November 22, 2017

What We Can Learn From Roy Moore About Tribalism

Headlines Theatre- Us and Them

Ever since the allegations against Roy Moore surfaced, we have been seeing some bizarre rationalizations, justifications, and excuses from political conservatives and/or evangelical Christians. Sure, some of them have claimed that they do not believe any of the accusations. Everyone who has come forward to accuse Moore or to report that it was widely known at the time that he was interested in girls who were way too young is just lying. That is one way to go, although it seems to require a fair amount of conspiratorial thinking to pull off (e.g., he's being persecuted because he's a Christian, the whole thing is a political smear campaign).

Far more interesting are some of the more creative excuses. For example, we've been told that Moore's behavior is liberals' fault, that Moore had no choice but to pursue teens because all the adult women were married, and that Moore went after young girls because something about their "purity" appealed to him. It seems that some Christian pastor comes up with a new one every day.

I think this is a fairly clear case of people being willing to put political and/or religious ideology ahead of most everything else. They do not want to believe bad things about Moore because he's one of theirs. Some, like the governor of Alabama, are on record saying that they support Moore in spite of the allegations and would continue to do so even if it he did everything of which he has been accused. Whatever else Moore might be, they argue, he's still better than any liberal. I find myself wondering if their tune would be any different if Moore had been accused of doing what he did with teenage boys instead of girls.

It will be interesting to see what the voters of Alabama do. Moore could actually win this election. And if the voters of Alabama elect Moore to the Senate, I suspect that Senate Republicans will seat him even though doing so may come at a price (or not). After all, he's one of theirs.

When we criticize tribalism, we tend to focus on how the "us and them" mentality fuels division and justifies our mistreatment of "the other." This is a serious problem and one that deserves the attention it receives. Moore provides us with a reminder that this is not the only problem associated with tribalism, though. Tribalism also creates scenarios like this where we are willing to excuse or even ignore appalling behavior on the part of those who share our tribe.