This article represents one view on a complex issue. For a different perspective, see Modern Tribalism and Nontheistic Religiosity.
Politics is the art of the possible.
Otto Von Bismarck
Why can’t we all just get along?
In the early stages of the 2020 presidential campaign, we hear a good deal of rhetoric about wanting to be the president of all the people. Beto O’Rourke, for one, has sounded this theme, which, as part of a campaign speech, is hard to argue against. In the face of today’s reality, however, is there a basis for this kind of unity, matters for which there is almost universal consensus both for the need, and for the path to get there?
We have learned from American history that political disagreements and efforts to work them out are part of our past. Farmers v. cities, labor v. capital, economic safety nets, rights of certain groups, what constitutes legitimate business regulations, tax policies, etc., have all been subject to debate, legislation, and court battles, as various constituencies advocate for their interests. Today, however, we are seeing positions that are not necessarily based on interests but on something deeper. Does this make consensus and unity an impossible dream?
Even a casual observer of social media will see an avalanche of posts by, or reposts of, statements by right-wing religious figures, claiming that those who oppose their agenda are against God, therefore, morally inferior.
Prominent pastor E.W. Jackson stated that Barack Obama is “Demon-Possessed.” Conservative activist Mary Colbert stated on Jim Bakker’s show that Trump is the chosen one and those who oppose him are bringing curses upon themselves and their descendants.
Numerous religious figures have opined about every natural disaster being God’s punishment for something they don’t like such as LGBT rights or same-sex marriage. Let’s not forget the support for the Kentucky county clerk who refused a legal marriage license to a same-sex couple because it offended her religious beliefs.
When Jerry Falwell founded The Moral Majority, he legitimized the position that people with different views are morally wrong in the eyes of God. At the time, talk radio was the major outlet for these views. Today, social media has probably surpassed talk radio. In either case, right-wing communication channels have done much to blur those areas of potential agreement and substitute an increasing tribalism.
By claiming the moral high ground that those who disagree with you are wrong according to the deity, how can there be compromise? Most of the issues that are subject to a particular view of the Bible are those involving only the people affected. Same-sex marriage, for example, in no way impacts anyone other than the couple who marries.
Yet, the morally righteous attitudes cover the entire right-wing agenda. Does the Bible have a prohibition against steps to stop climate change or passages regarding infrastructure? What about health care legislation?
What we are seeing is increasing tribalism, mostly on the right. If a large segment of the population views a large part of the population as morally suspect, it becomes difficult to agree on anything. The recent history of party line votes in Congress is evidence of the increasing divisions in the United States. In the past, major civil rights, tax and environmental legislation were implemented with bipartisan support. When the other side is the enemy, how do we bridge the divide to deal with bread and butter issues?
Politics is about compromise. Taking positions on public issues depending on interests is the essence of politics. By staking out a moral position on every issue, compromise is seen as a deal with the devil.
This is why we can’t all get along.