Evolution, Tribalism, and the Impotence of the Democratic Party

Lately I’ve been having an interesting discussion with some friends about the fact that only 43% of Republicans believe in human evolution—down 11% from 2009.  Here was my last comment in our email thread:

“Republicans live in a world according to what they believe in, not what they actually experience based on observations, facts, reality, or data.  Whatever they believe, that’s the truth, and then they just block out whatever goes against that—they can’t handle discord or dissonance.

“Basically, if you ask a Republican to organize colored blocks, once they’re finished, they can’t possibly conceive of organizing them any other way—even the notion of doing so upsets them.  To be honest, I think a lot of this is just a product of the fact that most Republicans today are either: A) old, like 50+, or B) stupid—both groups stuck in their ways: the old, because they’ve trained their brains to think in a certain way for so long they can’t do anything else, and the stupid, because they can’t process complex information.”

It’s interesting because it ties into a notion Krugman brought up on one of his blogs recently (which was actually the jumping off point for our email chain), in which he claims that modern Republicans are a product of tribalism.  In other words, individual Republican beliefs are framed not by reality, critical thinking, facts, data, or rationality, but rather by what other Republicans accept, believe, and agree with as a group.  And keep in mind, this tribal dynamic of belief that has been built over and reinforced by more than a decade of Fox News, conservative radio, and living in an echo chamber where the only people one talks politics with are those that agree with their world view.

The trick will be how this plays out in the 2014 election and beyond.  Because the tribe is shrinking slowly but surely; after all, old people eventually die, and many of these tribal beliefs (homophobia, misogyny, anti-science, anti-immigrant, trickle-down economics) prevent the elephants from appealing to and bringing in young voters.  Moreover, Americans as a whole are increasingly being confronted by realities which the GOP either refuses to acknowledge (like climate change and wealth inequality), or acknowledges but has no prescribed solution for (such as health care, jobs, infrastructure, education, or wage inequality).

This, of course, would be great news for the Democrats—except they keep screwing up.  To begin with, the rollout of Obamacare has been a disaster, and even though the website’s are mostly working now, the kludginess of the law is going to create myriad problems down the line.  To compound matters, Obama’s currently pushing the TPP, which is an utterly horrifying trade agreement that would make life worse for Americans from internet freedom to domestic manufacturing to environmental protections.

Indeed, the donkeys have two general Achilles’ heels: 1) blue-dog, conservative Democrats that vote and act like Republicans on major issues like the minimum wage, gun-control, and energy policy, and 2) policy prescriptions that rely on a three-legged stool of writing overly complex regulations, raising taxes, and creating subsidies meant to prop up the poor or the elderly.  The former makes it difficult for Democrats to create separation from the Republicans on wedge issues, while the latter offers only patches and bandages for deep-seeded, systemic issues in the American economy.

Ultimately, what it boils down to, in effect, is exactly what the ruling classes want.  The constant propaganda from the Right has worked, ensnaring people that are either old or stupid enough to be fooled by it, and the Democratic Party is so impotent and cowed by having to play the money game in order to stay in power, that truly innovative, populist policies aren’t even considered.  Thus, voters who are intelligent are forced to choose the lesser of two evils, their collective will and numbers sapped by the fact that the party they’re stuck with, the Democrats, doesn’t really represent them, and when in power, is unable to advance even a modest agenda.

Which is why it’s a great time to be rich and powerful.  Inflation is extremely low, meaning they can sit on their money, and labor, due to high unemployment, the waning power of unions, and a complete lack of public investment by states and the federal government, is cheap and subdued.  Moreover, because of the Citizen’s United ruling, the wealthiest Americans and most powerful industries can heavily influence national elections, if not buy them entirely; so if an upstart like Obama gets into office, they can reign him in, whether it’s through House Republicans, abusing Senate filibuster rules, or manufacturing false crises like the debt and the deficit.  Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, almost all Western media is controlled by six or seven companies, whose content must be bland and conservative enough to attract advertising.

And so, we find ourselves like the frog put into a pot of water set to slowly boil, not knowing to jump out because the temperature change is indiscernible.  But let’s face it: the temperature’s rising, and we’re all beginning to feel awfully uncomfortable.  The question, truly, is at what point do we have the courage to jump out?

About The Author: Jay Scott

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