We’re Misunderstanding What Caused Jan. 6

“A team of researchers found in a 2021 paper that an anti-establishment dimension would explain some of the more worrying extremes in American politics — things like support for conspiracy theories, endorsement of anti-expertise opinions and seeing politics as a battle between good and evil — better than the left-right dimension of our politics. One of those researchers, University of Miami political science professor Joseph Uscinski, found no difference in the prevalence of anti-establishment beliefs between Democrats and Republicans, using survey data collected in October 2020. What’s more, Uscinski found that anti-establishment ideologies better predicted belief in the conspiracies of QAnon and Trump’s claims of voter fraud than did left-right orientations.

What happened on Jan. 6 aimed to put a Republican president back in power — but Republican ideology might not be the best way to understand where the fear and anger on display at the Capitol came from.

So what do we lose if our polling and research analyses aren’t set up to see that?

Plenty, according to Wilson. Political parties benefit from stoking and promoting partisan polarization because it sparks more activism on their behalf. And an academia and a media that buy into that division as a primary explanation for American political violence risk creating the sort of false partisan polarization that leads us to believe the other side wants things they don’t really want.

But even more concerning is the fact that anti-establishment ideologies don’t vanish or become irrelevant when we don’t look at them. The beliefs are there, waiting for someone to pick up and use. A politician could come along and harness anti-establishment ideologues into his or her political caucus. That politician could then convince those Americans that they are the only trustworthy part of the political world. And that politician could convince Americans with an anti-establishment ideology to fight for him or her. You could argue this is exactly what Trump did, and the Republican Party has more politicians who have gone this route — but it’s an option open to either party. Ignoring anti-establishment ideologies means ignoring how political partisans might turn them into weapons, just as they did on the steps of the Capitol.”

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