Comedians are right: Authoritarian Democrats are also a problem

Comedians are right: Authoritarian Democrats are also a problem
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The list of people expressing concerns about the authoritarian vibe coming from Democrats seems to be growing by the day.

Comedian, long-time Democrat, and one-time Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan Manchin: Biden told moderates to pitch price tag for reconciliation bill Biden employs flurry of meetings to unite warring factions MORE supporter, Sarah Silverman said it this way, “It's the absolutist-ness of the party I am in that is such a turnoff to me.” 

No, she wasn’t talking about Republicans from Arkansas. She was talking about Democrats. Similar to liberal stalwart Bill Maher and the centrist former New York Times opinion writer and editor Bari Weiss, among others, it seems people of all political stripes are starting to worry that the Democrats are becoming too autocratic.


Recent psychological science research suggests they are right to worry.

Historically, people in academia and beyond have associated absolutist, authoritarian attitudes — the kind of dogmatic attitudes that want strong authority figures to crush opponents — with those on the conservative side of the political aisle. However, research has increasingly shown evidence of liberal authoritarianism in Europe over the past decade or so. And in an award-winning paper published in the journal Political Psychology, my colleagues and I brought this closer to home; we showed that American liberals are just as capable as conservatives of being dogmatic authoritarians. 

In fact, in our work, liberals are just as likely as conservatives to agree with statements endorsing that some groups should “just shut up and accept their group’s proper place in society.” Similarly, there are as many liberals as conservatives who want to “put some tough leaders in power” to “silence the troublemakers,” and these liberal authoritarians are just as likely as conservative authoritarians to want a mighty leader who will “destroy,” “smash,” “crush,” “strongly punish,” and “silence” opponents. 

Other scientific evidence, too, shows that American liberals can be alarmingly autocratic. For example, researchers Tom Costello and colleagues at Emory University recently published a set of studies in the top outlet Journal of Personality and Social Psychology revealing that the left-wing authoritarian threat is very much a reality in the United States. Indeed, according to the authors, left-wing authoritarianism “predicts behavioral aggression and is strongly correlated with participation in political violence.” As these data indicate, authoritarians aren’t harmless people who think children should respect their teachers. No, authoritarians want authority figures to take power and hurt their enemies.

Maybe you think this is something for someone else to care about. If so, ask yourself: Do you want to live in a world run by liberal authoritarians? Do you want the people in control of the country to believe that anyone they don’t happen to like should “just shut up and accept their group’s proper place in society?” Because increasingly, those sorts of liberals have power in your world. Polling suggests that 50 percent of Democrats want Trump donors, and actresses, baseball personalities, and Google employees who have expressed conservative views fired. And it’s likely going to get worse before it gets better: New data in academia suggests that the younger generation is much more likely than older generations to support firing conservative colleagues.  


This rise in authoritarianism has consequences. No free society can function when arguments occur under fear of authoritarian punishment; polling data suggests that 62 percent of Americans (including 77 percent of Republicans and 52 percent of Democrats) are afraid to say what they think these days. Think about that for a second. The “Land of the Free” is becoming “The Land of the Scared-to-Speak.”

So, what can we do to stop authoritarians from taking over the country? It’s not that complicated. We need to follow Sarah Silverman’s and Bill MaherWilliam (Bill) MaherBill Maher, Isiah Thomas score over the NFL's playing of 'Black national anthem' Bill Maher criticizes NFL for playing Black national anthem 9/11 sparked a surge in Islamophobia — for years, the media fed the flames MORE’s lead. We don’t need more liberals standing up to conservative bullies or conservatives standing up to liberal bullies. What we really need are courageous people to stand up to bullies in their group. We need conservatives standing up to conservative bullies, like the way some conservative Christians once stood up to the authoritarian haters at Westboro Church. And yes, we need liberals standing up to liberal bullies. 

I just hope it isn’t too late for us to take back the ever-increasing power we’ve granted to authoritarians on both sides of the political aisle.

Dr. Lucian Gideon Conway III is a fellow in the prestigious Society of Experimental Social Psychology. He is the author of over 80 academic articles and book chapters on culture and politics. His work has been featured in major media outlets such as The Washington Post, New York Times, Huffington Post, Psychology Today, USA Today, the Ben Shapiro Podcast, and BBC Radio. Follow him on Twitter @LGConwayIII, on ResearchGate, or on Google Scholar.