Monday, May 31, 2021

Interesting article on academic bullying

I stumbled upon this article on academic bullying on Twitter thanks to Charlie Ebersole. Needless to say, it is a discouraging document to read. That said, it is quite valuable, as in a real important and tangible sense, you are getting to read something of an oral history of the experience of early career researchers (primarily graduate students and post-docs). I agree with Dr. Ebersole that this is a very difficult issue, and one where those with actual power seem unwilling to confront what is going on in their own departments and universities. As someone who went to two different graduate programs (one for my MA in Experimental Psychology and the other for a PhD in Social Psychology), I can say that I had very different experiences in each program. My experience at CSU Fullerton was very positive. I had a helpful advisor and mentor, and I learned a lot from not only my advisor, but the other faculty with whom I worked. I would not trade that experience for anything. My experience at University of Missouri during the late 1990s was a bit different, and I will spare you the details.I did certainly learn a few lessons, although perhaps not the ones that I had expected when I began. Somehow, a culture of keeping one's head down and remaining passively silent is not one conducive to intellectual or emotional well-being, and I can certainly empathize with those who left their situations embittered. I made a promise to myself that I would never treat early career researchers (grad students and post-docs, in particular) negatively, but would instead be constructive and nurturing. I never quite had the opportunity to put that in practice. Such is life. I try to practice a form of patience and grace with my undergrads instead, and also serve as someone to share potential red flags to be on the lookout for just in case any of them do go into research-oriented graduate programs. That is perhaps good enough.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Yes, the US Republican Party Remains an Authoritarian Party

This post is intended as a follow-up to a couple of posts I published in the days and weeks prior to the US Presidential election:

Does the Republican Party seem more authoritiarian than it once did?

What will a post-Trump Republican Party look like?

At the time, I was making use of findings from the V-Dem Institute's research, and included a link to the summary of its findings. The gist was that although the US Democratic Party's positions appeared to be fairly similar to what they were at the start of this century (with a few fluctuations, such as in terms of LGBTQ rights) the Republican Party's positions were had evolved into those more akin to authoritarian ruling parties in failed democracies such as Hungary (Fidesz) and Turkey (Justice and Development Party, otherwise known as AKP). In each instance, the party in question started the century as relatively democratic, and somewhat conservative. 

Given that the US Republican Party's trajectory over the last couple decades, I was skeptical that the party would begin a shift away from its increasingly authoritarian turn. Biden (the Democratic Party candidate) did win the Presidential election, and the Republican Party lost its control of the US Senate (although barely, which was about what one would reasonably expect). That said, the Republican Party managed to pick up seats in the US House of Representatives, narrowing the Democratic Party's majority in that chamber, and did well enough in state and local elections to where one could say that the party didn't receive the sort of convincing defeat necessary to engage in a serious dialog about how to move forward. Regrettably, my skepticism has been rewarded.

I've been focused on overt behavior of the Republican Party's leaders' and members' overt behaviors over the last several months, and I've been trying to take care to place those actions in the broader context of a party whose turn away from democratic norms and values has been noticeable for a relatively long period of time. 

One of the markers I look at is how a party's leaders and members react to a loss of a major election. Parties and their rank and file members committed to democracy will understandably express disappointment at a loss, without questioning or outright rejecting the legitimacy of the outcome. In the aftermath of Mitt Romney's loss to Barack Obama in 2012, the Republican Party's leaders conducted a postmortem, that prescribed more inclusiveness, and a better effort at messaging. In the aftermath of 2020's election, the reaction was much different. Trump's loss was not accepted, either by Trump himself or by a significant portion of his base. Instead, the message was that of a stolen election, in spite of a lack of evidence of any tampering of the voting machines. Even multiple recounts in several swing states, which merely confirmed the initial count, were rejected by Trump and his Republican followers. Then again, Trump had been grooming his followers to expect any loss to be illegitimate since he began to make his first campaign appearances and rallies in 2015. Those baseless allegation of massive voter fraud were enabled by numerous authoritarian or authoritarian leaning news sites and channels, social media influencers (including Trump himself, who had amassed an enormous following on Twitter), and known right-wing social media and chat outlets like Parler in the run-up to the 2020 election and in the aftermath of the election. Slogans such as "stop the steal" became commonplace over the last couple months of 2020. 

In a functioning democracy, we might expect some members of a party that lost an election to engage in protests, and some party members who may be more on the fringes of that party to try to make threats or to in some way deny an election's legitimacy. Usually, they are safely ignored. 2020 was different. There was considerable coverage of efforts to intimidate those employed to tally the votes during recounts, as well as election officials at county and state levels. Efforts included armed protests outside of county election offices (e.g, Maricopa County in Arizona) and to forcibly enter election offices (e.g., Wayne County, Michigan). Trump apparently contacted election officials at various levels in order to influence them to refuse to certify the results in swing states that Biden won. In some cases, that worked, as when a couple Wayne County officials chose initially to not certify the county's results, and when a couple Michigan state officials chose not to certify the results (although thankfully, there was a majority to certify the votes in that instance). There is a recorded phone call of Trump making an effort to persuade the Georgia Secretary of State to "find" enough votes to declare Trump the winner, in spite of the fact that recounts in that state consistently found Trump to have lost. Between those efforts by Trump and various followers, the numerous law suits filed to overturn the results, and the belligerent rhetoric as the last months of 2020 unfolded, I can understand how my counterparts outside the US might be gravely concerned about the health of our own democratic government. I am sure plenty of us who reside in the US, across the partisan and ideological spectrum, are gravely concerned as well.

One of the markers of a functioning democracy is a peaceful transition of power from one government to the next, or in our case from one Presidency to the next. What happens when a candidate or a sitting President signals that he would refuse to accept a loss, and would do whatever possible to hold on to power? We actually got to see how that plays out on January 6th, which was the culmination of Trump's efforts to hang on to power, based on what at that time was the Big Lie: Trump's allegations that the election was "stolen" from him. Between Election Night and January 6th, efforts to organize not only a mass rally but an attack on the US Capitol Building were ongoing, apparently with a belief by those involved that they were doing Trump's bidding. A good number belonged to organized militias, and others were willing followers. The events that day are well-documented, along with the tangible threats to the lives of VP Pence, Speaker Pelosi, and well, anyone else who might be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Fortunately, that act of terrorism failed. What we witnessed was what Altemeyer and other authoritarianism researchers call authoritarian aggression - aggressive and violent acts perpetrated based on the demands of perceived authoritarian leaders (in this case Trump). And yet, when the time to resume the certification of the electoral vote came, a majority of the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives still voted to reject certifying electors in several states Biden had won. In the months that have followed, those elected officials who have spoken up against the Big Lie have been censured, and where possible purged from the Republican Party, or will be at least purged from their elected positions in 2022. Trump seems to want to downplay the attack on the Capitol, and party members have willingly gone along. Clearly, the majority of Republican voters still believe in the Big Lie. After all, even if Trump has lost most of the levers of his influence (including his social media accounts), there are plenty of party leaders and media outlets willing to continue to keep that myth alive. In other words, we are witnessing authoritarian submission in action. Given that most of us seem to live in media bubbles, perhaps that should not be too surprising. Whether two thirds of Republican voters continue to believe in the Big Lie over the next several years is something to watch, and a marker of how legitimate Trump and other allied leaders are perceived by their party's base. Unconventional efforts to continue auditing votes in swing counties across the country by private sector entities with no tangible record of electoral experience (which at best will create an unnecessary expense for counties that have to replace voting machines that can no longer be used) will perhaps continue to perpetuate the voter fraud myth for the foreseeable future. 

If a major terrorist attack happens in a functioning democracy, there is typically a consensus across political parties and rank and file voters and members to investigate. Our 9/11 Commission in the early oughts is a prime example. In the spring of 2021, Trump has made it very clear he does not want a similar bipartisan commission to be formed to investigate the events of the January 6th Capitol Building attack. Republican officials who might have once supported such a commission have walked back their support, and for now, such a bipartisan commission appears unlikely to be formed. Many legislators who were very much in the line of fire have had to engage in quite a bit of cognitive dissonance. Objective observers will likely agree that the insurrectionists were not merely tourists. However, to note that the objective of the events of January 6th was an attempted overthrow of the government within the Republican Party at this time is likely to lead to punishment. Even casual conversations with rank and file Republican voters can be revealing. Those who know very well what we all witnessed through televised footage and social media footage are often hesitant to speak too loudly, as doing so may not be good for their ability to keep businesses open, remain in good standing in their communities, or with people they have counted on as friends and family. Others, many, continue to make excuses, appearing to parrot whatever talking points have been given. Authoritarians do tend to follow the dictates of their perceived legitimate leaders to a letter. We call that authoritarian submission.

Reliably Republican friendly news outlets, like Fox, learned the hard way that telling the truth about the election would cause a loss of viewers, at least for a while. After all, Fox was among the first to call Arizona for Biden, preventing Trump from preemptively declaring himself the victor on Election Night. Other outlets reaped the spoils for a while. Fox has learned its lesson, no doubt, and any Decision Desk journalists who were responsible for what Trump and followers consider an outrage - namely dare to make an honest call based on the vote counted and where remaining outstanding ballots were located - were purged.

Somewhere I read recently that both major US parties once had some authoritarians among the membership, and they were distributed just evenly enough to where most, outside social science researchers and perhaps FBI agents would pay them no mind. What we've seen in the at least the past half decade, and perhaps somewhat longer is a shift in which authoritarians have largely coalesced around one of the two major parties, are taking up leadership positions at various levels within the party, and the party is shifting more toward the illiberalism of a number of its counterparts internationally. In spite of rhetoric advocating freedom and liberty, it is clear that there is no room for dissent within the party in its current form. Those whose psychology might lead them to hold somewhat heterodox views are increasingly learning that they are not welcome. 

We've also seen that the Big Lie is one that can be used to justify efforts to suppress voter turnout, as there are hundreds of bills, a number of which have passed, that will make it more difficult for citizens to vote, which presumably will favor a party that has determined that its best chance to victory in 2022 and 2024 is to appease Trump and appeal to Trump's base. We might also look at whether or not efforts to intimidate voters and poll workers increases over the next electoral cycles. That is something that should concern us all, regardless of our own leanings.

Whether the Republican Party can pull itself from the brink is doubtful. The base of the party has its leader who still has a strong grip on power within the party. Breaking the former President's grip on the party would be a necessary first step toward the long road to moderation. Personally, I would find such a development a welcome one, as a functioning moderate-conservative party committed to governance, democracy, and acceptance of heterodox views within its own leadership and membership to counterbalance the functioning moderate-liberal party that has already demonstrated such commitment is necessary for the continued stability of the US. In the meantime, we should be aware of what is going on. Authoritarian Nightmare, by John Dean and Bob Altemeyer (2020) would be a good contemporary start. Altemeyer's ebook, The Authoritarians, would also be a useful primer.