Reactance: Yet Another Explanation!

As the media trips all over itself trying to explain the Trumpette phenom, I thought we'd about run out of theories. But Tom Edsall, one of the best political commentators on the beat, has come up with an explanation that merits some discussion.

"Psychological reactance is an aversive affective reaction in response to regulations or impositions that impinge on freedom and autonomy. This reaction is especially common when individuals feel obliged to adopt a particular opinion or engage in a specific behavior. Specifically, a perceived diminution in freedom ignites an emotional state, called psychological reactance, that elicits behaviors intended to restore this autonomy."

The key: reactance is "especially common when individuals feel obliged to adopt a particular opinion or engage in a specific behavior." I couldn't help but think of Obama's Executive Order on school bathrooms. Or of Loretta Lynch's high-minded comparison of the Black Civil Rights Movement to the current anti-discrimination efforts on behalf of same-sex couples and trans-people. We could move on to efforts to revoke the Hyde Amendment which bars using tax dollars for abortions or require dissenting small businesses to provide services for same-sex weddings. Yes, there is a fine line between treating everyone with respect and dignity and deploying legal and social pressures to force people to say or do things with which they conscientiously disagree. Edsall sees this dynamic as part of Trump's appeal.

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages.

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