Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Is This Why Evangelicals Support Trump?

Study links attraction to ‘tyrannical’ leaders to dysfunctional family dynamics | SF State News.

One of the great mysteries of recent years is why apparently devout American evangelical Christians supported the very unChristian Donald Trump in such large numbers.

The answer may be in the finding by San Francisco State University Assistant Professor of Management, Dayna Herbert Walker, that there is a connection between a person's childhood family environment and the types of leaders they are drawn to as grown ups. Walker and his colleagues noticed, from an analysis of data from the Fullerton Longitudinal Study that there was a correlation between those who, as adolescents reported a high level of conflict at home and those who later identified socially undesirable traits as ideal leadership qualities.

The Fullerton Longitudinal study has been tracking a cohort of 130 individuals since 1979. The researchers used data gathered in 1996 when the participants were 17 years old and again 20 years later when the participants were asked a series of identical questions about the qualities of an ideal leader.

Sadly, the findings, published in the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies is behind a paywall.

According to the San Francisco University press release:

The 1996 survey asked participants about their family dynamics, such as whether people at home raised their voices, criticized one another or were physically violent. Twenty years later, those respondents were asked to measure on a scale whether 10 qualities researchers defined as tyrannical (domineering, pushy, dominant, manipulative, power-hungry, conceited, loud, selfish, obnoxious and demanding) were characteristics present in their image of an ideal leader.

“It’s critical that we asked about ideal leadership and not just leadership in general,” Herbert Walker said, “because we really wanted to get at a person’s favored leadership image, the characteristics they ideally want to see in their leaders.”

Herbert Walker and the study’s other authors then compared the data from 2016 and 1996 and found a strong positive connection between those who reported living with a high level of conflict at home and those whose ideal image of a leader possessed these negative traits. A person who experiences high conflict in adolescence is 20% more likely than chance to prefer a tyrannical model of leadership, controlling for other known factors that shape leadership preferences like sex and personality. When adolescent family environments contain a high amount of dysfunctional conflict, it’s likely that some tyrannical behavior is on display and that role modeling can shape the way a person views leadership, she explains.

The findings shed new light on what ideal leadership can look like for some followers, illuminating why some of us are drawn to tyrants despite their harsh approach.

Could the answer to the seeming paradox of evangelical support for Trump, who in so many ways displays the tyrannical and obnoxious qualities listed above - domineering, pushy, dominant, manipulative, power-hungry, conceited, loud, selfish, obnoxious and demanding - because these were qualities they saw on display in their fundamentalist Christian parental and cultural role models?

Take a look at the evangelicals active in the social media. Aren't these exactly the personality characteristics we see displayed? So is evangelical Christian support for Trump the result of being raised in dysfunctional families?

This possibility is supported by a Pew Research Religious Landscape Study that found the largest proportion (28%) of divorced/separated people were evangelical Protestants, double that of mainline Protestants and 9% higher than Catholics, compared to 20% for unaffiliated (Nones) with Atheists and agnostics comprisong just 2% and 3% respectively.

In addition, 69% of divorced/separated individuals professed an absolutely certain belief in God and 57% of divorced/separated individuals said religion was an important part of their lives.

So the picture emerges of a large number of evangelicals being raised in families which were heading for marital breakup and divorce and subsequently being raised in families in which one or other parent is absent. Exactly the dysfunctional families identified in the San Francisco State University study as being more likely to identify people with Trump's personality defects as having leadership qualities.

What American fundamentalist Christianity appears to have produced is a people ready and willing to vote for exactly the sort of character who is likely to become a manipulative, power-hungry, conceited obnoxious tyrant and the type of leader whom the Constitution was established to prevent from taking power in America.

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