Republicans Need Warring Tribes
Why is Trump putting everything he has into bolstering his dedicated minions while spending little if any time trying to appeal to critical thinkers? He doesn’t have enough sycophants to win the election without cheating, but of course that’s nothing new to the Republican Organization. I suspect the Democratic Party’s attempt to conquer Trump with flatulent neoliberalism will likely fail. Nonetheless, one might still imagine that a good politician like Trump would be seeking to bring new voters into the Trump fold but that is clearly not the Republican plan.
Cheating? Removing voting machines? Intimidating voters? Sabotaging vote-by-mail? Gerrymandering Democratic districts into diminished isolated enclaves? Sure the Republicans will definitely do that.
Mobilize? Massive get-out-the-vote campaigns? Court challenges to gerrymandered states? A dynamic progressive presidential candidate boldly confronting the Republican machine as the criminal organization it is so as to draw in youth and labor votes? The Democratic Party will definitely not do that.
The outcome of this presidential race seems depressingly certain, so I’m not going into that further. I think that a much more interesting issue is the transparent way that the Republican Organization is prosecuting its plan. While the Democratic National Committee plans for the next race (poorly); the Republican Organization plans for the next three generations: generations that will fall ever more thoroughly under the dictatorial rule of a handful of wealthy oligarchs.
The Robbers’ Cave
A fascinating study by Muzafer Sherif et. al. (1) played a role in developing that branch of social psychology called Realistic Conflict Theory. It seeks to understand how groups react to limited desirable resources. The experiment, remembered as “The Robbers Cave”, pitted twenty-two twelve year old boys against each other by simply designating two evenly matched “tribes”. The boys were encouraged to establish a culture for each tribe and to determine their societal organization.
This resulted in bonding between boys within each group and a patriotic loyalty to that group. The Eagles and the Rattlers (the self-assigned tribe names) were then brought into competition, playing various games such as baseball, tug-of-war and touch football. With each win or loss, the internal loyalty was reinforced. The tribes began posting symbols such as flags on the sites of victories and upon the next loss, the opposing tribe would destroy or otherwise disgrace their opponents’ tributes. Soon the boys were engaging in inter-tribal insults and fistfights which required intervention by camp supervisors.
Merely residing together on the same campground provided no impetus to resolve tensions. Seeing each other every day and having opportunities to talk had no positive effect. In an attempt to resolve the growing tensions, Sherif’s team contrived campground-wide crises such as a failed water tank, a stranded food bus and a desirable movie that could not be obtained unless all boys came together to contribute funds. It was only by introducing a common problem requiring cooperation between the tribes, that the tribal affiliations dissolved — and dissolve they did! Shortly after forming tribes, the boys were asked to name their best friend at the camp and that best friend was invariably one from their own tribe. At the end of the experiment, the same question was asked and many of the boys then listed a boy from the other tribe as their best friend.
The Trump Tribe
Here is the important parallel with the Republican ideal. Trump dedicates most of his time to assuring that the American people are divided into two distinct tribes: those who love Trump and everyone else. Since Trump has defined his tribe and the other tribe is only loosely bound by a vague disgust with Trump and a wide variety of possible responses, the Trump tribe is more powerful. It has better weapons and it has fanatical cohesion. This is not an accident, it is essential to the Republican long-term vision of an America where the rich may do as they please because the common people are in disarray and incapable of resisting.
Sherif counteracted the tribalism by forcing the boys to recognize that they would have to work together if they were to resolve a common problem. They found that there was strength in congenial cooperation and that while in disarray, their camp could be threatened by larger forces. The Republican need for two tribes means they must assure that the country perceives no common problems that may drive a nationwide unity of vision and action. For this reason, Trump and the Republicans reassure the country at every turn that there is no problem with racism, there is no corporate invasion of privacy, American innovation that yielded the PC, the Internet and the smart phone is still strong, there is no pandemic and there is no economic collapse. If the country were to mobilize for the purpose of resolving a nationwide crisis, the tribes would begin to dissolve and the Republican delusion would become ineffective.
The Tribal Gambit
Could it be that Sherif’s experiment is the inspiration for at least one aspect of the Republican strategy? It certainly appears to be a brilliant and simple way to assure nationwide distraction while undesirable plans are enacted. This may be why Trump threatens violence against other countries (they are part of the other tribe) but never all-out war. A nation gripped in an all-encompassing war would be likely to unify meaning that the majority who disapprove of the Republican vision may overcome and influence the Trump tribe. This is why global climate change is rejected, since the entire nation would be required to correct it. Protests are ridiculed to more clearly delineate the tribal boundaries rather than respected as a nationwide call for a change of consciousness.
What the Republican Organization continually strives to quash is any perception of a nationwide common problem. Covid, poverty, monopolies, ineffective health care and contaminated drinking water have all been solved by our protective father-figure, Donald Trump. Only by assuring that everything is OK, can the distraction of tribal warfare be maintained.
Why hasn’t the Democratic Party attacked this distraction more directly? The DNC worked diligently to force the only progressive candidate out of the presidential race, leaving only a tired corporatist neoliberal to fight the powerful and loving Daddy of the Trump tribe. If only Biden could challenge his corporate donors and call out the complex and truly interesting problems that we can only solve together. Sanders did this and we saw what happened. This strategy terrifies the Democratic donors and mobilizes the geriatric DNC leadership. Does Biden have the inner character to rebel against his history and identify the true enemies of the nation? Can he call the country to intellectual arms against the corporate forces of convenience and control? Does he have the fortitude to wage a war of ideas that will unify everyone behind common deeply-felt goals? If not, we will be bowing to President Nugent in four more years, and our children will be the future serfs of our craven and whining corporate overlords.
- Sherif, M.; Harvey, O. J.; White, B. J., Hood, W. R.; & Sherif, C. W. (1961). Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation: The Robbers’ Cave Experiment. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Institute of Intergroup Relations.
Julian S. Taylor is the author of Famine in the Bullpen the new book about bringing innovation back to software engineering.
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