This is part of a series of posts I’m making about the major psychology principle or theory behind each of the five major presidential candidates personalities, campaigns, and supporters. The candidates are the Ol’ Pussy Grabber, Handsome Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigieg. Hopefully, I’ll finish before any of them drop out of the race.
Full disclosure: I’ve always been ambivalent about Bernie Sanders as a Democratic candidate for president. I love many of his positions on the issues: Medicare for all, college tuition and debt forgiveness, avoiding needless wars. You know many of the progressive issues that are popular today that were pushed by Sanders in 2016.
The chief concern I have about his candidacy and potential presidency is his tendency towards authoritarianism. I’ve written about authoritarian personality before, so let’s recap using some old posts! That’s recycling, so it’s good for the environment, right? After all, climate change is a concern for us all.
The Authoritarian Personality
Way back in the 1950’s, Theodor Adorno wrote out a list of authoritarian characteristics. At the time psychologists were very concerned about Nazism and genocide and the Holocaust and stuff, so he was thinking a lot about the qualities that the authoritarian rulers of the 1930’s and 40’s had in common AND the qualities that their followers had as well. This second part is important, especially for understanding my reticence of Sanders enthusiasm.
I’ll list them here and makes some comments concerning Sanders and his followers, you know, for efficiency, which is good for the environment and climate change.
- Aggression towards those who violate conventional thinking or who are different
- A professed belief that all people are bad and will lie, cheat, and steal in the right circumstances
- A love of strong leadership and displays of unbending power
- Using simplistic solutions and polemics to address problems
- Black and white thinking, an inability to see gray areas
- Projecting feelings of rage, fear, and inadequacy onto a specific group
- Being preoccupied with violence and sex
- Willingness to submit to an authority
- Conventional morality
Bernie Sanders, Authoritarian Personality
What is the evidence that Sanders has an authoritarian personality or at least authoritarian leanings? We’ll start with his dogmatism. He is a fervent believer in democratic socialism. Don’t get me wrong. I like democratic socialism. We are a rich country and can afford to take care of every member of our society. But, dogmatism is different than that.
Dogmatism is the arrogant assertion of opinion as the only truth. There is no gray area. There is no room for compromise. Compromise, I’ll point out, is the very heart of democracy. To make democracy work, you have to provide space for the minority point-of-view and compromise with the opposition party to enact laws. The lack of willingness of the Repubes to compromise is exactly what is wrong with our democracy.
Sanders insistence of Medicare-for-All, for example, is the perfect example of his dogmatism. His dismissal of the approaches that others take, including Elizabeth Warren, suggests that has a high degree of intolerance for the views of others.
In 28 years in Congress (16 as a representative and 12 as a senator), he has been the primary sponsor of seven bills that have been passed:
- S. 885 (113th): A bill to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 35 Park Street in Danville, Vermont, as the “Thaddeus Stevens Post Office”
- S. 2782 (113th): A bill to amend title 36, United States Code, to improve the Federal charter for the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, and for other …
- S. 893 (113th): Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2013
- H.R. 5245 (109th): To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 1 Marble Street in Fair Haven, Vermont, as the “Matthew Lyon Post Office Building”.
- H.J.Res. 129 (104th): Granting the consent of Congress to the Vermont-New Hampshire Interstate Public Water Supply Compact.
- H.R. 1353 (102nd): Entitled the “Taconic Mountains Protection Act of 1991”.
- H.J.Res. 132 (102nd): To designate March 4, 1991, as “Vermont Bicentennial Day”.
To be fair, only 4% of all bills introduced into Congress get passed, and most legislators co-sponsor bills. By comparison:
- Sanders: 7 bills in 28 years
- Warren: 7 bills in 7 years
- Booker: 6 bills in 7 years
- Harris: 4 bills in 4 years
It doesn’t look so good. Maybe Clinton’s recent criticism wasn’t that far off after all: No one liked him. No one would work with him. He got nothing done.
Dogmatism basically covers four of the nine criteria:
- Aggression towards those who violate conventional thinking or who are different: That would be conventional democratic socialist thinking or whatever the Sanders supporters say it is.
- A love of strong leadership and displays of unbending power: Sanders: One of the features of Sanders’ appeal is his dogmatic insistence that he is right, which is interpreted as strong leadership even though his legislative accomplishments say otherwise.
- Using simplistic solutions and polemics to address problems:Sanders: Sanders tendency to reduce racial problems to class issues is troubling. And, the frequency with which his followers repeat his policy ideas without really understanding what they mean.
- Black and white thinking, an inability to see gray areas: Again, repeating his policy ideas and insisting that these are the only solutions for those problems. And, his followers don’t tolerate any criticism of Sanders or his ideas.
With these four, Sanders and his followers are classic authoritarians. Essentially, we’re to accept that this is the best approach and solution without question. There is no room for discussion or debate, that’s key.
His Followers Authoritarian Tendencies
We’ve covered some of his followers authoritarian tendencies above, but there is more that pertains exclusively to them.
- In 2016 a substantial number of his followers (1 in 10) voted for Trump instead of Clinton.
- Only 53% of Sanders supporters said they’d vote blue no matter who. Every other major primary candidate supporters were over 85%
- And 16% said they would not vote blue no matter who. They’d only be voting for Sanders or what? Sitting out the election? Voting third party, Tulsi the Jill Stein of 2020 Gabbard? Voting for Trump in a redux of 2016?
The Other Authoritarian Qualities
Sanders has been dogged by accusations and suspicions of sexism and racism. This isn’t helped by some of his followers and endorsers — Joe Rogan, anyone — being clearly racist, sexist, homophobic. Sanders early writing about women and sex. His very parochial remark to Warren about a woman not being able to win the presidency in 2020. His inability to understand race from anything other than a classist point-of-view.
He makes great statements about all these subjects and has great advisors and has supporters in each of these groups, but he’s awkward, slow, and a bit tone deaf on these issues. They’ll continue to dog him.
Being a woman and running afoul of the Bernie supporters online, from what I understand, can be a very sobering experience. According to Clinton in THAT documentary: It wasn’t just him, it was his major supporters, his online advocates. They were relentless, ruthless not just in attacking me but people who supported me. You need look no further than the snake emoji and accusations of being a liar or worse being flung at Warren.
If nothing else, you can conclude that he has some of the ugliest and worst behaved supporters.
These qualities, behaviors, beliefs seem to support the remaining characteristics of an authoritarian personality:
- Projecting feelings of rage, fear, and inadequacy onto a specific group His followers are projecting onto Warren and other Dem rivals as well as onto conservatives and moderates.
- Being preoccupied with violence and sex Sanders early essay on a woman’s rape fantasy, even though he’s disavowed it, still leaves me very disturbed. I know as we age, our thoughts and feelings toward sex and violence change, but it seems to be part of his following.
- Willingness to submit to an authority I don’t have much evidence about Sanders, but his followers sure seem willing to submit to authority.
- Conventional morality He seems old fashioned in his approach to race, women, and the LGBTQ+ community. He is awkward and seems very unaware of how he sounds when addressing these communities.
All-in-all authoritarian personality seems to fit Sanders and his followers. I’ve thought this for a long time. I can’t see a Sanders presidency really helping us out of our partisan morass. Sanders seems to think that when his policies begin working, moderates will come round to them. I don’t think it will work that way. It certainly didn’t work that way for Obama.