Tribal madness

There doesn’t seem to be much room for truth anymore. It’s been crowded out by false narratives born of tribal allegiance.

The latest episode of the soap opera that is the American presidency is a vivid illustration. One side is absolutely certain Donald Trump won the White House by colluding with the Russians. The other side is equally convinced federal law enforcement authorities are corrupt. Facts be damned.

Pretty much the entire U.S. intelligence community as well as Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded that Russia meddled in the 2016 election and worked to get Trump elected president. As a candidate, Trump himself asked the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails. Donald Trump Jr. and other top Trump campaign operatives got dirt on Clinton from emissaries of the Russian government and did so gleefully, with Donald Jr. squealing “I love it.”

It’s dishonorable and disgraceful that they didn’t tell the Russians to get lost and didn’t immediately alert law enforcement officials and federal election authorities to the interference. But acting dishonorably and disgracefully is not proof of criminal conspiracy.

As the president pounced on this reality to declare “complete and total exoneration,” his latest lawyer condemned Mueller’s work as “the most corrupt investigation I have ever seen” and called on Trump accusers to apologize for the probe. These themes were dutifully repeated and amplified by right-wing pundits who insisted the probe was unnecessary and never should have been done.

Apologize? For an investigation that so far has produced 37 indictments or guilty pleas and 199 criminal charges? None of that fact finding and criminal prosecution should have been done? Has all regard for the rule of law evaporated?

While we shout “Trump colluded!” and “Mueller is corrupt!” at each other, we’re not doing anything about the grotesque and growing economic inequality in America. We’re not dealing with the coming climate catastrophe. We’re neglecting serious deficiencies in our health care system, ignoring rising rates of depression, declining life expectancies and other signs of America’s mental health crisis, and more or less trying to jail our way out of it.

We’re overlooking symptoms of social ills like the addiction epidemic that have Americans feeling unhappier than ever. We’re not addressing the crisis in farm country and its implications for our food supply. We’re not coming to terms with the causes and effects of unsafe drinking water.  Our attention is diverted from the social and economic cost of increasingly unaffordable education and crippling student debt.

We’re not confronting the injustice of a homeless man getting life in prison because he was hungry and wanted to eat and tried selling $20 worth of marijuana, while an adviser to four presidents is convicted of eight felonies for hiding $55 million overseas, defrauding banks that lent him money and evading more than $6 million in taxes and is sentenced to a mere 47 months for his crimes.

And we’re sure not responding in any meaningful way to democracy’s decline throughout the world — including in America.

So here we are, leaving urgent matters unattended, screaming “Collusion!” and “Witch Hunt!” at each other, certain as certain can be that our side is right and their side is wrong. Certain of more than that, with a recent study showing that more than 40% of people in each major party view the opposition as “downright evil.” That translates to close to 50 million voters who cast ballots in 2016 believing that those aligned with the opposition party are not only wrong but in league with the devil.

All of this — putting tribe before truth, demonizing opponents, prioritizing the settling of scores over working together to solve problems that can bring down our country — is madness. This is how great nations fall and how democracies die.