Wehner On Tribes

Peter Wehner is one of those “homeless” Republicans--a category composed of principled people whose primary allegiance was to their country and intellectual honesty, not a political party. He is currently a contributing editor to the Atlantic. Wehner titled a recent article for the magazine “What I’ve gained by leaving the Republican Party,” and noted that he is “more willing to listen to people I once thought had nothing to teach me.”

Like so many of the people who have left the GOP, Wehner was anything but a “casual” Republican.

For most of my life, I’ve been closely affiliated with the Republican Party. My first vote was cast for Ronald Reagan in 1980. I worked in his administration, as well as that of George H. W. Bush; for seven years, I was a senior adviser to President George W. Bush.

Most of my professional friends and almost all of my former colleagues—those with whom I served in government as well as in the think-tank world—have been Republican. The GOP has been my political home since college, a party I was once proud to be a part of, and a source of cherished relationships. Part of my identity was undoubtedly shaped by my party affiliation.

Leaving a political party, or a religion, or a cause in which one has been deeply involved is like losing a limb. In my more charitable moments (which are admittedly few and far between) I sympathize with the lifelong Republicans still standing with their party despite its metamorphosis into an irrational and dangerous cult.

It’s their tribe, and we live in a very tribal age.  Wehner is eloquent on that subject.

When I was a card-carrying member of a political party, I wasn’t automatically blinded to other points of view, or unable to challenge conventional orthodoxy. I did it on issues ranging from climate change, to the Tea Party’s anti-government rhetoric, to the characterological and temperamental defects of Newt Gingrich; so have many others. Nor did I knowingly put party above country. That’s a common charge made against party loyalists, when in fact most members of a political party believe that the success of their party is tied to the success of their country. They might be wrong, but that’s how many of them see things.

 But here’s what I think does happen. People who are part of a tribe—political, philosophical, religious, ethnic—are less willing to call out their own side’s offenses. That’s human nature. To be sure, some are more willing to show independence of judgment than others, but none shows complete intellectual independence. I certainly didn’t.

Some of this has to do with feelings of solidarity, of not wanting to alienate those whose affirmation and support are important to us. Some of it has to do with the fact that our brains filter information differently, depending on whether it confirms or challenges our preexisting political commitments and affiliations. When we’re part of a team, we have a natural tendency to let our sympathies shape our views and opinions of others. As a result, we perceive the world differently, often more narrowly and sometimes incorrectly.

The entire essay is well worth the time it takes to read it.

The thoughtful Republicans who drew a line at Donald Trump–whose intellectual honesty demanded that they leave what had become of their “tribe”–deserve our profound respect. We can only hope that whatever ultimately replaces today’s GOP is their creation, and not that of the troglodytes who control the current remnants of a once Grand Old Party.


  1. I found myself growing up, living in a tribe of long standing staunch Republicans; some who have gone on to their final reward and some who maintain their staunch Republicanism with pride. They wear the blinders to protect themselves from fact vs. fiction and their tunnel vision protects them from the fact that the light at the end of their tunnel is a freight train in the form of Donald Trump headed straight for them. When asked direct questions regarding this country’s Rule of Law and following the Constitution; I get blank stares. By ignoring what is obvious to thinking people; they support McConnell’s irrational and illegal rule over the Senate in support of Trump’s every egotistical whim and Ryan’s former rule over the House. Mayor Bill Hudnut; prior to his death, spoke against the current Republican rule in this city and state, he was a member of Wehner’s “homeless” Republicans. I am glad he is not here to see what has transpired since he turned this city over to Goldsmith’s destructive forces in 1991 which helped carry the Indiana Republican party forward to where we are today with Pence as president-in-waiting at Trump’s shoulder.

    “The thoughtful Republicans who drew a line at Donald Trump–whose intellectual honesty demanded that they leave what had become of their “tribe”–deserve our profound respect.”

    There has been little evidence of Sheila’s above mentioned Republicans currently sitting in the Senate or the House. The very few who spoke against Trump and current conditions voted with Trump at every turn; lip service at best, blatant lies in fact.

  2. For those who still stand with the Republican Party in its Trumpish guise are not loyalists, IMO. They are opportunists and cynics who see an personal power gain within easy reach. The parade of incompetent and corrupt people who have been part of the “best people” has shown few with any moral or ethical standard that cannot be discarded when faced with the choice between self interest and principles.
    Even though I may disagree with him in many ways, I just wish more of them were like Gen. Mathis in that his resignation letter was a declaration that his oath of allegiance to the country not the Party.
    Tribes can be a powerful force for good, but as with most things, extreme tribalism, in either direction, is dangerously close to authoritarian rule. These are indeed dangerous times for our greater tribe, the democratic republic of the United States.

  3. Who’s kidding whom here? “Principled” and “intellectual honesty” are but two words that don’t belong in the same sentence with Ronald Reagan, George Bush I & II, Newt Gingrich, Paul Ryan, or nearly any Republican office holder over the past 30 years. Trump merely replaced the Republican dog whistle with a bull horn.

  4. “I didn’t know Anthony Wiener was a Republican.” LOL

    And don’t look now but the Koch brothers have been booted from controlling the GOP. From some accounts, the Koch’s are rebranding themselves, including their destructive education ways. They’ve even said they will not support Trump in 2020…to the dismay of media outlets everywhere.

    Has the GOP lost a major donor over their outlandish cultism?

    And I’ll repeat my 2016 famous statement…”Trump will do more for progressive politics than any other political candidate.” 🙂

  5. Todd,

    Don’t put too much faith in that message from the Koch’s. They also said they wouldn’t support him in 2016. That means they only sent their ill gotten gains to the party, rather than directly to the campaign and they still supported pacs that gave millions.

  6. Poor Peter Wehner, blind to the racism in GOP politics the last 50 years. Make that last 100 years. Oops, go back beyond the Constitution. America’s Original Sin created, or resulted from tribalism. We belong to several tribes as individuals simultaneously, and white supremacy is the largest. One may be a free trader, but is always a white supremacist. Ditto for any political or societal issue one espouses; racism unites across all those. We haven’t learned Atwater’s lesson. Even the hallowed Lincoln was infected with superior feelings. I don’t buy Wehner’s defense of the Willie Horton ad. Remember GHW Bush’s characterization of a grandson; “we call him the little brown one.”

  7. Todd may be on to something with his continuing observation that Trump will do more for progressive politics than any other political candidate. I have always equated the Newtonian standard of physics of equilibrium with the social sciences and by such standard Todd is on the mark. Sometimes you have to see the dark underbelly of what you are against in stark relief in order to be more strongly motivated for change, hence the Bernies, AOCs, Warrens and the like. On the street it’s called backlash, and indeed it is.

    We progressives are on the cusp of taking over the legislative and executive functions of government, and the question will shortly become just how we propose to rule. Keynesians and New Dealers like me have our own views of how we should rule but are likely to see millennials come up with different ideas on the topic, and I expect to see some lively interchanges within our party councils both before and after we come to power. I think we must be careful at this stage not to argue ourselves out of an historic opportunity to (finally) exercise our power on behalf of the people while bringing corporate America and Wall Street to heel, remembering that we are the party of the Big Tent and must accommodate separate versions of governing.

    It will be nice to hear wage inequality rather than tariffs discussed in the public forum; reforms in campaign financing rather than shareholder value etc. Can’t wait.

  8. crichardallen @ 7:41 am – I happen to agree with your statement in total. It was Raygun, who gave the Evangelicals there “in” to the GOP. Since then the Evangelicals have dominated the base. It was the Republicans who fought tooth and nail for decades against the New Deal.

    When LBJ signed onto the Civil Rights, he knew the Southern Jim Crow Democrats were lost. LBJ did the right thing in terms of Civil Rights – That is principled. Nixon on the other hand welcomed in the Jim Crow Wing of the Democratic Party with his Southern Strategy.

    The trouble is as the Republican Party has turned farther and farther Right, the Democratic Party has embraced Wall Street, this why Bush the Elder and Bill Clinton could agree on NAFTA.

    My worry now is we have some Democrats running against President Orange and Pastor Pence, rather than on issues. This why I like Elizabeth Warren she is not afraid of President Agent Orange or Pastor Pence ; she has a platform that her past activities as a Progressive support. She has credentials so to speak.

  9. Just as a note, yesterday I posted about the defeat of Amazon’s NYC’s HQ. It was a corporate welfare deal.

    Now I have read another article.
    Amazon made an $11.2bn profit in 2018 but paid no federal tax
    Company is not paying any taxes for the second year in a row, due to various unspecified ‘tax credits’ and executive stock options.

    As the States and cities have lined up to provide Amazon with Corporate Welfare, Amazon pays no Federal Income taxes.

    The average person may not know about Amazon’s tax avoidance schemes in particular, but they recognize that the 1% and big corporations have at their disposal an array of laws that shields them from paying taxes.

  10. Democrats and Republicans have one terrific and frightening reason to be allies–the private armies of the world are aligning with Trump to support his defiance of impeachment.

    Blackwater and Halliburton lead the move while Trump is inside the castle busy weakening leadership in the US military and compiling blackmail leverage over civilian leadership. The endgame of the ongoing coup is in sight. Their mission: establish the first corporate/syndicate nation on earth and the first private army more powerful than any legitimate nation.

    Already, private forces in the Middle East outnumber American forces. Trump’s plan to stand down US forces in the area is a maneuver to increase demand for more private forces operating on contracts paid by the American taxpayer. In other words, the American taxpayers are paying for the buildup of the very military whose ultimate mission is to defeat official US forces…if the American military dares try to enforce Trump’s impeachment.

  11. Wehner says tribalism is “human nature”. Another way of saying it is that it is an evolutionary instinct. It’s not going away. Culture can channel it and shape its content. But we need to start with the premise that when people behave as tribes, they’re behaving as humans.

    This blog and its commenters are largely a rallying point for a different tribe.

    For me, this helps with anger diffusion and lays a predicate for understanding.

  12. Democrats and Republicans enabled and allowed the private armies to become a pervasive threat. They’re not going to oppose the use for them,especially Pelosi and Schumer. On the use of private armies the Republicans and Democrats are in total agreement.

    We need more genuine representatives such as Ilhan Omar to oppose such threats.

  13. Many people, myself included, have been expecting, ever since Trump was unexpectedly elected, there would be a “Constitutional Crisis” of some sort coming our way some time soon. Perhaps the firing of Muller. Perhaps an attempt to indict Trump. Perhaps another impeachment proceeding. Well, IMO, we have now reached a “Constructional Crisis” point; just not the one I, nor probably most other people, saw coming in November 2016.

    Trump’s declaration of a “National Emergency” to take money, which Congress lawfully appropriated to other government agencies and purposes and refused to appropriate to build Trump’s big, beautiful wall,” is, IMO, the most dangerous and scary thing Trump has done to us yet (Yeah, I know there is a lot of competition!).

    If he is allowed to get away with it this time, under such flimsy pretexts and fabrications, it will be, without question, the first, but not the last, step to the end of our Constitutional Republic and the rule of law, and the ordination of Trump as “President-For-Life.” Pretty gloomy thoughts for a Saturday morning!

    So how does Trump get there?

    If the so-called “Republicans” in Congress let Trump get away with declaring what’s happening at the southern boarder a “National Emergency” this time, how long do you think it will it be before Trump gins up and declares another “National Emergency?” I predict it wouldn’t be very long; the very next time he doesn’t get his way or something he wants. The lesson Trump will take away is that he can do whatever he wants and no one can or will stop him. No more having to make “deals” or dealing with Congress.

    But the next step on this slippery slope is: What if the Republicans in the Senate do join the Democrats and pass a veto proof repudiation of his declaration of a “National Emergency” as the law gives them the power to do? And/or what if the courts declare it unconstitutional? What then? Do you think that at that point Trump will simply give up? “Oh never mind!”

    Who’s to stop him? Only the military’s refusal to follow the “Commander-In-Chief’s” direct orders. Talk about your “Constitutional Crisis” and “National Emergencies.”

    That’s all it would take for Trump to transform the Country into an actual oligarchy controlled entirely by Trump and his sycophants; not just the shadow oligarchy that Todd, Monotonous and others here rail against on a daily basis. The Congress will have been totally cast aside and powerless, and Trump would be able to rule by fiat and whatever whim might pass through his empty head on any given day.

    My final scary thought about the situation Trump has thrust us into:

    The end game is, of course, the 2020 Presidential Elections. Once Trump realizes there is no one who will or can stop him from declaring a “National Emergency,” based on any made up pretexts he comes up with, anybody here think that if it looks like Trump will lose in the general election in 2020, he wouldn’t declare a “National Emergency” to stop the election from taking place at all because “it is rigged against him”? Once again, who will stop him from doing it, once he has been allowed to get away with it before? I don’t know how it will turn out, but I think we are at a tipping point.

  14. republicans,on seat in washington,have a political mindset,to have American CEO government.they have shown a blaintant disregard for rule of law,deliberate,as with some demos. but, i see a complete gathering of one party,taking over the country,and were suppose to be quiet,or have our views slammed by a media,paid,to court this travisty.if ad buying isnt a demand by those corps,to sell something,but support that madia,for,further gain,politically?
    under tones,no, direct telling the public,this is the new norm,screw laws,moral responsability,
    and our democracy.. trump is merely,a pied piper of the ignorant.the RNC and its leaders,have been actively engaged in treason. if were to find manafort,cohn,stone collectively talked to,wikileaks founder,on release of podestas e mails, we have a conspiracy to under mind the the election,and the republicans denial, obstruction of justice.will Barrs resistants or excusses, to stop,deny,or release the mueller report,in whole,will be the final nail in our democracy?there are no republicans anymore,we have a fascists leaders on the right side of our goverment.. (you belong to ALEC)who are demanding a end to our democracy,and America,as we know it.. mentor someone,and make a effort to change this. if the elected person will not walk with us,the working class,small buisness,they are wlking with the new fascists.?

  15. It seems like the difference is wanting the best country for us vs wanting the best country for me. I don’t see a lot of people switching back and forth between those two sides.

  16. Thank you Sheila for putting patriotism and integrity above tribalism long ago. You’re a role model for all of us.

  17. the amazon welfare gig,, i drive a truck, if amazon was to secure thier deal, imagine the truck traffic from this,in queens,,,im laughing my ass off, think smart,nyc is no place for more traffic..better a good paying job,and wages to support main street. anybody got a way for,wall street to leave also?

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