What Reality are Trump People Living In?

Saturday, August 27th, 2016

What reality are Trump people living in?, Jer Clifton wonders aloud:

As luck would have it, I happen to be a researcher at Penn who studies the impact of primal world beliefs, which are beliefs about the nature of reality writ large such as “the world is fascinating.”


So I had this fantastic theory that Republicans would see the world as way more dangerous than Democrats. I though that might explain Republicans’ “irrational” a) fear of criminals which manifests as interest in law and order and support for mandatory minimums, c) fear of ISIS, d) fear of Mexicans, e) fear of people coming to take their guns, f) fear of government, and g) fear of out-group members generally. At their last convention, and indeed for every single Republican debate, it seemed like candidates were always trying to out-terrorize each other (“No, I understand the great peril we are in!”…”No, no. I understand it better.”)

However, this theory was wrong. Republicans see the world as slightly more dangerous, but it’s very slight.


Let’s talk about the biggest differences, because they both make sense and don’t make sense: first hierarchical and second just.

The “hierarchical” primal concerns the nature of differences. Namely, does difference imply that something is better or worse? For those who believe that reality is hierarchical, if two things are different that tends to (not always) imply that one is better than the other. Likewise, for those who see reality as nonhierarchical, differences are likely surface and meaningless distinctions and probably distractions. Under the latter view, any attempt to organize the world into “better” or “worse” things will either fail or be inaccurate and superficial. However, for folks who see the world as hierarchical, most things can be fairly usefully ranked and ordered from better or worse. This includes objects, from knives to countries, and people, from individuals to ethnic groups. The biggest difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans on average see the world as more hierarchical, or, to put it a different way, Democrats gloss over differences.

It makes sense, therefore, that the second biggest distinction between Republicans and Democrats concerns whether or not the arc of life trends towards justice. Does life find a way to reward those who do good and punish those who do bad? Is the world a place where working hard and being nice pays off? With plenty of exceptions, Republicans tend to say ‘Yes’ and Democrats say ‘No.’


Trump supporters out-Republican their Republican peers by seeing the world as even more hierarchical and just.

What does this all mean?

Those who see the world as hierarchical and just will tend to assume in small ways that successful people are better people. This might help explain infatuations with billionaires generally.

If we assume that the world is hierarchical and just, then political correctness appears foolish. PC culture is a real problem because it glosses over differences that really matter. This might explain a deep frustration on the Right about political correctness that the Left just doesn’t get.

I’ve often been confused by why Americans need to talk about their country like it’s the best country in the history of the world. But, if we assume that the world is hierarchical and just, and America is the most powerful country in the world, then it stands to reason that America is also the best. It would feel false to say, “America is unique” without also saying, “America is the best.”

Finally, if we assume that the world is hierarchical and just, then we will have more difficulty mixing with and including out-groups. Obviously, hispanic or African American culture is different than the culture of small-town white America where, according to Haidt, sanctity concerns matter more.

Gnon rewards those who follow His laws.


  1. Borepatch says:

    Man, he puts a lot of intellectual effort into what is essentially complicating a cornflake.

  2. Ross says:

    Amen, Borepatch.

  3. Candide III says:

    Someone obviously needs to read McKenna’s Puritan Origins of American Patriotism.

  4. Lucklucky says:

    What an idiot.

  5. Tim says:

    Given the title of the article, a risk of confirmation bias would be reasonable. Disclaimer: Trump and Hillary are the two worst candidates in US history.

    Tribal? The truly tribal organizations prominent in today’s politics appear to be Democrat. SJWs and BLM come to mind. plus a myriad of other groups that see the world as us and them. A tribal characteristic is staying with the in group. Let a liberal express a “conservative” opinion, and watch the reaction you get from the tribe.

    Lost in this research is the question, “Which view is closer to reality?” Opinions, perspectives, and research are only valid inasmuch as they coincide with reality.

  6. RC says:

    Hi! I know this thread has been quiet for a long time BUT I just want to share that this research on fundamental world beliefs / political ideology has been significantly expanded since the original blog post was written.

    Here’s a post summarizing the key takeaways: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/primal-world-beliefs-unpacked/202210/we-thought-conservatives-saw-the-world-more-dangerous-we

    And here’s an empirical paper on the findings: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/363194735_Belief_in_a_Dangerous_World_Does_Not_Explain_Substantial_Variance_in_Political_Attitudes_But_Other_World_Beliefs_Do

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