Tribal Politics at its Worst

People contrive any reason they can to support what their tribe wants

By David R. James

Why is it that people become so entrenched in their views that they are unable to change or consider other points of view? In spite of facts that objectively support the opposite point of view, people contrive any reason they can to support what their tribe wants. How has this happened? In contemporary America, political parties have taken on the mantra of competing tribes. A loss for the opponent is a win for the local tribe, and vice versa. Our first president warned us that these political parties “[…] are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.” So it is that Americans have become entrenched in rigid positions and are unable or unwilling to compromise.

Consider the argument that writing a bill in private without public input is somehow OK or does not hurt our democracy. Of course, if this is what the tribe wants, then it’s fine. Or, sometimes information is simply made up to convince the tribe of the righteousness of their position. For example, saying that Obamacare was crafted in private without input from the Republican Party and put up for a vote without debate is factually incorrect. In spite of claims of “death panels” and “socialized medicine,” neither statement was true. Over the course of six months, hundreds of amendments, committees, public testimonies, and compromises with medical industries produced the AHCA.

Consider the argument that Trumpcare is a health care reform bill, a bill that would improve health care in America, when its main feature is to deny health care to 20 million people by eliminating Medicaid. In Trumpcare’s various forms, the one thing that remains constant in both the House and Senate is that millions would lose health care, while the richest Americans would get a huge tax break. Any bill — good or bad — that makes it to the president’s desk is a win for one tribe and a defeat for the other.

Consider the tribal position that Trumpcare should defund Planned Parenthood because their clinics perform abortions. This argument is both misleading and intellectually dishonest. In rare cases, some abortions are performed, but are not paid for with taxpayer money because it is against federal law. Since abortion is a legal right, defunding Planned Parenthood because it provides abortions would, therefore, be unconstitutional. The majority of Planned Parenthood’s services are reproductive health care, breast examinations, and cancer screenings as well as family counseling for over 2.5 million patients. Passing this portion of the health care bill might be a victory for one tribe but a devastating loss for the other.

Last of all, consider the argument that depriving poor people of health care is somehow good policy. This is the most dishonest argument of all. The role of government is to protect the health and safety of its citizens. This is where people who support these kinds of policies, who believe they are of moral character, commit fraud on the very faith they espouse to believe in. They claim with almighty righteousness that they believe in their faith, but practice the principles of the tribe that harm the underprivileged. This is tribal politics at its worst. This is what George Washington warned us about.

David R. James