Tribalism On Parade

People often say left-wingers and right-wingers aren’t that different. Whichever side we’re on, we all belong to a political tribe. We’re all live in our own bubbles. None of us really think for ourselves. We simply go along with the rest of our tribe.

It’s not true. Left-wingers are open to more sources of information and less likely to automatically follow their side’s leaders. Compared to the Democratic Party, the Republican Party is a cult.

Here’s an example. In 2013, a poll showed that 38% of Democrats supported bombing Syria because of the government’s use of chemical weapons. So did 22% of Republicans.

Last year, when asked the same question, the same poll showed 37% of Democrats still supported bombing Syria. But, remarkably, 86% of Republicans did!

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You might say, well, 64% of Republicans must have changed their minds over the course of four years because the situation in Syria changed. Maybe Democrats were too stupid or ignorant to recognize how different Syria 2017 was from Syria 2013. 

You could say that, but, from the Republican perspective, the real difference between 2013 and 2017 was which tribe occupied the White House and which position was being pushed by Fox News.

If There Was Any Doubt

Polls indicate that Americans are evenly split regarding DT’s cruise missile attack on the Syrian airfield last week. A Washington Post poll found 51% in favor, which corresponds to results from Gallup (50%) and YouGov (51%). CBS found 57% in favor, but their poll didn’t mention the unpopular DT by name. We can conclude that the Washington Post poll was reasonably accurate.

Here’s the interesting thing:

In 2013, when Barack Obama was president, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that only 22 percent of Republicans supported the U.S. launching missile strikes against Syria in response to Bashar al-Assad using chemical weapons against civilians.

[The] new Post-ABC poll finds that 86 percent of Republicans support [DT’s] decision to launch strikes on Syria for the same reason. Only 11 percent are opposed.

Republican support for attacking Syria went from 22% to 86% when a Republican replaced a Democrat in the White House!

You might say that’s how people are. The Democrats probably switched sides just like the Republicans.

You would be wrong:

For context, 37 percent of Democrats back Trump’s missile strikes. In 2013, 38 percent of Democrats supported Obama’s plan.

In other words, changing Presidents didn’t matter to the Democrats at all (a 1% difference is well within the margin of error).

Do you get the feeling that our Republican friends belong to a tribe in which group loyalty is a paramount virtue? And that other values play a secondary role? For that matter, that facts aren’t as important to them as group loyalty?

Some of the explanation for their astounding fickleness is, no doubt, that the right-wing propaganda they swallowed in 2013 was anti-missile attack, while the right-wing propaganda only four years later was pro-missile-attack. But being this easy to manipulate is just as bad as putting tribal loyalty above everything else. It’s all part of the same sad and dangerous phenomenon. Millions of right-wing Americans care more about group loyalty than reality or morality. If there was any doubt.

Obama Reminds Us This Isn’t a Reality Show

President Obama spoke at a Clinton campaign rally in Philadelphia on Sept. 13. Anyone who might stay home in November or vote for someone else should watch the video. Actually, anyone who enjoys a great speech by a perceptive, honorable man should watch it.

Here he speaks about Clinton and our democracy, starting at 33:45 in the video:

“And, yes, she’s got her share of critics. And she’s been caricatured by the right and sometimes by the left. And she’s been accused of everything you can imagine, and has been subjected to more scrutiny and what I believe is more unfair criticism than anybody out here. And she doesn’t complain about it. And you know what, that’s what happens when you’re under the microscope for 40 years. But what sets Hillary apart is that through it all, she just keeps on going, and she doesn’t stop caring, and she doesn’t stop trying, and she never stops fighting for us — even if we haven’t always appreciated it.”

“And look, I understand we’re a young country, we are a restless country. We always like the new, shiny thing. I benefited from that when I was a candidate. And we take for granted sometimes what is steady and true. And Hillary Clinton is steady, and she is true. And the young people who are here, who — all you’ve been seeing is just the nonsense that’s been on TV. You maybe don’t remember all the work that she has had to do, and all the things she has had to overcome, and all the good that has happened because of her efforts.”

“But you need to remember. You need to understand this. If you’re serious about our democracy, then you’ve got to be with her. She’s in the arena, and you can’t leave her in there by herself. You’ve got to get in there with her. You can’t stay home because, you know, she’s been around for a long time. Well, you know what, this is not reality TV. Democracy is not a spectator sport.”

The full video:

Wow! Could This Be the Beginning of a Movement?

Shepard Smith works for Fox News but sometimes doesn’t sound like it.

It was still quite a surprise to see what he said about Pope Francis and President Obama today:

I don’t know — I think we are in a weird place in the world when the following things are considered political. Five things, I’m going to tick them off. These are the five things that were on his and our president’s agenda. Caring for the marginalized and the poor — that’s now political. Advancing economic opportunity for all. Political? Serving as good stewards of the environment. Protecting religious minorities and promoting religious freedom globally. Welcoming [and] integrating immigrants and refugees globally. And that’s political? I mean, I don’t know what we expect to hear from an organization’s leader like the Pope of the Catholic Church, other than protect those who need help, bring in refuges who have no place because of war and violence and terrorism. These seem like universal truths that we should be good to others who have less than we do, that we should give shelter to those who don’t have it. I think these were the teachings in the Bible of Jesus. They’re the words of the pope, they’re the feelings of the president. And people who find themselves on the other side of that message should consult a mirror, it seems like. Because I think that’s what we’re supposed to do as a people, whatever your religion. I mean, it seems to me and I think to probably, as Bill O’Reilly would put it, most clear-thinking Americans — that that’s how we’re supposed to roll.

Yes, that’s how we’re supposed to roll! 

The remarkable video in which Mr. Smith states the obvious (at around 0:36) is available here.

In Foreign Policy, Smarter Works Better Than Tougher

The world will be a better place when normal relations are established between the United States and Cuba. But right-wing politicians disagree. They think we should treat Cuba even worse than we do now. If we tighten the screws on Cuba, the Cuban people will eventually rise up or their government will see the error of its ways.

Likewise, it will be a step forward when the United States and Iran establish better relations. Right-wing politicians disagree. They think we should treat Iran worse than we do now. We shouldn’t negotiate with Iran. We should tighten the screws even further and threaten military action. The Iranian people will rise up or their government will see the light.

The Atlantic has an interesting little article called “Why the Iran Deal Makes Obama’s Critics So Angry” that helps explain the Republican obsession with “toughness” in foreign policy:

When critics focus incessantly on the gap between the present [Iran nuclear] deal and a perfect one, what they’re really doing is blaming Obama for the fact that the United States is not omnipotent. This isn’t surprising given that American omnipotence is the guiding assumption behind contemporary Republican foreign policy. Ask any GOP presidential candidate except Rand Paul what they propose doing about any global hotspot and their answer is the same: be tougher. America must take a harder line against Iran’s nuclear program, against ISIS, against Bashar al-Assad, against Russian intervention in Ukraine and against Chinese ambitions in the South China Sea….

.[Behind Obama’s] drive for an Iranian nuclear deal is the effort to make American foreign policy “solvent” again by bringing America’s ends into alignment with its means. That means recognizing that the United States cannot bludgeon Iran into total submission, either economically or militarily. The U.S. tried that in Iraq.

It is precisely this recognition that makes the Iran deal so infuriating to Obama’s critics. It codifies the limits of American power. And recognizing the limits of American power also means recognizing the limits of American exceptionalism. It means recognizing that no matter how deeply Americans believe in their country’s unique virtue, the United States is subject to the same restraints that have governed great powers in the past. For the Republican right, that’s a deeply unwelcome realization. For many other Americans, it’s a relief. It’s a sign that, finally, the Bush era in American foreign policy is over.

A Few Reasons We’re Getting Screwed

It’s one thing to get screwed. It’s another thing to know why. From recent reading:

Instead of raising wages, hiring more workers or investing in research and new equipment, corporations are increasingly accumulating cash and buying their own stock. This raises the corporation’s stock price, enriching the people in charge (who receive much of their compensation in the form of stock and stock options) and shareholders (who tend to be the wealthiest among us), but does little to improve the lives of most Americans. Some statistics from The Atlantic‘s “Stock Buybacks Are Killing the American Economy”:

Over the past decade, the companies that make up the S&P 500 have spent an astounding 54 percent of profits on stock buybacks. Last year alone, U.S. corporations spent about $700 billion, or roughly 4 percent of GDP, to prop up their share prices by repurchasing their own stock.

Instead of doing something productive.

The Atlantic article is by Nick Hanauer, a very successful capitalist who acknowledges that inequality is a problem that needs to be addressed. A poorly-named article from Salon called “Let’s All Screw the 1 Percent” cites an article Hanauer wrote last year about overtime pay.

We all know that wages have stagnated for many workers or even declined when adjusted for inflation. In order to have the same buying power it had in 1968, the federal minimum wage would have to be raised from $7.25 to almost $11.00 (see this attempt at myth-busting from the Department of Labor). What isn’t as well-understood and what Hanauer pointed out is that millions of workers would and should be receiving overtime pay, even though they aren’t paid by the hour (declaring workers to be “exempt” and giving them a salary is, of course, a great way to force people to work long hours without extra compensation). From the Salon article by Paul Rosenberg:

…there’s a wage level below which everyone qualifies for mandatory time-and-a-half overtime, even if they’re on a salary, and that level has only been raised once since 1975, with the result that only 11 percent of salaried Americans are covered today, compared to over 65 percent of them in 1975. If you make less than $23,660 a year as a salaried worker, you qualify for mandatory overtime—if not, you’re out of luck.  … Just adjusting the wage level for inflation since 1975—an act of restoration, not revolution—would be as significant an income increase for millions of middle-class Americans as a $10.10 or even $15 minimum wage is for low-wage workers.  It would cover an additional 6.1 million salaried workers (by one account) up to $970 per week, about $50,440 annually—the vast majority of those it was originally designed to protect, but who have slowly lost their protections since the 1970s. Hanauer proposes a slightly greater increase, intended to cover roughly all the workforce that was covered in 1975. That would raise the threshold to $69,000 annually, and would cover an added 10.4 million workers.

What was also surprising to me is that the President can raise the $23,660 threshold without the approval of Congress. Last year, in fact, President Obama promised to do just that. This website for Human Resources specialists predicts that the threshold for overtime pay will be increased in 2016, but only to around $45,000 (they also predict that the rules for declaring an employee to be “exempt” will be tightened, making more workers eligible for overtime pay).

In a related article at the Alternet site, a postal worker explains why the people delivering your mail during the week or a package from Amazon on Sunday may not look as official as they used to (jeans and a sweatshirt seem to have replaced those blue uniforms in my neighborhood). Paul Barbot says that he is a City Carrier Assistant:

City Carrier Assistants are a brand new classification of employee within the postal ranks; we are the low-wage, non-career, complement workforce at the USPS. Before [a 2013] reclassification, we were called Transitional Employees and made a respectable $23.52 hourly rate, only several dollars per hour less than what the average career employee made. But with the USPS management’s financial woes … a low-wage workforce was needed to help entice big business into choosing the postal service to partner up with. City Carrier Assistants now perform the same work they did when they were called [“Transitional Employees”], but now they get to do that work for 31 percent less pay ($16.68 per hour)….Newly hired CCAs will make even less —starting at $15 per hour.

Barbot argues that this lower-wage workforce helped the Postal Service and Amazon reach a “Negotiated Service Agreement” regarding special treatment for Amazon packages. 

And finally, The Guardian reports (no surprise) that:

Poor Americans are less likely to vote and more likely to distrust government, study shows… Political engagement, it appears, is a privilege for those who aren’t struggling to make ends meet…

while the right-wing Koch brothers, who aren’t struggling at all (not even with their consciences), plan to spend almost $900 million in 2016 in support of reactionary candidates, almost twice what they spent in 2012.

We Don’t Torture Them Now – We Kill Them Instead

American insanity isn’t limited to Republicans or Republican-sympathizers, of course. For example, President Obama may have curtailed our use of torture, but he’s expanded our use of drones. From The Atlantic:

A report from the CIA’s inspector general [in 2004] had raised the possibility that the CIA’s interrogation techniques violated the UN Convention Against Torture, and that individual officers might be liable for criminal prosecution. That torture report … “was perhaps the single most important reason for the C.I.A.’s shift from capturing to killing terrorism suspects.”

The difficulty in keeping terrorism suspects locked up indefinitely without access to the regular judicial system gave our government an additional reason to kill them instead of capturing them. The result has been more drone attacks:

Though the U.S. drone war started under Bush …, Obama has ramped it up considerably in his half-decade in office. [According to Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations, Obama] has authorized over nine times as many strikes as his predecessor… Estimates of the precise number of fatalities in those operations range widely; Zenko’s own tally, based on reporting from non-governmental research organizations, puts the rough death toll at around 3,500 people. These include an unknown number of civilian casualties believed by independent researchers to number at least in the hundreds….Tuesday’s report from the Senate Intelligence Committee, meanwhile, lists 119 terror suspects known to have been detained by the CIA, of whom “at least 39 were subject to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques”….

But despite the vast disparity in the numbers of people abused through the CIA’s detention program versus killed by drones, there has been no official accounting of the latter program on par with the torture report released this week. “[Those] normally interested in upholding human rights ideals and promoting transparency (generally Democrats) simply will not investigate their own,” Zenko explained. “And as I’ve pointed out, in every public opinion poll … Americans are more comfortable killing suspected terrorists than torturing them.”

As Andrea Tartaros of Fox News said the other day, “We are awesome!”.