Abstract at bottom of this page
By Alex DiBranco and Chip Berlet
As 2015 turned to 2016, the Republican Presidential primary frontrunners continued to stake out hardline right-wing political positions and deploy inflammatory rhetoric, especially the eventual winner, Donald Trump. Journalistic explanations of what motivated the candidates ranged from the thoughtful to the absurd. Meanwhile, some Democratic Party pundits and Beltway observers denounced the Republicans as having been seized by “extremists” and “lunatics.” The social movement theories we rely on offer a more useful explanation.[i] At the heart of the right-wing response to the rhetoric involves an emotional attachment to the promises of the American Dream (Manza and Brooks 2014; Hochschild forthcoming). In this study we examine how ideologies, meta-frames, frames, and narratives exert a powerful pull on the collective behavior of large groups of people. This not only primes these populations for mobilization into specific social movements and social movement organizations (SMOs), but also makes them receptive, in this case, to political campaign rhetoric.
The concepts of cognitive liberation and defining grievances provided a taking off point for the cultural turn in social movement research, beginning with the introduction of theories of framing by Snow et al. in 1986. Under the framing perspective, SMOs do not simply channel preexisting grievances, which are not absolute; the frame creates the perceived injustice for participants. Snow et al. find that organizations gain adherents through frame bridging, linking distinct but compatible frames, significant to this paper’s attention to interacting frames within four core ideologies. Collective identity, emotion, and morality followed the cultural turn in the 1990s; scholars argued that where collective behavior disparaged protesters as emotional, irrational mobs, the introduction of resource mobilization went too far in completely cutting emotions out of the picture (Polletta et al.; Jasper). Klandermans proposes three different processes are involved in the “social construction of collective action frames,” including:
- public discourse, that is, the interface of media discourse and interpersonal interaction;
- persuasive communication during mobilization campaigns by movement organizations, their opponents and countermovement organizations;
- consciousness raising during episodes of collective action (1997:45)
The idea that right-wing social movements were strategic and instrumental began to establish a firm foothold in sociology in the 1980s, replacing the “Pluralist School” narrative of irrational and disturbed extremism (Berlet and Lyons 2000). Political scientist Michael Paul Rogin capped off two decades of criticism with his 1987 book Ronald Reagan, the Movie: and Other Episodes in Political Demonology, opening a door for a new analytical model that sociology doctoral student Sara Diamond stepped through. Too often overlooked by social movement scholars, Diamond wrote the now classic Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States (1995) and a series of popular and scholarly books and articles (1989, 1994, 1996, 1998). Other early scholarly theorists include Kathleen Blee (1991, 1999, 2001, 2002), Jerome Himmelstein (1990, 1998), and Jean V. Hardisty (1999).
In this paper we examine the role of four core ideological tendencies around which a number of right-wing movements are clustered: White Nationalism, Christian Nationalism, Heteropatriarchy, and Neoliberalism. (We omit the ideology of Militarism, in part because in the context of the 2016 elections Militarism appears to cross party lines and involve candidates who are Democrats and Republicans.) By tracing the roots and branches of these ideological tendencies, we seek to clarify their power to mobilize often temporary political and electoral power blocks from within pre-existing social movements and in spite of cleavages and tensions.
[i] These are the studies on which we base our theoretical model: Johnston (1995); Oliver, P.E. and Hank Johnston (2000); Dobratz, Betty A. and Stephanie Shanks-Meile, S.L. (1996); Dreier, Peter and Christopher R. Martin (2010); Ewick, Patricia and Susan S. Silbey (1995); Polletta, Francesca (1998); Diamond, Sara (1995; 1998); Snow and Benford (2000); Gamson, William A. ( 1990) McCarthy, John D and Mayer N. Zald, (1977); McAdam, Doug ([1982 1985); Goodwin, Jeff and James M. Jasper (2004); Goffman, Erving (1974) Snow, David A., E. Burke Rochford Jr., Steven K. Worden, and Robert D. Benford (1986); Snow, David A. and Robert D. Benford (1992).
The Republican Presidential primary race for the 2016 election triggered a maelstrom of media coverage concerning the ferocity and bigotry of the rhetoric, especially from Donald Trump. In this study, we examine how ideologies, frames, and narratives exert a powerful pull on the collective behavior of large groups of people. This not only primes these populations for mobilization into specific social movements and social movement organizations, but also makes them receptive, in this case, to political campaign rhetoric.
Longstanding right-wing social movements and social movement organizations mobilized the several supportive constituencies lining up behind this virulent rhetoric. In this paper we examine the role of four core ideological tendencies around which a number of these movements are clustered: White Nationalism, Christian Nationalism, Heteropatriarchy, and Neoliberalism. These ideologies overlap and compete in complex ways. Our goal is to detail the roots and branches of these ideological tendencies as one way to clarify how pre-existing social movements mobilize often temporary political and electoral power blocks, despite cleavages and tensions.
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Presented at a Roundtable at the August 2016
annual conference of the
American Sociological Association in the
Section on Collective Behavior and Social Movements.
Copyright 2016 by Alex DiBranco and Chip Berlet.
All Rights Reserved.