty. Therefore, the dominated peoples of the world must hold their position due to their own internal defects. For Losurdo, this belief is what defines liberalism and separates it from radicalism.
4. In liberalism, liberty has historically been seen as a trait that people possess, one granted by nature. Thus, liberalism easily justifies its tendencies towards inequality by devising various ways of explaining why nature simply doesn’t grant some people the liberty it grants others. Meanwhile, radicalism sees the establishment of liberty as an active process. Interestingly, this indicates that negative liberty possesses a magnetism towards authoritarianism. Losrudo points out that during the early days of Fascism, many liberals in the U.S. and Western Europe such as von Mises, Croce, and the Italian liberal establishment saw Mussolini’s regime as a possible defender of classical liberalism and liberty as it was understood by the Anglo-Saxon theorists of liberalism.
This book is as disturbing as it is insightful. I personally see it as self-evident that many of the authoritarian tendencies that Losurdo identifies have made a comeback with a vengeance in the neo-liberal era, and have strengthened since the start of the Great Financial Crisis. Modern liberals, especially in American academia, often assure themselves that liberalism will not tolerate any serious regresses into authoritarianism, because of the myth of the dialectical process I described at the beginning of this review. I even believed in this to some extent, and if I remember correctly, I recall Slavoj Zizek of all people praising liberalism for this reason. Fortunately, Losurdo has seriously damaged my faith in this tendency in liberalism. Again, I don’t even consider myself to be a liberal, I identify as a Leftist (one of the radicals Losurdo describes). Perhaps it speaks to the pervasiveness of the comforting nature of liberalism’s self image that even its critics unknowingly take refuge in it.”



Chetan Murthy 09.05.22 at 7:16 am

I’m reminded of a post Brad Delong wrote a few years back, wherein he confessed his sins as a card-carrying neoliberal and argued that he and his team must pass the baton to the progressives, for neoliberals had exhausted their intellectual possibilities, and new ideas had to come from their left. My point being, that Brad recognized that what he was doing wasn’t working, and had the humility to admit it and look to his heretofore ideological opponents for direction. In a very clear way.

The Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, OTOH, has none of this humility. He carps for years about all the things the GrOPers must do, but when they fail to do these things, he doesn’t abandon them. And why? Because what he cares about his power, and having his way — not actually improving things for his fellow citizens. Or maybe, he thinks (like somebody gaming Kantian ethics) that what he wants, is what should be made universal law, so [shruggie]. Idunno.

He’s an unreliable counterparty, like all GrOPers these days. They see that they can get what they want by sticking with the Party and they don’t very well care if they burn down the country for trying.

Another thought: many if not most of the “decent” Republicans (note I didn’t use the term GrOPers) have already moved to the Democratic Party. What’s left are those for whom “will to power” is more important than compromise and governance. And heck, who can blame them? Even going back as far as Obama’s first time, the GrOPers in Congress simply don’t actually do any work: all they do is obstruct. All day, obstructing.

Hell, a potted plant can do that. Or a flying monkey, flinging his feces every-which-way. And once you’ve gotten used to that being “what a legislator does”, well, who’s going to remember the art of compromise? Of actually governing? Not our Papal Emissary, for sure.


John Holbo 09.05.22 at 8:57 am

It is weird to be long-term loyal to a party in the hopes that it will become a fundamentally different kind of party. I suppose he would say: the abortion thing. Plus lack of affinity, culturally, with the Democrats. Plus it’s his job!


Alex SL 09.05.22 at 10:31 am

Beautifully put.


J-D 09.05.22 at 10:44 am

Over-examination of party membership, party loyalty or “identity” – in most cases openly related to the careerist ambitions of the individual or group – tells us very little if anything.

Most of what this means is that it won’t tell Timothy Wong any of the things that Timothy Wong is interested in being told; and a large part of what is meant by the rest of the comment is that Timothy Wong regards it as a useless folly, personally offensive to Timothy Wong, when people take an interest in questions which are of no importance to Timothy Wong.

I am interested in the question of why some people are Democrats while others are Republicans, and I’m not going to stop being interested just because Timothy Wong tells me that the question is of no importance.


Matt 09.05.22 at 10:52 am

His first big outing Grand New Party with Reihan Salam in 2008…

Maybe this is the first thing that’s really directly on point for the post. But I think that, with Douthat, it’s always worth rembmering that he got his start by writing a book (just after he graduated) about how he went to Harvard and didn’t learn anything at all. (That was literally the message!) Among the things he didn’t learn was how to use a course guide, given that he famously claimed that “no moral philosophy” was taught at Harvard, despite the fact that, at the time, moral philosophy was probably Harvard’s biggest strength. Although he’s moved on to different topics over time, the same basic glibness has remained.


TM 09.05.22 at 11:11 am

The large degree of consistency in American voting patterns is another Amereican exceptionalism. I don’t think there’s another country with halfways democratic elections where so little electoral change has been observed over the decades. Consider that during all of the postwar period, both parties have almost always received at least 45% of the vote in each US House election (with two or three outliers; no party ever fell below 40%). The swing between elections is almost always below 3%. I know of no other countries where election outcomes change so little. (Perhaps Switzerland comes close).

I don’t know what to make of this pattern. Somebody must have a theory about it. Of course the petrified two-party-system explains part of this (and really there’s no way of changing that system short of a revolution, irrespective of third party delusions) but there must be more. Incumbents are probably nowhere safer than in the US, that is in part explained by gerrimandering but again that can’t be all. When incumbents are hardly ever voted out of office, politicians have no incentive to listen to voters. And paradoxically, Americans are extremely dissatisifed with their politicians, they trust them so little, but hardly anybody would even consider voting for somebody else. Weird.


MFB 09.05.22 at 11:26 am

Surely, the “it’s his job” bit is the important thing.

But also, changing from the party that you’ve supported to the party that you’ve opposed is not a simple thing to do — as the Americans on this forum would realise if they imagined how they could come to vote Republican. I suspect that cultural issues are very important here, pace Thomas Frank.

It would, of course, be quite easy to find a large array of people who vote Democrat continuously and always tell everyone around them to vote Democrat, yet publicly stand for policies which Democrats never implement. One might ask why they are voting Democrat, and the answer is surely that they cannot imagine voting for anyone else. So, surely, with Republicans.


oldster 09.05.22 at 12:34 pm

I checked the job-listings recently.
Job-openings for Reasonable Progressives? None. There are so many candidates that reasonable progressives beg in the streets.
So I looked up job-openings for Reasonable Liberals, Reasonable Democrats, and Reasonable Leftists (no Tankies need apply).
Still no vacancies. An oversupply of candidates.
So I turned to the listings for Reasonable Republicans, Reasonable Conservatives, and Reasonable Right-wingers.
Not only were the employers hiring like mad, but the salaries and perks were through the roof. If you can churn out a few hundred words each week that starts with “Too be sure,” and ends with, “therefore, we have no choice but to vote Republican,” then you will become a very rich man. If you can do it with cheekbones and blond hair then you’ll become a very rich woman.
Douthat has never been an honest interlocutor for anyone on the left. His job, like Brooks’ job, is to anaesthetize the NPR crowd so that Mitch McConnell can keep stealing, while a series of Speakers — Gingrich, Haskell, Boehner, Ryan, McCarthy, etc. — steal their share, too.
No description of Douthat can be both accurate and polite. Pretending that he’s honest just helps him commit his crimes.


nastywoman 09.05.22 at 12:38 pm

So when Biden finally told the (MAGA) Republicans who and what they are – Nikki appeared and got really mad at him as –
she said –
that Biden
actually –
had said that Republicans are BAD people.

AND she thought that you can’t tell Republicans or the Fans of Trump all kind of things –
BUT! –
you can’t tell them -(and the Rest of America) that ‘the are BAD people’ –
as most Americans understand what that means -(instead of all these ‘cryptic’ words – like ‘Fascists’ or ”Socialists’ or ‘Communists’ or any other one of these ‘rätselhafte’ expressions
‘the Elite’ uses)

So ‘BAD’ Evers American understands – and so – when we asked on Twitter –
BUT – what’s wrong with calling ‘bad people’ – ‘bad people’ – there were so many Republicans and Right-Wingers who tried so hard to convince US – that they weren’t ‘BAD’
at all –
that it was –
if we would have tweeted that they can’t do a another American Civil War –
BE-cause ‘Trump’ want to keep the top secret file about Macrons LoveLive.
(as ‘steamy’ as that might be)


nastywoman 09.05.22 at 12:44 pm

and about @1

Wasn’t that some kind of very ‘wordy’ and silly Greenwald statement about:

‘Both US Parties are the same’?
(or there is no difference between Republicans and Democrats)

and didn’t the honorable Prof, once say that he doesn’t like such foolish comments?


SusanC 09.05.22 at 1:02 pm

@John Holbo…

Isn’t Douhat a Catholic? So possible analogy between parties and churches here. (Believing that the church has authority regardless of whether you personally might agree with it (God said it has authority, and it doesn’t matter if people think its leaders are bad people), versus believing that a church only gets authority because people choose to follow it.

cf. Weber “The Three Types of Legitimate Rule”; charismatic authority might correspond to a person considering a church legitimate if its leadership is seen to be living in emulation of Christ. (Buddhist version: you know someone is a buddha because they act like one, and the assumption is that we all know what buddhas are like and we are not mistaken about that. The notion of “crazy wisdom” somewhat upsets this, however).


SusanC 09.05.22 at 1:06 pm

Continuing the thought… “The Democrats have selected that yellow dog as their candidate, so that’s why I;m going to vote for them” could be viewed in terms of Weber’s cliassification of legitimate authority.


Bob 09.05.22 at 1:50 pm

Does anyone know how Douthat votes? I know that John Bolton couldn’t stomach voting for Trump, so if Douthat, notwithstanding his reservations, DID vote for Trump, out of personal identity as a Republican, that would place him–wow–to the right of Bolton!


Jake Gibson 09.05.22 at 2:01 pm

Douthat is a Catholic and a Republican because he is a “traditionalist”, authoritarian and hierarchial.
The only difference between him and most Republicans is that he believes in Charity and some level of noblesse oblige.


Michael 09.05.22 at 2:02 pm

I agree that one of the central asymmetries between the GOP and everyone to the left of them is the relationship each has to their political identity. (Accordingly, I find Timothy Wong’s reply to be thoroughly mistaken, not to mention largely orthogonal to the matter.)

The case of Republican identity exemplifies one of the key difficulties with discursive theories of politics, such as Ernesto Laclau’s, or Judith Butler’s, or the like. As someone mostly persuaded by such approaches, I am keenly sensitive to their limitations, and identity is probably the most serious one. In brief, we experience our identities as given; we feel claimed and defined by them; and they inhere in a signifier (or name) in the manner Saul Kripke famously described as “original baptism,” irrespective of any “content” or activity associated with that signifier.

Performative theories of identity grapple with this problem, but they never succeed in dissolving it. Judith Butler deconstructs Hegelian recognition and Nietzsche’s critique of it, Althusserian “interpellation,” Freudian ego formation, Lacanian sexuation, etc., to arrive at her thesis that we perform our identities into existence. But this solution effectively lands us where we started, with the puzzle of the initial baptism.

This is most embarrassingly obvious in the case of sex/gender, which was Butler’s chief concern. It turns out that many if not most trans people report “feeling” like their sex/gender identity. “Femininity” and “masculinity” may be a performances, but people seem to know themselves to “be” male and female—or queer, or nonbinary, or something else—rather than feeling that these are optional. Put differently, there are countless ways of experiencing and presenting, say, masculinity, but if one “feels like a man,” that feeling is “sticky” irrespective of the specific ways it is expressed or perceived by others. It’s no accident that we regard it as an act of violence to try and “correct” someone’s sexual or gender identity by means of “therapy.” Sex/gender need not be naturalized or biologozied to be regarded as stable, foundational and essential aspects of who we are. Even nature itself is on the side of endless variety—but not arbitrariness or optionality.

Similarly, Laclau gives us a systematic account of the way political identities are established through attachment to an empty signifier (say, “American”), forming an “equivalential chain” in which otherwise heterogeneous elements (say, white coal miners, Black professionals, queer college professors, hockey moms, etc.) become linked in a coalition in which the only thing they actually share is that attachment. This account offers much to recommend it, but it is much better at explaining political coalitions than politically-charged identities. I can “feel like a socialist” while also feeling male, Jewish, immigrant, etc., but the question is what happens when those feelings lose their hold on me while “socialist” becomes indispensable and overwhelming, to the point that I am willing and even eager to sacrifice feeling male or Jewish in order to continue feeling socialist. How this takes place is beyond Laclau’s ken.

A number of theorists have tried to address this question from a Lacanian perspective, but I’m not sure how far they’ve succeeded. Meanwhile, Ezra Klein provides a splendid empirically informed description of the phenomenon, but he labors to explain it as a kind of vicious feedback loop involving social and geographic sorting, institutional design, the nationalization of news and party strategy, and more. He’s surely onto something; identity does assume the form of a feedback loop. But this is just the problem: loops have no distinct points of origin. It also leaves us unable to explain why the Democratic coalition and its affiliates have not lapsed into the same doom loop as Republicans (and to some degree, leftists). When it comes to explaining political identity, we are trapped in a loop of our own.


J, not that one 09.05.22 at 2:10 pm

It has become increasingly obvious that many Republicans behave as if they think the US is a one-party state and the GOP is the only legitimate government.

Douthat is trying to pressure Biden to act as if he believes it too, by shaming him for speaking well of his own party’s achievements and for aesthetic issues like stage lighting that are always easily mocked regardless of substance. If in 2024 the GOP’s wish becomes reality, he can switch to deploring it all while blaming any Democrat who offers an alternative for not doing it right.


Expat 09.05.22 at 2:23 pm

People remain in the party because they are too timid to change or too brainwashed to accept any other affiliation. They also remain because, while they might not think that Trump is good for America, they are willing to put up with the large MAGA contingent in order to get lower taxes, minorities in their place, no commies, and God (Christian) as part of American life. They are collaborators who might not like watching cops club peaceful Antifa protestors, but who are happy nonetheless with the outcome.

To be Republican is to accept racism, hatred, theocracy, violence and willful ignorance. If they were decent human beings, they would leave the party and vote for someone else.


Abby 09.05.22 at 3:35 pm

The point that ‘it’s his job’ has been made above and I think that is largely true of both Douthat and Brooks. Someone needed to add Upton Sinclair’s observation: ““It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”


J, not that one 09.05.22 at 4:47 pm

What would count as an identity for purposes of the OP and what wouldn’t? It occurs to me I can read Douthat and see if he makes sense. Or I can read Douthat and see if he has sincere feels. Viewing politics through how people feel about it rather than whether they’re making sense about it is something like “identity.”

What happens in, say, fascism, is that the feels of one group are elevated to the goal of politics and attention paid to the the others is viewed as out of lone. No one expects an essayist not to prefer his or her own feels over all others, but that emphasis should presumably lessen as they move into politics and away from “self-expression.”

One interesting thing about Douthat is that at the time he wrote that, Bush was promoting something claimed to be similar, but maintaining the separation of church and state. Rather than helping people directly, the state would give money to churches who would help people. Rather than promoting religion directly, the state would nudge people towards religion. Douthat was on a parallel path, perhaps. If this is the case, maybe we don’t know whether Douthat’s version of the GOP’s path is the one we’ll get. Probably it’s too hopeful even for those who agree with them to think it could be entirely up for grabs,


Marshall 09.05.22 at 5:14 pm

On the left, there used to be Unionism, which people felt very strongly about. The Rs have that pretty well deprecated lately but Biden is on the right path and if we can win a few elections perhaps something can be done. There is a movement.

On the right, it is, if not quite explicit racism in Douthat’s case, “people like us”, urban Catholic/CofE professionals. As used to be said, “a [male] person with an education and some money.”


Mystic Lawyer 09.05.22 at 5:53 pm

Re Michael’s final paragraph: Loops can start due to unintended circumstance, intentions, or a combination. The issue is how to disrupt the loop, whether begun intentionally (as I would argue current Republican identity largely was).

FWIW, I would argue that at the current Republican identity has its roots in racism and precarity, both amplified by Newt Gingrich and his ilk and progeny. Add in a soupçon of Koch Brothers and their ilk, and the general tendency of business managers/owners to be conservative, and the neoliberal infection of the body politic, and I think that explains maybe 90%+ of it.


William Meyer 09.05.22 at 6:01 pm

Has any one studied this issue–change of political affiliation–empirically? As in talk to a bunch of people who have actually undergone such a change, and try to note similarities or common threads?

I was raised in a conservative Republican household, and voted Republican reflexively until c. 2004 (when I was 50 years old.) I was a small-businessman, and I doubt there is a demographic so naturally right wing. However, I was increasingly troubled by the tendency of Republicans to ignore what seemed like clear problems to me: the war in Iraq was obviously problematic, global warming was chiefly addressed with obfuscation, the really monstrous trade deficits of the 2000’s were glad-handed away (along with the displacement of millions of American factory workers), American technology leadership was being eroded while Silicon Valley companies received exaggerated valuations, white collar crime (e.g., Enron) was clearly not addressed with anything like the energy of street crime, etc., etc. I was also quite unhappy in my personal life and left my marriage a few years later, also abandoning organized religion. Does any of this “explain” my political evolution towards a much more left-wing perspective? I honestly have no idea.

If people have actually studied the personal, economic, religious, etc. elements in political change I would appreciate being pointed to some examples.


nastywoman 09.05.22 at 7:09 pm

And as for Republicans –
the favourite theme in commentary about Bidens speech, was the red background lighting created so many comparisons of Biden to Hitler and Satan.
Like –
Fox News host Tucker Carlson referred to it as a “blood-red Nazi background.”
Nikki Haley said on Fox News that Biden “looked like he was in the depths of hell,” while Rudy Giuliani tweeted it looked like a “basement in hell.”-
“Biden eats children’s souls,” wrote one member of the rabidly pro-Trump TheDonald message board, whose members recently threatened FBI agents following the search of Mar-a-Lago.
so ‘the line between far-right extremist message boards and Republicans on mainstream platforms like Twitter and Facebook has almost vanished completely and Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene even tweeted a video of the speech in which Hitler’s face was superimposed over Biden’s.

Do Republicans not know that ‘Hitler’ NEVER told ‘Hitler’ that he was a threat to democracy and so they just can’t call somebody who just reminded Right-Wing Fascists about who they are
AND that they are definitely NOT ‘the same thing’ as ‘Democrats’

All Right – All Right – All Right!
Mr. Wong?


KT2 09.05.22 at 10:20 pm

William Meyer at 23 asks for ” actually studied the personal, economic, religious, etc. elements in political change”. 

Not directly what you are after yet these two may be of interest. We all need to update our priors.

“… members of both parties overestimated rivals’ support for political violence by up to 442%, which is “orders of magnitude wrong,” says Robb Willer quoted in article:

“Inside a ‘mega-study’ on election denial, polarization, and violence—and how to stop it

“Stanford’s Strengthening Democracy Study, the largest of its kind, tested 25 strategies among 32,000 Americans to learn which could reduce partisan animosity and curb antidemocratic attitudes.

“Researchers found that the most effective interventions were those that corrected misperceptions about the opposition. In general, members of both parties wrongly assumed that members of the other party took more extreme policy positions and that they disagreed on more than they actually did. That tracked with an older study by the lab that found members of both parties overestimated rivals’ support for political violence by up to 442%, which is “orders of magnitude wrong,” says Robb Willer, professor of sociology at Stanford, who led the study.

“But the two other areas—antidemocratic attitudes and political violence—proved much harder to crack.


“Putting Within-Country Political Differences in (Global) Perspective”
…“We argue that dissimilarities between Democrats and Republicans may mask some underlying level of agreement, such that disagreements between Republicans and Democrats may be less extreme than they are often perceived. We suggest that placing the views of both parties in global perspective–comparing them not only to each other but to citizens ofnearly 40 countries–demonstrates that political partisans in the United States exhibit markedly more similar views to each other than to citizens of other countries.”

“large international surveys and more fine-grained surveys of United States citizens”  …”When viewed in the full distribution, polarization between Democrats and Republicans appears relatively small, even on divisive issues such as abortion, sexual preference, and freedom of religious speech.”

“…relatively small differences remain differences nonetheless, and it is clear that American politics is polarized.”

“Democrat-Republican overlap for moral issues.”

– Alcohol use 0.93%
– Contraception 0.93%
– Homosexuality 0.75



Chetan Murthy 09.06.22 at 2:18 am

Mr. Wong’s comment seems like a shit-ton of bafflegab in a one-pound sack. The only really tangible thing in it is “Whoever is not prepared to talk about Capitalism should also remain silent about Fascism”.

And here, he and Horkheimer have it completely wrong. Does anybody think that the Worker’s Socialist Paradise was a place where women were physically safe? Where their lives were equal in possibilities to those of the men around them? Racism and misogyny aren’t related to Capitalism — they’re related to hierarchy, and that’s an illness that can arise in any system.

And Fascism is, at root, about “we’re the ones who ought to be on top, and those people are depriving us of our birthright — let’s kill ’em!”


Chetan Murthy 09.06.22 at 3:12 am

KT2: I went to that PLOS One article, and searched for the words “race”, “police”, “african”, “black” and got … bupkis. I wonder what that means ….


JimV 09.06.22 at 12:00 pm

I started a reply to the John Holbo post with the theme that Douthat is not, and rarely if ever has been, worthy of a reasoned reply, but deleted it as too rude. It fits here much better. Thanks for the post.

I am registered Independent, since I can just barely remember a time when there were Republicans worth voting for, and because I don’t trust all Democrats, but at this point I would find it difficult to vote for a Republican for Dog Catcher. What happened to running as an Independent if you no longer agree with your party? Or presenting yourself as such if a pundit?


MisterMr 09.06.22 at 4:17 pm

It seems the right thread to push for Atlemeyer’s book on authoritarianism (it’s free):



Orange Watch 09.06.22 at 4:43 pm

One rather pertinent point about Douthat’s bad faith that seems missing in the above conversation is his apologetics for Orban, which ties in with his alignment with the National Conservative movement.

From my POV, Grossman’s 2021 piece The Non-Education of Ross Douthat still works admirably to explain why nothing he says should be considered anything but a bad-faith means to his political ends.


Fake Dave 09.07.22 at 8:22 am

My experience of ordinary Republicans is that most of them seem like good, reasonable people. They care about right and wrong and believe in truth, justice, and the American way. My experience has also told me those facts are worth almost nothing when it comes to the crooks and creeps they’ll eagerly rally behind.

Still, the reasonable Republicans don’t think of themselves as a dying rump. They know lots of Republicans who are kind, decent people (to them), but their view of the Democrats is from across the trenches. They have the same grabbag of grievances against the left and center as the wingnuts and have bought into most of the same prejudices to some degree. They don’t think it’s about their sense of identity but rather their values (and the Democrats’ lack).

If there is a Democratic blindspot, it has been in understanding why they are hated. This is a party that embraced the thought stopping cliché of “Clinton derangement syndrome” (not our equivalent to Trump, but maybe his fun house mirror image) and cannot grasp why anyone would be less than inspired by the squalid gerontocracy hoarding the gavels in Congress.

The mindset of too many people on “our” side is that the public are scared and confused and want nothing more than decisive, poll-tested leadership and a soundbite they can believe in and the success of so many vapid Republicans proves it. They need to get over themselves and stop sneering at ordinary voters for wanting to share in the causes and convictions of their most trusted friends and loved ones. Yes, many of those people are in echo chambers or closed communities and no bigotry and cruelty don’t become acceptable just because they help you fit in sometimes, but if we can’t grasp the absurdity of saying poor, ignorant Republicans “vote against their own interests” then we’re just going to keep underestimating them.


nastywoman 09.07.22 at 8:54 am

and so about ‘Republican Identity’ –
‘Republicans’ now -(and not only Republicans) accuse Jon Stewart to ‘support Nazis’ –
because Jon Stewart actually supports US Veterans – and so he got invited by Veterans Organisations to something called the ‘Warrior Games’ and there where medals handed out – and one of the receivers of one of these medals was a Ukrainian who had fought against the Worst War Criminal Monster of our time – Putin.
BUT as it turns out – this current heroic fighter for democracy once was a obvious Nazi and Fascist – which begs many questions about ‘identity’.

Is the identity of somebody who has turned into a fighter against War Criminal Monster
still ‘Fascist’ if actually the War Criminal Monster – who pretends to fight ‘Nazi Fascists’ –
actually a ‘Right-Wing Fascist’ – just like some US MAGA Republicans who like to tweet:
‘Russia is winning’.

And what does that say about the ‘Identity’ of US MAGA Republicans?

As for sure Jon Stewart NEVER knowingly would support Nazis –
(as perhaps you guys don’t know – but Jon Stewart is jewish – and as being jewish – it’s just STUPID to believe that he would support Nazis) – WHY are MAGA Republicans suddenly supporting an Ex Russian KGB Thug who turned into THE WORST current (Capitalistic) War Criminal Monster?

Is this the TRUE and NEW Identity of US Republicans – that they actually believe to be…
some kind of… ‘Russian’?

OR are they ALL just very, VERY confused about –


nastywoman 09.07.22 at 9:10 am

perhaps you guys are aware of the old and… may I call it ‘very difficult question’ if ‘the Identity’ of US Jews is more the Identity of an ‘American’ or a ‘Jewish’ one -(as if being ‘Jewish’ would be some kind of ‘nationalistic’ identity)

And as it always was very difficult to answer such a very difficult question about Identity the (MAGA) Republicans make it very easy – now.
IF you are ‘trump’ (the Worlds New Word for: Utmost Right-Wing Racist Science Denying Stupid BAD)

THAT’s your Identity!
– trumping any other ‘nationalistic’ or ‘otherwise’ parts of identities you might have –
being it ‘American’ -(or Russian) or even being ‘a Golfer’.

AND that’s the true ‘Republican Identity’ -(which for sure will change tomorrow when ‘Trump’ is gone and the new American Idol becomes… who?)


KT2 09.07.22 at 11:44 pm

Chetan Murphy.

William Meyer asked “Has any one studied this issue–change of political affiliation–empirically?”

Any “change of political affiliation–empirically” links?

Michael belled the cat with “original baptism”.  Which is why Desantis is using images in schools to baptise. Fox images language.  Brainwash early, change too late.

Michael said:
“In brief, we experience our identities as given; we feel claimed and defined by them; and they inhere in a signifier (or name) in the manner Saul Kripke famously described as “original baptism,” irrespective of any “content” or activity associated with that signifier.”

It took William Myer 50yrs.
WM was raised in a paradigm. Mine was entrepreneurial and hip pocket. Don’t get involved just make cash flow.

It took me 50yrs to realize I’d better take it seriously as I strenuously avoided politics, economics etc until overwhelmed by, as WM said “I was increasingly troubled by the tendency of… [both parties]… to ignore what seemed like clear problems to me”.

And so back to what Michael said. Race, police, african, black all fall on the sword of “Saul Kripke famously described as “original baptism,” irrespective of any “content” or activity associated with that signifier.”.

Ross Douthat is a Catholic. I have a relation who went against prevailing “original baptism” and became a Very Serious Catholic. And still is to this day. Yet they vote Green, and rail against conservatives.

Change is possible. How?

Back to MW’s request.
Any imperial research appreciated.

TM asked “And paradoxically, Americans are extremely dissatisifed with their politicians, they trust them so little, but hardly anybody would even consider voting for somebody else. Weird.” … which also comes to my mind every time. Any answers?

I also note Rob Willer led the linked 35k Stanford’s Strengthening Democracy Study. Does this contain the words  race”, “police”, “african”, “black”?

Rob Willer also said “People tend to interpret political information in a manner that confirms their prior beliefs, a cognitive bias that contributes to rising political polarization.”
“Conservative and liberal attitudes drive polarized neural responses to political content


Yuan Chang Leong
Janice Chen
Jamil Zaki
Robb Willer


Rob Miller’s statement above alludes imo to “original baptism” – priors – and is doing something.


KT2 09.07.22 at 11:46 pm

Apologies for sub ed… Chetan Murthy.


KT2 09.08.22 at 3:18 am

“Blindspot?” “OR are they ALL just very, VERY confused about”

Flat earth America. See oz-trail-ya at end.

Repeat a lie often enough via false false false News! “…(iii) consuming conservative news correspond to greater misperceptions.” …

And you get “lower estimates of public support, with the increase in pluralistic ignorance”.

“In other words, supporters of major climate policies outnumber opponents 2 to 1, but Americans falsely perceive nearly the opposite to be true. In fact, Americans’ estimates for all national support for climate policies is roughly the same or even lower than even just Republican levels of support. In fact, Americans’ estimates for all national support for climate policies is roughly the same or even lower than even just Republican levels of support.”

“Americans experience a false social reality by underestimating popular climate policy support by nearly half”

“Preliminary evidence suggests three sources of these misperceptions: (i) consistent with a false consensus effect, respondents who support these policies less (conservatives) underestimate support by a greater degree; controlling for one’s own personal politics, (ii) exposure to more conservative local norms and (iii) consuming conservative news correspond to greater misperceptions.


I note yesterday in Australia’s The (not my) Australian newspaper, Tony Abbott (Douhart on sterroids? – certainly delivering an increase in pluralistic ignorance) extolling India as a liberal democracy “The democratic superpower we need” who will rise up and save the world. Delivered at the International Advertising Association in New Delhi. And Abbott gave Prince Philip a knighthood.

Matching with Liz Truss as an iron weather vane. Except somehow they instill inverted opinions. News!

Same same only different.


J-D 09.08.22 at 3:44 am

My experience of ordinary Republicans is that most of them seem like good, reasonable people. They care about right and wrong and believe in truth, justice, and the American way.

Why are they Republicans, then?

They have the same grabbag of grievances against the left and center as the wingnuts and have bought into most of the same prejudices to some degree.

Again, why?

… if we can’t grasp the absurdity of saying poor, ignorant Republicans “vote against their own interests” …

What’s absurd about it? People taking actions which go against their own interests is something that happens all the time.


John Goss 09.08.22 at 10:18 am

Bill Kristol has an insightful article somewhat related to this issue. https://www.thebulwark.com/the-new-maga-establishment/ 2 June 2022. He argues that ‘ there is no Trump “fever” that is going to break, because Trumpism is now not a fever. It is an entrenched, all-encompassing fact of Republican and conservative life; one that is likely to be with us for quite a while. Trump may personally fade, but Trumpism is here to stay, for the foreseeable future.

Which means that authoritarianism—with inflections, or at least overtones, of fascism—will be here for a while, too. With an infrastructure, with a popular base, and with elite enablers. In other words: With its own establishment.
Obviously anything that can be done to weaken Trumpism’s hold on the Republican party would be good. But this chipping away will be gradual and will most likely take time. ‘
Bill Kristol is still a conservative but rarely votes for Republicans these days. So he represents the anti-Trump conservatives who have chosen to be no longer involved in the party.
But there is another group of anti Trump conservatives who have chosen to remain in the party such as Susan Collins, Larry Hogan, Phil Scott (Vermont), Charlie Baker, Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski. And there must be multiple reasons why they choose to stay. For some it will be because of their identity as Republicans and their long time loyalty and commitment to the Party. But for others it is strategic. They think they will have more influence staying within the Republican Party and may eventually move the Party towards a more moderate position. I’m sure they recognize that at a national level they are losing badly to Trumpism, but in some counties and even some States they do have influence. So what’s the benefit of them giving up that influence to sit outside the Party where they would have no influence?


J, not that one 09.08.22 at 1:42 pm

My guess is that Kristol views himself as a member of a select group that will lead the country after the crazy, identity-focused voters are corralled into groups and become too dangerous either to be ignored or to be allowed to be leaderless. He’ll lead from their side if he can, and if he can’t then he’ll use them to threaten others into making him the boss of the “centrist” coalition.

Anyone who’s followed him for the past 20-30 years can recognize that he thinks Trumpists have the right to rule. “Unfortunately” is weak tea as condemnations go. “Establishment” doesn’t suggest he intends to fight.


Peter Hovde 09.08.22 at 5:55 pm

Susan Collins, I suspect, is really thorough politician in the sense of bei0ng motivated by a desire to retain the office she now holds. She has obviously calculated that going independent would not work for her.


Davis X. Machina 09.09.22 at 2:16 am


Peter Hovde is almost certainly right. Maine is arguably the best environment for an independent run for anything — the present junior senator, Angus King I-ME, is a former independent governor.

If you’ve seen the man, competent and pleasant as he his, you know that it wasn’t all achieved on the back of a cult of personality, as per Schwarzenegger or Ventura. No public-television series no matter how fondly remembered, has that kind of potency.

Maine is ground zero for getting the politics of getting the politics out of politics.
We’ve got same-day registration, public financing of elections, ranked-choice voting, term limits, and just about every other device designed to get the parties out of politics, the politicians out of politics, and politics out of politics.

Because politics has become entirely too political.


engels 09.09.22 at 9:28 am

Didn’t read the post but I’m British and I definitely identify as a republican right now.


John Goss 09.10.22 at 3:43 am

I agree with you Davis X. Machina. As someone from Australia which pioneered ranked choice voting, what you are doing in Maine does help reduce the influence of party on politics. With these mechanisms one doesn’t eliminate party from politics by any means, but the influence is reduced and independents and third parties have an important role to play. Ranked choice voting gives Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski a certain independence from the party machine and the base, because they have the option of standing as an Independent and probably winning if the party demands things of them they do not want to give. And it also gives them some independence from Mitch McConnell. (Also don’t forget Collins has 4 years left in her term, and Murkowski will have 6 years when she is reelected).
That is why I disagree with my compatriot John Quiggin that Collins may be part of destroying American democracy. In fact the opposite. Because of their semi independence from the Republican machine, Collins and Murkowski have the power – if they choose to use it – of preserving the semi-democracy of the USA


Michael Cain 09.12.22 at 2:56 pm


Horribly late to the game, but… The percentages of the total national vote won by the Democrats and Republicans may remain consistent, but the make-up of the two parties have changed dramatically in my lifetime. Much of the change can be summarized by geography. From the late 60s through the early 80s, the racist Democrats of the Deep South (Dixiecrats) switched to the Republican party, and most of the Rockefeller Republicans of the Northeast became Democrats. From the 90s on, the Midwest is making a very large swing from Democrats to Republicans and the West is going the other way. As I type this, the eight Mountain West states have one more Democrat in the Senate than the 13 Midwestern states.

The East Coast media have largely noticed the change in the Midwest, after making a big deal in 2016 about the collapse of the Blue Wall and its contribution to Hillary Clinton’s loss. They haven’t yet figured out the change in the West; for example, they still want to characterize the Mountain West as an intensely conservative Republican stronghold.


Glen Tomkins 09.15.22 at 4:40 pm

I don’t think that you have to bring in some mechanic of identity and tribalism coming in from outside the universe of ideology and overriding belief systems to understand where most Rs are today. You just have to recognize the difference between lip service and core beliefs. The most outrageous stuff you see today is what the party has always believed. They just had to avoid speaking the quiet part out loud for 70 years.

After the 1948 election when they couldn’t beat a Truman with a Dewey, not even with Thurmond drawing off a chunk of the segregationist vote, the Rs came to Jesus and admitted that they would have to at least pretend to join the New Deal, pro-labor, Keynesian consensus, because 1948 was sufficient proof that it was now the unalterable national consensus. In order to survive they turned to Eisenhower, a New Deal D, to be their next presidential candidate. Of course they didn’t really change beliefs, any more than the Ds of the era abandoned socialist working principles just because the Red Scare made it convenient for them to execrate and abominate “socialism” at the level of lip service.

The Rs have always been racists. As far back as 1877 they cut a deal with the unreconstructed revolutionaries in the formerly seceded states to let White Power state govts end Reconstruction, and they never looked back. It took the party no time at all to exploit Johnson’s decision to push the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts to pick up the segregationist franchise that the Ds had thus abandoned. Southern state D voters similarly had no problem switching overnight to voting R. There was some lag, because of course the Ds in Southern states who had been in office for decades while the Ds still held the segregationist franchise had a long track record of being as Jim Crow in practice as anyone, no matter what the national party might say and do that they might have to give lip service to. But it’s been at least 30 years since the last of those mossbacks went under the ground.

It only seems at all surprising to see what you imagined a few years ago were sensible center-right Rs now adopt Trump Really Won as their credo if you don’t look beyond lip service. The Rs have never accepted the idea that minorities really should be voting, because they are both incapable of the higher civilizational attainments necessary to participate in democracy, and because of course the D urban voter machines have been stealing elections for decades. The Trump Really Won belief is simply the latest incarnation of what they have believed since the 1964 election was notionally stolen from Goldwater. The only difference is that now they are willing to speak this nonsense out loud. They’re done with lip service and equivocating. No more Mr. Nice Guy. They never were really nice and polite, it’s just that they used to think they had to pretend. Now, in 2022, the failure to be 110% behind Trump Really Won, and Every R Since 1964 Really Won, and Every R Forever In Every Election Will Really Win, means that you are a RINO in league with the Ds and the Deep State.

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