Culture Magazine

America’s Partisan Divide Trumps All Other Tribalisms

By Fsrcoin

America’s partisan divide trumps all other tribalisms“Humans are extremely loyal to members of their own group. They are even prepared to give up their own lives in defense of those with whom they identify. In sharp contrast, they can behave with lethal aggressiveness toward those who are unfamiliar to them.”

I read that in a book of science essays,* just as I was drafting this piece about about America’s partisan divide. I’ve addressed this before, because it’s hugely portentous.

Humanity as a whole has been gradually overcoming the instinctive tribalism of the quote. Over time our “tribes” have become more inclusive; some people now consider all humankind their tribe. That’s an important factor reducing conflict and violence (as Steven Pinker explained in The Better Angels of Our Nature.) Yet American tribalism still remains strong.

Standard tribalistic divisions entail race/ethnicity; religion; educational level; socio-economic status; language; gender; and age. All these continue to operate in American culture. But another one now trumps them all: political party.

America’s partisan divide trumps all other tribalisms
That’s the key takeaway from a recent Pew survey, as well as a Stanford study. It’s not exactly news that partisan divisions have increased, with a vanishing moderate middle (or one that’s out-shouted). Further, like-minded people have tended to cluster together, making red areas more red and blue areas more blue. That’s exacerbated by peer pressure and conformism, as well as partisan gerrymandering. But what’s really striking now is that for a lot of people, political tribalism has become the most important one in shaping felt personal identity.

This may seem strange when percentages supporting either party have fallen. Yet, on the other hand, for those still loyal to a party, it’s become more intense.

Look at Pew’s graph, below. In 1994, party affiliation was already the top factor governing attitudes, though neck-and-neck with all the other tribalisms. Since then, party has gained a runaway lead, becoming totally pre-eminent.

America’s partisan divide trumps all other tribalisms

In a sense, it’s a logical development. We sacralize the concept of individualism. And as Stanford researcher Iyengar points out, political opinion is deeply personal, seemingly a conscious voluntary choice — unlike those other tribal markers.** Thus people would tend to see their political stance as more reflective of “who they really are.”

America’s partisan divide trumps all other tribalisms
Also, politics is a much better outlet for tribal instincts, in today’s culture, where hostility toward others on the basis of ethnicity or religion, etc., is very much frowned upon. In contrast, flaming someone over politics seems acceptable.

And while messages encouraging tribal solidarity based on race or faith or the like are muted, we’re bombarded with messages from numerous sources (not only Russian) aiming to enflame partisan passions. The internet/smartphone/social media revolution is a big factor.

The Stanford researchers found similar trends in other democracies. However, Americans are distinctive in our outward display of partisan identities — bumper stickers, lawn signs, etc. Those aren’t seen in Europe, with less citizen political engagement. (Their campaigns are much shorter too, whereas America’s political season is year-round.)

Interestingly (in light of my opening quote), Stanford also found that while Americans’ in-group favoritism toward fellow partisans is strong, their animosity toward folks in the opposing party is stronger. The two sides inhabit different worlds — they’re strangers to each other, a recipe for hostility.

I used to find Democrats and the left more guilty of demonizing opponents and their motives; but Republicans have leapfrogged over them.

America’s partisan divide trumps all other tribalisms
I was no fan of Obama or Hillary, but the intensity of their demonization by Republicans and the right exceeds the bounds of sanity.

Party actually even trumps ideology. You’d think the two go together. But the meaning of “conservatism” has changed radically, while most Republican “conservatives” seem not to have noticed the bait-and-switch. They stick with their label regardless of its altered content. For some time, Republicanism in the South has really stood for guns, God, and whiteness (look at Alabama’s senate race), but now that has spread to the entire national party, submerging its traditional ideology and values.

America’s partisan divide trumps all other tribalisms
Religious “conservatives” no longer even care about lying, cheating, or pussy-grabbing. Sticking with the team, the tribe, is the guiding principle.

Is all this just a phase, that will pass? I doubt it. Our body politic is thoroughly poisoned. We no longer have political debates, we have shouting matches, with neither side interested in considering what the other has to say. And partisan tribalism really does seem to trump everything else, including truth and reason — again, especially among my former Republican comrades.

Political partisans also seem to embody the Vince Lombardi ethos: “winning isn’t the most important thing, it’s the only thing.” Yet while battles can be won, the war is unwinnable. Neither tribe can convince their opponents, nor bludgeon them into surrender. With a political cycle where one party or the other holds power only thanks to the thinnest of electoral margins, its legitimacy always under assault, neither can accomplish much in our system of checks-and-balances.

Rational optimism? I continue to believe our species has a bright future. Our country, not so much.

* “Subverting Biology” by Patrick Bateson, in This Explains Everything, John Brockman, ed.

** Religion should similarly be a choice, but in practice it’s less so.

Advertisements

You Might Also Like :

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog

These articles might interest you :

  • Lipoprotein (a) Used to Be the Forgotten Lipid. Not Anymore.

    Lipoprotein Used Forgotten Lipid. Anymore.

    Lipoprotein (a) - or its abbreviation, Lp(a), pronounced "el-pee-little-a" - is emerging from obscurity. And for good reason. Among them, Bob Harper, the TV... Read more

    4 hours, 56 minutes ago by   Dietdoctor
    DIET & WEIGHT, HEALTH, HEALTHY LIVING, MEDICINE
  • How to Avoid an Identity Crisis.

    Avoid Identity Crisis.

    The secrets of a branding identity review - and when to ask for help. Quick quiz: Which of the following items are part of your company's brand identity? ... Read more

    5 hours, 24 minutes ago by   Marketingtango
    BUSINESS, MARKETING & ADVERTISING
  • Wake Up You Sleepy Head!!

    So how are your mornings?? Is your teen a member of the "I'm getting up!!! Leave me alone club!! Do you dread getting out of bed, knowing that your early mornin... Read more

    5 hours, 32 minutes ago by   Joanigeltman
    FAMILY, PARENTING
  • Rothy’s Shoes Review

    Rothy’s Shoes Review

    A year ago, I purchased my first pair of Rothy's flats. After giving them a real beating through the streets of New York, I wrote my first Rothy's flats... Read more

    5 hours, 54 minutes ago by   Wardrobeoxygen
    FASHION, SELF EXPRESSION, SHOPPING
  • This Week’s Meal Plan: Egg-free Meals!

    Our popular keto meal-plan tool gives you everything you need to succeed on a keto low-carb diet. Meal plans, recipes and shopping lists - no planning... Read more

    6 hours, 8 minutes ago by   Dietdoctor
    DIET & WEIGHT, HEALTH, HEALTHY LIVING, MEDICINE
  • ExWeb Interviews Controversial Mountaineer Denis Urubko

    ExWeb Interviews Controversial Mountaineer Denis Urubko

    If you're looking for some interesting reading today, check out Explorers Web's great interview with climber Denis Urubko, an extremely talented mountaineer... Read more

    6 hours, 55 minutes ago by   Kungfujedi
    OUTDOORS
  • AAU Acceptance And School Fees Registration Procedure – 2018/2019

    The Ambrose Alli University (AAU) Acceptance fee payment and registration procedure for newly admitted candidates in the 2018/2019 academic session have been... Read more

    7 hours, 33 minutes ago by   Naijapary
    SOCIETY, A-CLASSER