“Battling the Prince”: Adventures in State Politics

For the past few years, I have been conducting an auto-ethnographic study of my experiences in electoral politics, and the first piece of that project just got published!

Claire Snyder-Hall, “Battling the Prince: A Political Memoir,” New Political Science: A Journal of Politics and Culture (December 2017), published online 27 Sept. 2017.

Leaving the Ivory Tower and entering the world of realpolitik led to a number of surprising discoveries. This first published piece addresses some of what I learned about political culture during my forays.

With the election of Trump, we all now know, if we didn’t before, that a wide streak of authoritarianism runs through American society. Indeed, studies show that over 62% of Americans score high on measures of authoritarianism (Hetherington and Weiler, 2009).

On the one hand, I find that widespread acceptance of anti-democratic values puzzling.  Given the rhetoric about what a great democracy we live in, one might expect people would have internalized democratic values as a default position.

On the other hand, it’s unclear where exactly people would learn democratic values in this country – certainly not in most homes, schools, or work places. And we lack opportunities for civic engagement in general. Indeed, our public sphere (in both MSM and on social media) is now dominated by hyper-partisanship, incivility, hypocrisy, and punitiveness.

It does not shock me that right-wingers support authoritarianism. But it does shock me to discover that some Democratic party leaders and (self-identified) progressive activists also condone authoritarian attitudes and behaviors.

I guess it’s understandable that some would defer to power to avoid the bully’s glare. It’s tough being targeted for attack by a powerful man. I know that.

What I cannot accept, however, is kowtowing to power because you think you are somehow advancing the agenda of “Team D” – or, even worse, because you enjoy basking in power’s glow.

“Battling the Prince” tells the story of my battle with a powerful and vengeful man who believes himself entitled to rule and accountable to no one, as if a Prince.

And as I’ve shared this very personal story, I’ve learned it’s far from uncommon. People all over the country are battling their own little Princes and now we have a big one occupying the White House. But battling the Prince is not only about individual people, but also about the perennial allure of power and the habits of deference people develop to make their lives easier, both of which undermine our ability to govern ourselves as equals.

I find deference to authoritarianism among Democrats and progressives unacceptable. In my opinion, we cannot move toward the type of society we want to inhabit by tolerating or replicating negative behavior, even if it seems to serve our cause in the short term.

The means are the ends.

* These comments derive from my presentation at the New Political Science roundtable at the American Political Science Association annual meeting (2017).

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