Republican identity politics: Authoritarianism — not individualism — is central to GOP

Their Orwellian newspeak version of "freedom, liberty and individual rights" belies a darker truth

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published February 9, 2023 5:43AM (EST)

Juggling the Far-Right (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Juggling the Far-Right (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Repetition is one of the most essential principles in marketing. It is how a brand creates a relationship with consumers. If the marketing campaign is successful, the consumer will link the brand with certain emotions, images, and ideas. In the most effective marketing campaigns, the consumer embraces a given brand as exemplifying those qualities to the exclusion of the competing brands. 

At Forbes, Robin Lewis uses the example of Apple to demonstrate how this model functions:

Simply stated, a brand or store has a neurological connection with its customers if those customers approach the store visit as they would a visit to the home of a good friend. The trip requires almost no perceivable effort because they know it is going to be a fun and enjoyable experience.

The consumer mind-connecting process created by Jobs for Apple is instructional for all consumer-facing businesses because of its holistic approach.

Once connected, Apple and its cult of addicts are impervious to competitors. Steve Jobs was almost obsessed with building this deep connection with consumers. His ability to translate science, technology and innovation into artistically designed, consumer-friendly products is now legendary. The unique Apple Stores served as the final link in the connection.

Republicans are masters of marketing using endless repetition. 

They have successfully captured their public and created for them an entire alternate reality — a closed episteme — consisting of not just the party but a right-wing hate media echo chamber. Republicans can have all of their questions answered by this alternate reality.  

Their Orwellian newspeak version of "freedom, liberty and individual rights" just means that people are free as long as they do what Republicans want.

Republicans have used their marketing machine to brand themselves as the party of "freedom", "liberty" and "individual rights." This is objectively not true. Today's Republican Party and "conservative" movement are fascists and authoritarians who in total hate real democracy and freedom. Their ultimate goal is to take away the civil and human rights and freedoms of those people they deem to be the enemy and therefore not "real Americans." 

Their Orwellian newspeak version of "freedom, liberty and individual rights" just means that people are free as long as they do what Republicans want. For example, Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is engaging in a fascist project consisting of thought crime laws, banning books and authors who are deemed "dangerous," and using his own personal Gestapo to intimidate and harass his political enemies.

DeSantis and his agents are also, quite literally, declaring the personhood of queer, gay, lesbian, transgendered and nonbinary people to be illegal. Part of this attack on their humanity and literal existence involves encouraging vigilantism and other violence. DeSantis is also taking away the reproductive rights and freedoms of women and girls.

.New research highlights the central role that authoritarian ideas – especially misogyny and hostile sexism – play in today's Republican Party and the behavior of its voters. While self-identified Democrats and the public as a whole have increasingly embraced the idea of gender equality as a norm, Republicans have become more regressive and misogynistic, according to a study by the communications and polling firm PerryUnDem. PerryUnDem's research also shows that hostile sexism and the core belief that women are inferior to men (meaning support for "traditional gender roles") is highly correlated with opposing women's reproductive rights. A belief that women do not have the intellectual or moral wisdom required to make decisions about their own bodies (i.e. they need to be guided by men) is also highly correlated with opposing women's reproductive rights and freedoms.

In addition, Republicans are also much more likely than Democrats to believe that women who choose to have abortions are irresponsible. Republicans in the study also believe that feminism has done more harm than good for the country.

PerryUnDem's report summarizes these findings:

Are sexist beliefs related to views toward abortion? Yes. There are very strong correlations between sexist beliefs and views toward abortion.

2. How pervasive are false stereotypes of women who have abortions? Upwards of 60% of the public hold stereotypical views.

3. What variables in our survey best predict wanting abortion legal or illegal? False stereotypes of women and women who have abortions.

The group identified as "hostile Anti-Egalitarians" -- a group that includes almost 50 percent of Republican men -- are most likely to hold such misogynistic views.

PerryUndem's report elaborates:

This segment – 18% of all survey respondents – is the least progressive on gender and holds the most hostile sexist views. This cohort almost universally (95%) agrees feminism has done more harm than good. Large majorities agree women are too easily offended (91%) and 80% agree that white men are the most attacked group in the country right now. Three quarters (75%) say they're more comfortable with women having traditional roles in society. Just 12% say a husband should definitely be prosecuted in the case of marital rape. This group skews white (76%), older (72% are 45+), men (57%), married (59%), Republican (58%), and religious (38% attend religious services once a week or more). Forty-four percent of Republican men are Antiegalitarians.

In a previous essay here at Salon, Amanda Marcotte explained how hostile sexism and misogyny fit into the Republican Party's strategy:

Republicans know that there's no substantive voting constituency for their economic policies. Tapping into this anger over women's economic and social gains allows the party to reach voters who would not be motivated by spending cuts to Social Security or tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. So while most Americans may reject the misogyny that underpins abortion bans, the anti-choice message is tapping a larger group of voters than Republicans could otherwise access. If they give up sexism now, they risk losing their core voters without necessarily getting new ones to replace them. Misogyny has been central to the Republican brand for too long, it turns out, for them to risk changing course now…

"The research tells us that anti-abortion attitudes" are about more than "babies or when life begins," Tresa Undem, the co-founder of PerryUndem, told Salon. Instead, "views are about one's fundamental beliefs toward women." When it comes to Republicans, "they hold the most hostile sexist views."

In other words, to keep the GOP base motivated to donate, volunteer, and vote in elections, the Republican party needs to appeal to sexist attitudes. The most effective way to win over misogynist voters is to attack reproductive rights.

And new research by UC Berkeley political scientist Cecilia Hyunjung Mo complements PerryUndem's findings. In conversation with Edward Lempinen of the Berkeley News, Mo elaborates on what she describes as "modern sexism" and anxieties related to hierarchy and loss of status:

Today, we're seeing the advancement of women and several minority groups. We're increasingly talking about issues of inequality. But if you're thinking, "I'm not on top anymore and I should be on top," then you might start feeling aggrieved by these changes.

Mo highlights how modern sexism impacts men's voting and other political behavior:

Additionally, in current work I'm doing in the U.S., my collaborators and I see preliminary evidence that modern sexism and some other dimensions of sexism seem to be a lot more predictive of voting now than they were in the past.

These constituencies seem to be arguing, "Gender discrimination doesn't exist anymore. We need to stop caring about advancing women. Women are getting too much. Men are being left behind. And we don't like government agencies and taxpayer dollars being invested in trying to remedy some form of discrimination that we don't think exists anymore."

Donald Trump, Mo explains, skillfully uses white male rage as a tool to radicalize his followers into attacking and undermining pluralistic democracy. "Having the president of the United States champion their causes emboldened the aggrieved white male, and as their grievances were being amplified, they were made to feel that something could actually be done to address their concerns."

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

The mainstream American news media, especially its professional centrists with their "bothsidesism" and horserace coverage obsessions, have consistently failed to properly adapt to the Age of Trump, ascendant neofascism, and the larger democracy crisis. One of their greatest failures is a near-religious cult-like devotion to a belief in "normal politics" where the institutions and democracy are strong because of so-called shared values. The mainstream news media refuses to accept the foundational central role that emotions and identity play in politics. What America's news media and mainstream political class need to understand and accept is that modern conservatism is a type of motivated social cognition where sexism, racism, misogyny, social dominance behavior, authoritarianism and other factors play a central role in political decision-making. To deny these facts is to willfully refuse to understand the true nature of America's democracy crisis.

Once again, if a person tells you who they are believe them.

Being a Republican or conservative today is a statement of one's core identity and personhood where fascism, authoritarianism, violence, and a need to dominate and control others deemed as being outside of one's tribe is central to the group identity and brand. Today's Republican fascists have been screaming at the top of their lungs about who they really are and too many members of America's news media and political class have convinced themselves that they are somehow not serious. That denial will be written in capital letters as the epitaph for America's democracy and civil society.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

MORE FROM Chauncey DeVega