Fed Up with Tribalism (Republished from September 29, 2020)
I think every American is fed up with the political chaos we are enduring in America. Never in my lifetime have I witnessed such division and contention. It’s exhausting and leaves us wondering if tribalism is so bad. Maybe it would be better to stay in our own little tribe, so we don’t have to believe that there are people who passionately believe the exact opposite of what we believe. I face this question every time a new scandal in the Trump presidency hits the news. Every time Donald Trump is caught doing or saying something illegal, immoral, or just plain stupid, I wonder how his supporters, some of whom seem like nice people otherwise, are able to so easily brush it aside and dismiss it, even excuse and defend it. There is a level of cognitive dissonance that is not easily explained by the “They’re all racists” justification. It seems like there is a daily influx of new evidence of Trump’s inadequacies in the area of basic human decency, but the support from his base does not waver, even from those who would not normally condone this behavior themselves. This led me to consider Trump supporters and their motivations, and I discovered that I could identify four different kinds of people who seem to think Trump is a good choice to run our country despite how terrible he’s doing at it and in spite of how repugnant of a person he is.
The Four Types of Trump Supporters
I believe there are at least four distinct types of Trump supporters, and this is why we scratch our heads in dismay when we find out someone we really like is a Trumper. Let me explain my theory.
- The Power-Hungry Bandwagon Follower: These people attach themselves to anybody who seems to have power, popularity, and influence; an example would be Michael Cohen. They are seduced by the ability of Trump to get his way and command seemingly irrational things, openly lying and committing ethically questionable acts without losing favor or suffering consequences. They too want to have this power and think they will get it by their association with Trump. We’ve seen many of these people cast aside by Trump after they have served their purpose.
- Racists and Misogynists: The second type of supporters are ignorant racists who admire an old white guy who can get away with voicing openly prejudiced and misogynistic rhetoric. They seem to think he’s their ticket to stomping down anyone getting in their way of being the dominant race. They see Trump as the great white savior who will defend their privilege and give them a platform for their hate. Clearly, extremists and white supremacists like the Boogaloos, the Proud Boys, and the KKK all seem to find Trump appealing; perhaps, because he calls them “very fine people.” The scientifically illiterate and gun-toting militia wannabes often fall into this category as well.
- The Conservative and/or Religious Right: The third type of Trump supporters are the conservative and/or religious right who swallow their innate disgust at his racism, at his crude remarks about women, at his clear disdain for the handicapped, at his stupidity regarding pretty much everything—in order to advance what they see as the greater good. Many of them fool themselves into believing that God chose Trump, however ungodly he is, to accomplish his work of stacking the Supreme Court with conservatives who will outlaw abortion, protect religious freedom (which is not in danger, by the way), overturn the Affordable Health Care Act, slow immigration, and ensure a minimum of gun restrictions. Several previously ethical and principled people have locked away their morals and swallowed their objections in order to ensure a generation of protections for these conservative goals. (Read Bob Woodward’s Rage for several firsthand confessions of this type of Trump follower). These supporters need to ask themselves to revisit the question, “Do the ends justify the means?”
- The Victim of Conservative Pundits: The fourth type of Trump follower is the heavily brainwashed Fox News viewer, or perhaps, a victim of other conservative media. These Trump supporters are always in an indignant rage about the evils of the Democratic party and are indoctrinated by a variety of conspiracy theories, such as Pizzagate, which is on par with flat earth conspiracy theories. They live in fear of losing the America they have always idealized. Many of these victims are elderly or otherwise cutoff from diverse views in the community. Because they are only getting information by heavily biased sources designed to manipulate them, they live in fear and disgust of anyone on the “radical left.” Even though they may know a few Democrats that are “good,” they believe there is a conspiracy by Democrats to destroy the foundations of American exceptionalism, and even worse. They fear riots destroying the suburbs, the abolition of the police, losing their economic viability, and their American way of life. They, in fact, seem to believe that there are no moderates or right leaning Democrats or left leaning Republicans at all. They are sheltered and have a skewed view of the other side.
Lies Trump Supporters Believe about Democrats
The average Trump supporter never hears that many Democrats own guns and only support moderate gun restrictions like background checks. They never hear that many Democrats abhor abortion and want to have as few as possible, but think that banning abortion isn’t the way to solve this problem. They never realize that many Democrats believe in capitalism and hard work and paying taxes, and getting something for their money like the Social Security and Medicare they paid into their entire lives. They don’t know that many Democrats are Christians and believe in protecting religious freedom and that they believe the best way to do that is to honor the separation of church and state. They never hear that many Democrats don’t believe in getting something for nothing. Many Democrats want humane immigration laws, they want a social safety net that lifts people up and doesn’t encourage a freeloading society, they want affordable college so that the entire country can rise economically, and so that they can all realize the American dream regardless of the circumstances of their births. They never hear that some Democrats don’t believe that these things should just be free and are perfectly willing to attach conditions, such as work requirements and/or giving back to the community that helped them. They never hear that while Democrats want a system of justice that is fair and equal to all, they still want law and order. They still want violence stopped and criminals prosecuted.
But they won’t be hearing that on Fox News, Glen Beck, or the 700 Club. It’s not in their interests to let them see the nuances and the similarities we all share. It’s not in their interests to let them see Democrats as good Americans or even human beings. We are all guilty of our tribal associations and our preference for confirmation bias. If you want to understand how you are being manipulated, please watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix. It’s time to look beyond all that and talk to our neighbors, our family members with different views, and the people we’ve avoided because we think we know who they are. I just stereotyped four types of Trump supporters. Prove me wrong. Let me know who you really are and why you really support Trump. Let’s have a conversation, and maybe we will learn a little about who we really are beyond what we are told to believe.
The Ends Do Not Justify the Means
Numerous political scientists and historians have identified Trump and his obvious dictatorial tendencies as an existential threat to our system of government and our very freedom. I get why some Republicans put away their objections and followed Trump through that door, but by now, you should be realizing that some doors shouldn’t be used. It’s time to get back to governing. We need a government that represents all of us, a government that knows how to compromise and work together and create unity. Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Democratic Socialists, Libertarians, and every other political group need to compromise. Living in a pluralistic society means none of us gets everything we want. We all should get something we can live with. That’s what it means to live in a country like ours—Out of many, one. We need to stop justifying bad methods of achieving our important goals. Instead, let’s talk, negotiate, and find something we can all accept, and in the process, we can accept each other, rather than accepting more and more bad behavior from our leaders.—Christina Knowles
Afterthought: If you are really interested in practical ways in which all of our political parties can work together, cooperate, compromise, and have a fair voice, please read Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein. The first half of the book is an explanation of how we got here, but the second half is full of intelligent ideas of how we could all have a more fair and productive relationship with those of opposing views and how our government could get back to effective governing.