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Prof. Christopher Parker in Dædalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, "Status Threat: Moving the Right Further to the Right?"

Submitted by Stephen Dunne on March 31, 2021 - 11:51am

Over the last few years, right-wing movements are difficult to ignore. From Australia to Europe, right-wing movements have achieved a measure of political success. A more complete accounting of the political influence of the reactionary right in the last twenty years must also include the United States. America’s most recent move to the right began with the Tea Party’s emergence during the Obama administration. The tea Party sought to maintain the cultural integrity of what it viewed as the “legitimate” American majority. While Donald Trump sometimes departed from Republican free-market orthodoxy, his use of Anglo cultural appeals is very similar to, and often even more overt than, the Tea Party’s use of them.

Nationalism is a possible explanation for Trump’s success. American nationalism is a bit more complex. The same basic principles apply, like solidarity around a primordial identity. But the American variant includes at least one other component. American national identity, based as it is on liberal principles, leans heavily on a set of values prescriptive of rights and duties that makes possible the concept of civic nationalism: belief in the American creed. Some, therefore, believe that American nationalism consists of racial and civic components. If the results from the analysis are any indication, the status threat may well lend insight on what motivates reactionary politics. Unlike earlier reports claiming that class or economic anxiety carries the day, material motives, for the most part, offer next to nothing in the way of leverage when it comes to explaining reactionary politics and the right-wing movements they fuel. This suggests that scholars may wish to examine symbolic motives as a means of elaborating on reactionary movements. After all, the proposition that Trump’s victory was driven by working-class Whites is a myth: many of his followers are well-to-do, with two-thirds making more than the national median income. If reactionary politics in the United States is truly driven by the anxiety accompanying the dominant group’s belief that they’re losing “their” country, and not by economic concerns, no amount of redistribution will temper their support for draconian immigration measures, nor their willingness to countenance the move away from democracy. We need to look elsewhere, then, for the solution to the current predicament.

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