American Tribalism

Gene Autry

I see a lot of really bad Internet memes and blog posts come down the pike, but an especially egregious one that caught my eye recently invokes the spirit of that great political philosopher and sage prophet… Gene Autry. Yes, that’s right: the Great Singing Cowboy, according  to this titanically silly article, “eerily predicted everything Trump is saying in 1942”. Really? Everything?  Like “I am the greatest at everything, including things I’ve never done” or “Nobody has been more persecuted than me” or “Hillary is a crook?”

Well, let’s assume that they’re using a little poetic license here, and when they say “everything”, they really mean “a couple of things”. In which case, there is sort of a half grain of truth to the caption (but that’s just about the only truth you’ll find in the entire post).

The allusion to Gene Autry involves a song called “Don’t Bite the Hand That’s Feeding You”, which he sang in the film The Bells Of Capistrano. Released when the U.S. was embroiled in World War II, the jingoism of lines such as these is understandable:

If you don’t like your uncle Sammy than go back to your home over the sea, to the land from where you came, whatever be its name, but don’t be ungrateful to me!

But even that is a far cry from what the current White House Occupant and his cult following would have you believe: namely, that (a) dark-skinned foreigners are causing a great many of our problems, and (b) anyone who says otherwise is un-American.

You get a very good inkling of this from the very first sentence of the article:

Patriots, if you ever hear a liberal complain about our country, then just sing them a song.

Notice the very first word: “patriots”.  The piece is supposedly addressed to patriots, but it’s actually addressed to Trumpsters. In the mind of the author, the two are one and the same.  The implication is that everyone who supports the current White House Occupant is a patriot, and anyone who doesn’t is a “liberal” and hates the whole country. This is an old tried and true propaganda tactic called flag waving, which we’ve examined more than once.

What’s really exceptional about this piece of Internet propaganda is that it is constructed almost entirely of straw men. (Please read the previous examination of that propaganda technique if you haven’t already done so.) Herewith is a sampling of the straw found therein:

…we see more and more liberals complaining about our great nation.

There are immigrants who come to our country only to complain about it.

…they tell us how we should live…

Under eight years of Obama, we had a president who did not care about our veterans.

Obama hated our country so much that he literally ignored the pleas of our veterans.

Why does the Left hate our military so much?

Do the Democrats understand that if it were not for our great veterans, they wouldn’t have a platform to spew their awful hatred?

We need to hold the media accountable for ignoring our veterans.

The Democrats love government spending, except when it comes to keeping America safe.

The Left loves wielding the Hollywood sword to try and cut us down, but we have smartened up.

And not that the author has “smartened up” enough to actually care about getting facts straight or anything, but he also has it backward about which party and which politicians have treated veterans most shamefully.

What this article does, in short, is advance the cause of tribalism: the schism of society into clashing ideological or sociological divides. And it is far from the only example. You will hear it over and over and over again from the Cult Of Trumpery: “Liberals hate America”; “Liberals are evil”; “Liberals are stupid”; “Liberals want to destroy you”.

The distinct impression you get is that the main reason, if not the only reason, that a great many of them voted for 45 was simply to “pay back liberals” for some imagined offense or other.  Some have said something like, “Well, we suffered for 8 years under Obama, so now it’s your turn to suffer.”  (To which someone penned an excellent response in an effort to get to the bottom of the “suffering” under Obama.) It doesn’t seem to have occurred to these folks that in their obsession with making “liberals” suffer, they are making everyone suffer, including themselves — for the present, and quite likely for generations to come.

Tribalism defies all reason.  And while it has always been with us, and is perhaps inevitable, what’s really different now is the extreme, deliberate crusade that one particular tribe is waging to make the rift broader, deeper and more toxic.

As it happens, I recently saw another old movie, for the first time in years: Tribes, a film made for TV in 1970. (It’s been sadly neglected and forgotten for decades, despite winning 3 Emmy awards and distinctly influencing later military flicks that are better known, such as Full Metal Jacket and Heartbreak Ridge.) It deals with a hippie (Jan Michael Vincent) who is drafted into the Marine Corps and butts heads with a rock-ribbed drill sergeant (Darren McGavin).

Tribes

In addition to being a powerful drama well worth watching, Tribes is a thought-provoking rumination on the problem of tribalism, which we thought was bad in 1970, but is arguably worse now. At one point, the hippie draftee says, “We’re from different tribes, sergeant. Two completely different worlds. You don’t understand mine, yet you force me to accept yours”. To his credit, the sergeant actually does try to understand the other side of the divide. But another sergeant (Earl Holliman) has nothing but hostility for the young man. He embodies, in other words, the attitude of Trumpsters — talk about “eerily” prescient.

When they were “suffering” under Obama, they were full of rage and loathing. Now that (they think) they are getting everything they want, they are… full of rage and loathing. Perhaps even more so. It’s hard to reason with people who seemingly just live for rage and loathing.

We previously listed some strategies for overcoming the plague of Trumpery, and among them was the importance of trying to “cross the bridge” — i.e., the gap between ourselves and those on the other side of the ideological divide. (Back  in the era when Tribes was made, for example, I recall reading about a softball game between hippies and police. ) Unfortunately, you may find that’s an uphill battle when you’re dealing with people who are obsessed with blowing up the bridges and building higher walls.

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