It’s January 21, 2021, and welcome back to The Spencer Report. For more than two decades, we operated an unethical Medicare scheme in South Florida. Donald Trump went out with…
It’s January 21, 2021, and welcome back to The Spencer Report. For more than two decades, we operated an unethical Medicare scheme in South Florida.
Donald Trump went out with both a whimper and a bang. And after January 6th, the Trump brand is at the level of dog food. His once loyal allies are scattering and giving him the cold shoulder. Joe Biden, on the other hand, is at an all time high . . . for the time being. What does his myriad of actions in his first day in office say about his attempts to restore the boring Obama years—or even more boring, the 1990s. And might Sleepy Joe’s failures open up space for a populist revival?
It’s January 19, 2021, and welcome back to The Spencer Report. We’ve successfully lobbied for a presidential pardon. This week I’m joined by Edward Dutton. Main topic: QAnon and the…
It’s January 19, 2021, and welcome back to The Spencer Report. We’ve successfully lobbied for a presidential pardon. This week I’m joined by Edward Dutton.
Main topic: QAnon and the End of the American Century
The storm came. That’s for sure. But it wasn’t the Storm QAnon had in mind. Trump ended his presidency—not by arresting pedophiles in the Deep State and releasing the children from underground dungeons—but in utter disgrace. His enthusiastically deluded voters ransacked the Capitol and attempted the most buffoonish coup d’état in recorded history.But what does this all mean? Should we chalk up “Q” to mere delusion? Or might it represent the beginnings of a new religion. Moreover, is Trump’s fall from grace merely a colorful moment in American history? Or might it spell the downfall of a once dominate empire?
QAnon is a religious revival for the age of political polarization, and one which will likely outlast Donald Trump. Introduction A religious revival is sweeping the United States. It’s already…
QAnon is a religious revival for the age of political polarization, and one which will likely outlast Donald Trump.
A religious revival is sweeping the United States. It’s already expanded as far afield as Europe, and its devotees number in the millions.1 With an esoteric, and eccentric, though uniquely American creed; it is perhaps best understood as a new stage of Christianity. It revolves around nothing less than a metaphysical battle between Good and Evil, which plays out at the highest levels of government, media, and finance. The future of the country—and safety of the world’s children—is at stake. Wickedness abounds, but devotees have faith that a messiah is rising, one who will “make America great again.” This new religion is regarded as so inflammatory—and perhaps threatening to public order—that major social media companies have purged all content related to its doctrines.2
It’s called “QAnon.”
The rise of QAnon has startled and flummoxed most mainstream media commentators. They dismiss, ridicule, and denounce this online “conspiracy theory” as it continues to grow ever more popular, powerful, and influential. According to polling in October 2020, some 15 percent of President Donald Trump’s supporters are committed followers of “Q.” An additional 22 percent are “fellow travelers”: they believe some of Q’s claims but worry that the movement might “go too far.”3 A full half of Trump supporters believe that the Democrats are engaged in child-trafficking and that Trump is trying to put an end to it—an opinion clearly derived from the Q cult, as we will see. Even if we take surveys like this with a grain of salt, they reveal the intense popularity—and likely staying power—of the Q narrative within the American Right, and beyond.
This Trump-era Internet phenomenon makes a great deal of sense if we conceive of it as a religious revival, and not simply as a popular conspiracy theory (like those surrounding the JFK assassination or the moon landing). Many of the key components of a religion are obvious: Q has its “angels,” “demons,” “saviors,” and promises of “redemption.” And for its adherents, QAnon serves many other vital functions of religions of the past. Furthermore, this re-conception of Q raises some bigger questions. Why do religious revivals—periodic outbursts of intense devotion—occur in the first place? And if we accept that QAnon is a creed for our time, why has it taken this superficially bizarre guise, and shed the trappings of traditional religion?
To answer these questions, we will turn to modern history and specifically the impact it had on human evolution. The Industrial Revolution weakened Darwinian selection pressures on Western societies, leading to, among other things, a collapse in child mortality and a collapse in selection pressures for intelligence, traditional religiousness, and highly ethnocentric groups, all of which it is clear were being selected for until that point. Due to an inter-related sequence of consequences, this has resulted in an increasingly genetically diverse—and thus culturally and politically polarized—society. The bundle of inclinations that constitute “religion” have broken apart. As a result, where once a global plague might have led to a Christian revival, in 2020 it led to, or brought to prominence, two distinct quasi-religious movements: Black Lives Matter4 and QAnon. Furthermore, I will proffer that, despite QAnon’s ostensible wackiness, it is far more group-fitness promoting than BLM, not least due to its traditionally religious dimensions. And perhaps most shocking of all, there may be some kernels of truth within its most outlandish claims.
1. The Rise of Q
The exact origins of Q—as well as those behind the cult and profiting from it—are murky and disputed, and beyond the scope of this essay. Suffice it to say, in the autumn of 2017, someone supposedly working for the National Security Administration—boasting “Q-level” clearance and calling himself “Q”—began posting on the anonymous message and image board “4chan.”5 His first missive, on October 28, 2017, announced the imminent arrest of Hillary Clinton:
HRC extradition already in motion effective yesterday with several countries in case of cross border run. Passport approved to be flagged effective 10/30 @ 12:01am. Expect massive riots organized in defiance and others fleeing the US to occur.6
Years have passed, and Clinton has not been locked up, but inaccurate predictions never affected the growth of Q’s prestige. In his second post, later that day, he began to outline his broader message:
Mockingbird HRC detained, not arrested (yet). […] POTUS knew removing criminal rogue elements as a first step was essential to free and pass legislation. Who has access to everything classified? Do you believe HRC, Soros, Obama etc. have more power than Trump? Fantasy. Whoever controls the office of the Presidency controls this great land. They never believed for a moment they (Democrats and Republicans) would lose control. This is not a R v D battle. Why did Soros donate all his money recently? Why would he place all his funds in a RC? Mockingbird 10.30.17 God bless fellow Patriots.7
Even at this early stage, Q’s style is established. Missives are released as a series of aphorisms and provocations, and Q asks more questions than Socrates. The cryptic, oracular suggestions nudge followers into perceiving politics in new ways. Indeed, Q’s message is highly counter-intuitive and revisionary, especially for conservatives. The NSA is not a shadow government engaged in surveillance and invasions of privacy—it’s the headquarters of the “good guys.” Donald Trump is not a buffoonish womanizer and jet-setter—he’s the enemy of the globalist class. And Robert Mueller was not investigating Trump for possible impeachment proceedings—he was working alongside him to “drain the swamp.” Nothing is as it seems. And in this topsy-turvy world, traditional political reporting must be distrusted and dismissed (“fake news”). The evocative call sign “Mockingbird,” in fact, seems to reference an alleged CIA program during the Cold War aimed at manipulating the media. Interestingly, Q’s unique brand of contrarianism can be translated for audiences outside the U.S. One German Q supporter exclaimed, regarding the American forces occupying his country, “these are troops that will free the German people from Merkel.”8
Each day, Q’s followers are tasked with exegesis and elaboration of his latest “Q drops” (anonymous posting on 4chan, certified by his handle “BQ7V3bcW”). Much like Jesus, the religion of Q was formed, not by the man himself—who always speaks elliptically and poetically—but by his devotees, who wrote the Gospels and formed the movement. Q’s crypsis re-enforces his central message: Trust the Plan. You can’t know, and maybe wouldn’t believe, what is happening behind the scenes. But you must hold fast and have faith that “good” will triumph in the end.
The Q drops birthed a Reddit community of 70,000 members at its height, and the movement gained serious attention when it was discussed by Sean Hannity, Roseanne Barr, and Alex Jones—the latter claiming to have direct contact with the man himself. Q memes were re-tweeted by Republican Party activists.9 And over the course of 2018-20, there arose what could be called “Q-adjacent” politicians, pundits, and celebrities, who might not address Q directly, and might not have any direct connection with the movement, but who speak in a language that resonated with the scene.
We’ll probably never know Q’s identity, or whether he—or she or they—desired to launch a crusade when it all first began. He might have merely been “shit posting” on 4chan, a website notorious for conspiracy theories, pornography, and outrageous right-wing opinions. But at least by 2018, Q was aware that he was part of something much bigger than himself and was consciously cultivating his movement, with heavy doses of moralizing. This impulse is apparent in his posting leading up to the 2020 election:
One party discusses God. One party discusses Darkness. One party promotes God. One party eliminates God. Symbolism will be their downfall. The Great Deceiver(s). […] Have Faith in Humanity. Have Faith in Yourself. UNITED WE STAND. GOD WINS. Q10
2. A Conspiracy So Immense . . .
Throughout the 20th century, sociologists studied the development, in America and most Western countries, of “public opinion.” This is a mostly unified understanding of important events (“the news”), as well as communally shared values, habits, and actions: “watch the news at 5,” “vote on Tuesday,” “church on Sunday,” and so on.11 “Public opinion” must be fostered and managed; it was a critical component of administering a technological, “democratic” society. Over the course of the past 25 years, such unity has been fragmenting: we don’t listen to the same music or watch the same movies and shows, nor do we consider ourselves part of a collective political community. The birth of the Web may have accelerated this trend; social networking and alternative media shifted it into overdrive.
Republicans, and especially Q followers, consider themselves “real Americans,” but in contradistinction to the “liberal elites,” who are, at best, hypocritical and selfish and, at worst, downright evil. The liberals, in turn, mirror this view: conservative Trump voters are deluded or racist reactionaries, out of touch with their country’s true national purpose. Political polarization derives from this “culture of suspicion.” Q supporters don’t merely distrust the mainstream media; they reject it because it’s the mainstream media. Authenticity and truth are to be found elsewhere. For some time, right-wing outlets such as Fox News and talk radio served this purpose, but these are quickly being replaced by websites like Breitbart, Facebook groups, “citizen journalists,” and, yes, QAnon. 4Chan itself acts as a kind of chaotic “Id” brain of the online Right. The anonymous poster possessing esoteric knowledge is the most anti-mainstream—and thus the most credible—source there is.
Q integrates a number of inter-related sets of conspiratorial beliefs. According to its gospel, throughout the 20th century, the world was gradually taken over by “wicked” people, who were prepared to do anything they could to enrich themselves and become ever-more powerful. Those who are not part of this criminal organization are, generally, “good” people, though many are turned “evil” by their evil masters. This vicious elite constitutes a shadowy “Deep State,” which runs the world behind the scenes. A criminal ruling class—which includes the Clintons, every president after Reagan, Bill Gates, and the leaders of every dimension of Western societies that have any influence—can be blamed for everything: financial collapses, pandemics, and even child-abuse rings. To turn us into cooperative drones to be exploited, they undermine the cornerstones of Western civilization, such as family and national solidarity, and direct external invasions and drug epidemics. Even childhood vaccinations are part of their dastardly scheme.
Some “good” people still hold positions of power, and they are able to use the digital footprint (emails and other communications) left by “The Cabal” to start to challenge it. These “good guys” are working for the NSA and some other branches of government. Not too long ago, they devised a plan to take the world back and eventually arrest The Cabal’s leaders and henchmen. These patriots asked Trump to run for president so that they could enact their, as it were, “counter-conspiracy.” The Cabal struck back and did all it could to overthrow Trump—but he just kept on winning.
Part of the success of QAnon is the way in which it, parsimoniously, brings together and provides an overarching rationale for so many “alternative histories” that have been popular in America for decades. For example, The Cabal killed JFK because he threatened to undermine it, and they shot Ronald Regan to dissuade him from challenging it. The 9/11 attacks were an “inside job,” at the hands of The Cabal, in order to grab power and further erode the freedoms enjoyed by good citizens. Similarly, Covid-19 is a hoax deployed by this Deep State to control the populace and render them despondent.
Relatively recent revelations about high-level sexual abusers and pedophiles, such as Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein (1953-2019)—who supposed killed himself on suicide watch before he could face trial—are drawn into the web.12 Q followers have theorized that John F. Kennedy Jr. faked his death in 1999 in order to avoid being assassinated by The Cabal. He lives on as a Trump supporter in Pennsylvania; some think he might be Q himself.13 Some QAnon supporters accept the 2016 “Pizzagate” conspiracy, where a Washington, DC pizzeria was the headquarters of this diabolical child-abuse ring, with Bill Clinton’s chief of staff John Podesta, convicted sex offender and former Democrat congressman Anthony Weiner, and Hillary Clinton all being involved.
Yet another strand of QAnon thought focuses on the significance of Jewish financial interests in controlling The Cabal. According to this theory, the Satanic, child-stealing, baby-murdering Khazar Empire from Babylon was defeated by Russian Tzars and driven underground. They gradually infiltrated the world banking sector and even the British monarchy; the Rothschilds are actually Khazars, who control some of the world’s most powerful Satanists. As Q “dropped”: “Realize Soros, Clintons, Obama, Putin, etc. are all controlled by 3 families.”14 Q lists these three families in some posts: The House of Saud, George Soros himself, and the Rothschilds. In another post, Q asks: “What happened to Diana? What did she find out? Why was she running?” and invoked the idea of a secret British government, propped up by MI6.15 The rabbit hold runs deep . . .
3. That New Time Religion
What can we make of all this? America is notorious for its love of conspiracy theories, and these often seem to act much like “replacement religions.” Groups battle with each other and the victors pass on more of their genes. This is known as “group-selection.” Groups are more likely to win if they regard themselves as superior and the other group as evil. Religions tend to promote this adaptive way of thinking: We are the people of God; they worship the Devil. As a frontier and settler society at its inception, the American population has been subject to strong group-selection to be an intensely religious people, and a central aspect of religion is “over-detecting agency”—perceiving agents behind the world itself. It should thus be little surprise that in our “secular age,” America has become a land of believers in the supernatural, alien abductions, Satanic cabals, and bizarre creeds of all sorts.16 This has become particularly prominent from the 1960s onwards, as traditional religions have lost social power and prestige.17
Some Q followers have fully integrated his conspiracy theory into their religious practice; they, in fact, call themselves “Qvangelicals.”18 In this way, their daily news feed takes on religious significance. Q himself states: “We are living in Biblical times. Children of light vs children of darkness. United against the Invisible Enemy of all humanity.”19 Trump, in his way, is imagined as a fallen Messiah.
According to this strand of Q theology, the world is controlled by a Satan-worshipping pedophile ring that sexually abuses and kills children—and even drinks their blood—in order to achieve immortality. In many ways, Q followers might be compared to the Gnostics in the Early Church. This was a highly diverse movement, theologically speaking, united by core ideas. In particular, Gnostics believed that the universe was dualistic, reflecting an eternal battle between a higher god and the evil god of this world. This evil god was responsible for all of the world’s woes, and one could be “saved” by attaining direct knowledge of the higher god, knowledge which the evil god attempted to hide from you, via mystical practices.20
QAnon possesses not just a fledgling theology but an eschatology as well, a vision of the imminent End Times, both apocalyptic and triumphant. We are living through “The Awakening,” the point when the good people in government have begun communicating with and enlightening the broader public. Trump’s assumed re-election in November was said to herald “The Storm,” in which The Cabal was to be overthrown and America, restored. This November’s election has been tempestuous, indeed: both sides claimed victory; the Republicans cried “voter fraud”; and the Democrats suspected a potential coup. Q himself has gone mostly silent. On November 13—more than a week after Biden was deemed President Elect—Q announced: “Nothing can stop what is coming. Nothing!”21 But overall, Q has not given his millions of followers much guidance for how they should process what is unfolding.
Nevertheless, liberals will be disappointed if they expect that Biden’s inauguration will put a swift end to the QAnon phenomenon. The movement has deeper causes than Trump’s mercurial political career, and either outcome (a new Biden administration or Trump’s unlikely return to power) can be rationalized as The Cabal’s counter-strike or else as all part of The Plan. Put simply, QAnon and movements like it are here to stay. Remove Trump from office and watch the cult become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.
4. The Times They Are A Changin’
Historically, religious revivals tend to take place during periods of dramatic change, especially during those that involve an elevated awareness of death: war, famine, plague, political instability, and the seeming end of the world.22 This makes sense because experimental research has found that individuals become more religious—more prone to strongly believing in God—in precisely these dire contexts.23 In the wake of World War I and the Spanish Flu Pandemic, there were notable religious revivals in eastern England and in northeast Scotland.24 After World War II and the end of post-War restrictions, there was a huge religious revival in the U.S. and in the UK led by pastor Billy Graham (1918-2018), based around emotional rallies each attended by many thousands.25
By 2020, Covid-19 burst on the scene and led to hundreds of thousands of deaths around the world, creating a period of deep anxiety, in which it seemed very possible that the death toll could be enormous. In turn, the “lockdowns,” which governments instituted as a means of containing the plague, marked unprecedented disruptions to normal life. We have also had the sudden and heightened trauma of the Black Lives Matter Movement, resurrected in a newer, more intense form after the death of George Floyd. As I have argued, BLM can be considered a religious revival of its own.26 Regardless, the protests of this past summer eventuated in a collapse of public order in parts of the U.S. and UK: an orgy of inter-racial strife, violence, and self-righteous displays, which the political and legal Establishment was unable or unwilling to suppress. This was accompanied by the sapping of White morale through the removal of historical statues and other links with the “certainties” of the past.
With this background, we would expect there to be a religious revival in Western countries—and specifically one that might counter BLM. For various reasons, however, it could not be as overtly religious, as was Billy Graham’s movement, which developed in a context in which traditional Christianity was still dominant. Since then, we have witnessed the collapse of traditional society,27 a significant fall in the influence of Christianity, and deviations from traditional religious norms in many directions, with many people creating their own ersatz religion from various sources.28 Put simply, we’re lived through the fallout of the “death of God.”
For at least the past 100 years, a secularization thesis has informed, sometimes unconsciously, the minds of scholars, public intellectuals, and policy-makers. Briefly, people and institutions are becoming less religious; those religions that do persist are largely relegated to the private sphere: they are “tolerant” and more like lifestyles than ways of life. In reality, the situation is far more complicated. Society is increasingly divided between “Individualists” and those who are high in “Binding Values” (putting the group ahead of the individual). “Individualist” ideas have gradually become dominant across time. And extreme Individualists have ascended to the heights of the social ladder and pushed the broader society in their direction. While this has been happening, however, those who are highest in Binding Values—and especially those prone to intense religiosity—have been having the most children. The result is that America—and, in fact, nations around the world29—are undergoing radical polarization. Social trust has collapsed, as each side is increasingly alienated from the other, culturally and morally. Moreover, in “meritocratic” societies, education, IQ, and being “politically correct” are all inter-related, as we will see in more detail below. This has led to even greater social and economic distance between the two polarized groups.
It is against this background that QAnon’s rise must be understood, as the religion provides a means of making sense of a world that its adherents increasingly don’t understand. If Americans’ moral foundations veer more towards those of a traditional kind, they will be profoundly concerned with a structured and ordered society, with rescuing and promoting their group, and with destroying that which fills them with disgust—sexual disgust, in particular. QAnon is attractive to such people because it provides order out of chaos; it offers a rescue plan for the group as a whole; and it is partly focused on destroying sexual deviants and those disloyal to the group—those that want to create chaos.
There are certainly ways that the Q cult can encourage unhealthy obsessions and anti-social behavior among its believers. It’s worth remember that on December 4, 2016, a North Carolina man, brandishing a rifle, entered the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Northern Virginia and threatened employees before being arrested. He claimed to be “investigating” the Pizzagate affair, discussed above.30 It might be only a matter of time before something similar, or worse, takes place involving a deranged Q advocate.
That said, we would be remiss if we ignored the ways that the Q cult can be “adaptive,” in an evolutionary sense, and bring along many of the benefits of older religions. First, Q offers the promise that, once the evil-doers are dispatched, America will experience a revival of traditional values, which used to be central to American life (including ethnocentrism and pro-natalism). Additionally, in that Q presents itself as a moral crusade, it can also inspire self-sacrificing, group-selected, and ultimately pro-social behavior. And, as we will see as we turn to the scientific theories of religion, it is the more tightly bonded groups that tend to triumph in the end.
5. The Evolution of Religion in the 21st Century
“Religion,” in the widely accepted sense of the word, involves all of the key components of an evolutionary adaptation. It is around 0.4 genetic; traditional religiousness (specifically the collective worship of a moral god) is associated with physical and mental health, partly at the genetic level;31 it correlates with fertility; and specific parts of the brain are associated with it.32 Accordingly, religiousness was selected for under the conditions of harsh Darwinian selection that were prevalent until the breakthroughs of the Industrial Revolution.
There are likely a number of non-exclusive reasons why religiousness evolved. One is that it promoted pro-social behavior. Those who believed in a god who told them to behave in a pro-social way were less likely to be cast out or killed by the pre-historic band and were, therefore, more likely to pass on their genes. A related possibility is that it reduced stress when we, as advanced rational beings, recognized our own mortality. Those who felt that their lives had eternal meaning and that a god was constantly looking after them would be less likely to become depressed and anxious and more likely to pass on their genes.33 Consistent with this, not only do people tend to become more religious at times of stress, they are more likely to have dramatic religious experiences in which they do not merely vaguely feel that God is present but, as far as they are concerned, see Him and hear His reassuring voice.34 In general, it seems reasonable to argue that religiousness would have been selected for because it promoted mental health, with the result that mental health and religiosity have become genetically related, due to both being simultaneously selected over a lengthy period of time.35
Religion also would have been kin-selected for, too. You can pass on your genes indirectly by aiding your kin: your children share 50 percent of your genes and more distant kin, such as nephews, share 25 percent. If a person were highly religious, it would make their kin more attractive, because of the associations between religiousness, pro-social behavior, and mental stability. This would help to explain why some Islamic fundamentalists kill daughters who have dishonored the family. It is a way of signaling the family’s commitment to Islam, and thus elevating kin selection.36 An ethnic group is an extended genetic kinship group and is thus a means by which you indirectly pass on your genes.37 It has been found, using computer-modeling, that groups that are highest in positive ethnocentrism (internal cooperation) and negative ethnocentrism (external hostility) tend to dominate others in the battle of group selection.38 There is evidence implying that religiousness is genetically associated with both kinds of ethnocentrism, because a part of the brain associated with ethnocentrism is also associated with religiousness.39 And the correlation between positive ethnocentrism and religiousness would make sense because a group would be more internally cooperative if it were high in pro-social traits and low in mental instability.
This is why religion is such a prominent part of the human experience. In essence, the group that promoted the most adaptive behaviors as “God’s will” was more likely to pass on its genes, while those who did not were more likely to die off. To be religious became associated with other adaptive traits, but it also elevated group-fitness by elevating being group-selected as “divinely ordained.”
There has, however, long been variation within societies in the nature of religiousness. One reason for this is that religion is itself composed of a series of adaptive traits, which, because they were adaptive, became bundled together and selected for as a single trait—religiosity. These are, among others:
Agency Over-Detection. We have a cognitive bias towards detecting the presence of an agent behind events. This is because, following the “Smoke Detector Principle,” it is adaptive to assume the worst and get it wrong—such as to assume that that rustling noise behind the bush was a wolf rather than the wind. This helps to explain why we might see evidence of god’s agency in the world.
Pattern Over-Detection. Much as with agency, we are evolved to over-detect causation. This is adaptive because those who under-detected it would have been wiped out. Partly for this reason, we are evolved to want a world that is highly structured and that makes sense to us.
Follow the Leader. We are evolved to form strongly-bonded groups and to obey authority; as such, groups are more likely to survive in the battle of group selection.40
Religions will vary in the extent of the prominence of each of these factors. This means that, though religiousness is generally adaptive, it is quite possible for maladaptive forms of religiousness—which do not “get the balance right”—to manifest, as has been the case throughout history. Those that espoused these forms of religiousness have tended not to survive.
One of the key balances that has to be maintained in any group is that between “individualism” and “binding values,” which we briefly looked at above. Jonathan Haidt has proposed that there are “Five Moral Foundations” on which humans vary. These divide into two higher order clusters: Individualizers (who are broadly left-wing) and those who are high on Binding (we’ll call them Binders, and they tend to be right-wing). Individualizers are strongly focused on “Care” (harm avoidance) and “Fairness” (a desire for equality). Although these values may superficially appear “selfless,” they are individualist, because they are concerned with the good of the individual (harm avoidance) or how he feels (equality) about the good of the group. Individualizers have relatively little interest in “Authority,” “Loyalty,” and “Sanctity” (that some things are “pure” and others “revolting” and “reprehensible”).
Binders are roughly equally concerned about “Loyalty,” “Authority,” “Sanctity,” “Care,” and “Fairness,” though there are some “extreme Binders” who do not much care about the latter two foundations; these people tend to be “far right.” Different forms of religion are thus differentially attractive to those who are stronger or weaker in the different moral foundations. For example, early Protestantism can be regarded as, in many ways, a revolutionary left-wing movement that was very high in “Fairness” and very low in traditional “Authority.”41 Of course, there will be all kinds of individual variance in the degree of strength within these moral foundations, but, overall, this was the clustering that was found.42 The groups that were successful in the battle of group selection were the groups that attained the optimum adaptive balance between these sets of foundations.
By 1800, we would expect White Americans to be particularly religious, because the cultural core of the country was founded by Puritans, who would have passed on their intense religiosity as a genetic legacy. The heritability of extreme religiosity is around 0.7,43 and White Americans were subject to intense group selection, especially in fighting Native Americans and the demands of establishing themselves in a hostile environment to which they were not adapted. Then again, evolution never stops. So we need to look closer at what happened to that original American stock.
6. The Industrial Revolution’s Revolution
Some 200 years ago, a basic level of religiosity had been established across the White race. Indeed, it has been shown that Western Europeans became more religious, seemingly for genetic reasons, throughout the Middle Ages, often due to executing and ostracizing “heretics” (that is, those prone to religious deviation and atheism).44 At that time, in Europe, the child mortality rate was 50 percent. A further 40 percent of people either witnessed all of their offspring die young or did not marry. Thus, only 10 percent of people born actually passed on their genes, and it has been shown in other species that this is necessary for a population to remain healthy. The Industrial Revolution heralded huge improvements in medicine, inoculations, and general living standards. And currently, around 80 percent of people pass on their genes and child mortality is 1 percent.45 In other words, the Industrial Revolution sparked a genetic revolution, as well—a dramatic change in who survived and reproduced.
In 1800, White America was a small gene pool in which people were all relatively genetically similar and strongly genetically fit, because those who deviated from the optimum—due to mutant genes—were purged from the population every generation. Being strongly genetically similar, the population would tend to trust each other, cooperate, and think in the same direction. We bond with people who are more genetically similar to ourselves because this is a means of indirectly passing on more of our genes. This trend is found even when looking at relationships between siblings, whose genetic similarity level can be subtly differ. This is why husbands and wives—and even best friends—are more genetically similar than could ever come about by chance.46 With the Industrial Revolution, this happy homogeneity began to break down, because selection pressure was heavily weakened. The result is a many-fold, inter-related sequence of factors, which change the nature, cohesiveness, and worldview of the population.
The Eleven Consequence of the Industrial Revolution
1. Genetic Physical Sickness
Populations are increasingly genetically sick, as mutations are no longer purged from the population. This has been demonstrated by growing evidence of highly genetic physical disorders.
2. Genetic Mental Sickness
Populations are increasingly mentally unfit, as witnessed by a rise in mental conditions associated with low fertility, such as depression and schizophrenia.
3. Genetic Diversity and Low Trust
Even controlling for immigration, societies are increasingly genetically diverse, leading, purely for genetic reasons, to lots of differences in how people view the world and a gradual collapse in social trust.
4. Diverse and Maladaptive Worldviews
We see worldviews that were extraordinarily rare in 1800 becoming more and more commonplace. This makes sense if we understand the relatively close relationship between physical and mental traits. The brain is 84 percent of the genome. This means it is a massive target for mutation, such that the higher your general mutational load, the more likely you are to have mutations of the mind, which would have been strongly maladaptive under Darwinian conditions and which correlate with other physical and mental mutations. Under harsh conditions, we were evolved to collectively worship a moral god in order to be highly ethnocentric. We should see increasing deviation from group religiosity, and worldviews that are highly maladaptive; these should be associated with evidence of mutation.47 In line with this prediction, views associated with the Left can be regarded as clearly maladaptive or deviations from the Darwinian optimum. These include atheism (which undermines group selection), believing that life is pointless and has no eternal significance, anti-natalism, redistribution (putting other families above your own), multiculturalism (putting other ethnic groups above your own), individualism (having no concern for your group), and animal rights (putting other species above your own). These viewpoints are themselves associated with other maladaptive traits, in particular low fertility and high levels of mental illness, one strong example being depression.48 These deviations from the collective worship of a moral god are, unsurprisingly, also associated with physical evidence of mutation. In other words, you can learn a lot about someone’s psychology by assessing what they look like.
Having a symmetrical face is attractive because it implies that you have low levels of mutations. It indicates that you have been able to maintain a symmetrical phenotype in the face of disease, meaning that you have an optimal immune system, good genetic health, and thus a low mutational load. A person with high mutational load, and thus poor genetic health, need to employ proportionately more of their bio-energetic resources fighting off disease, resulting in less symmetry.49 On this basis, we would predict that people who were traditionally religious or right-wing—the two measures robustly correlate50—to be judged as better looking than left-wing people and to have faces that were more symmetrical. There is evidence indicating that this is, indeed, the case.51 Left-handedness is also a sign of high mutational load, as a symmetrical brain is associated with right-handedness. Accordingly, we would predict that non-right-handedness would be correlated with atheism, and this is so.52
5. The Spread of these Maladaptive Views to the Relatively Healthy
As humans are a highly pro-social species, we evolved to be in networks of mentally healthy people, and are impacted by the nature of the people with whom we interact. For example, though depression is highly genetic, there is a significant environmental component, with people who regularly associate with depressed people being more likely to become depressed themselves.53 In the same way, those who hold maladaptive views would become an increasing presence in the population and would influence those around them to adopt these views. These influencers, who hold these views to a pronounced degree, can be termed “spiteful mutants,” as they induce those who are lower in mutational load to adopt maladaptive views.54 Traditional society has established structures—such as religiosity and child-rearing practices—which optimally elevate its group fitness. The spiteful mutant will attack and undermine these, subverting them such that they undermine the fitness of society. Only those who are, for genetic reasons, extremely fitness-oriented, such as the traditionally religious, will instinctively reject the spiteful mutants, just as, centuries ago, ideas that undermined group fitness were dismissed as “witchcraft” and “devil worship.”
Once around 20 percent of the population holds maladaptive views, studies have shown that it can be expected to turn, very quickly, towards the new “system,” as the old system will appear moribund in comparison and adaptive people seek to join the winning team.55 This change seems to have happened around the 1960s. The means by which you would gain status in the new system would be to signal how pro-equality you were, meaning that society, taken over by the new way of thinking, would overtly become ever more left-wing and, thus, ever more different from the remnant group-selected component of the population, which maintained traditional values and was relatively resistant to changes. It would also mean that regulations on issues such as sexual mortality would collapse.
6. Declining Religiousness and Rising Individualism
Due to very low mortality salience, and all else controlled for, people would be very low in religiousness and thus low in the group-fitness promoting ideas associated with religiousness, such as ethnocentrism. It has been found that religiousness promotes social trust among non-relatives, as it is an insurance policy that a stranger—believing that god will punish him for his misdeeds—can be trusted. As religion collapses, therefore, social trust collapses, as well.56 The collapse of religiously-induced ethnocentrism, combined with a drift towards individualist values, also leads to mass immigration. It has been found that multiculturalism—specifically a local neighborhood becoming ethnically diverse—reduces social trust. The natives are not only disinclined to trust foreign immigrants but other natives, as well. This happens because the natives blame their co-ethnics for allowing the multicultural situation to occur, and also because they now fear that disloyal co-ethnics might collaborate against them with the immigrants.57
7. High Fertility on the “Far Right”
The portion of the society that is utterly resistant to the new fitness-damaging system of individualist values will be predicted to have been growing due to the association between traditional religiosity and fertility. In this line, it has been found that, using Western samples, being “far right” predicts having the highest fertility while being “far left” predicts having the lowest.58
8. A Genetic Caste System
Our relatively meritocratic and mobile society has created increasing cognitive stratification, whereby intelligent people, who happen to be born into working-class families, for example, are very easily able to leave this environment, become educated, and move to other areas dominated by educated and intelligent people.59 This was not possible when society was less meritocratic, in part because it was less interested in values such as “Fairness.” The result is that people of different intelligence levels, and even of different social classes (socioeconomic status being robustly predicted by intelligence60), increasingly inhabit different worlds. And, due to the high genetic component of intelligence of around 0.8, as well as the high genetic component of the personality traits associated with high IQ,61 they will be increasingly different from each other genetically, as well. So, we would expect those at the bottom of society to decreasingly trust and admire the elite. Furthermore, intelligence is associated with realizing what the dominant set of values is, and with forcing yourself to adopt them so that you can get on better in life. This is why professional people, currently, tend to espouse leftist values.62 Those of lower socioeconomic status will be less able to do this so, in a society of cognitive stratification, and will be increasingly alienated from the elite.
9. Declining IQ and so Declining Trust
One of the correlates of intelligence is trust. People with high IQ are more trusting, possibly because if you have low IQ you are more likely to be taken advantage of, meaning that it is adaptive to trust nobody. Another result of the Industrial Revolution has been declining intelligence. Various factors have contributed to this, but the most salient is contraception—the promotion of wide scale, reliable contraception being a major innovation of the Industrial Revolution. Intelligence predicts the impulse control to use contraception and the cognitive ability to use it correctly. As a result, large families now happen by accident and are associated with low intelligence, there being a correlation of about -0.2 between IQ and how many children you have. We know this is happening for genetic reasons because the population prevalence of alleles associated with high intelligence in a Western sample has decreased across three generations, and numerous other correlates of intelligence all show the same pattern.63 This results in a society that is less trusting overall, and particularly less trusting of its elite. A lower intelligence, all else being equal, would also predict a population becoming more conservative, more religious, and more dogmatic.
10. The Mutation of Religion
The genetic diversity, and increased mutation, wrought by the Industrial Revolution means that we would expect the traditional “religious bundle” to break up in a growing number of people. Thus, you would have, in many supporters of Black Lives Matter, for example, high levels of dogmatism, intense hatred of the out-group, fervent belief in certain ideas, belief in the morality of the in-group, even collective worship of sorts, but no belief that life has eternal significance or belief in gods. This ideology is underpinned by individualistic foundations which, in some respects, it renders sacred: unquestionable dogmas, like “equality” and “social justice.”
We might also expect a similar deviation among those who have Binding values: they will semi-sanctify Binding values, meaning they will have some aspects of religiousness, but they might lack the belief in a moral god, or their belief in god will be so extreme as to be obsessive and damaging to their ability to get along with people. We can see QAnon supporters who worship Donald Trump as Messianic figure.
Such people would be high in evidence of mutation. Consistent with this prediction, it has been found that people who are high in the personality trait Neuroticism (which is associated with depression and anxiety) are generally low in religious belief. However, they go through phases of extremely intense religious belief. Suffering from manic depression or bipolar disorder, and Schizophrenia, as well, is also strongly associated with hyper-religiosity. In sum, mental illness is a marker of genetic mutation, and it seems to make one prone to an unhealthy righteousness.64
This makes sense because an aspect of schizophrenia is hyper-mentalizing, whereby schizophrenics are intensely interested in the feelings of others and external cues from them. Accordingly, they perceive evidence of “mind” everywhere, including in the world itself, making them paranoid.65 A study from Switzerland found that one third of schizophrenics are very strongly involved with their local mainstream church and that a further 10 percent are involved in New Religious Movements: small sects that tend to be fervently religious.66 All people sit on a schizotypy scale, with full schizophrenia at one extreme; the higher they are on this scale, the more attracted they are to conspiracy theories67 and unconventional and paranoid beliefs.68 So, this implies that some people on the “Right” are also manifestations of high mutational load. The “Right,” however, would be less influenced by mutational load than the Left, because the Right would be closer to the ideas that were prominent under harsh Darwinian conditions and, in line with this, being right wing lineally correlates with fertility and mental health, as noted earlier. It might also be noted that extreme Left activists have been shown to score very high in Narcissism (entitlement and desire for adulation) and Machiavellianism (desire for power), which makes sense as, in the current climate, being left wing is a means of achieving these aims. Those who are “White Identitarian” score high in psychopathology (low empathy), which makes sense because, currently, they are profound non-conformists.69 If combined with a period of high mental instability, then this could predict attraction to the “far Right,” at least when that is highly counter-cultural. These traits are expressions of developmental instability and thus, in some cases, mutational load.70
11. The Internet Echo Chamber
Finally, a clearly important factor, which indirectly emanates from the Industrial Revolution, is the technological revolution and the rise of the Internet. This has aided polarization by permitting like-minded people to easily find each other and establish online communities, which can spill over into real life. We have progressively moved from being a “mass society,” in which public opinion is managed by an elite, to a “network society” of ever fragmenting, often hermetic groups, each with its own inner-directed propaganda.71 This has permitted the proliferation of “non-mainstream” opinions, and the managing elite has, to a large extent, lost control of people’s minds. This happened previously in history, with the birth of printing, but not to this pronounced degree. Elites have attempted to deal with this reality by increasingly censoring social-media platforms, as noted above, but, in many ways, the train has left the station. The rise of the Internet—and social-media echo chambers like Q—are simply amplifying a polarizing tendency that was already under way.
The year 2020, which many saw as the end of the world, catalyzed two distinct religious revivals for our divided age: BLM and QAnon. They are godless faiths; however, they contain many of the core elements of the Christian revivals of yesteryear. Both are birthed from the evolutionary dynamics of post-Industrial society. And both, in their ways, are hysterical, schizophrenic expressions of how religiosity manifests itself in our “secular age.”
Coda: Is Q Getting At Something?
The mainstream media dismisses QAnon’s beliefs as fraudulent—ridiculous at best, dangerous at worst. We should remember that a cult like Q is unlikely to be persuasive if did not tap into some aspects of reality or contain a few kernels of truth.
Take, for instance, the belief that causes the most controversy—that Satanic pedophiles are in positions of power around the world. If we break this down, it could be argued that, in the minds of evangelicals, what “Satan” essentially preaches is individualism: wealth, power, and pleasure in the here and now, rather than sacrificing power in this world for glory in the next.72 There is a substantial body of evidence that people who tend to reach the very top of their professions, especially in business and politics, seem to combine outlier high intelligence with moderately psychopathic traits, such as moderately low altruism and moderately low impulse control. This means, for example, that not being bound by rules and conventions, they have the intelligence and traits to conceive of original ideas, and they don’t care that their original ideas may offend against vested interests.73 In the world of business, such people will come up with brilliant ideas, as they will in the arts. In the world of politics, such men will be superb at presenting themselves and persuading and manipulating their peers.
In an increasingly individualistic society, in which religious condemnation of individualistic behavior such as adultery has collapsed, such people would be more easily able to attain positions of political leadership. Sexual promiscuity is one of a number of accepted markers of psychopathic personality, alongside grandiosity and superficial charm.74 A few generations ago, revelations that a politician had had an affair, let alone fathered an illegitimate child, would be the end of his career. No longer. A key correlate of originality is testosterone, because it makes one driven, ambitious, competitive, low in impulse control, and low in altruism. It also gives you a high sex drive.75 Indeed, an analysis of a sample of extremely eminent people found them to have been high both in sexual deviance and sexual promiscuity, as well as being high in sub-clinical psychopathology. This analysis, by psychologist Felix Post (1913-2001), found that six percent of the male population in Western countries can be regarded as archetypal psychopaths, something true of none of a sample of “eminent men” whom he biographically analyzed. However, Post estimated that 10 percent of the male population were “subclinical psychopaths,” meaning psychopathic tendencies sufficiently strong to adversely impact relationships or careers. This he estimated to be true of 14 percent of eminent men, meaning subclinical psychopaths were overrepresented. Among eminent writers, subclinical psychopathology was 20 percent, while among eminent artists it was 25 percent. Among politicians it was just 11 percent, only slightly above the general male population. However, using the less severe measure of having “potentially handicapping traits” of antisocial personality disorder, Post found that this was true of 52 percent of politicians, 50 percent of artists, and 70 percent of writers. Post cautiously estimates that this level of psychopathology applies to 16 percent of the male population. Accordingly, it can be averred that moderate antisocial behavior disorder is elevated among the highly eminent.76 So, we should not be surprised that, to a greater extent than was once the case, people who are high in individualism, intelligence, and psychopathic traits should rise to the top.
Such people’s rise would be aided if they adopted the group-fitness damaging, spiteful mutant-inspired leftist ideas that are currently in vogue, so we would expect them to do that. And, with their high sex drives, and low empathy, we might even expect them to engage in sexual abuse to an elevated degree, including abuse of children because, as they are such easy prey. Approximately half of those who sexually abuse children are not exclusively attracted to children. Pedophiles, so defined, have strongly elevated levels of poor mental health (something Post also found was high among the very eminent), including mood disorders (66 percent), obsessive compulsive disorder (25 percent), and personality disorders of various kinds (61 percent), such as Psychopathic Personality.77 For this reason, evidence of the abuse, especially of young girls, by such males starts to make more sense. Pedophilia and psychopathic personality may be comorbid, because they are both manifestations of developmental instability, resulting from elevated mutational load.78 In addition, only pedophiles who are high in psychopathic personality would be likely to act on their proclivities. Those who are high in psychopathic personality are, in evolutionary terms, adapted to a chaotic, unstable environment in which cooperating with people is futile, because such acts might never be reciprocated; you must, therefore, “live fast, die young” and opt to pass on your genes as quickly as possible. This militates in favor of having as much sex as you can with as many fertile (and thus young) females as possible. This is known as a fast Life History Strategy.79 Having sex with underage, though fertile, girls—“ephebophilia”—would simply be an extreme manifestation of this sexual strategy. There is also evidence that, in such contexts of instability, males who engaged in rape were more likely to pass on their genes, and that gang rape was especially common in pre-history. As a consequence, males, even now, produce more semen during rape, as rape traditionally involved sperm competition. Men also become more aroused by, and produce more semen, when watching violent porn than “vanilla” porn. In other words, men have been selected to be aroused by violence, especially sexual violence.80 Thus, for some men who abuse underage children, it may not be that they find them attractive; they are turned on by power and dominance. This would be more likely if they were fast Life History Strategists.
In the UK, elite pedophile fascination was sparked in the wake of the death of the extremely popular and influential entertainer Sir Jimmy Savile (1926-2011). Evidencing his “Establishment” status, Savile had been given a knighthood in 1990. After Savile died, large numbers of allegations came to light that he had raped and otherwise sexually abused under-age girls throughout his long career and had even been subject to a police investigation about this shortly before his death.81 A subsequent police inquiry into historic sexual abuse, “Operation Yew Tree,” as well as concomitant investigations and publicity, led to the downfall or reassessment of many other celebrities and politicians who had received assorted honors such as CBE (Companion of the British Empire), OBE (Order of the British Empire), and knighthoods. The investigation led to the jailing of a household name, entertainer Rolf Harris, CBE (b. 1930), for sexually abusing under-age girls; the imprisonment of TV personality Stuart Hall, OBE (b. 1929), on 13 counts of indecent assault against girls aged 9 to 17 between 1967 and 1986; and two posthumous allegations of underage rape, and one of rape of a 17-year-old woman, against deceased TV personality Sir Clement Freud (1924-2009), grandson of the psychiatrist.82
So, looked at in this way, the idea that the world is run—or at least heavily influenced—by selfish, child-abusers Satanists becomes less than entirely ludicrous. And, as was noted when Jimmy Savile’s proclivities came to light, there must have been so many high-status people who, at best, turned a blind eye to what they knew he was doing and, at worst, enabled him.83 We can see how people might suspect the same to be true of Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein, Michael Jackson, and many others. In general, we exaggerate the extent to which members of an out-group are morally deficient, and we can see how this would become particularly pronounced at a time of extreme polarization and existential stress.84
Katrin Bennhold, “QAnon Is Thriving in Germany. The Extreme Right Is Delighted,” New York Times, October 11, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/11/world/europe/qanon-is-thriving-in-germany-the-extreme-right-is-delighted.html (accessed November 15, 2020). ↩︎
Barabara Ortutay, “YouTube Follows Twitter and Facebook with QAnon Crackdown,” AP News, October 15, 2020, https://apnews.com/article/youtube-qanon-conspiracy-theories-ef03a889e68239de6692ce42666d97d8 (accessed November 15, 2020). ↩︎
Graeme Bruce, “Half of Trump’s Supporters Think Top Democrats are Involved in Child Sex-trafficking,” YouGov, https://today.yougov.com/topics/politics/articles-reports/2020/10/20/half-trump-supporters-believe-qanon-theory-child-s (accessed December 1, 2020). ↩︎
Edward Dutton, “The Next Great Awakening,” Radix Journal, https://radixjournal.com/2020/06/the-next-great-awakening/ (accessed December 1, 2020). ↩︎
For an early look at “Q”, see Paris Martineau, “The Storm Is the New Pizzagate — Only Worse,” New York, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2017/12/qanon-4chan-the-storm-conspiracy-explained.html (accessed December 1, 2020). ↩︎
Anonymous, BQ7V3bcW, 4chan.org/pol, https://archive.4plebs.org/pol/thread/146981635/#147012719 (accessed December 1, 2020). ↩︎
Anonymous, BQ7V3bcW, 4chan.org/pol, https://archive.4plebs.org/pol/thread/146981635/#147012719 (accessed December 1, 2020). ↩︎
Bennhold, “QAnon Is Thriving in Germany,” New York Times, op cit.↩︎
William March, “Conspiracy Theorist QAnon Promoted, Then Deleted, by Hillsborough County GOP, Tampa Bay Times, July 16, 2018, https://www.tampabay.com/florida-politics/buzz/2018/07/16/conspiracy-theorist-qanon-promoted-then-deleted-by-hillsborough-county-gop/ (accessed November 15, 2020). ↩︎
Anonymous, BQ7V3bcW, 4chan.org/pol, https://archive.4plebs.org/pol/thread/146981635/#147012719 (accessed December 1, 2020). ↩︎
See Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1922); Jacques Ellul, Propaganda (Alfred A. Knopf, 1967). ↩︎
See Jasun Horsley, The Vice of Kings: How Socialism, Occultism, and the Sexual Revolution Engineered a Culture of Abuse (London, Aeon Books, 2019). ↩︎
E.J. Dickson, “QAnon Followers Think JFK Jr. Is Coming Back on the 4th of July,” Rolling Stone, https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/qanon-jfk-jr-conspiracy-theory-854938/ (accessed December 10, 2020). ↩︎
Anonymous, BQ7V3bcW, 4chan.org/pol, https://archive.4plebs.org/pol/thread/147433975/#147434025 (accessed December 1, 2020). ↩︎
Ling, “QAnon’s Creator Made the Ultimate Conspiracy Theory,” op cit.↩︎
Michael Barkun, A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America (Los Angeles, University of California Press, 2003). ↩︎
Peter Knight, Conspiracy Culture: From Kennedy to The X Files (London, Routledge, 2013). ↩︎
Justin Ling, “QAnon’s Creator Made the Ultimate Conspiracy Theory,” Foreign Affairs October 6, 2020, https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/10/06/qanon-creator-ultimate-conspiracy-theory-q/ (accessed December 1, 2020). ↩︎
Anonymous, BQ7V3bcW, 4chan.org/pol, https://qalerts.app/?q=Biblical+times (accessed December 1, 2020). ↩︎
Gerard van Grongingen. First Century Gnosticism: Its Origin and Motifs (Leiden: BRILL, 1967). ↩︎
Anonymous, BQ7V3bcW, 4chan.org/pol, https://qalerts.app/?n=4950 (accessed December 1, 2020). ↩︎
See Steve Bruce, God Is Dead: Secularization in the West (Oxford, Blackwell, 2002). ↩︎
Ara Norenzayan and Azim Shariff, “The Origin and Evolution of Religious Pro-sociality,” Science, 322 (2008): 58-62. ↩︎
Stanley C. Griffin, A Forgotten Revival: East Anglia and Northeast Scotland, 1921 (Bromley: Day One Publications, 1992). ↩︎
Callum Brown, The Death of Christian Britain: Understanding Secularisation, 1800-2000 (London: Routledge, 2009). ↩︎
See Brown. The Death of Christian Britain, op cit.↩︎
See Edward Bailey. Implicit Religion: An Introduction (Hendon, Middlesex University Press, 1998). ↩︎
Eric Kaufmann, Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century (London: Profile Book, 2010). ↩︎
Faiz Siddiqui and Susan Svrluga, “N.C. Man Told Police He Went to D.C. Pizzeria With Gun to Investigate Conspiracy Theory,” Washington Post, December 5, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2016/12/04/d-c-police-respond-to-report-of-a-man-with-a-gun-at-comet-ping-pong-restaurant/ (accessed December 1, 2020). ↩︎
Edward Dutton, Guy Madison, and Curtis Dunkel, “The Mutant Says in His Heart, ‘There Is No God’: The Rejection of Collective Religiosity Centered Around the Worship of Moral Gods is Associated with High Mutational Load,” Evolutionary Psychological Science, 4 (2018): 233-244. ↩︎
Rüdiger Vaas, “God, Gains and Genes,” in The Biological Evolution of Religious Mind and Behavior, eds. Eckart Voland and Wulf Schiefenhövel (New York: Springer, 2009). ↩︎
Norenzayan and Shariff, “The Origin and Evolution of Religious Pro-sociality,” op cit.↩︎
Lewis Rambo. Understanding Religious Conversion (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993). ↩︎
See Dutton, Madison and Dunkel, “The Mutant Says in His Heart, ‘There Is No God,’” op cit.↩︎
Yael Sela, Todd K. Shackelford, and James R. Liddle, “When Religion Makes It Worse: Religiously Motivated Violence As a Sexual Selection Weapon,” in The Attraction of Religion: A New Evolutionary Psychology of Religion, eds. D. Jason Sloane and James A. Slyke (London: Bloomsbury, 2015). ↩︎
Frank Salter, On Genetic Interests: Family, Ethnicity and Humanity in an Age of Mass Migration (New Brunswick, NJ: Transactions, 2006). ↩︎
Robert Axelrod and Ross A. Hammond, “The Evolution of Ethnocentric Behavior,” Journal of Conflict Resolution, 50 (2006): 1-11. ↩︎
Colin Holbrook, Keise Izuma, Choi Deblieck, Daniel M. Fessler, and Marco Iacoboni, “Neuromodulation of Group Prejudice and Religious Belief,” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 11 (2016): 387-394. ↩︎
Pascal Boyer, Religion Explained: The Human Instincts that Fashion Gods, Spirits and Ancestors (London: Heinemann, 2001). ↩︎
G.J.R. Parry, A Protestant Vision: William Harrison and the Reformation of Elizabethan England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002). ↩︎
Jesse Graham, Jonathan Haidt, and Brian A. Nosek, “Liberals and Conservatives Rely on Different Sets of Moral Foundations,” Personality Processes and Individual Differences, 96 (2009): 1029-1046. ↩︎
Matt Bradshaw and Christopher G. Ellison, “Do Genetic Factors Influence Religious Life? Findings from a Behavior Genetic Analysis of Twin Siblings,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 47 (2008): 529-544. ↩︎
Edward Dutton and Guy Madison, “Execution, Violent Punishment and Selection for Religiousness in Medieval England,” Evolutionary Psychological Science, 4 (2018): 83-89. ↩︎
Anthony Volk, and Jeremy Atkinson, “Is Child Death the Crucible of Human Evolution?” Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, 2 (2008): 103-116. ↩︎
J. Philippe Rushton, “Ethic Nationalism: Evolutionary Psychology and Genetic Similarity Theory,” Nations and Nationalism, 11 (2005): 489-507. ↩︎
Michael A. Woodley of Menie, Matthew A. Sarraf, Radomir N. Pestow, and Heitor B. F. Fernandes, “Social Epistasis Amplifies the Fitness Costs of Deleterious Mutations, Engendering Rapid Fitness Decline Among Modernized Populations,” Evolutionary Psychological Science, 3 (2017): 181-191. ↩︎
Emil Kirkegaard, “Mental Illness and the Left,” Mankind Quarterly, 60 (2020): 487-510. ↩︎
Michael Woodley of Menie, Heitor Fernandes, Satoshi Kanazawa, and Edward Dutton, “Sinistrality is Associated With (Slightly) Lower General Intelligence: A Data Synthesis and Consideration of Secular Trend Data in Handedness,” HOMO: Journal of Comparative Human Biology, 69 (2018): 118-126. ↩︎
Corwin Smidt and James Penning, “Religious Commitment, Political Conservatism, and Political and Social Tolerance in the United States: A Longitudinal Analysis,” Sociological Analysis, 43 (1982): 231-245. ↩︎
Niclas Berggren, Henrik Jordahl, Panu Poutvaara, “The Right Look: Conservative Politicians Look Better and Voters Reward It,” Journal of Public Economics, 146 (2017): 79-86. ↩︎
Dutton, Madison and Dunkel, “The Mutant Says in His Heart, ‘There Is No God’”, op cit.↩︎
T.E. Joiner, “Contagious Depression: Existence, Specificity to Depressed Symptoms, and the Role of Reassurance Seeking,” Journal of Personal and Social Psychology, 67 (1994): 287-296. ↩︎
Michael A. Woodley of Menie, Matthew A. Sarraf, Rodomir N. Pestow, and Heitor B. F. Fernandes, “Social Epistasis Amplifies the Fitness Costs of Deleterious Mutations, Engendering Rapid Fitness Decline Among Modernized Populations,” Evolutionary Psychological Science, 3 (2017): 181-191. ↩︎
Damon Centola, Joshua Becker, Devon Brackbill, and Andrea Baronchelli, “Experimental Evidence for Tipping Points in Social Convention,” Science, 360 (2018): 1116-1119. ↩︎
See Ara Norenzayan, Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013). ↩︎
Robert Putnam, “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century: The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize lecture,” Scandinavian Political Studies, 30 (2007): 137–174. ↩︎
Martin Fieder and S.usanne Huber, “Political Attitude and Fertility: Is There a Selection for the Political Extreme?” Frontiers in Psychology (2018), https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02343. ↩︎
See Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray. The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (New York: Free Press, 1994). ↩︎
See Arthur Jensen. The g Factor: The Science of Mental Ability (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998). ↩︎
Richard Lynn. Dysgenics: Genetic Deterioration in Modern Populations (London: Ulster Institute for Social Research, 1996). ↩︎
Michael Woodley of Menie and Curtis Dunkel, “Beyond the Cultural Mediation Hypothesis: A Reply to Dutton (2013),” Intelligence, 49 (2015): 186-191. ↩︎
See Edward Dutton and Michael Woodley of Menie. At Our Wits’ End: Why We’re Becoming Less Intelligent and What It Means for the Future (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2018). ↩︎
Harold G. Koenig, “Religion, Spirituality, and Health: The Research and Clinical Implications,” ISRN Psychiatry (2012), http://dx.doi.org/10.5402/2012/278730 (accessed December 5, 2020). ↩︎
Christopher Badcock, “Mentalism and Mechanism: Twin Modes of Human Cognition,” in Evolutionary Psychology, Public Policy and Personal Decisions, eds. Charles Crawford and Catherine Salman (Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 2003). ↩︎
Philippe Huguelet, Sylvia Mohr, Laurence Borras, et al., “Spirituality and Religious Practices Among Outpatients With Schizophrenia and Their Clinicians,” Psychiatric Services, 57 (2006): 366–372. ↩︎
D. Barron, A. Furnham, L. Weiss, K. Morgan, T. Towell and V. Swami. “The Association Between Schizotypal Components and Conspiricist Beliefs Through Cognitive Mediators,” Schizophrenia Bulletin, 44 (2018): s368-369. ↩︎
Jo Hodgekins, “Schizotypy and Psychopathology,” in Schizoptypy: New Dimensions, eds. Oliver Mason and Gordan Claridge (London: Routledge, 2015). ↩︎
Jordan Moss and Peter O’Connor. “The Dark Triad traits Predict Authoritarian Political Correctness and Alt-Right Attitudes,” Heliyon, 6 (2020): e04453. ↩︎
Martin Lalumiere, Grant T. Harris, and Marnie Rice, “Psychopathy and Developmental Instability,” Evolution and Human Behavior, 22 (2001): 75-92. ↩︎
See Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris, and Hal Roberts, Network Propaganda: Manipulations, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018). ↩︎
See J.A. Peterson, “Carnal, Chthonic, and Complicated: The Matter of Modern Satanism,” in Controversial New Religions. eds. James Lewis and Jesper Peterson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014). ↩︎
See, Edward Dutton and Bruce G. Charlton, The Genius Famine (Buckingham, University of Buckingham Press, 2015). ↩︎
See Edward Dutton and Richard Lynn, “Cheating in Sport and Race Differences in Psychopathic Personality,” Mankind Quarterly, 55 (2015): 325-334. ↩︎
Dimitri Van der Linden, Edward Dutton, and Guy Madison, “National-Level Indicators of Androgens are Related to the global distribution of number of scientific publications and science Nobel prizes.” Journal of Creative Behavior, 54 (2020): 134-149. ↩︎
Felix Post, “Creativity and Psychopathology,” British Journal of Psychiatry, 165 (1994): 22-34. ↩︎
Gilian Tenbergen, Matthias Wittfoth, Helge Frieling, et al., “The Neurobiology and Psychology of Pedophilia: Recent Advances and Challenges,” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, (2015): 344. ↩︎
J. Philippe Rushton, Race, Evolution, and Behavior: A Life History Perspective (New Brusnwick, NJ, Transaction Publishing). ↩︎
Randy Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer, A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2001); Lee Ellis, Theories of Rape: Inquiries Into the Causes of Sexual Aggression (New York: Hemisphere Publishing, 1989). ↩︎
Dan Davies, In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile (London: Quercus Books, 2014). ↩︎
Martin Evans, “Clement Freud Accused of Raping Another Teenage Girl as Evidence Mounts That He Was a Predatory Paedophile,” Daily Telegraph (15th June 2016), https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/15/clement-freud-accused-of-raping-another-teenage-girl-as-evidence/ (accessed December 1, 2020). ↩︎
Jesse Graham, Jonathan Haidt, and Brian Nosek, “The Moral Stereotypes of Liberals and Conservatives: Exaggeration of Differences across the Political Spectrum,” PLOS One (2012), https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0050092 (accessed December 1, 2020). ↩︎
The Democrats will soon achieve political hegemony in an age of radical polarization. It probably won’t end well. Introduction On November 3, Joe Biden should comfortably win the Presidency of…
The Democrats will soon achieve political hegemony in an age of radical polarization. It probably won’t end well.
On November 3, Joe Biden should comfortably win the Presidency of the United States, earning between 325 and 375 Electoral College votes, matching Barack Obama’s results in 2008 and 2012. In an age of polarization—and in light of Trump’s tremendous popularity among Republicans—Biden’s victory will be viewed as a “landslide” and national denunciation of Trumpism. Demoralization and confusion among the Republican faithful will follow.
In addition, Democrats should take control of the Senate, with a tight majority of 51 to 49. More than one Republican stalwart and Trump ally will be sent packing. In the House, Democrats will maintain dominance. The “wave” election already occurred in 2018, and, to a lesser extent, in 2016. This year will be about consolidation, not conquest.
Inertia is the most powerful force in politics. Some 75 percent of all House races are uncompetitive “slam dunks,” and we can expect incumbent Congressmen, especially members of the House, to be re-elected at a rate around 90 percent. But after multiple cycles of consistent gains, on January 20, 2021, the Democrats will stand in the same position the Republicans did four years earlier: they’ll have the presidency; they’ll enjoy a House majority in the realm of 235-250 members, and a narrow margin in the Senate. A 25-year era of mostly Republican leadership in Congress will be supplanted by a new “Blue Period.” This is the result of seismic demographic, geographic, and attitudinal and psychological shifts. But ultimately, the 2020 victory will paper over deep problems for the Democrats, which will likely lead to an unhappy presidency for Mr. Biden.
This essay will explain my forecast, but, more important, it will assess the structural basis for the coming Democratic dominance, and expose fault lines that make doing politics, even for a hegemonic party, exceedingly difficult.
In 2016, Trump was not just the candidate of right-wing populism but “chaos” as well, to borrow an insult from Jeb Bush. Trump ran against his own party, its leadership, and quite a bit of what it held dear. Biden, on the other hand, has run a bi-partisan campaign on the promise of a “return to normalcy.”
“Normalcy” means ending the Trump experiment: the outrages, scandals, wild talk, and nationalism. But it also means keeping at bay left-wing energies—“wokeness,” BLM, and democratic socialism—that are now motivating a great deal of Biden’s voters. Biden’s experience in the Democratic primaries was about survival, not triumph, and it was only possible through the intervention of party luminaries at the 11th hour. Biden has a long history of being extremely “un-woke,” and his Clintonian policy proposals are simply out of step with the majority of Democratic activists and operatives, if not high-level leadership and donors. Thus, Biden is caught in a pincer, and there is a strong chance that he will be undermined early on by forces within—perhaps even given a rude comeuppance.
Moreover, it is becoming questionable whether America is governable at all. We will soon be in a remarkable situation in which the once-and-future party of political hegemony, the Democrats, will be governing a population that has undergone radical polarization and division. In the new Blue era, the Democrats will struggle for legitimacy, not power. That can’t end well.
1. We Just Hate Each Other
Biden’s coming victory must be put into perspective. The era of monumental landslides—when one candidate captured a unified national mood—is past. The last time a candidate won more than 500 electoral votes was 1984, when Ronald Reagan came close to matching Richard Nixon’s 49-state domination in 1972. Barack Obama’s comfortable victories in 2008 and 2016—or George W. Bush’s 2004 win as a “stay the course,” wartime president—never approached the famous wipeout elections of the 20th century.
Our era is one of fragmentation, which has led to stasis and rigidity. Voters are “polarized,” in the sense of being frozen in place. You simply are Red or Blue. And they’re ain’t no doubt about it.
One some level, Red/Blue politics has eclipsed race, ethnicity, and religion as the source and marker of identity. When polled, Americans who strongly identify with “conservative” or “liberal” are skittish about the prospect of family members marrying someone of another political affiliation. A hardcore conservative worries more about his daughter marrying a Democrats than a man of a different race. “Look who’s coming to dinner,” indeed.
There are, I should point out, some key issues of remarkable national consensus. At least in 2018, a majority of Republicans supported a national healthcare system or “Medicare for All,” a program touted by Bernie Sanders. That said, on a host of meta-political topics—like inequality, racial discrimination, and the environment—gaps between Red and Blue are only widening. The parties themselves have become hostile nations with closed borders. This is demonstrated in a longitudinal study by the Pew Research Center covering the past 25 years. In 1994, 64 percent of Republican voters were “to the right” of the average Democrat on a host of basic issues, with considerable overlap. Put another way, the average Democratic was “to the Right” of one-third of Republicans. By 2017, the “center” had vanished. Effectively all (95-97 percent) Republicans are “to the right” of Democrats and Democrats, “to the left” of Republicans.
Some old-timers still wax nostalgic about a bi-partisan era long ago, when both parties would roll up their sleeves and get things done for the American people. The reality is, compromise and collaboration are simply impossible when there is no common ground.
Polarization tracks with religious divides. Mormons and evangelical Protestants are overwhelmingly Republican. And to no one’s surprise, self-identified atheists are liberal to roughly the same degree as fundamentalists are conservative. Polarization is also strongly regional—a phenomenon known as the “Big Sort.” Blue states are clustered on the eastern and western seaboards, and states containing large metropolises tend to be Democratic. Texas and Georgia are notable Southern exceptions. Polarization also marks the intersection of race and class, as Republicans have gradually become the home of the White working class—those without college degrees. (I’ll explore this in more detail in the next essay in this series.)
In 2004, George W. Bush defeated John Kerry by a close score in the popular vote, 51-48. But mapping the election county-by-county tells a very different story. The entire Heartland and South was deep Red, with some Blue outliers in predominately African-American districts and urban centers. Someone in, say, Casper, Wyoming might not know another soul who voted for John Kerry, to paraphrase the infamous quip by Pauline Kael.
2004 Presidential Election, County-by-County
Polarization is even more radical than elections would lead you believe. Terms like “secession” and “Civil War 2” are in the air. A Reuters-Ipsos poll conducted from November 2016 through January 2017 found 22 percent of respondents supporting the state they live in “withdrawing from the USA and the federal government.” Support among non-Whites was even higher, at 29 percent, with less than an outright majority opposed and the remaining quarter of the population, unsure. Some 40 percent of both Democrats and Republicans openly tell pollsters that political violence is justified “a little” if the other guys win.
Both the QAnon conspiracy and “Russian Collusion” narrative (which led to Trump’s impeachment) are factually dubious but true to the prevailing Zeitgeist. For QAnon, the Democrats aren’t just wrong, they are, literally, Satanic, blood-sucking pedophiles. The mass media (“fake news”) is only there to distract the public from Trump’s noble crusade against evil. On the other side, “Resistance” liberals say that Trump is in Vladimir Putin’s pocket, effectively reviving a Cold War-era ghost story about a “Manchurian candidate,” once the bugbear of right-wing fanatics in the John Birch Society. Trump doesn’t just want better diplomatic relations with Russia; he is, in fact, a tool of a Slavic autocrat bent on world domination.
Marianne Williamson captured the mood, as only she can.
Don’t tell a black person they’re never in danger of being arrested for no reason; don’t tell a Jew they’ll never have to worry about being rounded up; and don’t tell a woman she’s never being underestimated because of her gender. We know better. Ancestors don’t lie.
What is key here is that both Reds and Blues view “the other,” not as an adversary, but as a demon or tyrant. Why debate or find common ground with someone who wants you thrown in a dungeon. It’s kill or be killed!
2. Projecting the Presidency
Radical polarization is disturbing—and it might foretell an eventual breakdown of the United State, as unthinkable as that might sound. But for our limited purposes here, polarization means electoral stability, and that means that four out of every five states in any presidential election can be forecast years in advance.
For yet another cycle, a dozen or so states will determine the outcome of the presidential election: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin. The other 38 are not likely to produce surprises. Texas and Georgia are two remarkable additions to this list, as both have been reliably Republican since 1996 and are thought of as bastions of conservatism. Among the 12 states in play, three—Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania—will prove most important, since they are populous and polling has been both close and volatile. Mainstream forecasters (The Cooke Political Report, The Economist, FiveThirtyEight, and the New York Times) are consistent on this assessment.
Joe Biden’s advantage immediately jumps to the fore. Taking the 38 non-swing states as “givens,” Biden will begin election night carrying some 215-225 electoral votes; Trump, only around 125. Of the dozen decisive states, half of them are leaning towards Biden: Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Arizona. Only Texas and Georgia are significantly leaning Republican. This leaves Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Iowa as the “tossups among tossups.” The problem for Trump is that Biden does not need to win all of the Democratic-leaning tossups to reach 270 electoral votes, and thus an Electoral College majority. In other words, for Trump to eke out a victory, he must hold Southern stalwarts like Georgia, Florida, and Texas and win at least a couple of the Midwestern states (Iowa and Ohio, for example), which formed his unlikely “Rustbelt strategy” of 2016.
This is simply too tall an order. A victory for Trump—based on, say, winning Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Florida—would already be reflected by polls suggesting a Republican wave. We don’t see this. Biden has maintained a comfortable lead in national polling in the area of seven-to-ten points for months. This is significantly higher than Clinton’s lead over Trump throughout the summer and fall of 2016, which hovered between one and six points and was trending towards deadlock. Numbers on early voting foresee a dramatic, multi-fold increase of turnout among young people (18-29)—a group that skews heavily towards Biden.
As they say in the NFL, any team can win on “any given Sunday”—and that rule holds for Tuesdays, as well. If, say, Trump secures Florida (with its 29 electoral votes), then his chances of pulling off an upset increase dramatically. But we need to remember how astounding Trump’s win in 2016 really was. In the Electoral College, Trump beat Clinton handedly: 304 to 207. On a state-by-state basis, however, his margins were razor thin: Trump won Florida (a state of 22 million) by 100,000 votes; he won Michigan by a mere 10,000. Treading such a precarious, narrow path to victory one more time is too much to ask of any candidate. And demographics in those states are clearly moving in the wrong direction.
Change in voting-age population, 2016-2020
3. Letting A Good Crisis Go To Waste
America might never again see a truly “national” statesman, that is, a man who transcends party and policies, and is widely viewed as the right guy to take charge in a crisis. After 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt seemingly couldn’t lose, consistently boosted by his resolve in the Great Depression and Second World War. Since then, wartime can make a president invincible . . . before sinking him. Lyndon Baines Johnson won by a landslide at the height of the Vietnam War, then bowed out of the 1968 election early, having lost control of his own party. George H.W. Bush’s approval ratings were just shy of 90 percent after launching the first Iraq War; they then dipped as low as 29 in 1992 when the fight was over. His son, George W., experienced a similar ordeal: he broke 90 percent after the September-11 attacks, just before his approval cascaded downward and he became a national punch-line in his second term. And “Dubya” might be the last president to achieve unanimous adulation, however fleeting.
After years of relative peace for the American empire, Trump was challenged in the final year of his term with a crisis of Biblical proportions—a plague from the Far East that brought the world to its knees. Politically speaking, this was a gift, if he were only willing to unwrap it. Trump achieved his highest approval ratings in the first half of May 2020—49 percent—weeks after he had officially declared the Coronavirus a national emergency. Great stress brings out “animal instincts”; people desperately want to “follow the leader.” At that moment, Trump was, at least potentially, poised to transcend polarization.
For all of the shrill talk about Trump being a “fascist,” the reality is that Benito Mussolini would have relished the chance to mobilize the nation under “pandemic socialism.” And if Trump governed more like a fascist—perhaps donning a knightly hazmat suit during press briefings—he would have a much better chance of being re-elected.
No leader on Earth has paid a political price for “overreacting” to Coronavirus—even if some have, indeed, overreacted. Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has consistently urged lockdowns, has had an approval rating in the mid-to-upper 60s on his handling of the pandemic—double that of Trump. The nation was clearly begging to be given marching orders by a strongman.
Trump, for his part, chose the “power of positive thinking,” a uniquely American form of Christianity articulated by Norman Vincent Peale, a minister who presided over Trump’s first wedding. Trump’s response to Coronavirus will forever be remembered by his claims that it was a “Democrat hoax,” that it will go away in the spring “like a miracle,” various goofy proposals for instant cures, and his fretting over the health of the Dow Jones Industrial Index. By October, Trump was losing seniors—those most vulnerable to Covid-19—by 10 points in the all-important state of Pennsylvania. Voters over the age of 65 would seem to be the natural constituency of any conservative; 65 percent of them voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. Yet in 2020, “the olds” have a voting profile much like their self-centered, left-wing grandchildren.
Trump is one of the only presidents in recent memory to declare himself a “nationalist,” and he has evoked the prewar slogan of “America First!” But in the end, his “nationalism”—whatever it might mean in practice—is a minority political position. It is undoubtedly popular with GOP diehards—Trump’s approval among Republicans is rising to 95 percent—but it is simply not a governing ideology. The country is headed in a very different direction.
4. Projecting the House
The 2018 Midterms amounted to a “wave” election for the Democrats, though one obscured by the final result: a split government with the Republicans increasing their lead in the Senate. That year, the Democrats achieved a net gain of 41 seats in the House, which put the victory on par with two iconic Republican “waves” of recent history: the 1994 “Revolution” (net gain of 54) and the 2010 “Tea Party” (net gain of 63). Remarkably, the 2018 “Blue Wave” was greater than those two, at least as measured by the popular vote margin. Yes, all politics is local—especially in the House—but if the 2018 Midterms were treated like a national referendum, then the Democrats had a nine-point advantage over the Republicans, matching Biden’s 2020 advantage over Trump.
The ’94 and 2010 Midterms birthed new heroes in the persons of Newt Gingrich and Paul Ryan, two pompous and nerdy libertarians. The impeachment of President Bill Clinton, the consolidation of the Religious Right as a reliable bloc, endless prattle about budgets, and various government shutdowns marked the terms of both speakers in this “Red Era” of Congress. It’s difficult to think of any legislative achievements. No examples come to mind.
Recent Democratic gains in the House, on the other hand, brought us Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the so-called “Squad”—all of whom immediately became stars and generated friction with the centrist leaders of the House and Senate, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Biden, too, is running as a centrist, the man who, as he brags, “beat the socialists” and will revive a globally oriented foreign policy. Whereas Republican presidents were generally aligned with popular energies in the parties, Biden is already at odds with them. He may be the last Democratic standard-bearer to promise, “Nothing will fundamentally change.” Regardless of Biden’s expectations, creative and paradigm-shifting policy (“The Green New Deal,” being a perfect example) will begin flowing out of the Democratic House.
5. Projecting the Senate
In 2018, Fortuna looked fondly upon Republicans. That year, only eight of their 51 seats in the Senate were in play, whereas the Democrats had 23 of 49. Republicans seized the opportunity—and the recent confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett would not have been possible were it not for the lucky hand they were dealt.
In 2020, Republicans face the inverse of the happy situation last cycle. They have 23 seats up for election, while the Democrats have only 12. And it gets worse. Among the Democrats’ 12 seats in jeopardy, only one is likely to be lost—Doug Jones’s perch in Alabama, which was acquired in a bizarre special election against Christian fundamentalist Roy Moore. In 2020, Alabama will likely send Republican Tommy Tuberville, the old Auburn football coach, to the U.S. Senate.
Of the Republicans’ 23 seats that are up for election, eight are considered “tossups,” and, in the cases of Martha McSally in Arizona and Cory Gardner in Colorado, likely losses. Seats that should be solid are now in play, such as Joni Ernst in Iowa and Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, both of whom seem to be dragged down by their close association with Trump. Graham’s unlikely challenger, Jamie Harrison, has raised more money than any other Senate candidate in U.S. history (upwards of 85 million). For Republicans, there are simply too many signs that too many things are going wrong.
A base-line expectation for the Democrats would be to lose Alabama and keep 46 of their current 47 seats; this would roughly maintain the status quo. The Republicans should reasonably hope to maintain their 15 “safe” seats; however, they should expect to lose between four and five, that is, half of the toss-ups. In that scenario, they would lose control. Normally, the re-election of a party’s incumbent president means a rising tide. But this is not a normal year. The Republicans should lose five seats, and on November 4, 2020, the Democrats will gain control of the Senate, 51/49.
6. “Ignore The Polls, Bro”
But wait—weren’t all polls wrong in 2016? It’s a common refrain you hear from Trump fans. It also harkens back to 2012, when Republicans were similarly confident that polls weren’t capturing Mitt Romney’s support—a contrarianism that led Karl Rove to engage in embarrassing displays of delusion and denial when the results came in.
The short answer to the question “Weren’t the polls wrong?” is “no.” The full story is more complicated.
Trump’s entrance onto the political scene in 2015 was a watershed in that traditional metrics and punditry, which had worked so well in previous elections, failed spectacularly to understand his popularity over the course of the next 18 months. Much like Ron Paul in 2008, Trump was “the candidate from the Internet”: he activated a base that was increasingly getting news from social media, and not from network or cable television. That included Fox News, which, we shouldn’t forget, opposed Trump’s ascendancy throughout 2015.
Trump simultaneously developed a cult following among younger and more activist men and women, who liked him precisely for his combative personality and because he waged war against the Republican establishment. This was the “Alt-Right,” in its broader and more nebulous form. From the outset, it was demeaned by the mainstream media as a gaggle “Internet trolls” and even “bots.” But Trump’s digital engagement was very real.
Social Media Engagement
In late 2015, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight infamously wrote “Dear Media, Stop Freaking Out About Donald Trump’s Polls”:
For my money, that adds up to Trump’s chances being higher than 0 but (considerably) less than 20 percent. Your mileage may vary. But you probably shouldn’t rely solely on the polls to make your case
A strange statement coming from a man whose career is based on aggregating polls. Over the course of the nominating process, Silver and other psephologists assured the public that Trump was a sideshow. Plugging historical precinct figures, campaign finance data, and political endorsements into their algorithms to “weight the polls,” they put Trump at the bottom of the pack. Jeb Bush was the likely nominee, with Marco Rubio, the possible upset candidate.
2016 Republican Fundraising
Absent from these prediction formulas were rally attendance numbers, social media engagement, and organic—rather than media-manufactured—public interest.
Trump dominated Internet search queries throughout that early, decisive period in his political career.
A Trump supporter might, on two days’ notice, take time off work to drive three hours for a chance to get inside a sports stadium for a Trump rally—and face a very real chance of being kept outside on account of the venue reaching maximum capacity. Jeb Bush, on the other hand, had difficulty filling up an elementary school classroom, not to mention getting people to clap. Yet this patent disparity in intensity was thought by the experts to be electorally insignificant.
Usually, when a state politician endorsed a candidate ahead of a caucus or primary, tens of thousands of people might hear about it—most often, days afterwards through secondhand media reports. But during Trump’s rise, tens of millions of people would hear directly and instantaneously from Trump via social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. It was not uncommon for people to be made aware of the endorsements of Trump’s opponents from Trump himself. The conventional blessing of the political establishment had become the curse of “the swamp.”
The big “miss” of the mainstream media came in 2015, when pundits dismissed Trump, despite his strong polling and measurable online engagement. 2016 was a different story; the polls weren’t all that wrong. Nate Silver, for one, gave Trump a much better chance of winning the 2016 election than his contemporaries. The national popular vote total was actually well within the range of major polling predictions. The Real Clear Politics’s average across 11 different polling companies showed Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote by 3.3 points; her actual margin of victory was 2.1. Most of the national polls were within the margin of error.
The breakdown in polling reliability (at least relative to the “boring” election night of 2012) occurred at the state level. Trump strongly outperformed his state-wide polls in Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Pennsylvania, which were key. But we should also remember that Hillary outdid exceptions in Nevada—despite most late-October polls suggesting a Trump surge.
Overall, Red states went redder than the polls predicted and, to a lesser extent, Blue states went bluer. The correlation between Trump’s margin of victory and his over-performance relative to RCP polling at the state level was a staggering .63 (p-value = 0.0000002). Pollsters have learned lessons from their shortcomings in 2016. More importantly, even if all the 2020 polls were as “wrong” as those in 2016, Biden would still comfortably win the presidency. Mainstream polling is simply not fraudulent. And the move towards Democratic hegemony is seismic, not a result of the latest news cycle. Trump pulled off an amazing upset in 2016, but demographics and attitudinal changes forecast a new Blue Period in American politics, a process that began well before the nomination of Joe Biden.
7. New Blue
Trump’s victory and inauguration was a winter of discontent for the American Left: scenes of crying, shock, hysteria, wailing, and gnashing of teeth filled the news outlets and social media feeds across the country.
But perhaps they shouldn’t have been so bent out of shape. In 2016, Hillary Clinton received almost three million more votes than Trump (roughly 65.8 million to 63), and many overlooked that the Democrats actually gained seats in the House and Senate. Since 1992, Democrats have won the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections. Both Trump and George W. Bush relied on the idiosyncrasies of the Electoral College—and, with Bush, the Supreme Court—to secure their first terms. On the whole, America is a left-wing country by any reasonable measure.
In the 20th century, the Democrats were the party of hegemony. For six decades after Franklin Roosevelt’s election in 1932, Congress was effectively a one-party body. Between the 73rd Congress of 1933 and the “Republican Revolution” class of 1995, Democrats controlled 28 of the 31 Congresses, losing to the Republicans only briefly in 1947-49 and 1952-3 and enduring a split in 1985-86.
Party Control of Congress, 1933-2019
For better and for worse, the Democratic Party is responsible for every lasting policy paradigm, from the New Deal to the Great Society to Civil Rights to Immigration Reform. The last notable policy initiative of either party was The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) of 2009, which, again, was achieved when the Democrats had control of both Houses.
Party Share of the House of Representatives
Party Share of the Senate
The quarter century since Republicans took the House in the 1994 can be thought of as the “Red Era.” The Republicans’ share of Congress has increased from some 25 percent in the early 1930s to over 55 percent in the past few classes. Republicans have held both Chambers seven out of twelve election cycles, and held onto to one chamber ten out of twelve. Democrats, as mentioned, were only in full command for two years during Barack Obama’s first term.
Republican Share of the House of Representatives
Republican Share of the Senate
Since realignment in the 1960s, Republicans progressed, slowly but surely, from being an “also ran” and regional party to a majority one . . . yet it’s questionable whether they were ever a governing one. Outside of tax cuts, cantankerous complaining, and vague calls for “limited government,” Republicans seem to have no clue of what to do with power once they capture it, much like a dog chasing after the mail man. The GOP has certainly been popular, but it has clearly lacked the intellectual resources to be a truly national party.
As the Red Era took shape, the margins of dominance in Congress (by either party) have progressively shrunk, approaching an even split. The “Red Era” has been one of deadlock, obstruction, back-and-forth, and scarcity of visionary leadership.
Margins of Dominance in House and Senate
You could argue that as margins in Congress are tightening—and polarization becomes more intense—we should prepare ourselves for exchanges of power between the two parties every cycle. But I expect something quite different to emerge—long-range domination of Congress and the presidency by the Left moving forward. The Democrats might never achieve the supremacy of the FDR coalition, but they will set the agenda for the next quarter century: Medicare For All, Universal Basic Income, and “woke” policies beyond our imagination will become possible.
8. Is Diversity Destiny?
Pronouncements about America’s “changing demographics”—or about how “diversity is destiny”—are now so commonplace as to be clichés. The built-in assumption is that demographic realities doom the GOP—the mono-racial “White Party” within the American rainbow. But it’s important to put that into perspective. In Texas, Whites reached minority status 20 years ago, and the state remained a keystone of the Red Era throughout that time. So, theoretically, Republicans could continue to win elections as the “White Party”: the home of “legacy Americans” and those who aspire to be like them.
What is decisive is that the Democrats, and not the Republicans, have constituted themselves as a hegemonic entity for the 21st century. The largest demographic group now entering the Democratic Party is not Hispanic immigrants but White suburban professionals. The Left is thus home, not only to urban African-Americans, but the “New Class” of corporate and financial managers. While the conservatives are downright proud of the absence of cultured snobs and intellectuals in their ranks, the Democrats have long been the party of thinkers, artists, and dreamers. This new Blue grouping that is emerging might seem “contradictory”—but you could say the same about FDR’s New Deal coalition, which brought together the urban poor, small farmers, eggheads, and Southern segregationists.
The Democrats are positioned to capture the forces of America’s transformation, and govern the declining empire competently. The Republicans are still talking about their half-remembered dream of “American Greatness,” and even that is fading into oblivion.
The major obstacle for Democrats is not demographics, surely, nor is it the lack of policy creativity, which will explode in the coming years. It is the fact that millions of White people who identify as “conservatives” and “real Americans” will view their hegemony as entirely illegitimate, and maybe evil. That is a nut the Left might not be able to crack.
Epilogue: Could Trump Actually Win?
Then again, my assessment could be wrong, at least in the short-term. And regardless, it’s worth discussing how Trump could actually pull this off.
We can start with Joe Biden’s personal limitations. The most common criticism of Biden heard from Republicans is encapsulated by Trump’s nickname for him, “Sleepy Joe.” Biden is “senile,” they say, “incoherent,” “stuck in his basement,” “afraid even to step outside.” Much of this is grounded in reality. Biden’s bumbling, absent-minded speech patterns, and malapropisms are striking—though many of them are more charming than politically damaging. And American voters are likely to see Biden’s personal quirks as a “feature, not a bug.” As mentioned, Biden is quite popular among seniors, who can empathize with his “moments,” since they have many of their own. Hillary Clinton was widely reviled, precisely because she comes off as Machiavellian, calculating, codified, and, in a funny way, over-prepared to be president. Uncle Joe, on the other hand, captures the sweet spot of benign goofiness. He’s simply too guileless and folksy to be evil—unlike Hillary.
The second level of the “Sleepy Joe” argument is that, they say, his running mate, Kamala Harris, will be in charge—a suggestion she herself seemed to embrace. Though Harris is clearly more of a “woke feminist” than Joe could ever be, she was selected because, on policy, she is in the same centrist ballpark as Biden. In August, the Wall Street Journalreported, “As Kamala Harris Joins Biden Ticket, Wall Street Sighs in Relief.” Harris opposes Medicare for All (after once supporting it), supports fracking (ditto), and, in a lecture to young people in Chicago instructed them to give up on their dreams and build more jails, not schools. Harris’s initial campaign for the Democratic nomination was derailed when she was scolded by Tulsi Gabbard for being a draconian District Attorney. Harris hasn’t helped the Biden ticket, but she has not seriously hurt it either. And if she does emerge as the éminence grise of the administration, it will be to pursue most of the same policies that Biden would.
The stronger argument in favor Trump is that all of the same forces of 2015, which we discussed above, are still in effect. Echoes of the Trump-Jeb rivalry have returned in 2020, as Trump continues to generate large crowds and religious-like devotion, while Biden hold “rallies” to audiences of a few dozen journalists. This has a lot to do with the pandemic; however, the “enthusiasm gap” is quite real. And it’s not wrong to sum up the dynamic of 2020 as such: Trump supporters love Trump; Biden supports hate Trump. Can Biden pull off a victory on exasperated negativity alone—on his voters “settling” for him, as a relief from the other guy? We’ll find out.
As mentioned, Trump is approaching an astounding 95 percent approval among Republicans, and, in a Pew Research poll in August, 66 percent of his supporters were strongly enthusiastic about voting for him. These are the types that attend rallies, post on Facebook, and talk about Trump tirelessly to their friends and co-workers. At the time, Biden’s strong support was only at 46 percent. But over the past three months, enthusiasm for him has begun to rival conservatives’ adoration of the president—perhaps as the Left’s hatred of Trump reached levels previously thought impossible.
Intra-party support for each candidate
On social media, Trump remains miles ahead of Biden on active engagement, as we would expect. According to the New York Times:
In the past 30 days, Mr. Trump’s official Facebook page has gotten 130 million reactions, shares and comments, compared with 18 million for Mr. Biden’s page. . . . That is significantly larger than the engagement gap for the preceding 30-day period, when Mr. Trump got 86 million interactions to Mr. Biden’s 10 million.
The same story goes for Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and, especially, the new “alt” tech platforms like Bitchute and Parler.
Moreover, while polls are one thing, actual voting is another, and Trump has looked particularly stout on this front. No major Republican dared challenge him in the GOP primaries. And in New Hampshire, for example, he received 85 percent of the vote in the primary, building on his total from four years ago by 30 percent (from 100,000 to 129,000), despite the fact that these elections didn’t seem to matter much. In other words, MAGA enthusiasts—and not necessarily Trump haters—are committed to trudging through a snowstorm to cast a ballot for their hero. That shouldn’t be discounted.
There is also the potential for the activation of anxious—though “shy”—Trump voters. They aren’t willing to announce themselves to pollsters, and they might cast ballots on the basis of angst over the Black Lives Matter protests, which flared up over the summer and have resulted in looting, violence, and demonization of the police.
Princeton academic Omar Wasow has studied the major protest movements of the 1960s and their impact on presidential elections.
In 1964, Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater promised “law and order” against “crime in the streets” but lost in a blowout to President Johnson, a champion of civil rights . . . . By 1968, though, the tide had turned and Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon successfully marshaled a “tough on crime” campaign to help win the White House.
What happened in the four years between Goldwater and Nixon? For one thing, the protests became more violent, particularly in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King. Wasow marshals county-by-county data and concludes that in 1968, localities that were proximate to non-violent protests tended to vote more liberally (that is, for Hubert Humphrey) than they might otherwise have. When Wasow looked at counties that were exposed to violent protests, Nixon tended to gain some two percent points. In various counter-factual scenarios, Wasow suggests that Humphrey would have likely won the election of 1968 were it not for the reaction to the violent protests. Such social-science modeling re-enforces gut instincts: when people see crime, chaos, and racial hatred, they turn to symbols of authority, whether that be incumbents or the candidate viewed as the most right-wing.
In the summer of 2020, violent protests occurred throughout the swing states of Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Texas. And though these have cooled down of late, “Antifa,” “Defund the Policy,” and “BLM” have become household terms—and violent images of mayhem and destruction have been broadcast across the globe. Might we see a similar “Nixon effect” in 2020—one that is even more pronounced this time due to the virtual “proximity” created through social media? This prospect, too, should not be discounted.
That said, Trump’s path to victory remains the same: an Electoral College squeaker, which would drive liberals into conniption fits. And we shouldn’t forget how close it was four yeas ago. A Donald Trump victory in 2020 remains just as possible/impossible as it was in 2016. I would be remiss to count Trump out, though I don’t expect to be proven wrong.