Sunday, December 18, 2016

Are The Demands Of Tribal Loyalty-- Even Over Sanity-- Destroying American Governance?


Over the course of the presidential election many non-Wisconsinites got to know conservative Milwaukee talk show host, Charlie Sykes because of all the national media attention he got for his powerful analysis of the Trump phenomenon from the right. His radio broadcasts opposing Trump are widely credited with Trump's notable primary loss in Wisconsin. Trump only won 6 of the state's 42 delegates, all the rest going to Sykes' favorite candidate, Ted Cruz, who beat Trump 531,129 (48.2%) to 386,370 (35.1%) with 155,200 votes (14.1%) going to Kasich. In fact, Trump did even worse in the half dozen counties where Sykes' radio show is most listened to:
Milwaukee- 26.1%
Ozaukee- 20.5%
Waukesha- 22.1%
Racine- 32.1%
Washington- 23.5%
Sheboygan- 25.1%
In an OpEd in the NY Times a few days ago, he wrote that "In April, after Mr. Trump decisively lost the Wisconsin Republican primary, I had hoped that we here in the Midwest would turn out to be a firewall of rationality. Our political culture was distinctly inhospitable to Mr. Trump’s divisive, pugilistic style; the conservatives who had been successful here had tended to be serious, reform-oriented and able to express their ideas in more than 140 characters. But in November, Wisconsin lined up with the rest of the Rust Belt to give the presidency to Mr. Trump. How on earth did that happen?" In fact, many Americans are still incredulous that Trump won Wisconsin. Did Putin steal it for him? Was Clinton really the worst candidate to ever come down the pike?

The general election was incredibly close in Wisconsin. Clinton was sure she had it in the bag and was virtually ignoring the state-- as dictated by Ada and disputed by Bill Clinton. Trump took 1,405,284 votes (47.2%) to Clinton's 1,382,536 (46.5%)-- a 22,748 vote difference (in a state where 188,330 people voted for third party candidates). Clinton managed to alienate enough of Obama's 2012 Wisconsin 1,613,950 vote majority to give Trump his narrow margin of victory. What happened to those 231,414 Obama voters who opted to not cast their ballots for Clinton last month? Or maybe Putin and Comey did it.

Sykes, an anti-union/pro-charter school nut, has aggressively backed some of the worst walking garbage piles in American politics-- Paul Ryan, Scott Walker, Ron Johnson-- but he just doesn't see Trump as a conservative. "I was under the impression that conservatives actually believed things about free trade, balanced budgets, character and respect for constitutional rights. Then along came this campaign." Yes, along came a psychotic narcissist embraced by nearly every conservative in the country.
On the surface, the explanations for Mr. Trump’s improbable win in Wisconsin are simple enough: He won big margins in rural, blue-collar counties and won the pivotal Green Bay area by double digits. But he underperformed Mitt Romney in the vote-rich Milwaukee suburbs and ended up getting fewer votes in victory than Mr. Romney received in his 2012 defeat. Hillary Clinton, however, got about 39,000 fewer votes in heavily Democratic Milwaukee County than President Obama did four years earlier. Democrats simply stayed home, though that is obviously not the whole story.

That is what I saw, and this is what it might mean for the future of conservatism. When I wrote in August 2015 that Mr. Trump was a cartoon version of every left-wing media stereotype of the reactionary, nativist, misogynist right, I thought that I was well within the mainstream of conservative thought-- only to find conservative Trump critics denounced for apostasy by a right that decided that it was comfortable with embracing Trumpism. But in Wisconsin, conservative voters seemed to reject what Mr. Trump was selling, at least until after the convention.

To be sure, some of my callers embraced Mr. Trump’s suggestion for a ban on Muslims entering the country and voiced support for a proposal to deport all Muslims-- even citizens. One caller compared American Muslims to rabid dogs. But right to the end, relatively few of my listeners bought into the crude nativism Mr. Trump was selling at his rallies.

What they did buy into was the argument that this was a “binary choice.” No matter how bad Mr. Trump was, my listeners argued, he could not possibly be as bad as Mrs. Clinton. You simply cannot overstate this as a factor in the final outcome. As our politics have become more polarized, the essential loyalties shift from ideas, to parties, to tribes, to individuals. Nothing else ultimately matters.

In this binary tribal world, where everything is at stake, everything is in play, there is no room for quibbles about character, or truth, or principles. If everything-- the Supreme Court, the fate of Western civilization, the survival of the planet-- depends on tribal victory, then neither individuals nor ideas can be determinative. I watched this play out in real time, as conservatives who fully understood the threat that Mr. Trump posed succumbed to the argument about the Supreme Court. As even Mr. Ryan discovered, neutrality was not acceptable; if you were not for Mr. Trump, then you were for Mrs. Clinton.

The state of our politics also explains why none of the revelations, outrages or gaffes seemed to dent Mr. Trump’s popularity.

In this political universe, voters accept that they must tolerate bizarre behavior, dishonesty, crudity and cruelty, because the other side is always worse; the stakes are such that no qualms can get in the way of the greater cause.

For many listeners, nothing was worse than Hillary Clinton. Two decades of vilification had taken their toll: Listeners whom I knew to be decent, thoughtful individuals began forwarding stories with conspiracy theories about President Obama and Mrs. Clinton-- that he was a secret Muslim, that she ran a child sex ring out of a pizza parlor. When I tried to point out that such stories were demonstrably false, they generally refused to accept evidence that came from outside their bubble. The echo chamber had morphed into a full-blown alternate reality silo of conspiracy theories, fake news and propaganda.

And this is where it became painful. Even among Republicans who had no illusions about Mr. Trump’s character or judgment, the demands of that tribal loyalty took precedence. To resist was an act of betrayal.

When it became clear that I was going to remain #NeverTrump, conservatives I had known and worked with for more than two decades organized boycotts of my show. One prominent G.O.P. activist sent out an email blast calling me a “Judas goat,” and calling for postelection retribution. As the summer turned to fall, I knew that I was losing listeners and said so publicly.

And then, there was social media. Unless you have experienced it, it’s difficult to describe the virulence of the Twitter storms that were unleashed on Trump skeptics. In my timelines, I found myself called a “cuckservative,” a favorite gibe of white nationalists; and someone Photoshopped my face into a gas chamber. Under the withering fire of the trolls, one conservative commentator and Republican political leader after another fell in line.

How had we gotten here?

One staple of every radio talk show was, of course, the bias of the mainstream media. This was, indeed, a target-rich environment. But as we learned this year, we had succeeded in persuading our audiences to ignore and discount any information from the mainstream media. Over time, we’d succeeded in delegitimizing the media altogether-- all the normal guideposts were down, the referees discredited.

That left a void that we conservatives failed to fill. For years, we ignored the birthers, the racists, the truthers and other conspiracy theorists who indulged fantasies of Mr. Obama’s secret Muslim plot to subvert Christendom, or who peddled baseless tales of Mrs. Clinton’s murder victims. Rather than confront the purveyors of such disinformation, we changed the channel because, after all, they were our allies, whose quirks could be allowed or at least ignored.

We destroyed our own immunity to fake news, while empowering the worst and most reckless voices on the right.

This was not mere naïveté. It was also a moral failure, one that now lies at the heart of the conservative movement even in its moment of apparent electoral triumph. Now that the election is over, don’t expect any profiles in courage from the Republican Party pushing back against those trends; the gravitational pull of our binary politics is too strong.

I’m only glad I’m not going to be a part of it anymore.

Meanwhile, as Richard Greene noted at HuffPo yesterday, Trump's fragile mental health is becoming a subject of great concern among mental health professionals. Three psychiatrists just wrote President Obama a letter strongly implying that he will be endangering the country by turning the White House over to Trump. "[H]is widely reported symptoms of mental instability-- including grandiosity, impulsivity, hypersensitivity to slights or criticism, and an apparent inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality-- lead us to question his fitness for the immense responsibilities of the office," they wrote. "We strongly recommend that, in preparation for assuming these responsibilities, he receive a full medical and neuropsychiatric evaluation by an impartial team of investigators." Yeah... and when's he turning over this tax returns? And as for the concept "decent" Republicans, maybe that whole idea needs to be reexamined now. No? OK, wait until after the Trumpy damage is done.

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At 6:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to worry. Herr drumpf isn't going to be required to do all that much. We're going to have another 4th branch, shadow fuhrer named Pence, aided by the billionaire goldman-sachs/big oil cabinet.

the bushbaby was a true imbecile (gifted with a modicum of political acumen... and kkkarl rove). So Cheney was our unitary for almost everything except tax cuts. This time around, we'll have the true misanthropic ideologue pence (et al) in charge of everything except misspelled and paranoid tweets.

As to tribal loyalty, you need to further qualify it as BLIND or UNQUESTIONING tribal loyalty. It's, IMO, a form of insanity in and of itself. And it's been Americans' defining quality for 40 years.

American governance being destroyed is an unavoidable consequence of our national psychoses.

At 8:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

America as currently devolved, is virtually ungovernable. Whites don't accept and often arbitrarily kill nonwhites. Christians don't tolerate nonchristians. Men abhor empowered women. Everyone hates the poor.. even the other poor. And most americans would as soon kill the old and infirm as spend a nickel helping them.

But mostly the obscenely rich are above the law and can rape and pillage the non-obscenely rich at will... with impunity.

And finally voters are so goddamn stupid and evil they keep affirming all of this at each and every opportunity.

At 2:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There appears to me to be a difference in how this tribal loyalty gets expressed. Trump says all the things that low-IQ non-thinkers want to hear and wins their loyalty, while Hillary DEMANDED votes without offering to support or promote anything but HER! right to be President. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't recall Trump insisting (at least not prior to victory) that being elected was HIS! turn. That was Hillary's entire campaign.

I'm sure that sociologists are having a field day studying these two candidates and their campaign techniques. You just won't find their results in American publications lest one or the other of these egomaniacs decides to take revenge.

At 3:26 AM, Anonymous Hone said...

To the above commentator, Hillary was pilloried. With her many faults, and believe me when I say I was well aware of them throughout the campaign and was a big Bernie supporter, she was a brilliant and complex politician who also had many positives. Her weaknesses were extremely bent out of proportion by the press. I was hoodwinked somewhat, too, I can see this now. Her cabinet would be have been in extreme contrast to his and filled with people of different backgrounds, not just billionaires. Even a dunce could now recognize that her faults pale in comparison to Trump's. She is very emotionally mentally stable! He is surely not, and this will be the BIG ONE that does us in. Remember, he can launch a nuke with only the approval of the Secretary of Defense, who will be his appointee. No one else can stop this other than a mutiny. I am fearful of his first 100 days, what international damage he will do, with his stupid tweets and insults.

At 6:09 AM, Blogger Skeptical Partisan said...

Much of the tribal loyalty phenomena described by Charlie Sykes also applies to
Evangelical Christians. The binary division between the tribe of believers and
non-believers often destroys capacity for critical thinking, thus 'immunity to fake

At 7:03 AM, Anonymous Hone said...

Yes, Trump has virtually all of the features listed in the DSM V for a narcissistic personality. He also has many features of ADHD. These combine so that he cannot listen, read or attend to details, or care about anyone else's opinion but his own as he thinks he knows everything and is "like, smarter" than any experts. His lack of knowledge or concern about the implications of his statements and behavior are beyond him and he could care less. And the Republicans are also showing themselves to be psychopaths as they do not care one whit about his pathology. I mean, they are seriously crazy as well. It is unbelievable that our representatives are so awful, so devoid of caring about anything but their own enrichment and destruction of the New Deal and the Great Society. Johnson actually looks great in the rear view mirror, disregarding Vietnam, of course. At least he did some really fantastic things, along with his really terrible things. He did care about Americans and this country. Trump is 100% terrible and so are the Republicans. Nothing good to be found.


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