Tribalism Makes It Harder For Us to Solve Complex Problems

democrat or fascist

There is an awful lot of this sort of thing (I'm referring to the photo) on Twitter. We see a predictable surge around election time. It often seems like there would be little other content without implementing measures to reduce it. But at least photos like this do serve one useful purpose. They provide us with vivid examples of tribalism. Is there anything more tribalistic than the tried-and-true "my political opponent is Hitler" canard?

That is what I see when I encounter photos like this. The entire opposition party is not merely wrong; they are evil. And that isn't enough because they are evil in the worst way possible. It wasn't long ago that fundamentalist Christians in the United States characterized everyone with whom they disagreed as Satanists. Some still do. In many respects, fascism seems to be the political left's version of the Christian right's Satanism.

I do not regard the average run-of-the-mill Republican voter (at least 80% of my neighbors) as a fascist. I don't even view most of them as bad people. They are people with whom I often disagree. I try to imagine what they'd think about seeing a yard sign like this. It wouldn't have a positive impact. Instead, I suspect it would strengthen whatever negative feelings they had about liberals. They'd dig in and be even more determined to oppose us.

Setting that aside, I'm far less concerned about what Republican voters might think about this than its impact on my fellow Democratic voters. Encountering this sort of thing several times a day, every day, on our social media accounts may shape our attitudes. I fear it throws fuel on the dumpster fire that is our tribalism. That does not strike me as healthy or productive.

We don't need more political tribalism. We don't benefit from having larger numbers of people hating each other because they hold different positions on political issues. Someone benefits from this sort of division and polarization, but I don't think it is us. Even if you don't believe it is that bad or that it will continue to result in periodic acts of violence, it is hard to expect that it will facilitate our ability to work together to solve the many complex problems facing us.

The best argument in favor of images like this I can think of would be that they help to mobilize the Democratic base. By bombarding the base with this, they may get more fired up and vote. My guess is that this isn't too effective. The base doesn't need to be more angry than they already are. This stuff turns off many independent voters (e.g., "Why would I want to support a party who labeled everyone else fascists?").

The fundamentalist Christians who delighted in calling their opponents "Satanists" paid a price for doing so. They became the butt of jokes, and many people began to distance themselves from them. Along with their rampant bigotry against LGBTQ persons and other factors, this contributed to their gradual marginalization and perceived irrelevance. I am not thrilled with the prospect that Democratic voters may be on a similar path.

I'd like us to walk back from the precipice and engage in some self-reflection. I'd like us to reject the over-the-top rhetoric as harmful. I'd like us to make an effort to be at least as reality-oriented in our politics as we are on the question of gods. There are plenty of people who hold political views with which I disagree. Few of them are fascists, and few of them are Satanic. As an adult trying to be more rational than is my nature, I should be willing to acknowledge this. I must recognize how counterproductive this stuff can be.