Extreme tribalism

by Ed Sawicki - updated August 10, 2020

Trump worship

graphic by David Horsey, LA Times

The question, “Why are Trump's poll numbers so high?” baffles thinking people everywhere. It hovers around 41 percent when it should be far closer to zero.

People I know are asking that and other questions and not hearing satisfying answers. Why are those in the right-wing bubble so gullible as to believe anything said on Fox News? Why do they think that Trump is being unfairly attacked?

The answer is extreme tribalism. It demands that you synchronize your thinking with your tribe's narrative regardless of logic and common sense.

On March 28, 2020, a Facebook friend posted an article about Republican Senators Richard Burr and Kelly Loeffler selling stocks after closed-door Senate hearings warned the Coronavirus would be bad for the stock market. They likely engaged in illegal insider trading. A Trump supporter commented that this was a smart thing for the senators to do and said that he had just sold stock. He asked if he should go to jail.

This Trumper finds nothing wrong with insider trading when done by Republican senators. Since it's legal in his mind, he's simplified his reasoning to the question, “Why is selling stock illegal?”. The answer, “It's not.”, proves to him the righteousness of his tribe's narrative and that Democrats are the enemy of freedom.

Religious leaders now push narratives to their tribes that go against the core teachings of their faith. They support politicians and political positions that demonize and marginalize those that the Bible sought to elevate and protect.

Though the greatest decline in American thinking and reasoning is on the right-wing side of the political spectrum, it is by no means isolated to it. Liberals are also slave to their tribalism. A good example is the fight over single-payer health care.

The Democratic presidential candidates who were funded by health care firms and PACs opposed it. They questioned how much it would cost, mentioning the trillions of dollars required. They failed to mention that single-payer would cost significantly less than the current for-profit system on a per-person basis.

Centrist Democratic voters bought into this deceptive narrative and voted against Medicare For All (as well as voting against real climate change solutions). Although they would benefit significantly from single-payer, they must protect their tribe. The simple truth is that centrist Democrats and Republicans agree on one thing—their for-profit systems must be preserved as-is, regardless of the cost. Their tribes depend on it.

Even as they collect their Social Security and take advantage of Medicare and Medicaid, many Democratic voters agree with Republican voters. They want to be saved from socialism. An older Facebook friend, waiting in line at a Walmart because of the Coronavirus threat, described it as a Soviet food line. That analogy would not have occurred to most younger people who may have likened it to waiting in line at the Apple store for the latest iPhone.

The same friend later lamented that Canada provides better social services. Would she vote for the progressive politicians most committed to strengthening our social safety net to be more like Canada? Not a chance. They're a different tribe.