Tribeocracy is a tough religion
As Groucho Marx famously told in various forms, I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.
When President Joe Biden fell on the podium last Thursday, I tweeted that we should be praying for the President, because an 80-year-old falling can easily lead to a broken hip, which is a difficult recovery. That’s true. My own father fell and broke his hip; he spent most of his remaining years in a wheelchair. If asked, most of you can relate a similar story about a relative or friend.
But because of political tribalism, saying anything about our President’s health or age is taken personally by a certain cadre of people who believe it to be an attack against their own tribe. Former President Donald Trump posted on Truth Social a spoof video of Biden’s earpiece audio, a childish, offensive, stupid piece that in any other context is funny only to meme-obsessed tweens scrolling TikTok (I won’t link it). The same video was tweeted by a group of similarly cruel tribe members because Twitter is still a sewer (let that sink in).
Thanks for reading The Racket News! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support our work.
One thing about tribes that resonates with human behavior is the 80-20 rule (or the Pareto principle). Eighty percent of the core “work” of a tribe is done by twenty percent of its members. The other adherents—the 80%—call themselves members, or identify with the cause, or take on the label, but at the testing point, they fail. The testing point may be financial, or accountability, or doctrine, but the bonds that hold organizations together are measured by the influence of the 20%, or in the case of certain kinds of tribes, the leader.
Trump runs the kind of tribe usually found only in Hollywood studios—where “A,” “B,” and “nobody” lists rule—or cults. When he recently attacked his own former press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, calling her a “Milktoast,” his purpose wasn’t to correct a fact, or even respond to an attack. It was pure malice, lest anyone perceive McEnany as capable of independent thought. It’s enough for Trump that she has a Juris Doctor from Harvard and has always been a Republican stalwart and a media pro—his hatred for that class of people propels his strong sense of victimhood. Competence is only appreciated in the Trump tribe when the chief can pay for it with a check.
If you look for fallout from Trump’s entirely predictable biting of hands that once fed him, it came in the form of one New Hampshire House of Representatives member (of a stunning 400—one for every 3,500-odd granite staters). State Rep. James Spillane from Deerfield withdrew his endorsement. If that rebuke has any measurable effect on Trump’s lead over Gov. Ron DeSantis in the state is yet to be seen. Trump has never had Gov. Chris Sununu’s support—frequently Sununu has skewered Trump, yet though the state’s governor is immensely popular at home, Florida’s candidate DeSantis has yet to see daylight in the polls.
As more and more Republican candidates enter the race, Trump has the same strategy in play that won him the nomination in 2016. He will knock them off one by one, and the mainstream media, which is its own tribe, will hand him the blade to do it. Over and over again, many media fact checkers have held their powder when Trump accused DeSantis of mismanaging the state’s COVID-19 response. This is because they don’t want to be called hypocrites for criticizing DeSantis at the time the pandemic was going on, not because Trump’s criticisms are valid, or because the media’s takes were correct.
It’s all about the tribes.
As Jonah Goldberg wrote in long form, we should all consider the portfolio of our associations—the tribes we belong to, and how the interplay of those groups define our identity, the person we are when we’re among those in our groups. In the media, associations and tribal loyalty mean a whole lot, of course until they upend and change. In the end, faceless corporations like AT&T and Discovery Communications make their decisions based on shareholder value. (AT&T is the Donald Trump of media, destroying everything it touches, then excreting the remains.)
Going further, we should consider which tribes are in our Pareto 20% and which we claim as part of the 80%. Which tribes define our lives, influence us, win our money, our time, or our vote? It’s one thing to say I’m a member in good standing of the “Project Steve” club, but when the point of the club is to prove that nobody in that particular club influences anything at all, it’s not going to be taken seriously.
I think we should consider these memberships in terms not of what our influence is, but in terms of what it costs us. For instance, churches. In any given congregation, research shows that 10-25 percent of members tithe, or give 10% of their income to the church. That falls right in line with the Pareto number, leaving 75 to 90% of congregants giving whatever they feel like. Of all Americans, only 5% tithe, and 80% feel like giving 2%, not 10%. Churches don’t charge at the door for membership or attendance, so it costs people nothing to attend—when they feel like going. When the pastor challenges them, they get offended and leave, so they grace some other pew with their presence, while continuing not to give.
In politics, those who vote for a particular candidate, versus those who give, or volunteer, is an even starker contrast. But it seems as our nation gets more divided over politics—not issues, mind you, but tribes—everything is taken so personally as to make tribes nothing more than oppositional to another tribe. Associations with those tribes involve social media “likes” and throwing of sticks and stones. They deny the humanity of people by mocking misfortune and cruelly cheering harmful comments. The 20% in these tribes are the ones who physically threaten people, “doxx” them online, and some actually commit acts of violence. The 80% who “only voted for the guy” deny their involvement, while trashing the other side for their own sins.
One interesting observation about the 20%. They go beyond. Looking at tithers, 77% give 11-20% or more of their income, and 70% of tithers calculate the tithe on gross income (before tax). In other words, if you give yourself, if it costs you, you’re more likely to invest more than just the minimum. For the very brief period of my adult life before I was a Christian when I belonged to a synagogue, I found that they didn’t talk about tithing, though it’s a Old Testament Biblical principle. No, they asked for a statement of net worth and a W-2 or recent paycheck. Then they came back with an invoice, which they expected to be paid timely.
I don’t have statistics to show that church members who tithe also make up the best attenders, or volunteers who teach Sunday School or take care of kids and babies. But I am fairly certain there’s a correlation there: the Bible says “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21.)
It makes sense: most American churches survive in a market economy, where the “rich” churches can literally swim in money, while “poor” churches struggle. Synagogues fight for survival, and cannot take chances with such niceties. Even so, the 80-20 rule prevails, except many synagogues indeed do charge for seats on high holiday services. I wonder how many seats would be filled on Easter Sunday if only tithers could attend, and everyone else had to pay $50?
Votes cost nothing. They are cast, and the consequences can frequently be blamed on “them” who are in the 20%—which we hypocritically call the “fringe” of a group we are otherwise associated with in other ways. Retweets, likes, and Facebook comments cost nothing, but they are flung into the social media space with the disregard of kids who stand around and laugh while the bully shakes down his target for lunch money, or a bloody lip.
However, if you ever get to the 20%, or the group trusted by the core of a tribe, beware. Loyalty is expected, and accountability comes with responsibility. Sometimes organizations are tainted at the top, and the 80% has no idea because they never see it. They are mere consumers. This goes for every kind of organization: businesses, political parties, religious groups, social clubs, humanitarian charities, and government. Being let “inside” the influential or core group carries with it a mark, and if you one day leave, expect carrying something away for your membership.
With those who have been members of the Trump tribe, and approached that insider group, the end is almost always humiliation. For those in the speak-no-ill-of-Democrats club, the end tends to be Balkanization or expulsion by some kind of gender/race/religious identity, where one day you’re an ally and the next, you’re the oppressor.
As Groucho Marx famously told in various forms, I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member. In many ways, this is true. Except for my family, my professional responsibilities at work, and my church family, I’ll tend to those groups that cost me something, in which I’m part of the 20%, going above and beyond because I believe in the cause and agree with it. That means no matter what the politics of my family (it does vary), my coworkers, or my fellow believers, I am there for them.
My mother never voted for anyone but a Democrat her whole life. She was a Jew who believed “goys” were not to be trusted. I became a Christian, married a non-Jew and voted Republican in every election since 1996 (in ‘92 I voted for Perot). She was still my mother, and we got along by not discussing politics or religion. It was sad that she walked the long road of Alzheimers, but even if she didn’t our family tribe is not overly sullied by associations in the 80% group outside of it.
Politics of the 20% is a harsh religion, and it tolerates much evil while rewarding loyalty with betrayal. If you want my vote, you’re going to have to earn it some other way than membership in your tribe. If your membership in those groups which have Pareto-level influence over your life and livelihood are affected by the tribeocracy of politics, please accept my humble advice. If it’s a church subsumed to politics, leave it. If your family is a red-blue battle, smile and tell them you’re only there for the hugs (and bring earbuds to holiday dinners).
Don’t let the 20% of some other tribe ruin your 80% life. If that’s you, excommunicate yourself.