Trump's Bump: The Scary Appeal Of The Authoritarian Father

"We don't look to be ruled — we look for the capacity to shape our own destiny," said President Barack Obama, in his epic speech that brought down the house on the third night of the Democratic Convention.

To add to the excitement, surprise guest Hillary Clinton emerged from the wings and walked out on stage to a standing ovation and thunderous applause. Then she and our exceptionally eloquent, departing president beamed and hugged each other for a very long time.

As a powerful image, it was about as optically symbolic as anything we’ve ever seen in this country’s history: the first black president embracing the potential first female president.

Many Democratic viewers shed tears of joy that night, while watching all the optimism, patriotism and inclusiveness on display. (That's after taming some of the obstructive Bernie bots in the hall, of course.)

This was in topsy-turvy contrast to the dystopian description of our country that Trump offered at the Republican convention, when he talked about this being a moment of “death, destruction, terrorism and weakness” for the U.S.



Certainly, the Democratic agenda included some tough takedowns of Trump. But there was no convention corollary for the violent level of Hillary-hatred expressed via “Lock her up!” in Cleveland.

From what I could gather from real-time posts on social media, many Dem viewers, bathing in all the kumbaya, were wondering, “How can hateful misogynist Donald Trump possibly be ahead in the polls? Can’t they see how much more competent, compassionate, reasonable and realistic our side is?”

Well, perhaps this Philadelphia convention will produce a significant bump for Hillary, just as the one in Cleveland did for Trump.   

But certainly, Trump’s persistent stickiness in the polls shows that we are hardly one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Rather, we are two warring tribes, hugely divided. And now, more than ever, each side preaches mostly to its own chorus.

There has been much talk that the group Hillary needs to reach -- and persuade -- in order to win, are the people who comprise the heart of the Trump backers: working-class white men and women who feel economically displaced in our post-industrial jobless recovery and silenced by the voices of political correctness.

Just about the best explanation I’ve found in response to why Trump could win comes from cognitive researcher and political writer George Lakoff. ( So bear with me, because I would like to quote him at length in order to do justice to his theory.

He says, in essence, that despite all the radical social change we’ve lived through in the last 50 years, if the United States is seen as a family, it’s not one that identifies with the progressive, nurturant, self-esteem-building parental model that some Gen-Xers and many Millennials grew up with.

Rather, psychologically, more of us are stuck in the old, conservative, punitive models, with clear gender divides, he notes. These families tend to be essentially dismissive of the mother, still looking toward the discipline of an authoritarian father. 

“In the strict father family,” he writes, “father knows best. He knows right from wrong and has the ultimate authority to make sure his children and his spouse do what he says. ... When his children disobey, it is his moral duty to punish them.”

Thus, Donald’s often rude and punishing style still appeals to evangelicals, despite the fact he’s been married three times and is not, in the parlance that Obama used, “a religion guy.”

Lakoff adds that of the “at least tens of millions of conservatives in America who share strict father morality and its moral hierarchy, many are poor or middle-class, and many are white men who see themselves as superior to immigrants, nonwhites, women, non-Christians, gays and people who take public assistance.”

Before Trump, he says, “they were not allowed to express it, because they would be seen as racists and bigots. Trump made it acceptable to feel this way.”

This explains how he can retweet clearly anti-Semitic or white-supremacy-based messages. They give his base a restored sense of self-respect and control.

And what of the huge, modern, diverse population of people who elected Barack Obama?

“The election of President Barack Hussein Obama created outrage among those conservatives, and they refused to see him as a legitimate American (as in the birther movement), much less as a legitimate authority, especially as his liberal views contradicted almost everything else they believe as conservatives.”

That’s why Trump keeps repeating that Obama is “weak,” and a “disaster.”

In fact, Lakoff says Trump makes very effective, and almost hypnotic, use of repetition and what he calls “framing” — particularly when it comes to Hillary. Trump framed her as “Crooked Hillary,” meaning that she purposely committed crimes for her own benefit. Key words like “Benghazi” and “emails” are shorthand for that illegal framework.  

Then, he explains, “there is a common metaphor that Immorality Is Illegality, and that acting against Strict Father Morality (the only kind off morality recognized) is being immoral. “

So, merely by being a powerful working woman and politician, almost everything Hillary Clinton has ever done “has violated Strict Father Morality, and that makes all of her actions immoral.”

Thus, the audience feels a passionate hatred for her as an immoral actor, and feels justified in calls to lock her up.

To add to Hillary’s challenges in getting elected president, even some on the side of progressive, liberal families still seem to exhibit unconscious male bias. This results in a certain amount of “no win” for the first female candidate. Apparently, focus groups find it inauthentic when Clinton talks about her grandchildren. When she is forced to defend herself aggressively, people find her “repulsive” and “shrill.”

Lakoff’s theory explains Trump’s “Make America Great Again” tag line. That’s all about going back to some fictional nostalgic time. Like Pepperidge Farm, Donald Trump remembers.

The answer, I suppose, is just to be mindful. Check ourselves when the message is misogynist and woman-hating.

Obviously, as a country, we can’t go backward. Because in the end, men and women of every stripe have to learn to live together, in order to create, as the Founding Fathers put it so beautifully, a more perfect union.

10 comments about "Trump's Bump: The Scary Appeal Of The Authoritarian Father".
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  1. Michael Deane from Modern Times Film Company, July 29, 2016 at 4:40 a.m.

    I found this fascinating as usual because I have no doubt gender politics plays an unfotunate yet significant role in how we view Hillary Clinton.  I do also think the numbers problem for HRC is a reflection that she represents the status quo and a very large portion of this election cycle voters are looking for change, somehwere near 66 per cent or thereabouts.  Trump and Sanders were outliers; HRC is the apotheosis of Washington insider. Then add in the fact that most people have a mind set on HRC--fairly or not--and those numbers are pretty disturbing.

    I hope the convention gives her a bounce but I trust she is preparing for the long slog to rebrand herself to many Americans.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, July 29, 2016 at 9:05 a.m.

    Bingo, Barbara. As for change, that never dies. Everybody always wants change and they want it they way they think they want it and they want it all right now. EG: Financial institutions and their representatives gave people loans they knew they could never repay and people took it. Just because someone offers you an alligator for "free", doesn't mean you should take it. And take it they did. They are not underwater. They bought something that was overpriced, didn't bother to do their arithmetic homework that a house cost more than a mortgage for which they did not have the income or prepare for income disruption. When someone signs for $100,000 student loan at 8%, what did they think was going to happen ? (needing $100,000 is a different topic.) 

    People have a serious problem saying they were wrong. Things they were taught to be true are all wrong and never true from the beginning. And aye, that's the rub. The fascists from all parts of the spectrum have been spewing hate and scapegoating about Hillary for years and the poison brew has been stoked by the fake news stations and their own small hand insecurities. The democrats need to get the humanity deniers to admit they were wrong even if it is not publicly. How long did it take for the "christians" to know they were wrong for believing not washing since cleaniness was the work of the devil ? How many plagues does it take ? Hillary and staff, this is your challenge.

  3. Don Perman from self, July 29, 2016 at 9:17 a.m.

    Excellent and timely take on the conventions. It's great view of the gender/father/mother matrix.  But you end on a beautiful, hopeful note. Thanks.

  4. David Mountain from Marketing and Advertising Direction, July 29, 2016 at 10:35 a.m.

    There was a recent Freakonomics podcast that covered subconscious gender bias at the auditory level that keeps cropping up in my mind when I think about this election. It's depressing that it seems hardwired, but encouraging that people are starting to put data to it, because in my experience, data is a great way to end arguments and/or achieve progress. At least in marketing.

    Entire podcast is solid, but the 22 minute mark is really the meat of it.

  5. marnie delaney from doodlebug, July 29, 2016 at 10:45 a.m.

    The human capacity for caring is so inspiring as is the capacity for tenacious pursuit of justice.  These aren't qualities to be found in this particular Dad but they are core to this Mom.  In fact I think Dad is guilty of domestic violence.  My hope is for a quick divorce where Mom gets the house and all the friends.                                                                                    

  6. Rick Thomas from MediaRich Marketing, July 29, 2016 at 9:11 p.m.

    You can all it the "Authoritarian Father" or the typical person sucked in by the infomercial product pitch man hawking the widget that will never work but in this case has no money back guarantee.  

  7. Joe DePreta from Launchpad, July 30, 2016 at 3:22 p.m.

    Barbara, one of your best. I've sent to all three of my kids, one still in college. Thank you for this insight.

  8. jackie polanco from LSS, LLC, July 30, 2016 at 5:48 p.m.

    Great read..... as usual!! 

  9. Jim English from The Met Museum, July 31, 2016 at 9:36 p.m.

    Thanks Barbara.  Most frightening to me is that Trump if elected would be in charge of nuclear arsenal.  Wondering if Hillary might re-use that LBJ ad from 1964 with little girl holding flower.

  10. Gordon Hotchkiss from Out of My Gord Consulting, August 1, 2016 at 12:41 p.m. reading this, I was reminded of something I had read in the past. It took me a bit to dig it up..but found it: "From the standpoint of social development, the family cannot be considered the basis of the authoritarian state, only as one of the most important institutions which support it." Another quote, "(the goal is) producing an individual who is adjusted to the authoritarian order and who will submit to it in spite of all misery and degradation. At first the child has to submit to the structure of the authoritarian miniature state, the family; this makes it capable of later subordination to the general authoritarian system." It was from Wilhelm Reich. The work was the Mass Pscyhology of Fascism. It was written in 1933.

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