I would love to be more relevant. I found this piece by Tom Edsall so edifying, that I thought about posting it, and calling my blog, “Please, make me smarter!” This is the first clear explanation I’ve read for the extraordinary loyalty of most Trump supporters.
“. . . According to Joshua Greene, a professor of psychology at Harvard and the author of “Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them,” Trump is expert at sending “signals that are music to the ears of his base,” signals that ineradicably affirm his membership in the populist right wing of the Republican Party.
Greene argued in an email that when
Trump says that a judge of Mexican ancestry can’t do his job, or attacks women for their physical appearance, or makes fun of a disabled reporter, or says that there are good people on both sides of a violent neo-Nazi rally, or that Haiti is a “shithole.” or that the “Second Amendment People” can maybe do something about Hillary Clinton, Trump is very deliberately and publicly excommunicating himself from the company of liberals, even moderate ones.
In Greene’s view, Trump offers a case study in the deployment of “costly signals.”
How does it work? Greene writes:
Making oneself irredeemably unacceptable to the other tribe is equivalent to permanently binding oneself to one’s own. These comments are like gang tattoos. And in Trump’s case, it’s tattoos all over his neck and face.
At the same time, Trump’s “costly signals” make his reliability as a protector of white privilege clear.
John Tooby, a professor of anthropology at the University of California-Santa Barbara, described the signaling phenomenon in a 2017 Edge talk as an outgrowth of what he calls a “coalitional instinct.”
“To earn membership in a group,” Tooby says, “you must send signals that clearly indicate that you differentially support it, compared to rival groups.”
This, Tooby notes, encourages extremism: “Practical and functional truths are generally useless as differential signals, because any honest person might say them regardless of coalitional loyalty.” Far more effective are “unusual, exaggerated beliefs,” including “alarmism, conspiracies or hyperbolic comparisons.”
The success of Trump’s strategy will have long term consequences for the Republican Party, in Greene’s view:
Trump won over the base by publicly sacrificing his broader respectability. Back in 2016, the other Republican primary candidates looked ahead at the general election and thought this was a losing strategy. But Trump pulled it off, perhaps because he didn’t really care about winning. But now he owns the party. No Republican can get elected without the Republican base, and the Republican base trusts Trump and only Trump, thanks to his costly signals.”