nationalism, Quebec nationalism, the
surge of Marie le Pen and the vote for
Globalization has led to enormous,
rapid movements of people. Modern
transportation means that millions of
people can move in a relatively short time.
As a result, you get sudden contact and
collective identity threat—groups coming
into contact with others with whom
they’ve had no experience and with no
opportunity for the people of the host
countries to adapt. The rise of nationalism,
ethnocentrism and threatened identities
are all based on perceptions of invasion
and the resulting collective identity threat.
In the United States, the election of Donald Trump has been based on this surge of
perceived threat, and the executive order
stopping people from Islamic countries
from coming here is based on exaggerated
perceptions of threat. Psychologists can
counter this perceived threat by better
communicating our research findings and
making people aware that this fearmon-gering threatens democracy.
But the impact of sudden contact and
collective identity threat is not limited
to any one part of the world. The election of Donald Trump and the rise of
Islamic radicalization and terrorism are
psychologically the result of the same
processes: globalization and sudden contact, resulting in huge collective identity
threats. Just as authoritarian fundamentalist Muslims are determined to repulse
American culture from Islamic societies,
authoritarian nationalist Americans are
determined to repulse Muslim culture
from the United States. These ethnocentric forces are mirror images.
What else can psychologists
do to promote democracy?
First, we can keep optimistic by looking
at the long term. We have made tremendous advances. Look at the progress of
women in higher education, for example.
Until about 50 years ago, women were
excluded from much of higher education.
Now, women play a central role in higher
However, in the short term, we have
to take strong positions and speak out on
the basis of our research on the treatment
of minorities, on torture, on women’s
rights and much more. On the treatment
of minorities, for example, empirical
psychological evidence has accumulated
over at least the last half century on
how implicit and explicit prejudice and
discrimination against minorities and
women detrimentally affects their per-
formance and well-being, and harms all
of society. Regarding torture, a great deal
of evidence has accumulated showing
that torture is not an effective means
of extracting accurate information. To
explore this issue, at the height of the
Iraq-war interrogation debates, I partici-
pated in a meeting of highly experienced
military interrogators and research
psychologists at Georgetown University.
The interrogators reported on the ineffectiveness of torture for getting at the
truth (Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace
Public opinion is swayed by arguments, and psychologists have a great
many facts and arguments to present
about the current situation.
We also must make a concerted effort
to educate more broadly. We have a
duty to socialize citizens for democracy
by making a more explicit link between
psychology and democracy by writing,
speaking up in forums, and talking to
politicians about our research findings and
experiences from practice as psychologists.
Do you remain optimistic
We have to be optimistic, but we also
need to keep in mind that democracy is
something we have to fight for. There is
no guarantee that historically democracy
must win out. Militarily, apart from the
United States, the most important powers are dictatorships. China, the rising
economy in the world, is a dictatorship.
Russia is a very strong dictatorship that
does not plan to go away. So, we have a
fight on our hands and we need to think
of the long term.
All empires decline and the question is when will the American Empire
decline and what will be the state of
democracy after it does? ■
“The rise of nationalism,
are all based on
perceptions of invasion
and the resulting