This article is going to be the first of a type on this blog, in which I read an article in a major publication and then I write a response to it. This is obviously not me trying to challenge major newspapers, but it serves as a launch point for me to dissect ideas I either agree with or find troubling. Today I’m going over an article from the New York Times last week, titled “The Rich White Civil War.” The full article can be read here https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/15/opinion/politics-race-white-tribalism.html. I’d encourage you to give it a read. This article is in turn a summary of a larger study, which is quite long, but if anyone wants to look at that study they can do so here: https://hiddentribes.us/pdf/hidden_tribes_report.pdf
This article was summarizing a study titled Hidden Tribes on the extent of political polarization and tribalism toxifying our politics. Now we are going to spend a lot of time on this topic- how we can each stay true to whatever we believe while still remaining one people. The results of this study are both fascinating, relevant, and a good starting point for a discussion on tribalism.
Hidden Tribes found Americans can be largely split into seven political tribes which are, from left to right, progressive activists, traditional liberals, passive liberals, the politically disengaged, moderates, traditional conservatives, and devout conservatives. Both liberal groups, the moderates, and the disengaged comprise an “exhausted majority.” The traditional conservatives are more politically active, but nowhere near the extent of the Progressive Activists or Devout Conservatives. It turns out these two groups, each comprising less than 10% of the population, the smallest of the seven tribes, are the ones responsible for the current state of our politics.
The fact a small number of extremists define our politics should not come as a surprise. But when you examine these tribes, what you find may surprise you. Both groups are the most educated, the whitest, the wealthiest, the most secure, and the most likely to list politics as a hobby. It’s not rich vs. poor, or white vs. people of color. It’s white and rich verses rich and white. The Progressive Activists are 8% of the US population and are younger, far more secular, less patriotic, and three times as likely as the average American to attribute success to circumstance rather than merit. The Devout Conservatives make up 6% of the US population and are older, more religious, and uncompromising.
Now there is nothing necessarily wrong about their being 14% of people who believe things on the fringes, even though them being the wealthiest and whitest is interesting, and we ought to be wary of their outsized influence in politics. The problem is in these tribes, group loyalty is paramount, and fighting has become proof of your loyalty to the cause. Both groups report high levels of pressure to conform, and both groups have the highest ideological centrality and homogeneity. This means all these people on the wings think largely the same way. 98% of devout conservatives support President Trump, just 1% of progressive activists do the same. 96% of progressive activists support feminism, while 92% of devout conservatives view feminism is anti-man. 95% of progressive activists think police brutality against African-Americans is a problem, while 92% of devout conservatives think the police enforce the law fairly. If the progressive activists think something, the devout conservatives always think the exact opposite, and they think not as individuals, but as a group. And since now in politics all forms are anger are considered righteous indignation, and being a fighter means you are sincere, these groups will inevitably clash. You see the evidence of this every time you go on Twitter or watch the news. 51% of those on the wings, the progressive activists and both conservative tribes, want their leaders to compromise less than they do now. The New York Times compares this to the religious wars of the 16th century after the Reformation, and it’s a good comparison. Our politics are being destroyed by a tiny minority of rich and white social justice warriors fighting the rich and white mob chanting “lock her up” at Trump rallies.
However the problems lies deeper than just the mobs of politically motivated ideologues on both ends of the spectrum. It leaks into the entire political process, but not in the way you might think. Because while our politics are full of vicious ideologues, our politicians are not actually that extreme. That might sound hard to believe, but think about it. As much as people complain about the 2016 Presidential Election, it was awful because the candidates themselves were off-putting, not because they were extremists. President Trump has governed conservatively, but this comes largely out of need not principle. He governs like a Republican because in Democrats won’t stop calling him evil. He gave money to prominent Democrats (including Hillary Clinton) and he said in 2004 he’d identify more as a Democrat. To this day he still doesn’t support reigning in the deficit, cutting entitlement spending, a hawkish foreign policy, free trade, and he has said single-payer healthcare wouldn’t be the worse thing, none of which is devoutly conservative. And that goes beyond just the President. Most Republicans must pay lip service to Roe v Wade and most Democrats must pay lip service to the Second Amendment. Even among the extremists, just a couple of days ago Elizabeth Warren, perhaps the most left-wing member of the Senate, said she didn’t support open borders. On the other side of the spectrum, you can find videos of Ted Cruz calling Social Security a Ponzi Scheme, but he does it with about as much joy as getting teeth pulled. So the problem is not that politicians are mirroring the ideas of those on the wings of their respective tribes, at least not ideologically. The issue is our politicians are mirroring the tactics of the wings, which is much worse.
So where does this leave me. I am well-educated (I will be once I’m finished school), wealthy (let’s hope), white (check), politically engaged (what do you do think), and though I didn’t take the test, labelling me devoutly conservative is probably not too far from the truth. Am I destined to be part of the problem? Is everything I say going to contribute to a toxic tribalism tearing our country apart? Should I just quit?
There is only one answer to that problem, and that is I need to be a free-thinker with respect for most ideas. I talk a lot about “engaging with the ideas,” but that really is the only solution. This is how we break out of the echo chamber of our own tribe and form ideas that are our own. For example, as conservative as I am, I’m extremely pro-immigration, which is not a devoutly conservative position (Hidden Tribes found that most devout conservatives thought immigration was hurting America.) We need to honestly interact with more viewpoints. Those on the right should start listening to Pod Save America and watch MSNBC without dismissing their arguments because we disagree with them. If you’re on the left (and a lot of my liberal friends could fit pretty well into the white, well-educated, and wealthy category), read this blog, listen to Ben Shapiro, or read National Review. We all should find a website that aggregates news stories from all viewpoints (I’d personally recommend Real Clear Politics). We can decide an opposing viewpoint is stupid, but we should not dismiss it as invalid. Otherwise the death spiral of extreme politics will only get worse.
I will leave you with this. The Hidden Tribes study found that 77% of Americans think our political divisions can be healed. Some might draw comfort in that number, others might lament it being so low. But most of us in this country want to heal, and most of us think it can be done. How we can do this is a discussion we will continue to have on this blog, I hope you stick around for it.
As for the blog in general, thank you for reading this far, I know this was a longer reflection. I know I said last Thursday this would be out Friday, sorry it’s a little late. Please click that button in the bottom corner to follow, and be sure to follow @dk24blog on Twitter. If you have family or friends you think might be interested in this blog, get them connected. The more traffic the better. Some time later this week I’ll post my full predictions for the 2018 midterms. Some time early next week I’ll post how I think voting should be improved after my first experience going to the polls. That will be the first reflection that is opinion and not prediction or response, and it should be fun. As always, let me know what you think, how I can do better, where I go wrong, and thank you for reading.