Is Donald Trump a politically conservative one?

Collective review

Donald Trump and the gutting of American conservatism
About real echo chambers and manipulative speaking in frames

"The Bean" in Chicago: often used for photographically distorted self-portraits. Photo: Paul Wohlleben Apart from his staunch supporters, hardly anyone could have expected Donald Trump to be elected. The political scientist Torben Lütjen, who presented his habilitation thesis with “Die Politik der Echokammer” (2016a) and with “Party of Extremes: Die Republikaner” (2016b), a further analysis of the conservative movement, is at the end of both books (status autumn 2015 or October 2016) to read out a corresponding disbelief. Elisabeth Wehling, author of “Political Framing”, was sure at the beginning of November 2016, ie immediately before the US presidential election, at the “Formats of Politics” conference in Berlin that Trump would have no chance of assuming office. Not only these two scholars were wrong - although they have dealt intensively with the development of the conservative movement, which has more or less imploded (Lütjen), and with the political power of language (Wehling). It was a mistake in the best democratic intent, as her books show. These can now also be used to show the history of this election victory. The aspect that, due to the peculiarities of the US electoral system, as in this case, someone can be chosen as the winner who has lost according to the actual number of votes, is left out here. Even the fact that Trump is a "in many ways [...] singular figure" (2016b: 10) does not override the explanatory models, since, in Lütjen's opinion, he succeeded in not only countering the general frustration of the white working class for themselves. Above all, he was able to make use of the specific anger that has "been part of the conservative movement for over five decades" (2016b: 12) and has led to the Republican Party's loss of control.

American conservatism

Lütjen uses the in both books New Deal as a starting point: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's attempt in the 1930s to lay the foundation for a welfare state based on the European model provoked an ideological split in politics; Roosevelt himself described his policy as liberal, the attitude of his opponents as conservative. The dividing lines did not necessarily have to run between the parties Southern realignment First started: "This means the gradual turning away from white, conservative southerners from the electoral coalition of the Democratic Party and their turn to the Republicans." (2016a: 31) The USA stopped being a country without ideologies, and the opponents Liberal politics began to undifferentiatedly equate every state intervention with "the specter of socialism" (2016b: 20). This analogy is “almost part of the founding DNA of the movement” and has been updated again and again - “the last time in the years from 2009, when the activists of the Tea party unceremoniously declared the reform of the health insurance system an attempt to introduce socialism or other totalitarian political regimes through the back door ”(2016b: 21).

Lütjen identifies the writings of Ludwig von Mises and above all Friedrich August von Hayek as a source of the history of ideas, which were carried on in the post-war period, for example by non-university research institutions; legal intellectual thoughts were made through magazines such as National Review popularized. In “Party of Extreme” Lütjen also points out that important personalities who shaped the conservative movements were “converts”, endowed with a “doctrinal tendency” and thus characterized by “the pursuit of ideological purity” (2016b: 34). In his time without political influence, but with great aftereffect, Barry Goldwater first appeared, who incorporated the anti-government ideology (rights of the individual states are positioned against the federal government) in the conservative deep structures and linked it with the frontier myth. President Richard Nixon later managed, with aggressive populism, to denigrate the demonstrations against the Vietnam War even then as protests by “well-off sons and daughters of the 'liberal elites'” (2016a: 47) when the majority of the population spoke out against the war.

While the Republicans became (also) the party of the working class during this period, the Democrats changed with the rise of the New left in a completely different direction, became more diverse through the participation of women, African Americans and younger people in general - like society as a whole. For the conservatives, however, equality and the now lesser importance of the traditional family were seen only as signs of decline. Against this background, the term of the Silent Majority established, "a classic topos of populist thought: the idea of ​​a silent majority that expresses the true, unadulterated will of the people, but is kept out of power by an elite cartel for obscure reasons" (2016b: 66). The “ideological conflict matrix of the present” (2016a: 54) then continued to develop in the 1980s with the so-called conservative revolution by Ronald Reagan: religion began to play an increasingly important role, with the fringes in particular - non-believers and faithful to the Bible - became more important. As a result, US policy is extreme Friend-foe coding enrolled.

At the Reagan presidency, Lütjen shows the difficulties in implementing conservative policies, which - despite a positive attitude towards technical progress - run counter to general social modernization. The envisaged restoration of public morality and the return to a Christian America did not succeed. However, the story of success is maintained to this day, although the high national debt at the end of Reagan's presidency testifies to the opposite and the East-West confrontation was settled mainly because the Cold Warrior Reagan showed himself ready to compromise with Gorbachev at the crucial moment. Lütjen also draws a related conclusion for the presidency of George W. Bush - as a former alcoholic and as someone who first had to find God, also a convert. Although the "ideological meltdown of American conservatism" (2016b: 112) in its neoliberal form took place with the global financial crisis and the state had to step in as a savior, the interpretation remained that the failure to implement one's own ideas was only because of this the explanation is that the self-chosen principles have not been enforced.

The penultimate station on the path of the conservative movement so far is the uprising of the so-called Tea party, which was formed in 2009 and with the help of the newly founded television station Fox News - who benefited from the change in the law, according to which alternative opinions no longer had to be presented - the Republican Party more or less took over. Previously bounded by other tendencies, “an aggressive anti-intellectualism” (2016b: 118) was able to prevail. Since then, the Grand Old Party through fundamental opposition and thus total blockade from politics.

Paradoxical individualization

In “The Politics of the Echo Chamber”, Lütjen states that the USA has a special path in the history of ideology, which - as described above - is to be understood as a multi-causal phenomenon. In contrast to (Western) Europe, the fronts between the two main political currents have become so entrenched that people hardly speak to one another anymore. However, he does not attribute this condition to the echo chambers, which were used as the most important explanation after Trump's election victory - the echo chambers in social media, i.e. the phenomenon that Facebook and Twitter users primarily connect with like-minded people and in one of algorithms generated filter bubble live. But by no means every voter is active in social media and the question of the extent to which their use influences political voting behavior has not yet been empirically illuminated - especially not for this most recent US election. Instead, Lütjen investigates “real echo chambers”: social spaces that can be localized in cities and rural districts and described empirically. In view of the election results over time, he actually identifies these echo chambers in real geography: They are “places of self-chosen one-sidedness” that are “the result of a sorting process triggered by internal migration”. "More and more Americans are deciding, when choosing their place of residence, to look for the neighborhood of politically like-minded people." (2016a: 87) It is precisely these real places that Lütjen dedicated the empirical part of his study - because there (and not on the Internet) is about the election results decided.

The theory of politically intended internal migration - Big Sort - checked Lütjen in two counties in the state of Wisconsin: In Dane County, in which the city of Madison is known for its left-liberal culture, Barack Obama won 71 percent of the votes in 2012; in neighboring Waukesha County, Mitt Romney scored 67 percent. In both counties, trends that have been emerging for a long time have solidified. At the same time, they are similar in their population structure, in which white, educated and relatively wealthy Americans make up the majority, and political participation is relatively high. Lütjen stayed there for eight months, interviewed 61 people, had a representative telephone survey carried out among 1,601 people and evaluated the local newspapers. His aim is to explain the various phenomena of these echo chambers with qualitative and quantitative data.

The focus is on two strongly correlated aspects: lifestyle and political culture. Based on Georg Simmel, Max Weber and Pierre Bourdieu, lifestyles are understood as an expression of "the way in which people imagine a meaningful or morally legitimized life" (2016a: 95). In short, the people of left-wing liberal Dane County prefer short distances, organic food and a stroll through town. In the conservative Waukesha County, people like to live in a spacious house on a large property, do not attach great importance to contact with the neighbors and shop in the mall that one drives to. Social contacts take place here mainly in the church. Lütjen explains the fact that a majority of democratic voters have been moving to Dane County and supporters of the Republicans to Waukesha County for years, primarily with the preference for the respective lifestyle - here the organic latte in the nearby café, there the steak on your own garden grill . While the way of life in Waukesha County has essentially not changed over the past few decades, Dane County can look back on an eventful past with the city of Madison and the last time there were major protests there against the conservative governor in 2011. Part of the character of the city is to constantly grapple with political self-image. It is noteworthy that Madison and its surroundings have made a name for themselves as a location for the software industry - “Counterculture” is followed by “Cyberculture” (2016a: 132), an open political culture therefore favors economic modernization and further development (a Thesis that could also be read with a view to California's Silicon Valley and its protagonists). In Waukesha County, where people tend to be apolitical in everyday life and don't bother each other, for example, the rejection of expanding public rail transport is striking - a state measure that conservatives suspect of being socialist (see above), but in fact would also promote the mobility of people who are less wealthy or even of a different skin color.

In the course of reading, the impression solidifies that conservatives are primarily characterized by a negation of social modernization. But in one thing the attitude is similar in both counties: in the decision for one paradoxical individualization. You enjoy great personal freedom, live in a strongly polarized society among your own kind and avoid contact with those who live and think differently. The real echo chambers are social spaces with a high degree of ideological homogeneity. According to the central thesis in “The Politics of the Echo Chamber”, ideological polarization is “primarily to be understood as the result of the emergence of separate living environments in which completely different interpretations of reality are collectively produced” (2016a: 236). Lütjen recognizes the main problem in the fact that you hardly ever meet your political opponent personally and that he is increasingly denying his legitimacy.

The perception of reality - in the frames of Donald Trump

Not only for Dane and Waukesha County, it can be said that political attitudes solidify over time along the majority opinion in the environment and that people form an opinion on individual topics that they were previously indifferent to, which fits their own fundamental political classification. Lütjen attaches this phenomenon primarily to the social environment and the pressure that may be exerted by it. The statements by Elisabeth Wehling in “Political Framing” could be used for further explanation. In the first part of her book, she combines political and cognitive science and explains how we understand our world - understand what is spoken and what is meant by it (see also the short review). "In order to be able to understand words, our brain activates entire stores of stored knowledge - for example movement sequences, feelings, smells or visual memories - and mentally simulates these things in order to be able to assign meaning to linguistic concepts." (20) And the things that happened at the same time are considered parts of one Frames saved - and retrieved together again. Two findings are also important: We can only understand words if our brain understands them, even if we reject them in terms of content, and we only have limited control over our frames, if at all (through our own experiences, the decision on how to live).

While Wehling concentrates the concrete examples in her book on the political debate in German-speaking countries, she showed at the Berlin conference “Formats of the Political” in November 2016 how Donald Trump consciously framed his statements during the election campaign in order to discredit his opponents - the internal party as well as the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Wehling explained three central framings of ultra-conservative ideology that Trump took advantage of - which should refute the assumption that he was primarily speaking spontaneously. According to Wehling, the first frame is that of Purity and disgust. The background is that people who think conservatively - this much is known from brain research - are more disgusted than supporters of left-wing politics. Trump already insulted his opponents as physically dirty in the primary campaign and staged himself as a clean man who washes his hands several times a day. This targeted framing strategy could then be used in the second step to emphasize the purity of society. In the contexts of meaning that Trump created or used, it is polluted by either migrants or other minorities. The second frame can be used after Wehling Big daddy title, with a political leader staging himself as a parent - and for conservatives, strict parents in particular are good parents (“tough love”). According to Wehling, Trump is likely to have successfully addressed many people from the large group of swing voters (28 percent) through this staging. In the third frame, Trump deals with very simple solutions (“building the wall”) - people who think directly causally can be verbally picked up in a language that Wehling calls basic level cognition identified (level of fourth graders). And they tend to be more conservative in politics.Accordingly, Trump made his opponent Hillary Clinton appear highly dangerous, corrupt and criminal by using simple linguistic images under which everyone could imagine something - because, according to Wehling, human thinking is based on everyday experiences.

As mentioned above, these findings can be related to the observation that people tend to adapt to their (self-chosen) environment in their political thinking - simply by speaking in certain words and frames that have a reinforcing effect.

A quick look at Clinton's election campaign clearly shows the differences between the candidates: While Trump acted as the people's voice at a (deliberately) low level, Clinton continued to believe in factual arguments, in enlightenment. She expected her supporters to provide systemic explanations for political problems, in other words, asked about causes and solutions, the complexity of which went well beyond the level of understanding of elementary schoolchildren. However, this language, appropriate to her own electorate, blocked her way to the alternate voters. In her lecture, Wehling regretted that Clinton had completely ignored the findings of cognitive research. In her book, she emphatically advocates “a really transparent democratic discourse” (17) in which the interpretive frameworks in which people speak are disclosed and problematized. "Those who do not break out of the frame of an assertion can contradict as long and as loudly as they want, they will only confirm the frame" (16), emphasizes Erhard Eppler in the foreword.

And in the future?

"Who gives the monkey too much sugar ..." (2016b: 123) is the title of Lütjen's last chapter in "Party of Extremes": He sees the conservatives as having come to an end with Donald Trump's nomination as a political movement. Lütjens assumed that Trump was able to achieve this success primarily because he was part of the White working class could win for himself. His political statements were by no means new, only he now said more bluntly what was otherwise communicated more subtly. The party base was already uninhibited, the self-portrayal of the republican candidates as "'anti-politicians" (2016b: 127) had already prevailed with the tea party movement. Trump not only exaggerated these developments, but also stands “at the same time, as strange as that may sound, for a process of ideological softening” (2016b: 129). This means that not only the future of the Republican Party is uncertain, as Lütjen finally writes, but also America's.