According to polls, a majority of registered Republicans support President Biden’s widely popular $1.9 trillion relief package to get us through pandemic and into recovery. How do we reconcile that with the fact that so many Republicans also remain Trump supporters, skeptical of science and public health experts? How do you explain parents in Idaho getting their children to burn masks in protest of what most of us see as a civic responsibility?
The mask burning in Boise happened on the same day that, in Washington, all Senate Republicans voted to reject the Biden relief package that a majority of Americans support.
That’s no coincidence. It’s all tribalism.
Tribalism and the bonfire of truth.
It is clear to everyone but Republicans in Congress that the country has deep problems that call for a far-reaching recovery, and that requires the serious business of governing. Republicans are interested in power, not in governing. If they were, some of them would have supported the Biden disaster relief bill that Senate Democrats passed over the weekend. It’s astounding that an entire politicial party intentionally removes itself from governing the country even at a time of crisis. But that’s the choice Republian leadership has made.
You can’t very well support using government to get us out of a crisis when you don’t acknowledge the crisis, and when your party has spent 40 years denigrating government.
This started before Trump, but Trump did a lot of damage to truth. The Big Lie is now a political strategy. I have heard it for months in right-wing commentary, with either obtuse denials or intentional downplaying of the fact that the country has been through a crisis. You can see it in the actions of Republican governors reluctant to encourage the wearing of masks, and now eager to open up their economies even as public health officials warn that the viral threats remain. And I see it in email I receive from Trump-supporting readers of The Baltimore Sun. Just last week, this anonymous note arrived by email: “I have been with all my family, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren since the beginning of this virus and not a one of us has been sick, let alone died. I still don’t know anybody that has. I do admit I’m amazed that nobody’s dying of heart attacks, strokes, cancer, flu or anything anymore except the virus. Uh huh!”
I decided to respond to this person (against my vow to no longer engage anyone who claims Trump greatness.) I offered data from an authoritative source (the Journal of the American Medical Association) on the main causes of death in the United States in 2020, saying, “There’s plenty of information about mortality in the United States. You just have to look — unless, of course, facts that run counter to your narrow view of things make you uncomfortable.”
We are not talking about simple partisanship anymore.
Until and unless the spell of Trump wears off, we are dealing with tribalism in a primal, and primarily racialized, form. Burning masks, opening up gyms and restaurants in Texas, voting down the massive relief the country needs: It’s all about affirming the tribe. Republicans in Congress can’t support Biden because that acknowledges the truth about the depth of problems we face, problems exacerbated by Trump’s denialism and incompetence. They can’t support a $15 minimum wage because that acknowledges truth about income disaparity and their past refusal to lift the wage even a little bit. When you’re a Republican in 2021, you can’t govern because, even in a crisis, you can’t concede that Biden and the Democrats are right. Your allegiance is to the tribe, not the truth.