Review by Joseph Langen
My friend Bob offered to lend me this book. My first reaction was that I have read and heard enough about Trump to last me a lifetime. Then he told me that it was about how Trump got the way he is and how to understand his followers. For some time I have been looking for a way to have an intelligent discussion with Trump followers without fireworks and so forged ahead.
The book is divided into two parts. The first is an explanation of how Trump’s life experiences led him to be who he is. The second is the authors’ assessment of Trump followers. At the end of the book are rating scales used in research toward understanding the distribution of authoritarian tendencies among Trump followers and among others.
The authors define an authoritarian leader as one who demands complete obedience and denies individual freedom. They also refer to the Oxford English Dictionary definition of a demagogue as “a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.” They apply both terms to Trump.
They discuss early influences such as his mother largely ignoring him and his father demanding that he be a winner at any cost. In response he was a bully in school and escorted attractive young women to events, using them as “eye candy” to enhance his status rather than befriending them. He bragged about attending Wharton School. The reality is that he attended classes at the less competitive Wharton undergraduate school but never attended the elite and prestigious graduate program. He appears to have never been an outstanding student on his own merits.
The authors describe Trump followers as mainly social dominators who view their own group as superior to all others, authoritarian followers, and double highs with characteristics of both groups. The book goes into great detail about the characteristics of all these groups. All three tend to be non-questioning followers with little reliance on critical thinking in deference to what they are told to think. They see Trump as their protector and thinker in their stead.
I was looking for suggestion on how to negotiate with these groups but none were forthcoming. The only alternative the authors presented was beating them at the polls and encouraging others of like mind to vote as well.
I don’t think that everyone who follows Trump necessarily fall into one of the three grouups discussed in this book. I have relatives and friends who I know to be Trump followers and supporters. For the most part I have avoided discussing politics or Trump related issues with them as a way of keeping the peace and avoiding verbal combat with them. I know they have wishes, goals and values, many of which I once shared with them and hopefully still do. Recently I have become quite careful in discussing anything with them.
I have also seen elements in out society whom I refer to as rugged individuals or as having a cowboy mentality as displayed in our country’s old movies. I did not find any treatment in this book of constructive ways to interact with those who share some of your values but also follow authoritarian leaders. I will keep looking for suggestions on how to bridge this gap and hope to contribute to the discussion. President Biden has called for ways to cooperate with each other in rebuilding our society. The only alternative appears to be a war for control which does not enamor me.
I found this book to be generally well written and fairly easy to understand given the complexity of our society. One minor distraction was a number of grammatical/spelling errors which should have been corrected in the editing phase.