The Age of Tribalism

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 Unquestioning loyalty to party and a culture of groupthink have come to dominate.

Politics, in the minds of many, is a team sport. There are Republicans, and there are Democrats. You choose a team and those on that team are your allies. Those on the other team are your enemies.

It’s been like that for a while, especially in the two-party system we have in the United States. However, in the Trump era, it seems a political tribalism has taken over our discourse to the point where facts and truth and the best for the country – what’s supposed to be most important in the political decisions that affect us all – no longer matter.

This was on full display in the reaction from the right when Fox News host Shepard Smith went on a minute-and-a-half long rant after Fox confirmed that there was an eighth person at the meeting last summer in which Donald Trump Jr. met with a representative of the Russian government who promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

Trump Jr. initially denied that there would be any more shoes to drop about the meeting.

“If there’s nothing there and that’s what they tell us,” Smith bellowed to fellow Fox Newser Chris Wallace, “they tell us there’s nothing to this and nothing came of it, there’s a nothing burger, it wasn’t even memorable, didn’t write it down, didn’t tell you about it, because it wasn’t anything so I didn’t even remember it, with a Russian interpreter in the room at Trump Tower, if all of that, why all of these lies? Why is it lie after lie after lie?”

These questions aren’t so-called fake news from Smith. These are legitimate concerns based on the existence of a smoking gun for the Trump campaign knowingly colluding with the Russian government and subsequent deception about it. But that didn’t stop the legions of Trump loyalists from sticking to their man no matter what.

The Trump trolls on Twitter immediately called for Smith’s firing for merely saying something bad about the president on the network that is supposed to be on his side. But it wasn’t just the trolls. Sean Hannity, Fox’s top tribalist cheerleader, attacked Smith on Monday, calling him, “so anti-Trump,” as he decried that a journalist might ask questions critical of the president.

This phenomenon with the Trump base plays out in the numbers too. Despite a historically low approval rating overall – caused in part by the Russia scandal Smith lamented – Donald Trump has managed to maintain very strong numbers among republicans. 82% still approve of his job so far.

Even with the discovery of one of the hottest smoking guns in the history of smoking guns in those Trump Jr. emails, GOP voters are sticking by their man.

This, however, shouldn’t come as a surprise. It should have been telling when Ted Cruz didn’t explicitly endorse Donald Trump at the RNC last year and much of the delegation booed when he told them to vote their conscience. It wasn’t about conscience or the Constitution. It wasn’t about ideals or principles. It was about who was wearing a red jersey and who was wearing a blue jersey, nothing else.

Cruz later came crawling back to Trump, “like a servile puppy dog,” with an endorsement that he should probably be starting to regret.

Lest we forget, though, the left is not immune from political tribalism either.

Following Donald Trump’s narrow victory last November 8th, Hillary Clinton supporters were quick to find a scapegoat in Jill Stein and Gary Johnson supporters.

In a piece posted on Mic, a popular liberal website, on November 9th, the lede read, “If you voted for a third-party candidate in 2016, congratulations! You played a major, if not decisive, role in helping Donald Trump become the next president of the United States.” Similar analysis appeared on SalonThe Huffington Post, and all across the democratic Twittersphere.

It didn’t matter that these voters were voting their conscience. It didn’t matter that they may have been repelled by the Clinton Foundation scandal or her gross mishandling of classified information on a person email server. They didn’t vote for the blue team’s gal, so they were dead to them. 

Truth and principles have been replaced by teams and parties, and the American people are going to be worse off for it.

Maybe Ronald Reagan said it best in 1976 when he declared that, “a political party is not a fraternal order.” We need to remember that as quickly as possible and get back to fighting on the battlefield of ideas, not whatever the heck petulant battlefield this is nowadays.

Tyler Olson is a student at the Pennsylvania State University studying broadcast journalism and political science. He has written for The Daily Collegian.

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