The right-wing base is worse than you thought

Posted on November 1, 2023

A very reliable pollster, PRRI, just released a study finding that about half of Republicans support an authoritarian state, rather than one controlled by the rule of law. And most of them say “true American patriots may have to resort to violence….”

PRRI is the Public Religion Research Institute and its polls are financially supported by big foundations including Ford, Carnegie and OSF. PRRI is rock-solid polling, specializing in analysis of religious subgroups.

The purpose of this column is to give you a better understanding of MAGA voters. Earlier this year, Donald Trump told a rally audience in Waco Texas: “I am your warrior, I am your justice…. For those who have been wronged and betrayed…, I am your retribution.”

Before 2021, the battle-cry of “retribution” would have been inconceivable. Think of all the Republican presidents and presidential nominees over the past half century—Romney, McCain, Bush, Dole, Bush, Reagan and Ford—such language would have destroyed the political careers of any of them. What has changed? It’s the people who vote in Republican primaries; they have changed.

According to this PRRI poll: 55 percent of Americans believe that “Since the 1950s, American culture and way of life has mostly changed for the worse.” Republicans (73%) are far more likely than independents (57%) and Democrats (34%) to believe it has mostly changed for the worse. A supermajority of white evangelical Protestants (77 percent), white mainline/non-evangelical Protestants (60 percent), and white Catholics (57 percent) believe “American culture and way of life has mostly changed for the worse.”

Similarly, 67 percent of Republicans, 55 percent of Independents and only 35 percent of Democrats believe “America’s best days are now behind us.”

IdeaLog hesitates to talk about “fascism” because people think it’s a catch-all for awful right-wingers, but in fact, fascism is a specific program explained in our column The Three Pillars of Fascism. “Fascism creates a myth of victimhood, that the majority population is in a humiliating decline from a past greatness because of singled-out minority populations.” This belief in (white) cultural decline is precisely what drives fascism. The fact that 2/3rds of Republicans believe it is scary.

The PRRI poll also found that nearly half of Republicans (48 percent) agree with the statement, “Because things have gotten so far off track in this country, we need a leader who is willing to break some rules if that’s what it takes to set things right.” And 33 percent of Republicans believe that, “Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”

Once again, these are not just authoritarian views, they are fundamental to fascism. As we explained in The Three Pillars of Fascism. “Fascism encourages contempt for democratic institutions, particularly elections, and the rule of law. Instead, it calls on the majority group to turn over power to a strongman and his lieutenants, while glorifying the use of violence in support of fascist myths and goals.”

Incidentally, after these two, the third pillar of fascism is the use of outrageous and absurd disinformation designed to distort its supporters’ perception of reality to fit fascist mythology. Sound familiar?

This three-part program is completely contrary to democracy, the Constitution and the rule of law. The whole idea of our American political system is to solve disputes without violence and with an everlasting attempt at justice. What the right-wing base now believes is explicitly un-American.

Both progressive institutions and the mainstream media have done a poor job of communicating what is happening among rank-and-file right-wingers, how it happened, and what we need to do about it.