As American society becomes more tribal, society also becomes increasingly unstable and unmoored from civility. Americans are expected to take up for their tribe and defend it at all costs. The unfortunate outcome is that it can lead to not doing the right thing.
There are people in the United States who really would cheer on President Trump should he go out to Fifth Avenue in New York City and murder someone publicly. They would would find some excuse to blame the victim, which might include insufficient loyalty.
The truth is there are Democrats who would do the same for Barack Obama. In fact, we can see this with President Trump’s travel and golf. For eight years Republicans complained about President Obama’s golfing and vacations while Democrats defended him. Now, Democrats have suddenly become concerned with the cost of Presidential travel and golf playing, while Republicans no longer care. One progressive columnist declared it proof the GOP was racist. The reality is this is proof that both sides are partisan and tribal.
The New York Times made a very big deal out reports the U.S.S. Carl Vinson was actually not headed to North Korea at the time President Trump said it was. This was not the President’s fault. The Pentagon had told him the ship was headed toward the Korean peninsula when it was not. But Democrats seized on this as a sign of further incompetence.
Had this happened to President Obama, the New York Times editors would have celebrated his masterful poker playing and ability to bluff his way out of a tense situation with the North Koreans. Both sides have surrendered their intellectual honesty in favor of their tribes.
Democrats who have been protesting Bill O’Reilly were perfectly willing to defend President Clinton and his antics in and out of the White House. These same Democrats are horrified by President Trump being on his third wife and having several affairs. Meanwhile, some of the very same preachers who called for Bill Clinton to be impeached for his behavior are some of the most vocal defenders of President Trump’s behavior, claiming it does not matter.
But it does matter. There are still objective rights and objective wrongs. Morality and values still matter. To the tribes, however, it matters less and less. More and more Americans are willing to advocate for strong moral values, so long as they can use them against the other side. They will give their own side a pass on bad behavior so long as that bad behavior is directed outside their tribe.
It has been disheartening to see supposedly good Christians defend so much bad behavior by so many bad people, arguing that everyone in the tribe must defend the behavior or let the other tribe win. When one allows bad behavior to continue for years, turning a blind eye or covering it up, eventually it will come out and often at the hands of your political opponents. Yes, they do score a win and yes people will think you are caving to your opponents and letting your opponents dictate your actions. But what is missed along the way is that you only arrived at this point because you failed to do the right thing earlier.
Republicans defending President Trump’s excesses cede all the high ground when next a Democrat occupies the White House and behaves improperly. Democrats who refuse even a modicum of charity and civility toward President Trump cannot be surprised when Republicans behave as repugnantly with the next Democrat.
“But the GOP already did that to Obama,” is no excuse when Republicans then say, “We only did it because of how you treated Bush.” On and on the tribal arguments and playground insults go.
We are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. We all do things we should not and often we regret them. But we should not let the comfort of tribalism overrule the necessity of sincere apology and common decency. Failure to be civil does not mean we should abandon all attempts at civility. Unfortunately, too many people have decided tribalism trumps civility and common decency. We will all be worse off because of it.