Fear of Outsiders - Left, Right, and Mother Nature

Sex, Power, and Partisanship: How Evolutionary Science Makes Sense of Our Political Divide - Hector A. Garcia 2019

Fear of Outsiders
Left, Right, and Mother Nature

In 2016, Donald Trump won the American presidency on the Republican ticket in part by stirring up a wave of racial tension and riding the rising swell into the seat of the most powerful man on Earth. One promise that he made to his followers was to build a massive wall to keep Mexican immigrants on the other side of the US-Mexico border. He stoked fear in a huge swath of the American electorate by claiming that Mexican immigrants are “bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists.”11 He railed against federal judge Gonzalo Curiel, who oversaw a lawsuit against Trump University, calling him Mexican (he's from Indiana) and suggesting Curiel could not be impartial, because his Mexican ancestry tainted him to Trump's own xenophobic rhetoric about Mexicans.12 Trump said that the United States should impose a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”13 and suggested that Muslim Americans be entered into a national registry, like the Jews of Hitler's Germany.14

If Trump's rhetoric was an act put on to win the election, he certainly had completed a decades-long character study. John R. O'Donnell, former Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino president, wrote in his 1991 book Trumped that Trump said, “Laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is, I believe that…. It's not something they can control,” and “Black guys counting my money! I hate it.”15 Nor has Trump taken trouble to distance himself from such remarks. In a 1997 interview for Playboy magazine, Trump said of O'Donnell's remarks, “The stuff O'Donnell wrote about me is probably true.”16

But equally noteworthy as Trump's rhetoric was the insurgent xenophobia and bigotry that subsequently echoed across the United States. Not only did Trump's blatant racism earn him the eager endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups, but it also set off a wave of hate-related propaganda. “Heil Trump,” “Trump Nation: Whites Only,” and Trump's campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” with the modification “Make America White Again” were spray-painted along with swastikas on buildings, walls, and black churches all across the country.17 Emboldened by Trump's rise, physical attacks on Muslims and other ethnic minority groups surged, as did outbreaks of racial harassment that seemed to drag the United States back to the pre—civil rights 1960s.

The anti-out-group firestorm Trump created, along with his brash, strongman persona, did not go unnoticed by world leaders, particularly those in Europe, whose homelands bear the not too distant memory of charismatic Fascist leaders who exterminated millions of souls during World War II, using similar rhetoric. Former British prime minister David Cameron labeled Trump's discourse as “divisive, stupid, and wrong.”18 French prime minister Manuel Valls said, “Mr. Trump, like others, stokes hatred.” German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called Trump a “preacher of hate.” Italian parliament member Sandro Gozi said, “Trump solutions for me are false solutions, but they're not original. They're things that we have heard in Europe from extremist sections.” Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto made a more direct comparison when he placed Trump's propaganda in context, saying, “In the past, some leaders address their societies in those terms,” and “Hitler and Mussolini did that and the outcome, it's clear to everyone.”19

By speaking openly and negatively against groups perceived as outsiders by his core base of conservative white Republicans, Trump was able to win their vote and ultimately the 2016 US presidential election. This momentous political event illustrates a highly consistent empirical finding—namely that conservative political ideology predicts prejudice against the outside group. As an example, there are a multitude of studies examining racial stereotypes of African Americans in the United States, asking questions like whether blacks are intelligent or unintelligent, or more or less prone to violence. In study after study, conservatives report more negative attitudes and racial stereotypes than liberals.20

As we might expect, if our political stances were based on our shared, evolved psychology as humans, such correlations are found in other countries, with different out-group targets. As one example, researchers found that conservatives in Spain hold more anti-Arab prejudice than liberals.21 A much larger study, called the Eurobarometer survey, assessed predictors of out-group prejudice in four thousand respondents across four European countries: the French were asked about North Africans, Vietnamese, and Cambodians; the Dutch about Surinamers and Turks; the Brits about West Indians, Indians, and Pakistani; and the Germans (West Germany at the time) were asked about Turks. Among a large number of predictors political conservatism was the major predictor of out-group prejudice.22

For some readers, this connection between conservatism and suspicion of outsiders, or liberalism and attraction to outsiders, may seem intuitive. What may not be as intuitive is the reason for these connections. As it turns out, the pressures of deadly infectious and genetic diseases in our ancestral history drove both liberal and conservative psychologies and, as a means to survive those diseases, distinctive liberal and conservative mating strategies.