The cult of tribalism and the death of the United States

“Death of the United States?”, you ask, shaking your head at the lunacy of a blog post that dares to suggest such a thing.

As we sit here in 2017, days into a new administration, we are faced with a dangerously narcissistic man in the White House who has suggested voter fraud based on no provable facts, but instead based on his own opinion; a press secretary who parrots whatever he is told, whether it is provably false or not; a chief strategist who has openly discussed destroying the republic; and an advisor/press liaison who openly suggested that “alternative facts” are anything other than a lie.

A few weeks ago, I met with a friend for drinks. I shared with him a thesis that I had come up with earlier in the day, which went as follows:

There is an opportunity cost to immediate information. Connectedness, absent mindfulness, equals insanity.

What do I mean by that? I mean, with our rapid information consumption, through Twitter, Facebook, other social media, “always on” news, and innumerable sites competing for our eyes with rapid fire information that is rarely checked for accuracy, if we don’t stop to question things, reality disappears, and we wind up bathing in a cult of our own tribalism.

If you aren’t familiar with it, I encourage you to read Thinking, Fast and Slow to get a frame of reference here. Here’s a good summary.

In a nutshell, the two parts of our brain are constantly at odds – this entire presidential campaign, rather than being grounded in debate, logic, and considered thought (System 2), was grounded in emotion (System 1).

If you look carefully at the statements that DJT used throughout the campaign, and that he continues to use, there’s a common refrain. What is that refrain?


His entire campaign was about fear. His speeches preyed upon emotion, rather than logic. He was a fast-twitch candidate, if you will. His bold, often demonstrably false, claims fed the fears of his base. ISIS. Refugees. Immigrants. Overregulation. Jobs. Rampant crime/shootings/carnage. Voter fraud. (A card he continues to play, as it resonates, due to the popular/electoral mismatch.) But the same base that lovingly digested those lies would push back diligently throughout the campaign at press that questioned that “truth”, because doing so would make them question their own beliefs, and their own comfortable reality they had created.

As my friend and I talked, he suggested something I hadn’t considered. Maslow’s hierarchy. Humans crave food first – and only at the top are they able to become self-actualized. In other words, “I’m going to watch out for my own interests until I can ensure they’re safe.” In this cult of tribalism I discussed above, people refuse to question their tribe… to question their beliefs. I mean, sure, you should fear ISIS. But good grief. You’re throwing away the very foundation this country was built on if you say “immigrants aren’t welcome here”.

That’s just it. We’ve got this selective reality in this country now, where the hard left will tell you one thing, the hard right will tell you something completely different, the news media all digests it and spits it back out at high velocity. How on earth is anyone supposed to end up with anything but a subjective opinion that mirrors their own existing reality???

We choose whether to listen to others, or to close off and say “my way is right.” And I’ll admit, it’s going to be pretty hard to get someone to see something when their livelihood depends on them not seeing it. People in coal and petroleum industries will fight you tooth and nail about climate change, because their literal reality depends on your literal reality not being true?

How the hell are we supposed to move forward as a country, if we can’t all stop, and think for a moment? A friend used the expression “low vibration minds” as a gentle way to refer to people who are unable to, or unwilling to, think beyond themselves. That’s really what this all comes down to – a level of mindfulness. But if someone doesn’t want to listen – if listening means that you question, and or destroy the very fabric of who they are?

  • How do you get someone to listen?
  • How do you get someone to listen to the truth? (By this, I mean a calculated, proven, truth.)
  • How do you get someone to listen to the truth that undermines the truth as they understand it, and reality as they want it to be?

When we would fly as kids, I would often ask my mother what made the sky so blue. My brother would say, “It’s not blue. It’s pink.” This used to annoy the hell out of me, because it was provably false. As we find ourselves in this weird alternative reality, it’s important to realize the exact antics and approach being used by Steve Bannon and others occupying the White House who seem to, in my opinion, not have the best interests of the country in mind with their actions.

Fear is a powerful thing. It fed the marginal approval for Brexit. It fed the marginal approval for DJT. In fact, it’s important to unwind a truism before both of these votes – that they were polling that they weren’t going to pass. Why? My opinion is… fear. Those willing to vote for these actions, based upon ungrounded, potentially irrational, fears, weren’t willing to have those views questioned. With such overt xenophobia, racial hatred, and anger driving both – and the ricochet of hate that resulted from both, it’s not hard to see why someone might want to be a closet Brexit or Trump backer. Cowardly, IMHO, but not hard to understand – again, the position for pushing for both being based upon fear.

Unfortunately, as we already see six days into this administration, those leading it – not necessarily the guy in the chair – choose to continue the antics that played well to his base as standard operating procedure.

However, I would like to offer a few words of advice on dealing with the propaganda-based approach being deployed by this White House administration:

  1. It’s very important for all media, regardless of their political bent, to question provably false statements coming from them.
  2. But understand that when you do, you will be confronted by his staff, and challenged on it, because you are not endorsing the message they want to resonate.
  3. If you continue to try and question, you will in turn be questioned. Like a football star accused of sexual assault, their defense will focus not on debasing your statement, but on debasing you. Be strong, stand firm, and defend the truth.

I also think that it is critically important at this moment in time, that Americans – “left” or “right”, regardless of faith, gender, race, age, economic strata… that all Americans – including those who represent us in Congress – need to start listening to others, and understanding why they feel the way they feel, why they believe the way they believe, and why they fear the way they fear. We will not move forward as a country with this “my way or else” bullshit. We must work together, even where a precise common ground does not, or likely cannot, exist.

I started out this post with a bold claim. I genuinely believe we are at a dangerous point in our beautiful country’s life, when the men running this country are willing to blatantly lie for their own benefit, and to the detriment of the country, its citizens, and the world at large.

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