So, you are right-leaning. Regarding abortion, you were doing cartwheels when Roe v Wade was overturned.
How about climate change?
Chances are, you don’t have a fundamental belief (or disbelief). You’ve heard about it, tangentially at most. Maybe the climate is changing. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s such a slow crawl that you can’t promote it to your front burner. The fault of humans? Industry? Maybe. But a gun to your head wouldn’t elicit a strong opinion one way or the other. Until someone else has a belief. They think it's hogwash. More snowflake reactionism. Suddenly, you believe. Because someone in your tribe believes.
And, in 2023, that’s where we are.
Recently, True 30 did a podcast with Hyrum Lewis, who is the Associate Professor of History at Brigham Young University and, previously, a visiting scholar at Stanford. Earlier this year, Lewis’ book The Myth of Left and Right - written with his brother Verlan, a visiting scholar at Harvard - was released.
Lewis sums it up thusly: the political spectrum doesn’t tell us where someone stands as far as a worldview or philosophy. It only indicates a commitment to a tribe. This tribalism is not good for discourse. This tribalism leads to the ascension of folks like Marjorie Taylor Greene – and Donald Trump.
The Trump phenomenon has been dissected for what seems like forever by now. But a key point, from the beginning, was that he was a master – or his puppeteers were masters – at tapping into discontent. Discontent with liberals or with Barack Obama specifically, discontent with their lot in life and so on.
Together, to combat that discontent, they had a tribe. Or tribes. To avoid being simplistic, we’ll clarify that there are more than one type of Trump voter (and, probably, Marjorie Taylor Greene voter).
This writer, having lived until recently in the liberal bastion of Philadelphia, knows many people who voted for Donald Trump. And I know others who didn’t come right out and say it, but hinted during issue chats how they leaned. It was pretty clear during conversations in this period that if someone didn’t come right out and denounce Trump, they probably voted for him.
(I have a friend who during a chat noted that Trump was insane; his medical diagnosis couldn’t blur the reality that he had voted for the guy. Insanity, clearly, was not a disqualifier for Trump).
Some only wanted their taxes lowered. Some always vote for Republicans. Some hated Hillary Clinton and/or Joe Biden, not the greatest batters in the Democratic dugout by any means.
But the tribalism was dominant.
“Issues correlate because they are bound by a unifying tribe,” said Lewis on the podcast. People, he said, anchor first to an ideological tribe due to relationships, be it family, peers or other people in their orbit. Then, he said, the adaptation of a belief follows.
He believes, for instance, that for many religious Americans, there was no specific ideology until Roe v Wade. The ideology was social, not philosophical.
He called what occurs “psycho-logic. Gun control and climate change have nothing to do with each other,” he said. Until, of course, tribalism starts calling the plays.
Lewis believes it all comes down to essentialism. In essentialism, the left is looking for purposeful change. The right tries to arrest or reverse change. The left felt abortion was an individual right but was being conducted in harmful methods and therefore championed Roe v Wade to protect a woman’s right to one. The right wanted it overturned.
This essentialism, he argues, leads to conformism – and hostility.
One could also state, of course, that it leads to boatloads of hypocrisy. If only the concern for the protection of the unborn would be extended to the victims of gun crimes. But we digress.
Lewis asked: if conservatism is a right issue, then why is the protection – or conservation – of the environment a cause almost exclusively of the left?
Lewis explained that right and left – as we know the terms today – started during the French revolution, when the supporters of the revolution sat on the left side of the National Assembly and the opponents on the right.
That delineation of the political spectrum was absent, he explained, during the first 140 years or so of U.S. history. He broke down the four phases of the American political spectrum: in the way back machine, The Jeffersonian Republicans believed in laissez-faire economics while the Federalists (Hamilton) wanted a powerful national government that would increase taxes and spending, therefore controlling the economic winds.
An ideological bent was first seen during the Civil War years as being liberal or conservative first entered the political lexicon. Liberals mimicked those in England, championing free trade, limited government and civil service reforms. The conservatives were more moderate.
The right vs left divide became even more prominent during the early years of the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, thanks to his New Deal; the Democrats were liberal, the Republicans conservative, period. And then during the reign of William F. Buckley Jr and his National Review the right advocated exactly as Lewis explained: whatever the Democrats wanted done, the right wanted undone.
The GOP then used platforms – as in Roe v Wade – to capitalize on public anger about social issues.
And the hypocrisy alluded to earlier? When (and how) did the Republicans go from being virulently anti-Russian to pro-Russian (ask Trump)? From the alleged party of character to you-know-what grabbing. From foreign intervention to isolationism. And so on.
Small government? George W. Bush oversaw the most dramatic expansion of the size and scope of government since World War II. Bill Clinton, conversely, helped usher in the most dramatic cuts.
“We have to accept the social theory which predicts that conservatives will conform to whatever the Republicans are doing,” Lewis summarized.
Noted conservative David Brooks – in lamenting the dissolution of conservatism as he’s known it since his youth – stated in a column in late 2021 that the movement is not only different from, but practically the opposite of the Burkean conservatism he embraced during his nascent political awareness as a politics and crime reporter in Chicago in the 1980s.
“Today, what passes for the worldview of the right is a set of resentful animosities, a partisan attachment to Donald Trump or Tucker Carlson, a sort of mental brutalism,” he stated in his column. “The rich philosophical perspective that dazzled me then has been reduced to Fox News and voter suppression.” Ouch.
Brooks was enthralled by the central tenet of the philosophy of Edmund Burke, a noted 18th century British conservative statesman. Burke argued that humans and the human condition are too complex to be altered by individual reason. This resonated with Brooks who was witnessing the urban decay of public-housing projects that were part of his beat.
Later, conservatives railed against revolutionaries of those – French revolutionists, Russian and Chinese communists – who, as Brooks noted, had the belief they “had the ability to plan history.” They believed in the idea that you “protect those little platoons when government tries to perform roles best done in families.” America, as Brooks noted, believed in the Horatio Alger myth of pulling oneself up by his or her bootstraps.
By 2016, that America had eroded. Many felt left behind. Elite institutions had turned dominant liberal. Social media instigated, as Brooks called it, “a brutal war of all against all.”
Trump embraced and ran on the theory that “outsiders” were lurking ominously. This led to the enrollment of folks – including many of our youth – who believed that there is a class struggle between elites and everyone else. Science and other facts are bogus instruments of elites out to get you.
“The Trumpian cause,” Brooks noted, “is held together by hatred of the other.”
We now have, Brooks complained, “political tribalism that makes government impossible.”
Time will tell if impossible is a correct, fatal and final analysis.
Much here I agree with and some I do not. Covid changed the average person alot on both sides of the aisle. The fanatacism, hypocrisy and fake science of the progressive left has alienated many liberals and many on the right are sick of Trump but don't know how to get rid of him. What was said here about Fox News and Tucker could conversely be said about Don Lemon and CNN, Cuomo, MSNBC etc. BOTH liberal and conservatibve politicians and media have provably lied and lied and lied some more Many aware folks these days simply do not rely on the mainstream media for truth at all.
Tribalism is hard wired into our genetic evolution. We can't get rid of it by pointing out it's many problems. Tribalism enhanced human survival for tens of thousands of years. So there are compelling reasons for us to be drawn into tribal dynamics. Unfortunately the powermongers pulling our strings know exactly how to manipulate those bio- socio- psychologic tribal buttons in order to control our behavior. And BOTH sides have done this over and over throught history. I believe we can change by refusing both the carrot and the whip and taking back our own individual sovereign human authority. Unfortunately when you do this neither 'side' wants you and both now percieve you as a threat because you are no longer controllable. And let's face it, we are simply not designed to be solitary individuals. We are wired to be part of a group. So bucking the herd mentality takes alot of willpower and intestinal fortitude, because who does not want to belong to a tribe of some kind? If you dare to question the liberal insanity? Well then you are labeled a nazi loving, racist, right wing nut, fascist Trump supporter. If you dare to question Trump or his cronies? Well then you are a liberal commie koolaid drinking warmonger idiot. So most people just clamp down on their own opinions and follow whichever herd looks most like survival to them.