Anyone who’s ever taken Sociology 101–or history–understands that people react defensively in times of rapid social change. If they perceive the changes as threats to their world-views or economic prospects–and many people do–those defense mechanisms very often include an exaggerated tribalism, a stronger-than-usual identification with the racial or religious or political group to which the person belongs.
The worldwide wave of White Nationalism we are experiencing is one manifestation of this reaction. So is the animosity toward immigrants and the re-emergence of overt racial and religious prejudices.
The election of Donald Trump–itself a manifestation of these attitudes–has given people who harbor racial anxieties permission to be far more public about those attitudes; we’ve seen a spike in hate crimes and the public expression of appalling attitudes toward black and brown people, Muslims, Jews, immigrants…any and all people whose appearance and/or behavior suggests that they aren’t one of “us.”(Whoever “us” may be.)
Tribal attitudes are destructive of democracy in a country as diverse as ours, and they are a real minefield for progressive candidates for public office.
A new study highlights the challenges politicians face trying to connect with a multilingual citizenry, including the intensely negative reaction voters who only speak English may have when they see Spanish-language political ads.
Two scholars from the University of Chicago and Yale University teamed up to investigate whether Spanish-language political ads can help Republican and Democratic candidates win over bilingual voters. The good news for candidates: These ads likely will help some of them win a little more support from bilinguals. The bad news: If a candidate’s Spanish ad is broadcast to an English-only audience, support could plummet.
The negative response to Spanish-language ads by viewers who spoke only English wasn’t limited to Republicans or to more conservative voters; the study found the same response from Democrats. English-only participants generally responded negatively to the Spanish ads, with support for the candidate making the spot declining pretty substantially.
The study didn’t delve into motivation, but it is more than plausible that the Spanish-speaking candidates were viewed as somehow less American–as smarty-pants globalists willing to speak to “interlopers”–immigrants from Spanish speaking countries–in their native tongue, rather than demanding that they speak English like “real” Americans.
Republican candidates, of course, are more willing to exploit and deepen such attitudes. A recent Washington Post article titled “The All-Consuming Tribalism of Trump’s Republican Party in One 30-Second Ad” features Indiana’s own–ugh–Todd Rokita, a perfect specimen of the GOP’s current cohort of despicables.
As metaphors for the Trump-led Republican Party go, it’s difficult to beat Rep. Todd Rokita’s new ad in the Indiana Senate race.
In 30 seconds, the Republican congressman from Indiana discusses no policy issues and says basically nothing besides “I will support Trump the most,” before throwing on a Make America Great Again hat for emphasis.
The ad, titled “MAGA,” is a remarkable little window into how at least one candidate thinks you win in today’s GOP, and Rokita hopes it’s his ticket to the Republican nomination to face Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) next month.
The article notes that Rokita and his opponents have basically turned the primary into a competition over which candidate is the Trumpiest.
Trump has rendered many policy positions negotiable — even with himself — and has turned a Republican Party that was all about conservative purity earlier this decade into one that is more about Trump purity. It’s a party built on personality whose base has stood by Trump, even as he has shrugged off an antagonistic foreign power’s incursion into U.S. elections. It’s a party that almost instantly and universally dismisses every Trump-inspired controversy as unimportant and a media creation — even “fake news.”
So here’s where we are: we’re being asked to vote for the candidate who is most entitled to tribal membership. Republicans are to base that determination not on an avowed commitment to the U.S. Constitution or the rule of law, not on a pledge to pursue the common good or provide ethical leadership, but on a fervent promise to be an obedient sycophant.
The GOP is no longer a political party. It isn’t even a tribe. It’s a cult, and Trump is its “Dear Leader.”