A liberal democracy requires that it’s diverse groups be able to tolerate each other. In “The Neuroscience of Hate Speech” psychiatrist Richard Friedman describes how Trump’s hate and fear-mongering targeted at non-white males can goad deranged people to action. Stoking anger and fear turns on stress hormones like cortisol and norepinephrine, and engages the amygdala, the brain center for threat. Feeling defensive and threatened facilitates violence towards, and dehumanization of, those supposedly presenting the threat. “So when someone like President Trump dehumanizes his adversaries, he could be putting them beyond the reach of empathy, stripping them of moral protection and making it easier to harm them..”
Max Fisher notes a common theme among the liberal democracies trending towards authoritarian populism (Hungary, Brazil, and now Germany) even though popular backlash is against different issues (corruption and crime in Brazil, immigration and European union problems in Hungary and Germany).
Maybe Brazil’s election, along with the rest of the populist trend, represents something more disruptive than a single wave with a single point of origin. Research suggests it exemplifies weaknesses and tensions inherent to liberal democracy itself — and that, in times of stress, can pull it apart…When institutions fall short…voters can grow skeptical of the entire idea of accruing power to bureaucrats and elites…the trouble often starts when members of a particular social group believe their group is declining in status relative to others.
When that happens, voters tend to reject that system in all but name and follow their most basic human instincts toward older styles of government: majoritarian, strong-fisted, us-versus-them rule.
Human beings are tribal by nature. Our instincts are to put our group first and see ourselves as locked in competition with other groups. Liberal democracy, which promises that everyone gains when rights are protected for all, asks us to suppress those impulses.
But this is no easy ask. And tribal instincts tend to come to the fore in times of scarcity or insecurity, when our capacity for lofty ideals and long-term planning is weakest.