I appreciate the writing of journalist Andrew Sullivan, mostly because he is a serious, honest and brave critical thinker. Honest and brave critical thinking means you do not knee-jerkingly follow any particular party line. Sullivan used to call himself a conservative, and I gather still does, in some sense of the word that I’m sure he can justify. But he seems to be on what we call the liberal side of a great many issues. But not all.
I stumbled on one of his New York Magazine essays yesterday, analyzing the descent of U.S. political culture into tribalism. He’s not the only to notice this, of course. But his take was honest, brave, nonpartisan, unpredictable and totally convincing. Whichever tribe you are in (left or right, Dem or Repub), you may tend to think of the “other” tribe as the one that has really lost all critical thinking skills. Sullivan’s abuse of tribalism is bipartisan and ambidextrous.
The essay is long, but just kept gathering strength. I was blown away with how brilliant it was, and I immediately resolved to pass it along to MinnPost readers. Which I’m hereby doing, with one confession. After I finished it, I noticed that it was published last September. I normally pass along fresher stuff. If you already read it when it first came out, good for you. But I suspect it’s worth reading again. If you’ve never read it, it comes across as quite fresh.
I know I’m guilty of tribal thinking, from the liberal side. Many of you probably are too. Of course, we secretly believe conservatives, and especially those who have somehow hitched their wagon to Trump, are guiltier of it. But Sullivan is not interested in mediating a debate over which side is worse. He will pound on you, and yes, you too, to do your own thinking and not to worry whether some of your thoughts are out of sync with your partisan or ideological tribe.
Enough of me. I’ll save whatever space is left for excerpts from Sullivan essay, but you should really just read the whole thing, and, in case you become convinced of that, I’ll provide one more link below.
A Monmouth poll recently found that 61 percent of Trump supporters say there’s nothing he could do to make them change their minds about him; 57 percent of his opponents say the same thing. Nothing he could do …
We don’t really have to wonder what it’s like to live in a tribal society anymore, do we? Because we already do. Over the past couple of decades in America, the enduring, complicated divides of ideology, geography, party, class, religion, and race have mutated into something deeper, simpler to map, and therefore much more ominous. I don’t just mean the rise of political polarization (although that’s how it often expresses itself), nor the rise of political violence (the domestic terrorism of the late 1960s and ’70s was far worse), nor even this country’s ancient black-white racial conflict (though its potency endures).
I mean a new and compounding combination of all these differences into two coherent tribes, eerily balanced in political power, fighting not just to advance their own side but to provoke, condemn, and defeat the other. …
The project of American democracy — to live beyond such tribal identities, to construct a society based on the individual, to see ourselves as citizens of a people’s republic, to place religion off-limits, and even in recent years to embrace a multiracial and post-religious society — was always an extremely precarious endeavor. It rested, from the beginning, on an 18th-century hope that deep divides can be bridged by a culture of compromise, and that emotion can be defeated by reason. It failed once, spectacularly, in the most brutal civil war any Western democracy has experienced in modern times. And here we are, in an equally tribal era, with a deeply divisive president who is suddenly scrambling Washington’s political alignments, about to find out if we can prevent it from failing again. …”
If you can resist reading the full Sullivan version, that’s your problem. If all you need is another link so you don’t have to scroll back to the top, here it is.