This article considers the phenomenon of MAGAism as a general, “big-umbrella” social movement to probe its structure and persistence. Drawing on my research on nationalist movements, I discuss the narrative flexibility and emotional power of nationalism and consider how these characteristics fuel a particularly resentful form of majoritarian nationalism—MAGAism. I identify five points of entry for MAGA participation, starting with this bitter majoritarian nationalism, then populism, then traditional conservatism, next a Trumpian personality cult, and ending with the alt-right’s extreme white supremacism and fascism. I then discuss two forces that gather this unlikely collection of groups and individuals under the MAGA umbrella: (1) the flexibility of social identity and how it allows status-threat narratives to subsume and redirect economic and political claims; (2) the social media environment of the 2020s, cut loose from the traditional gatekeepers of news and information, wherein maximizing hits—not accuracy—is the guiding principle. On the one hand, social media intensify the prominence of the demagogic celebrity at the helm of the Republican Party, Donald J. Trump. On the other hand, alt-right trolls compete for prominence by seeking outrageousness and shock value, enhanced by algorithms that create a closed information environment. These social media trends pull MAGA adherents further to the right by inflaming public discourse and building the movement on lies and conspiracies.
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ARTICLES| January 03 2024
THE MAGA MOVEMENT’S BIG UMBRELLA*
Hank Johnston †
* I thank Neal Caren for his flexibility regarding the publication of my 2023 McCarthy award lecture—an award based in large part on my role in Mobilization over the years—and how I commandeered the platform of this special issue for my own thoughts about the broad sweep of right-wing politics, white nationalism, emotions, demagoguery, and social media in the U.S. today. Thanks also to the coeditors of this special issue, Rory McVeigh and Ziad Munson for allowing me to usurp these pages to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. I am grateful for everyone’s comments on earlier versions of this essay. Together, these colleagues not only constitute a group whom I have come to appreciate highly over the years but also a powerhouse of editorial expertise and intellect whose comments and criticisms have greatly improved this essay. Any errors that may remain, of course, are mine alone.
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Mobilization: An International Quarterly (2024) 28 (4): 409–433.
Hank Johnston; THE MAGA MOVEMENT’S BIG UMBRELLA*. Mobilization: An International Quarterly 3 January 2024; 28 (4): 409–433. doi: https://doi.org/10.17813/1086-671X-28-4-409
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