Why Has Donald Trump Lost So Much Conservative Support?

Given that Trump is the embodiment of an impulsive and dangerous person, it might be surprising that he became the Republican candidate at all. One likely reason for his success is that he appeals to voters who believe that people on the margins of society, such as Muslims and immigrants, deserve to stay at the margins. This attitude, which psychologists call right-wing authoritarianism, is not exclusively conservative, but it is more commonly found among conservatives than liberals (Duckitt, Bizumic, Krauss, & Heled, 2010). Trump also promulgates the idea that hierarchical social arrangements are desirable—some classes of people deserve to be at the top and others deserve to be at the bottom. This attitude is called social dominance orientation, and it is also not exclusively conservative, but more common among conservatives (Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, & Malle, 1994). Some conservatives, like Reagan, believe that we live in a just society that already has this hierarchy and we simply need to maintain it. Trump, however, is an anti-elitist populist (Oliver & Rahn, 2016). He proposes to upend the status quo and restore a once regnant hierarchy. This is still an appeal to social dominance orientation, albeit one that Americans have not recently seen. These appeals to right-wing authoritarianism and social dominance likely caused enough Republican-leaning voters who share authoritarian and social dominance attitudes to overlook both his formerly liberal attitudes and his problematic temperament.

Does Trump’s behavior hold a lesson for people outside politics? Trump epitomizes the characteristics that Aristotle posited as the source of misery. In The Nicomachean Ethics, a treatise on human flourishing, Aristotle explained that we all begin life with a tendency toward impulsivity. To lead a virtuous, flourishing life, we must develop the ability to exert self-control. This enables us to stay upright at the “golden mean,” which lies between tempting but dangerous alternatives. Courage is the golden mean between cowardice and rashness; liberality the mean between stinginess and wastefulness; proper pride the mean between insincere humility and vulgarity. Although psychologists generally avoid discussions about the golden mean (here’s an exception), their findings align with Aristotle’s basic thesis about conscientiousness being necessary for flourishing (Ozer & Benet-Martínez, 2006). Although his inherited wealth and its attendant privileges have cushioned him against some harsh consequences, Trump has ultimately come face to face with the tragedy of his impulsivity and generally low conscientiousness. His current attempt at flourishing seems destined to fail because it is obvious to many US voters, but not to him, that he cannot steer his own ship.



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