Democrats, Republicans: No time for tribalism

BROOKINGS – “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.” Nicolo Machiavelli, “The Prince”

There’s scant evidence that President Donald J. Trump can be both; there is, however, evidence of a strong and platonic ménage a trois between MAGA-man, his rally-bound base and his fawning and sycophantic Fox News toadies (less reporters Chris Wallace, Juan Williams and Geraldo Rivera and retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, a consultant).

The president thrives on Fox-friends adulation, praises of some staff members, and his own self-adulation. In a media briefing at the White House during the days of Black-Lives-Matter protest, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany likened her boss’s walk across the street (after the area was quickly cleared of peaceful protestors) to visit St. John’s Church, which had been burned by unruly rioters, to Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s visits to bombed out parts of London during the blitz. Both came out of their “bunkers” to make their tours. Of course, Trump was only in his bunker for a few minutes and then only “to make an inspection.”

But even in self-adulation, Trump would have a hard time matching the messiah-like gushings of Fox’s Lou Dobbs, Self-appointed Presidential Historian and Self-appointed Presidential Butt-Kisser-in-Chief. Dobbs pretty much sees Trump as our nation’s greatest chief executive ever, who has in his 3 1/2 years at the helm accomplished more than his predecessors did in 200-plus years. In return, the Donald has been known to lavish praise on his SAPBKIC.

Before I go any further, let me insert an alhaigian caveat: I’m not out to get Fox; other cable (news?) networks – CNN, with Chris Coumo and Don Lemon, and MSNBC, with Rachel Maddow – are biased to the left. But so far I haven’t seen these “lefties” to be quite as virulently mean-spirited and uncivil as some of the Fox personalities; Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Raymond Arroyo come to mind.

I suspect if we’re all brutally honest with ourselves, we’ll see that we all suffer to some degree from “confirmation bias.” We tend to give more credence to those purveyors of information who appear to politically think and lean as we do.

Enough said – other than that I don’t believe any of us in the media to be an enemy of the people. As for “fake news” – whatever it is, it’s something way beyond my pay grade to take on.

The danger I see is that the cable news media I’ve noted above and the confirmation biases they’ve spawned are doing much to split the nation into two warring “tribes.”  Choose which one: you’re a conservative, probably Republican and a Trumpster; or you’re liberal, progressive and probably a Democrat, what Dobbs would call “a radical Dem.” Not a good situation for people in both parties.

Consider the words Harry Truman, penned in “Mr. Citizen” in 1960, with the presidency nearly a decade behind him: “I have been fiercely partisan in politics and always militantly liberal. I will be that way as long as I live. Yet I think we would lose something important to our political life if the conservatives were all in on party and the liberals all in the other. This would make us a nation divided either into two opposing and irreconcilable camps or into even smaller and more contentious groups.” Good words for some dismal days.

And I have seen a brighter picture lately as Republican lawmakers are putting personal convictions before loyalty to the president and joining Democrats in a bipartisan effort: to change the names of military bases (all in Southern states) that honor Confederate generals.

A recent New York Times headline reads, “Defying Trump, Senate Panel Moves to Strip Military Bases of Confederate Names.” The report that follows notes that the move, “supported by Republicans and Democrats alike, came as Mr. Trump publicly declared his refusal to even consider removing any of the names.”

In looking at the base-naming issue, consider the state of the post-bellum United States: the Confederate States of America had rebelled and separated themselves from the United States of America in the “Northern War of Aggression.” The CSA lost the “Civil War”; slavery was abolished; the “South” was reconstructed, albeit not without a lot of pain; and over the years American bases were built in 10 of the rebellious Southern states and named after noteworthy rebel generals.

As near as I could determine some reasons given for the naming were: a spirit of reconciliation … Confederate generals viewed as tragic heroes and not treasonable racists … and “lost cause” ideology that portrayed slaves as happy and their owners as benevolent has been discredited.

High-ranking officials in the Department of Defense are also amenable to a “bipartisan discussion” of the name-changing issue; and several high-ranking retired general and flag officers are comfortable with any name changing that might ensue.

In the big scheme of things, the name-changing is small stuff. But it might be a small step on the way to some long overdue non-partisanship and a realization that without compromise the big work of our government can’t go forward.

Straight partisan, party-line, tribal voting on most big issues is doomed to failure. And unfortunately, our cable news networks – sometimes, I fear, with malice aforethought – further divide our lawmakers and voters into warring tribes. Not good.

Have a nice day. Stay safe.