Greg Gianforte and the Tribalism of Politics

By now it’s a familiar pattern:  The news media, trying to create the narrative of a growing backlash against Donald Trump, descends on an election in a Republican-leaning district where the polling indicates that maybe the Democrat has a chance for an upset.  This, they say, is proof that Trump has so disgusted the country that even the voters who elected him are now turning their backs, portending a huge wave for the Democrats in 2018.  Problem is, it never seems to work out the way the media hoped.  Last time around, it was John Ossoff in Georgia’s District 6, who still couldn’t get over 50% even with millions of dollars in out-of-state money powering his campaign and Republicans splitting the vote four ways.  Now the media are shedding tears because Greg Gianforte, the Republican who manhandled a pencilneck reporter and caused a national stir, bumped off Democrat Rob Quist–a Pete Seeger wannabe folk singer who performed at nudist resorts and had a socialist streak so wide it would have made Bernie Sanders blush.  Maybe that would have played in San Francisco, but in Montana?  Not so much.

So what’s there to do, besides moving on to another narrative?  Turning on a dime, the same media that tried to convince us that people would vote against Gianforte because of Donald Trump will now say that people voted for Gianforte because of Donald Trump.  That’s because Trump has so coarsened the country with his ugly rhetoric and p-ssy grabbing, he’s made it okay–desirable even–for bully-boy politicians to smack the glasses off pajama-boy reporters.  The kind of thing that used to get you tossed out of polite society now wins elections.  What has the country become?

You’d expect that sort of thing coming from the left, as they search for an excuse as to why the coming Trump backlash never seems to materialize.  But elements on the right are also jumping on the bandwagon, decrying the loss of civility in our politics, not to mention the culture at large.  Jay Nordlinger, a writer for National Review whom I’ve long admired, neatly sums up this position with a tweet from this morning:

It’s a point I’ve heard a lot of conservative make.  And they’re absolutely correct in their thinking.  To me, politics has become far too tribal.  No matter how terrible, more and more people seem willing to justify bad behavior so long as it’s “their guy” doing it.  This is a dangerous lowering of standards, and only gives our elected leaders license to be as nasty as they wanna be.  Why shouldn’t they when the tribe will always rush to their defense?

Conservatives didn’t used to be like this.  We used to hold our people to a higher standard.  Problem is, in taking the high road, we also ended up getting our butts kicked a lot of times.  That’s what happens when you go into a fight thinking its Marquis of Queensbury rules and the other side treats it like a street rumble.  That’s always been the central weakness of conservatism.  We’re better trained and have better arguments, but all that doesn’t matter when liberals have a straight razor in their shoe and they’re not afraid to use it.

Even worse, conservatives are expected to operate at this disadvantage.  When leftists torch cars, trash Starbucks, and assault conservative speakers on college campuses, they suffer no consequences–and in fact are praised for being passionate.  Punching people in the face, meanwhile, is also considered acceptable, so long as those getting punched are considered “fascist” by those doing the punching.  Conservatives, on the other hand, aren’t even allowed to say a cross word about about liberal pieties without being accused of triggering and even violence.  How are you supposed to have a fair fight under those rules of engagement?

The short answer is you can’t.  A lot of people on the right have started to figure this out, and that’s why they’ve become more tribal.

Fight dirty or lose.  That’s where we are.

And that’s where we’ll keep going so long as there’s one set of rules for us and another set of rules for them.

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Marc Giller

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