In yesterday’s post, I basically vented about the sexism being displayed by the Senate GOP during the Kavanaugh confirmation process. Today, I want to follow up with a broader discussion of what a recent sociological study has dubbed “hostile sexism.
An article from Salon discussing the study began–predictably–with the Kavanaugh fiasco, and the remarks from Trump and Senate Republicans.
Republican elites are also defending Kavanaugh, with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, going so far as to say that even if the rape allegations were true they might be excusable: “I think it would be hard for senators not to consider who he is today”. Once again, per America’s tradition, culture and habit, elite white men are protected from the consequences of their behavior.Toxic white masculinity is encouraged in America. White men are infantilized, while black and brown men and boys are pathologized.
The article described the relevance to these recent events of a recent study by University of Kansas sociologists David Smith and Eric Hanley. Their research wasn’t limited in its scope to sexism, although it did address what it called “a socially combustible mix of racism and sexism, in combination with anger and bullying.”
Writing in “The Anger Games: Who Voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 Election, and Why?”, which appeared in a recent issue of the journal Critical Sociology, Smith and Hanley summarize their new research:
“We find that Trump’s supporters voted for him mainly because they share his prejudices, not because they’re financially stressed. It’s true, as exit polls showed, that voters without four-year college degrees were likelier than average to support Trump. But millions of these voters — who are often stereotyped as “the white working class” — opposed Trump because they oppose his prejudices. These prejudices, meanwhile, have a definite structure, which we argue should be called authoritarian: negatively, they target minorities and women; and positively, they favor domineering and intolerant leaders who are uninhibited about their biases.
The authors research confirmed what other research about the 2016 election, from political scientists as well as sociologists, has found: what unified Trump’s voters was not “economic anxiety” but prejudice and intolerance, and a significant dose of misogyny.
Smith and Hanley identified eight attitudes that interacted with each other and strongly predicted support for Trump: identifying as conservative; support for a “domineering” leader; Christian fundamentalism, prejudice against immigrants, African-Americans, Muslims and women; and “pessimism about the economy.”
The research demonstrates the ways in which racism and sexism reinforce each other, and predicts support for candidates willing to bully both women and people of color.
Most Trump voters cast their ballots for him with their eyes open, not despite his prejudices but because of them. Their partisanship, whether positive (toward Trump and the Republicans) or negative (against Clinton and the Democrats), is intense.
This partisanship is anchored in anger and resentment among mild as well as strong Trump voters. Anger, not fear, was the emotional key to the Tea Party, and that seems to be true for Trumpism as well. If so, the challenge for progressives is greater than many people have imagined. Hostility to minorities and women cannot be wished away; nor can the wish for domineering leaders. The anger games are far from over.
The Salon article included an interview with one of the researchers that is well worth reading in its entirety. This response to a question, especially, explains his disagreement with the approach of many liberals to Trump voters:
Many liberals are reluctant to believe that large numbers of people are as mean-spirited as their words and actions might suggest. They want to think that fear, not vindictiveness, drives support for vindictive rhetoric and policy. That’s generous, but I think it’s also a special kind of blindness.
In fact, we seem to have two opposite forms of emotional blindness. Many liberals can’t believe that large numbers of people are vindictive while many conservatives scoff at the idea that liberals are not vindictive. Liberals often make excuses for people who show signs of intolerance. Right-wingers, in contrast, often laugh at claims to “feel your pain.”
These attitudes shouldn’t be ignored. Right-wingers who hate liberals are problematic, and liberals whose reflex is to forgive them are problematic too.
This research helps explain the behavior of the Senate Republicans that set me off yesterday.
It doesn’t excuse it.