The secret reason for America’s white-hot political rhetoric

Summary: There is a secret to US politics that explains the white-hot rhetoric that now dominates it. If many Americans saw this, the political system would change. Hopefully for the better.

Obama is Hitler

There are three hundred thousand entries on Google for “political polarization”, mostly whining about its awfulness and pining for the bipartisanship of the days of yore. Worry no more! The rhetoric in US politics has become white hot because it is not polarized. The rhetoric is distracting music, necessary to maintain party cohesion. The rank and file must believe the parties differ in important ways. ”You are evil” replaces “Your policies are bad”.

Trump as Hitler

Our elites agree on an unusually large number of important areas of public policy. The political parties must conceal this from us, so they heat up the rhetoric. Politics becomes a blood sport to entertain a passive and apathetic public. Treason, fascist, and Nazi become commonplace.

The Republicans and Democrats disagree about social issues; this is the core of our so-called “political polarization”. The 1% care about money and power. They don’t care about mating habits of the proles, or most social issues. The endless war, domestic surveillance, maintaining our flat tax system (here and here), dominance of the banks, our State Capitalist economy — you know the list.

Hillary and other Democrats supported Bush’s wars. The GOP supported Obama’s wars. The Democrats support Trump’s wars. The House passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 with a bipartisan majority, just like the past and future DNAA’s. Congress renewed the Patriot Act with a bipartisan majority in 2011 and its renewal, the USA Freedom Act, in 2015.

That is the true bipartisanship.

Tribalism

Tribalism

Our leaders organize us to be ineffectual. We get tribal loyalties (dirty hippy commies vs. puritanical ignorant fascists) and mock battles to fight. It prevents the discovery of common causes, mutual allegiances, and the need for fundamental reform.

See this excerpt from “American politics go tribal” by Tom Jacobs in the Pacific Standard — “A political scientist explains the disconnect between our moderate policy views and our intense hatred for the other side.”

“Political scientist Lilliana Mason’s analysis is more subtle, and more disturbing. Her research suggests that, in terms of our attitudes towards issues, we are no more polarized than we were decades ago. But our emotions, and the behaviors they drive, have largely uncoupled from our actual analysis of the issues. Essentially, the Stony Brook University scholar argues, our identities have become increasingly intertwined with our political affiliation. As a result, we feel ever more certain that our party is right and the other is wrong—even in cases where their positions aren’t far apart.

“Our attitude towards the opposing party has become, basically, tribal: We detest them simply because they’re the other side.

“‘The American public can hold remarkably moderate and constant issue positions, while nonetheless becoming progressively more biased, active and angry when it comes to politics,’ she argues. ‘Even as we agree on most issues, we are becoming increasingly uncivil in our approach to politics.’”

America is well-governed.  But not in our interests.

Bush as Hitler

How to choose a political party

Today we get to choose a political party like cattle at the Chicago stockyards get to choose a chute.  The cattle (being smarter than us) don’t bother with party identification. Cattle don’t cheer the “left-side” pen, admire the virtue of its prisoners, the beauty of its fence, the wisdom of their keepers, or its free food.  Those in the “right-side” pen don’t wear logos or trumpet their superior intelligence over those in the other pen.

Heil Hillary

Conclusion

As policy differences narrow between the parties, we get more noise. Bush Jr. was a fascist, probably a Nazi.  Obama is an anarchist socialist Muslim pretending to be an American. Trump is evil incarnate.

The differences that remain — such as gay marriage, abortion rights, gun rights, education policy — are important but insignificant compared to the profound changes in our political regime under way for several decades. Now the pace accelerates. A unified ruling class, led by a resurgent 1%, with an apathetic and passive citizenry — who can say what changes might be made to America in the next decade?

Eventually we’ll come to a Rubicon, a clear line whose crossing future historians will consider the birth of a New America. The Rubicon might not be obvious as we cross it.

It need not be like this. Both parties belong to us. Both can be retaken. America needs a choice, not an echo (to borrow Phyllis Schlafy’s memorable phrase).

Jim Hightower on the two parties

For More Information

Please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information see all posts about politics in America, about ways to reform America’s politics, and especially these…

  1. Polarization and hot rhetoric conceal two similar political parties. Will we ever notice?
  2. Our fears are unwarranted. America is in fact well-governed,
  3. The good news: America’s politics are neither polarized nor dysfunctional. That’s also the bad news.
  4. The votes were counted and one wing of our one ruling party won. Rejoice!

Recommended books about our situation.

American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony
Available at Amazon.
Political Polarization in American Politics
Available at Amazon.

28 thoughts on “The secret reason for America’s white-hot political rhetoric

  1. There is some truth in laying the problem on “tribalism” (which is a clue that the past is the key to the present), but that is focusing on the symptoms, not the disease. The same criticism applies to your proposition that the Democrats and Republicans are coming together, towards a “unified ruling class”, and the citizenry then becoming “apathetic and passive”. The question is “Why”, in both cases.

    The reason for these symptoms, however, is simple: Dogma over reason, leading to a crisis of general incompetence in judgment. The truth is that divisive, false dogmas have been too long nurtured, by the various factions and groups in our societies. This is now a climactic time, when these chickens have come home to roost as it were, and adherence to one’s favorite dogma(s) is ascendant over competent reason, on every front, in every confrontation. Thus, emotions rule.

    As a “hard” scientist–a physicist by education and long experience–I first identified this general incompetence within science itself, after making a revolutionary discovery that falsifies the very paradigm by which science has sought to advance ever since Darwin — that paradigm being undirected evolution of all that science observes in the world. Having made that discovery, I sought to bring it out to the world, only to find the world reacting with determined avoidance behavior, that increased the more I tried, even to the “white-hot” stage you refer to in the political discourse. (No, I’m not saying the white-hot political rhetoric is in reaction to my efforts to be heard; I’m saying it is due to avoidance behavior, primarily on the Left, against anyone trying to bring out the truth in any given situation.

    the Democrats have been fiercely battling any recognition of the truth throughout the Obama presidency years, for which I have been calling them the Insane Left for most if not all of that time. “White-hot” rhetoric, blatantly false, and perverse (as they have only been painting themselves into a smaller and smaller corner, trying to promulgate and defend what cannot be truthfully defended), is all the Insane Left seems able to call forth now.

    But add in the stealth bipartisanship shown by the Republicans, and the resulting disconnect (ever deeper, ever wider) between the two parties and their “constituents”–the people, who don’t like what their representatives are doing–and one can see it is not just the Left that is insane today, i.e., determinedly, obsessively avoiding the truth.
    The preferred dogmas of that “unified ruling class” are, increasingly, simply not those of the people being misled.

    The problem is too-long nurtured false dogmas, some for decades, others for generations, the worst throughout known history. This is a climactic time, and a hard test for all mankind. Because, finally, new knowledge needs to be properly confronted, and accepted by all, and very few are ready to do it.

    1. Harry,

      “The question is “Why”, in both cases.”

      Why is a question that can be asked of every explanation, including yours, until you have a chain of causation going back to the Big Bang.

      “Dogma over reason, leading to a crisis of general incompetence in judgment.”

      I see few signs that we value dogma over reason more than did previous generations. Reason has seldom (perhaps never) been a popular tool in politics. Perhaps because its use so often produces disturbing conclusions.

    2. Dear Mr Huffman, FM, and all,

      HDH> As a “hard” scientist–a physicist by education and long experience–I first identified this general incompetence within science itself, after making a revolutionary discovery that falsifies the very paradigm by which science has sought to advance ever since Darwin — that paradigm being undirected evolution of all that science observes in the world.

      This is an important observation, and one unfortunately that many scientists — hard, but especially otherwise — can delude themselves into believing, namely that the “natural selection” of verifiable, reproducible facts (OK, measurements) will occur amongst the “scientifically” trained. There is a faith, developed in a cargo-cult association conflating correlation with causality that some one is a nominal scientist, they are a scientist by perspective, discipline, and as touchy-feely as it may sound, temperament. That doesn’t mean we scientists are effective in a world where observable phenomena that can be reproducibly measured, can simply be ignored on dogmatic grounds. Enter, FM…

      FM> I see few signs that we value dogma over reason more than did previous generations. Reason has seldom (perhaps never) been a popular tool in politics. Perhaps because its use so often produces disturbing conclusions.

      I think we need to circle back to an undogmatic tribalism as the additional primary ingredient. Successful politics consists of blending tribalism, dogma, and reason in that order, it seems. What makes the current election interesting, I think, is the thrashing of dogma in the public square. The people who elected President Trump as a demographic are largely the same people who voted for Mitt Romney, but the handful of swing voters who chose to go to the polls in their red MAGA hats to crumble the blue wall were not exactly your Heritage Foundation wonks. Oh, I still think it’s in the second rank, but greatly diminished compared to the mutual ascendancy of tribalism and, to a degree, reason.

      Anyway, great post, great reply. Thanks!

      Bill

  2. Hey guess what? All politics is identity politics. And it is inevitable that we fracture into tribes, we are after all a species that evolved in small tribes and bands. I foresee the eventual fracturing of the nation into regions even more clearly defined than currently. It might eventually even become official. In any case, the federal government has over reached its power for decades and the balance will once again shift in favor of states’ rights.

  3. Great article. But, please don’t use microaggressive words like white hot. Not PC.

    Maybe a third party is necessary. One that takes significant numbers from the other two. Then the dem and GOP can merge into one party and we are back to two parties again. I know – what an original thought.

    1. Gute,

      “Maybe a third party is necessary.”

      Our history disproves that. Starting a major third party is immensely difficult in the US, since the two party system is built into the structure. But the rise of outsider candidates — McGovern, Carter, Trump — shows that it is quite feasible to capture one of the major parties. They are internally weak.

  4. Can we agree that the conservative and democratic parties are both working hand in hand to make sure populations are complicit to prevent anarchy. Hiding away in big buildings in professional suits with a ‘Look, we’re doing stuff!’ attitude. Meanwhile they take credit for the rights and civility that we have created on our own, to which they say ‘Yup, all us’.

    I keep thinking what politics was like in the 19th century, before television or media in general. How would you even know what political candidates look like, let alone know a candidates manifesto or dossier. Nothing has changed, we have all the information available to us now more than ever, but it’s mostly all pointless. We know the names, faces, positions of every politician, good.. now what.

    The minimum power that people can exercise is to vote, not a right but a novelty. Then our ambition (providing you care about a transparent democracy) isn’t too change and switch around political candidates, but to change politics itself. I want to be able to do more than just vote.

    1. Lawrence,

      “Can we agree that the conservative and democratic parties are both working hand in hand to make sure populations are complicit to prevent anarchy.”

      No, I don’t agree. There near-zero evidence that anarchy is a serious threat.

      “I want to be able to do more than just vote.”

      You say that as if somebody is stopping you from doing so. They’re not.

    2. Then they’re working hand in hand, for what purpose? If not to prevent a specific movement, perhaps enforcing a movement just as likely.

      Heck I could do anything, but I can’t change the rules of politics. How careless would a government have to be to allow measures for it to be overturned easily.

    3. Lawrence,

      “Then they’re working hand in hand, for what purpose?”

      The 1% have bought them both. It was cheap for people who can buy the WaPo like you or I would buy a model train set.

      They don’t hide it, any more than Hillary Clinton hid her lavish Wall Street “speaking fees” from us. We just prefer to close our eyes and whine that the service from the Washington DC restaurant isn’t what such awesome folks as us deserve.

    4. If the 1% have bought both sides, then the media can’t be ignorant, they’re bought too. Not just both sides though, the elites have bought Europe, Americas and Asia. It’s just smart business.

      Nobody’s eyes are closed, people’s hands are forced. So we make the best of a bad situation and get on with our lives, while politicians scurry around thinking they’re more important than they let off. Nobody cares about Trump, and the 1% will have a very tough time painting another candidate to be anti-establishment, that’s what people want and what they will eventually start fighting for.

    5. Lawrence,

      “If the 1% have bought both sides, then the media can’t be ignorant,”

      Journalists are seldom ignorant about politics or society.

      “Nobody’s eyes are closed, people’s hands are forced”

      So our butts are chained to our couches, unable to politically organize or act? Your view is the almost unanimous response in the hundreds of posts about politics here. We’re helpless. Our foes are too powerful, we are too weak! We’re just poor helpless little babies in the bad world. So we whine and watch superhero films about a flying Jesus to rescue us.

      This is the clearest possible evidence of our decayed state, and that the actual problem of America is that we are no longer willing to bear the burden of self-government.

    6. Even if a hand is forced it doesn’t mean it’s impossible, equally people shouldn’t have to wake up, it shouldn’t be anyone’s responsibility.

      For example, I’ve followed this 9/11 truth movement who have 1000s of engineers and scientists saying we should have a closer look at this. Nothing has come of it. We have 97% of scientists arguing for climate change (whether it’s true or not, doesn’t matter). Nothing, and apparently we all die in that case. Both cases have overwhelming support!

    7. Lawrence,

      “equally people shouldn’t have to wake up, it shouldn’t be anyone’s responsibility.”

      We’re discussing citizenship, the responsibility for America. Acceptance of that responsibility is self-government. Shirking it means others will rule, in their own interest.

    8. Lawrence,

      “Check-mating the people who currently rule sounds like an impressive feat”

      Chess is, imo, not a useful metaphor. It’s the usual metaphor for those who see the world as a contest among elites. This is common in geopolitics (e.g., Stratfor).

      This is a more straightforward task of public mobilization. Effective methods for this have been developed in the West over the past thousand years, and have successfully been applied in US history. To a large extent they are US history. For example the founding, the abolitionists, the suffragettes, and the civil rights movement.

      This process is like war. Everything in it is quite simple, but difficult to do. The primary resource or fuel is those people with the will to attempt it.

  5. FM, thanks for writing on this topic. I would like to offer up two thoughts to you.

    1. Tribalism is not an inherently bad thing. In fact, if the tribe is large enough, we call it a nation, and nationalism is a strong basis for trust in institutions. The problems is that we are a nation composed of competing tribes that are unable to actually dominate the nation. I assume this is what you meant, but it is worth being direct and specific about it. The danger to America and its political system is that the rightist tribe is shrinking and the leftist is growing without being able to appropriately dominate. If the left or right were actually as dominate as it feels it is then this civil divide wouldn’t be a pressing concern.
    Additionally, American ‘political’ tribes are, in fact, teams. They are not composed of people who share a blood relation but share a common identity that colors their views of other people. That we are still making our tribes out of non-kin is a better thing than the inverse which has a historically

    2. I think that your concern is still very appropriate. Americans, as I have seen, have begun to view each other with such hostility and distrust that many of them would rather see their opponent suffer than both succeed. We choose to compromise with people who would lie to us about our righteousness or ‘wokeness’ than deal with those we disagree with and come up with a way to stay in relationship. It is distressing to see so many willing to walk away from their long held communities over these issues.
    If you are able, I think it would be encouraging and helpful to see examples of Americans resisting political tribalism and working across those lines for the betterment of all. I don’t see those stories at all. Seeing them would give me and other examples of how it is done and find encouragement in other’s actions.

    cake88

    1. cake,

      “In fact, if the tribe is large enough, we call it a nation, and nationalism is a strong basis for trust in institutions.”

      Perhaps you prefer the term the Founders used: factionalism. Anyway you label it, I believe most readers understand the phenomenon being described.

      “and nationalism is a strong basis for trust in institutions.”

      Tribalism can provides an adequate basis for nationalism. But that is not the United States. The Founders saw it as a a threat to be fought, hence e pluribus unum.

      “American ‘political’ tribes are, in fact, teams.”

      I don’t believe they are teams in any meaningful sense of the word. That would be like saying the fans in the bleachers are part of a football team. There is no common project, no membership, no organization.

      “I don’t see those stories at all.”

      Sad but true. Look at the big successful political websites: most are very tribal.

    2. Dear Cake88, FM, and all,

      To riff on FM’s point, federalism is a means by which tribal peoples can be brought into a national (or even nationalist) framework. These are not the same thing. Having a system by which people can run their experiments in their different states, but respect a common set of values, use a common currency, and share responsibility for the common defense, is a very powerful idea, though on that may be close to being irreparably broken in the US. Just because it only worked here so long doesn’t dismiss it as a good idea. I think the Swiss are doing OK. The centralization of power that should be reserved to the states in the US, or the countries of the EU, in places like Brussels and DC, well, just doesn’t seem like a good idea, because it subverts federal interest for things that can be reduced to tribal, which in my opinion and observation, is not always the best route to a mutually beneficial outcome.

      With kindest regards,

      Bill

    3. Bill,

      “I think the Swiss are doing OK.”

      Federalism seldom works in large nations, except in theory. Everybody mentions the Swiss — with a population the size of NYC and its ethnic homogeneity (French, German, and Italian — after centuries of living together, few non-Europeans can tell them apart).

      The Austro-hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Yugoslavia, and the many many other large multi-ethnic federations that collapsed in the modern era are probably better analogies. And warnings for us.

    4. Dear FM,

      FM> Federalism seldom works in large nations, except in theory.

      All of your comments and observations hold. But what is the alternative?

      Letting little nations be is a form of federalism. American federalism holds pretty well, but it will be impossible to go “full-multicultural” without some common values, which I argue need to be founded upon human/natural rights. California is large in population, but not exceptionally so, compared to most countries, but has a GDP that would put Russia or Italy out of the G8. One state. Georgia (US) has a larger population and GDP than Sweden, home of Volvo, SAAB, the Nobel Prize, and tunnbrödsrulle. How do we find a commonality to allow *some* differences but still allow ourselves to all call ourselves American? What are the common values? I recognize that our federalism has a weakness, but I suppose I’m not bright enough to devise a better answer. I certainly don’t think it’s find the best among us and put our faith in them and hope for the best. It probably actually works out that way, but is that a grounds for presupposition?

      Switzerland is by no means perfect, no matter how beautiful. But they do hold a wider diversity than many might suppose, despite living together for a dozen generations or more. France was smart to enforce their “forced assimilation” model, because it would be appropriate for France, and their lack of discipline in that regard has had consequences. Unfortunately. But that is not a universal model, and while I prefer the American model, we need to learn something from the French, namely, that there needs to be some basic overlap in commonality and shared values. Natural rights, free thinking, and, to go back to near pre-history (or beyond), the golden rule.

      Now, the unnatural “federal” states like Yugoslavia, Iraq, Syria, etc., I will not deny for a femtosecond. But little is shared except geography and a really savage, bloody history. Not a model. I am going to hold on to the illusion, one probably not completely unlike those shared by Zoroastrians or Jefferson all jacked up on wine from his own vineyards that whatever system we cook up needs to be based on a notion of equality before the law and a notion of liberty that you would not take from another that you would not have taken from you.

      Anyway, I believe that in the absence of reason and moral systems of community which allow people of shared, if not identical ideas and values fail to thrive as a community, they must reach for tribalism, and pass if they have to. That’s the ursprung upon which we build, but I hope we improve.

      As always, I am grateful for this forum,

      Bill

    5. Bill,

      “But what is the alternative?”

      The current structure of the US works quite well. The only broken link is us, the American public. We’ve lost the willingness to bear the burden of self-government (although we whine loudly, as a substitute). No structural change will fix that.

    6. Dear FM,

      FM> The current structure of the US works quite well. The only broken link is us, the American public. We’ve lost the willingness to bear the burden of self-government (although we whine loudly, as a substitute). No structural change will fix that.

      Amen!

      I reach. I see this amazing gift that we don’t seem willing to use. It’s not about changing the gift but letting people know what they’ve been gifted with. What would Zoroastrians think of how we disposed of the Golden Rule? Our legacy is we don’t know who Anders Chydenius is. So very, very richly blessed.

      With very kindest regards,

      Bill

  6. I agree with your observations about emotional tribalism dividing the American people and would add that tribalism is a global phenomenon. I think it has resulted in collective global insanity: https://medium.com/@PeakSpecies/because-the-vast-majority-of-the-7-5-fba84b584f90

    I was able to spend some time at Occupy L.A. and micro tribalism was rampant. I asked around and was reliably informed that all of the Occupy sites had similar micro tribal aspects. I’m an old fart and still do not understand the tribal cliques that developed spontaneously.

    I was baffled about the driving forces of the Bosnia/Croatian war and found one explanation that both “tribes” had extensive historical, cultural & religious similarities. Their war was driven by fanatical hatred over trivial symbolic distinctions. Kind of a Hatfield and McCoy feud.

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