Voting Your Tribe

Anyone who’s ever taken Sociology 101–or history–understands that people react defensively in times of rapid social change. If they perceive the changes as threats to their world-views or economic prospects–and many people do–those defense mechanisms very often include an exaggerated tribalism, a stronger-than-usual identification with the racial or religious or political group to which the person belongs.

The worldwide wave of White Nationalism we are experiencing is one manifestation of this reaction. So is the animosity toward immigrants and the re-emergence of overt racial and religious prejudices.

The election of Donald Trump–itself a manifestation of these attitudes–has given people who harbor racial anxieties permission to be far more public about those attitudes; we’ve seen a spike in hate crimes and the public expression of appalling attitudes toward black and brown people, Muslims, Jews, immigrants…any and all people whose appearance and/or behavior suggests that they aren’t one of “us.”(Whoever “us” may be.)

Tribal attitudes are destructive of democracy in a country as diverse as ours, and they are a real minefield for progressive candidates for public office. 

A new study highlights the challenges politicians face trying to connect with a multilingual citizenry, including the intensely negative reaction voters who only speak English may have when they see Spanish-language political ads.

Two scholars from the University of Chicago and Yale University teamed up to investigate whether Spanish-language political ads can help Republican and Democratic candidates win over bilingual voters. The good news for candidates: These ads likely will help some of them win a little more support from bilinguals. The bad news: If a candidate’s Spanish ad is broadcast to an English-only audience, support could plummet.

The negative response to Spanish-language ads by viewers who spoke only English wasn’t limited to  Republicans or to more conservative voters; the study found the same response from Democrats. English-only participants generally responded negatively to the Spanish ads, with support for the candidate making the spot declining pretty substantially.

The study didn’t delve into motivation, but it is more than plausible that the Spanish-speaking candidates were viewed as somehow less American–as smarty-pants globalists willing to speak to “interlopers”–immigrants from Spanish speaking countries–in their native tongue, rather than demanding that they  speak English like “real” Americans.

Republican candidates, of course, are more willing to exploit and deepen such attitudes. A recent Washington Post article titled “The All-Consuming Tribalism of Trump’s Republican Party in One 30-Second Ad” features Indiana’s own–ugh–Todd Rokita, a perfect specimen of the GOP’s current cohort of despicables.

As metaphors for the Trump-led Republican Party go, it’s difficult to beat Rep. Todd Rokita’s new ad in the Indiana Senate race.

In 30 seconds, the Republican congressman from Indiana discusses no policy issues and says basically nothing besides “I will support Trump the most,” before throwing on a Make America Great Again hat for emphasis.

The ad, titled “MAGA,” is a remarkable little window into how at least one candidate thinks you win in today’s GOP, and Rokita hopes it’s his ticket to the Republican nomination to face Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) next month.

The article notes that Rokita and his opponents have basically turned the primary into a competition over which candidate is the Trumpiest.

Trump has rendered many policy positions negotiable — even with himself — and has turned a Republican Party that was all about conservative purity earlier this decade into one that is more about Trump purity. It’s a party built on personality whose base has stood by Trump, even as he has shrugged off an antagonistic foreign power’s incursion into U.S. elections. It’s a party that almost instantly and universally dismisses every Trump-inspired controversy as unimportant and a media creation — even “fake news.”

So here’s where we are: we’re being asked to vote for the candidate who is most entitled to tribal membership. Republicans are to base that determination not on an avowed commitment to the U.S. Constitution or the rule of law, not on a pledge to pursue the common good or provide ethical leadership, but on a fervent promise to be an obedient sycophant.

The GOP is no longer a political party. It isn’t even a tribe. It’s a cult, and Trump is its “Dear Leader.”


  1. Sheila,

    “The GOP is no longer a political party. It isn’t even a tribe. It’s a cult, and Trump is its “Dear Leader.”

    So if this is true, then HOW IN THE WORLD could you NEUTRALIZE them ONLY through PARTISAN politics?

    We’re dealing with a FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE. TECHNICAL CHANGES within the Democratic Party is not going to stop the stampede. We all need to WAKE UP!to this phenomenon before it’s too late.

  2. There is only one answer to this mounting catastrophe. It is to go DEEPER than the DEEPEST! If you can’t neutralize CHARLES KOCH then don’t waste your time. I’m sure that most of you have something more important to do.

  3. “The study didn’t delve into motivation…” It would be nice if a study did just that, delve into motivation, because you cannot begin to resolve a problem unless you understand what is behind it.

    For starters, I would say that not every English only person has the same reaction to Spanish only persons when they hear Spanish spoken. And not every Spanish only person has the same reaction to English only persons. There is not going to be an easy one off answer to the motivation of reactions people have when they encounter a person who does not speak their language. Accepting that our multi-cultural world presents us all with opportunities to grow as human beings might give us the right attitude to living peacefully with each other.

  4. Fear/tribalism seems to be a function of ignorance. Change is actually normal; everything changes every day in technology, news, etc. People who fear change and crawl back into their tribal caves merely exhibit the coping behavior of the primitive organism that was scared half to death by thunderstorms.

    That huge brain most of us carry around could be best used in self-reflection if the fear mongers would shut up for a few minutes. Both major political parties in our country exploit those basic, primitive mind sets in order to steer decisions in people: crawl back into the cave or embrace the light show and rain.

    Once we realize what’s happening to us in this context, the sooner we make decisions based on reason and logic instead of mindless, ancient tribal/instinctive reactions. There are places for those things, but managing and living in a diverse, complicated society is not one of them.

  5. Marv; “The GOP is no longer a political party. It isn’t even a tribe. It’s a cult, and Trump is its “Dear Leader.” Your copy and paste of this quote from Sheila today hit me hard. Until approximately 2000 I was an Independent voter; believing then I was and am FORCED to become a Partisan at the polls each election day is more true now than when I first became a “straight Democratic ticket” voter. The article on the front page of the Indianapolis Star today (Sunday, 5/6), “One truth: GOP battle stays nasty to the end” refers to the Republican back-biting campaign foundations between three Republicans fighting for one position in the Senatorial race to go against our Democratic weak-link, Joe Donnelly in November. How much will Pence’s position; Indiana’s cult leader in the White House, sitting as Trump’s right-hand, bubble-head, effect this local Primary on Tuesday? As Maureen Groppe states in her article, “More has been spent on advertising in Indiana than any other Senate race in the country between January and April. And most of the ads have been negative. The winner Tuesday will face Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly, who is considered one of the most vulnerable senators facing re-election.” Poor Indiana, poor nation if any of those three push our weak-link out. Will Monday night’s election results in other states be as telling as the one here?

    “The GOP is no longer a political party. It isn’t even a tribe. It’s a cult, and Trump is its “Dear Leader.” Here is where this statement must be repeated, here is also where it takes us back to the Nixon administration and those virtually uncontested re-election days prior to his “resignation” which was a Republican cover-up for kicking his ass out of the White House. Ford’s immediate Pardon was a foregone conclusion. At that time; the Republican party was not considered a “tribe” and had not yet become a “cult”.

    Last night I watched the movie “Mark Felt; The Man Who Brought Down The White House”; a lesson in this country’s history we have forgotten. The book, “All The President’s Men” and the movie should be counted as historical reminders of that old adage, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” When Mr. Felt complained to Bob Woodward that the Washington Post was not moving fast enough with their coverage; Mr. Woodward stated the reason was due to all of the confusion in the situation. Mr. Felt’s response fits today with Trump’s administration, “Confusion is control.” He also used the term “vector” being necessary in the WaPo reporting; “vector: A quantity completely specified by a magnitude and a direction.” This is a term Robert Mueller appears to be well aware of as he continues his direct investigation of the magnitude of Trump’s many multi-directional chaotic and deliberate “deconstruction” of democracy and all semblance of leadership of this country.

    We are no longer the strongest power in the world as Trump daily destroys all diplomatic relations, using the means of “Confusion is control.” Remember what happened to David Koresh’s “Branch Davidian” cult in Waco, Texas!

  6. Those who demand that we all speak English, “like real Americans” need first to learn English themselves. Listening to the “real Americans” often seems like a cruel punishment for those of us who paid attention in grammar classes. Fortunately, few of them actually write anything, because their writing is even worse. Yes, I am a grammar snob. I heartily disagree with those who say, “As long as you know what I mean, I’m fine.” If you are one of those who wondered why you never heard back after you sent me your resume, this should convince you that you are not necessarily fine.


    Dont’ know that I’d call Charles Koch a traitor, but I do believe he is a nihilist with the money and power to end our current form of government. Whoa! I just rread what I wrote and I guess I would call him a traitor.

  7. JoAnn,

    Woodward and Bernstein, without Mark Felt, better known as DEEP THROAT, would never have been able to successfully publish “All the President’s Men.” He allowed them to go DEEPER than the DEEPEST. He got them past the “CONFUSION.” If they had proceeded without the information Felt provided they would have ended up as: DEAD DUCKS, not Pulitzer Prize winners.

  8. Peggy,
    Capitalists like the Koch brothers and their 12 apostles are immune to any reason save the lust for profits. They use, abuse, discard and move on. They have no compunction whatsoever about people, compassion, charity or ethics. Being a traitor comes naturally to these guys, because their only faithfulness is to themselves and how rich and powerful they can become…no matter what.

    These are the people Karl Marx predicted would destroy themselves, capitalism and the countries in which they lived.

  9. Vernon,

    If all goes well today, I should have my recommendation for your book, “Why Angels Weep: America and Donald Trump” submitted to Amazon.

  10. To understand Charles Koch better, think of an ONION with all of its smells, with its multiple layers of skin, and with Koch in the Center.

  11. Marv,

    Thanks. I do appreciate your efforts on my behalf, your opinions and your candor. Keep it up.

  12. I would suspect the loyal followers of the Trumpet (aka Agent Orange) must have major heart burn when they walk into a big box store and see signs in Spanish.

    Anyway this is tidbit from the Guardian:
    Revealed: Trump team hired spy firm for ‘dirty ops’ on Iran arms deal
    Israeli agency told to find incriminating material on Obama diplomats who negotiated deal with Tehran.

    Aides to Donald Trump, the US president, hired an Israeli private intelligence agency to orchestrate a “dirty ops” campaign against key individuals from the Obama administration who helped negotiate the Iran nuclear deal, the Observer can reveal.

    People in the Trump camp contacted private investigators in May last year to “get dirt” on Ben Rhodes, who had been one of Barack Obama’s top national security advisers, and Colin Kahl, deputy assistant to Obama, as part of an elaborate attempt to discredit the deal.

    Jack Straw, who as foreign secretary was involved in earlier efforts to restrict Iranian weapons, said: “These are extraordinary and appalling allegations but which also illustrate a high level of desperation by Trump and [the Israeli prime minister] Benjamin Netanyahu, not so much to discredit the deal but to undermine those around it.”

    Given the two players involved the Trumpet (aka Agent Orange) and Netanyahu’s attempts to scuttle the Iran Deal this dirty ops fits in.

    The Republican Presidential Debates in 2016, revealed the depths of how low the various candidates would go to attack each other. I would surmise these attacks are designed to prove to the base how strong (manly) they are. The Trumpet (aka Agent Orange) lowered the bar to a new depth but also introduced flagrant lies. The dog whistles and code words were abandoned in favor of outright racist appeals.

    We do witness among the various Republican debates, intellectual vacancy. It is like the Gong Show and Jerry Springer wrapped into one package.

  13. Monotonous,

    I knew Netanyahu in the 80’s when he was assigned to the Israeli Consulate in Houston. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep ever since. He’s no good. Trump and Netanyahu deserve each other.

  14. About that Spanish and other language situation in this country; I must admit that providing sometimes multiple languages on food labels and instruction books and the cost it must incur, does irk me. But; at the same time I have always regretted the United States’ education system does not require knowledge of at least one other language. How many countries around the world require students to know our English language? It would be to our benefit to have the knowledge and many of our words are based in foreign languages. Having a president who doesn’t appear to fully understand our own English language is detrimental to our leadership; did he have any understanding as to what those Intelligence meetings meant after he was elected?

  15. Another countey heard from…in Canada, we have two languages on all packaging. I appreciate this reality from many angles – the fun in learning another language while eating cereal, the puzzling mental itch when I try to listen to a French speaker and stumble in understanding, the irony that my own ear is so bad that my pronounciation of Quebec French will for ever sound like gobbledy-gook to a French Canadian…learning French is a worthy challenge and I am deeply shamed that I am so bad at it, but the opportunity is priceless. I believe that Switzerland has three languages on its packaging. We North Americans should swallow our (cheap and lazy) outrage and encourage our children to learn new languages, even if we are having a hard time ourselves.

    Not that I expect to learn of the joy of Spanish cereal any time soon….

  16. The explanations for all of the political woes that torment us today are myriad and available at any level of detail. We can discuss them endless and do with some satisfaction but nothing is solved by any discussion except to make us feel better equipped to actually solve the problem when we can.

    IMO though the only thing that any of us can actually do this year is to cast our votes, and help other cast them. That’s it. I doesn’t seem like much. It’s like going to war with only one bullet. Once it’s fired you are at the mercy of the enemy. To make that worse we can only efffectively choose, albeit both in a primary and general election, R or D. Are we powerless?

    Individually we are. Collectively we can fire those who don’t and hire those who do represent our political values in our government over the next few years. But to do that we have to vote not for only individuals who represent our values, but those who will also attract enough votes from others to succeed.

    The only Republican who I am aware of today who meets even my basic political expectations (ignoring that I couldn’t vote for him anyway nor will he be running), is John McCaine. I will not miss any of the others. To be in contention for my vote they would have denied the rest of their party long ago.

    Well that improves my odds of leveraging my vote by millions of times. The only choice that I personally will have is then a choice in the primary among Ds to find the most popular one, the one that can get elected in my district for the House. If I guess right then I can cast my vote with some confidence in the general election for that same person.

    To me the stakes have never been higher and they rest on who we fire way more than who we hire. We will succeed based not on the number of people who agree that any candidate is perfect because none are to any but a very few. We will succeed because we can compromise to who is more likely to be an improvement. Fortunately when we have the worst Congress ever improving is pretty straight forward.

  17. Marv , I would hazard a guess once the American Embassy is moved to Jerusalem, we can expect Jared, Ivanka and Don Jr., to plan and build a Trump Tower, just down the street. Since the Trumpet Family probably has no money to seal the deal, Gulf Oil States will launder the funds some how. Some Televangelist will be invited to bless the new Tower.

  18. Vern is right. Common good is totally absent from the vocabulary of the Kochs, Mercers, Trumps et al. who are terminally concerned with the accumulation of assets while oblivious to the consequences. These people are not Republicans; they are libertarians who favor a wild west form of economy free of regulation and any other restriction that in any way, shape or form reduces their quest for profit. In the isolated context of the marketplace such antisocial conduct is not only unsurprising but rather typical, and the difference is that such greedy capitalists confine their quest for profit to the marketplace while these libertarians invade the political sphere of influence in a democracy which supposedly is the exclusive domain of “We, the People.” The result is that “We, the People” become widgets whose sole reason for being is to enrich the already rich. I for one object to such an arrangement, since, among other reasons, Jefferson’s Preamble to the Declaration sets out what our real reason for being is, and I here note that such document contains the phrase “general welfare” but not corporate enrichment by its terms. It’s time we lived up to our birthright and, so to speak, threw the moneychangers out of the temple. It’s our temple, not theirs.

  19. Let the Republican Party eat itself. It has always been a bigoted,selfish and greedy organization. It deserves to die. The sooner the better.

  20. Gerald, good explanation. Capitalism has the same definition as corruption: make more money regardless of the impact on others. We can utilize the tendency of people to be currupt by regulating certain markets by law and competition to serve the greater good. Other markets don’t lend themselves to that approach so we have to go from ownership of the means of production from a few of us to all of us. Socialism, public ownership of the means, is the only alternative to capitalism so every country has evolved to a mixed economy now.

    Also most every country in the world today uses the same government decision process design: a representative liberal democratic republic.

    That serves everyone but oligarchs who feel entitled to an ever increasing portion of the pie disguised by claiming that they can and will continue to grow the pie.

    Time to get real.

  21. Virtually identical to the SBC (Southern Baptist Cult). About 99.9% political, 0.1% or less religious and 0.0% Christian.

  22. Perhaps my memory is faulty, but I can’t ever recall a campaign in which candidates tried so hard to say “I’ll be a rubber stamp”.

  23. EVERYTHING that Mr.T. has done is what every president since Kennedy should have been- NORMAL babyboomer. If your everyday life isnt WOODSTOCK, and a party at the Playboy mansion then, you just DON’t get it.

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