Why All the Violence at Donald Trump Rallies?

The presidential candidate is beloved by people with authoritarian mindsets, who are often supportive of the use of violence.
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Donald Trump supporters wait for autographs from the Republican presidential candidate at a campaign rally March 7, 2016, in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Donald Trump supporters wait for autographs from the Republican presidential candidate at a campaign rally March 7, 2016, in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Video of a black protester getting sucker-punched at a Donald Trump rally in North Carolina has been widely circulating on the Internet. But it's only the most recent example of Trump opponents being roughed up at such events.

What's behind this disturbing phenomenon? Let us put two and two together.

First, as we have reported, Trump draws his support in large part from people with an authoritarian mindset—a concept  first described in 1950 by sociologist Theodor Adorno, who linked it with simplistic thinking, intolerance of ambiguity, and racial prejudice.

Second, authoritarians are more likely than others to support the use of violence under a wide range of circumstances. That was the conclusion of a 2006 paper in the journal Social Behavior and Personality.

Social psychologist Arlin James Benjamin conducted a survey of 150 university students that compared their attitudes toward violence with their level of right-wing authoritarianism.

Participants indicated their level of agreement with statements regarding wartime violence ("Killing of civilians should be accepted as an unavoidable part of war"), penal code violence ("Any prisoner deserves to be mistreated by other prisoners in jail"), corporal punishment ("Children should be spanked for temper tantrums").

Benjamin found a link between higher levels of right-wing authoritarianism and support for all three types of violence. Authoritarians did not show increased support for a fourth variety, domestic violence.

"There appears to be a strong positive link between authoritarianism and attitudes toward war, penal code violence, and corporal punishment," he concluded.

That does not mean Trump supporters, as a whole, support the sort of unsanctioned, spontaneous violent reactions we've seen at his rallies.

But if you believe violence is a proper response to many troubling situations, is it really a surprise that some members of your group take it a step farther and decide it's an acceptable way to deal with dissent?

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