Most voters support some liberal policies and some conservative policies. Academics have long taken this as evidence of voters’ underlying centrism.
But just because voters are ideologically mixed does not mean they are centrists at heart. Many voters support a mix of extremeliberal policies (like taxing the rich at 90 percent) and extremeconservative policies (like deporting all undocumented immigrants). These voters only appear “centrist” on the whole by averaging their extreme views together into a single point on a liberal-conservative spectrum....
Donald Trump’s rise exemplifies these dangers.
Political scientists and pundits alike argue that it would improve governance to devolve political power from the political elites who know the most about politics and policy to the voters who know the least. Polarization scholars hold these uninformed voters in the highest esteem because they look the most centrist on a left-right spectrum. They are also Donald Trump’s base.
Yes, you read that right. Political scientists have long exalted the centrist wisdom of those who now constitute some of Trump’s strongest supporters — the poorly educatedauthoritarianxenophobes who are attracted to a platform suffused with white supremacy, indulge in unapologetic nationalism and use violence to silence opponents. As commentator Jacob Weisberg has written, these extreme voters’ views are a mix of “wacko left and wacko right” — the key credential one needs to qualify as centrist by scholars’ most popular definition.
A large part of the problem is the left-right political spectrum with which we are saddled. This spectrum was pushed on us by Marxist academics of the 1950's-1970's. It is meant to show a spectrum from really bad (with fascism at the far Right) to really good (with their goal of communism on the far Left)**. For some reason non-Marxists have been fooled into adopting this spectrum, leaving us with the bizarre scale where our political choices are said to lie on a spectrum with totalitarianism on one end and totalitarianism on the other end -- truly an authoritarians "heads I win, tails you lose" setup. In this framework, the middle, whatever the hell that is, seems to be the only viable spot, but Brookman is arguing above that the middle is just a mix of untenable extreme positions from the untenable ends of the scale.
The Left-Right spectrum is totally broken. Trump is unique in the current presidential race not because he appeals to centrists, but because he simultaneously demagogues both the Conservative civilization-barbarism language and the Liberal/Progressive oppressor-oppressed narrative. The fact that his supporters find appeal in extreme versions of both narratives does not mean they should average to centrists. A libertarian like myself would say that they are extremists on the far authoritarian end of the liberty-coercion axis (I, of course, am an extremist as well on the other end of this scale).
** Postscript: This is part of a long history of the Left trying to define political terms in their favor. I love the work on totalitarianism by Hanna Arendt, but you will sometimes hear academics say that Arendt was "repudiated" (or some similar term) in the 1960's. What actually happened was that a new wave of Leftish professors entered academia in the 1960's who admired the Soviet Union and even Stalin. They did not like Arendt's comparison of Nazism and Stalinism as being essentially two sides of the same coin, even though this seems obvious to me. Nazism and Stalinism were, to them, opposite sides of the political spectrum, from dark and evil to enlightened. Thus they dumped all over Arendt, saying that her conclusions did not accurately describe the true nature of life under communism. And so things remained, with Arendt pushed to the margins by Leftish academics, until about 1989. As the iron curtain fell, and new intellectuals emerged in Eastern Europe, they cast about for a framework or a way to describe their experience under communism. And the person they found who best described their experience was... Hannah Arendt.