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Social Threat

Last Updated May 20th 2022, 9:03:23 pm


The views expressed in the following text do not represent the views or opinions of this website’s owner (me). The following text consists of direct quotes taken from the article referenced at the bottom of the page. This is an attempt to review and breakdown the many fallacious arguments put forward in said article.

Societal Threat

When the public experiences high societal threat (e.g., war, economic decline), it tends to move towards authoritarian populism.

Populism refers to public reactions juxtaposing the interests of the majority population against the elite. It is combined with other ideologies, such as nationalism, liberalism, or socialism.

In authoritarian populism, political leaders can come to symbolize a group’s distrust or loss of trust in democratic institutions.

Group status threat has been shown to lead to greater identification with conservative ideologies and political beliefs.

Scapegoating of minority groups is further used to generate support for populist leaders.

The recent populist movements of both the left and right have been united in their contempt for crony capitalism, corporate welfare, big pharma, and the Supreme Court decision of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

As public faith in democratic institutions has plummeted over the past few decades, Reich (Robert??)has predicted that America will likely move towards authoritarian populism or engage in fundamental democratic change in the long term.

The loss of trust in democratic institutions is a major reason that extremist movements primarily operate outside of mainstream politics.

Economic Crises

Beyond ideological divisions, America and countries around the world have suffered a prolonged period of low economic growth and high income inequality spurred by the 2008 global financial.

During the 2008 Great Recession, 9 millions jobs were lost and the salaries of remaining jobs were cut.

The stock market fell by 50%

Taxpayers were forced to pay over $100 billion dollars to bailout AIG.

The Glass-Steagall Act made it illegal for the same bank to both issue mortgages to homebuyers and to turn around to sell those mortgages as bonds to investors.

It required that a commercial bank (a bank that takes deposits from you and me and issues mortgages and commercial loans) be separated from an investment bank (a bank that issues bonds/derivatives/any other types of risky ventures).

When financial experts talk about “breaking up the big banks,” this is what they refer to.

Citizens United allowed political campaigns to accept unlimited monetary contributions from corporations, unions, and other groups.

It also spawned the creation of super PACS and triggered a boom in political influence by tax-exempt, right-wing, dark money organizations.

This paradox is the result of either regulatory capture (e.g., wealthy individuals or corporations influencing the government to reduce business competition to rig the market in their favor) or globalization and technological advancement (e.g., automation).

The combination of low growth and high inequality historically results in political instability and increases the likelihood of insurrection, rebellion, and reactionary political forces.

Low economic growth, a shrinking middle class, and authoritarian populism are factors associated with increased political polarization and the rise of extremism.

This rise also reflects populations that have experienced the lowest levels of economic growth in the 21st century. Market reforms have increasingly redistributed wealth away from the middle class. This may be one reason that members of extremist groups are predominantly from the middle rather than the working class.

As the economy has struggled, and as unemployment and underemployed have remained high, American nationalism has appealed to a larger demographic and, most saliently, to college-educated White men.

A generation of young Americans are graduating with enormous school debt.

In 2019, for instance, 42 million student borrowers collectively owed $1.5 trillion dollars.

The White Power Movement

From the late 1970s to early 1980s, Belew describes the Vietnam War as the main cultural framework uniting different factions of the White Power Movement.

Movement members often served in the military. Louis Beam, author of Essays of a Klansman, served in Vietnam. His essays describe a culture of stymied grief and betrayal by the American government among war veterans. Similar narratives played a role in structuring paramilitary activists in the WPM and generating new groups like the Alt-Right.

Unlike World War II, which centered around moral narratives against the rise of Nazism, Vietnam symbolized a morally ambiguous war.

Antiwar protests were widely held against the government’s imperialistic policies, intensified by public fears of rising globalism and communism.

Following the Vietnam War, the WPM experienced a profound shift at the 1983 Aryan Nations World Congress conference when movement leaders formally declared war on the federal government.

At the conference, different factions and ideological camps affirmed their shared commitment to undermining the American government. Unlike earlier groups, such as the K.K.K., which adhered to and fought on behalf of the state, the WPM now rejected major premises of the conservative movement (e.g. moral traditionalism, economic liberty, strong national defense) and began to construct a new national identity within the movement.

National Identity

National identity is a socially constructed category based on subjective feelings one shares with a group about one’s nation.

Americans generally share a strong national identity based on the idea that the nation is an egalitarian, moral, and democratic superpower.

Unlike patriotism, which is a benign attachment to one’s country, nationalism encompasses an orientation towards superiority and dominance over other nations.

American identity has further been portrayed as the successful assimilation to Anglo-Protestant values, and White identity has been positively correlated with American identity.

When nationalism focuses on ethnicity, studies reveal greater prejudice towards immigrant groups.

Since Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1990, anti-immigrant hate groups have been at their most extreme.

For over 150 years, the U.S.-Mexico border has been rooted in White power vigilante groups and Border Patrol agents collaborating to detain immigrants.

From 1910 to 1920, hundreds of Mexicans were murdered and lynched at the Texas borders.

Following the Vietnam War, paramilitary training camps (e.g., Klan Border Watch) trained activists to capture migrants in South Texas.

In 2019, the WPM captured hundreds of immigrants along the border and publicized the event online.

The WPM has strongly advocated for anti-immigration policies.

During Charlottesville, K.K.K. leader David Duke expressed: “We are determined to take our country back. Fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s why we voted for Trump.”

The Trump administration has vowed to remove “millions of illegal aliens” using Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), portraying immigrants as economic and cultural threats.

Furthermore, rather than understanding the fluctuation of economic opportunities as the result of either regulatory capture, global or technological advancements, almost twice as many Americans believe that immigrants take away job opportunities rather than helping to improve the national economy.

Yet, evidence shows that immigrants stimulate the economy by creating new jobs, spending income on American goods and services, paying taxes, and raising the overall productivity of businesses.

Undocumented immigrants also pay an estimated $11.6 billion a year in taxes and take on jobs that boost the economy.

In addition to anti-immigrant sentiment, national identity can also be “constructed as a masculine space, which may exclude and devalue non-stereotypically masculine ideas and ways of being”.

Both men and women were found to consider male-associated traits more American than female traits. As men have greater access to political power, they likely experience greater ownership over national material and symbolic resources…[1]

  1. Title: Political Extremism in the Wake of Charlotesville: The Motivations and Ideologies of the White Power Movement
    Publication: The Psychology of Inequity: Motivation and Beliefs
    Publisher: ABC-CLIO, LLC.
    Date: Jan 2021
    Author(s): Tina R. Lee
    Editor(s): Jean Lau Chin, Yolanda E. Garcia, Arthur W. Blume Institutions: Columbia University
    archive copy ↩︎