If They’re For It, I’m Against It: How Oppositional Politics Is Destroying The Political System
Kamala Harris was very wary of the Covid-19 vaccine until she became vice-president. Then she enthusiastically supported the same vaccine. The only thing that had changed was that she had a new office.
Some Republicans were for negotiating a deal with the Taliban and removing American troops from Afghanistan until President Biden did just that. Then they were against it.
Or take the masking and vaccinations surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic. Amherst College is requiring the vaccinated to double-mask indoors. Does that make medical sense? Nope. So why do it? It’s hard to come to any conclusion other than it’s a way of showing which team they are on. Such strict requirements say, “We are enlightened and socially responsible, unlike those science-denying Trump supporters.” Or to put it more bluntly, “Oh you’re against masking? We’re going to double-mask!”
Masks were intended as a tool to prevent the spread of the virus, but they’ve turned into a way to signal what kind of person you are and which tribe you belong to.
The refusal of many of the former president’s supporters to get vaccinated is also a signal that says, “I’m not a sheeple who does whatever the government and Big Pharma tell me to do.” Somehow, I don’t think they’d make the same choice if Trump were still in office and promoting the vaccine.
Tribe First, Reasoning Second
How do you decide which policies you are for or against?
Do you read the bills Congress is considering? Seek out information from respected think tanks? Do a deep dive on the topic of the day? Of course not. Few have that kind of time (or interest!).
Most of us choose our political tribe first and our political beliefs follow. We like to think we are rational, but, in reality, we’re tribal.
Political tribes come with a set of political positions. Once we have chosen which tribe we belong to, we find reasons to support those positions.
But notice the order. Tribe first, reasoning second. We don’t reason to our positions and beliefs but from them. We look for evidence to support what we already believe.
Don’t believe me?
Here is a partial list of domestic political issues that are currently being discussed. If it looks like the lists of issues people have fought over in previous decades, that should tell you something.
- Gun Control
- Climate Change
- Minimum Wage
- Tax Policy
- Religious Liberty
- LGBTQ Issues
- Affirmative Action
- Health Care
These issues are separate and independent from one another. They aren’t inextricably linked in any substantive way. And yet, if you tell me your position on one of the above issues, I most likely know where you stand on all the others.
Our tribes not only come with things they are for but also things they are against—namely whatever the other tribe is for. If your tribe is for “it,” then mine is against it. Studies show that people will switch their position on an issue depending on whether they’re told that it’s supported by Democrats or Republicans.
Think about that for a second: I have come to a position on issue x. But if I find out that the other side supports x and my side doesn’t, I’ll switch my position to conform with my tribe.
This is what Justin Giboney calls oppositional politics and it’s destroying our political system. Instead of making smart choices based on our values, we strive to keep the other side from winning. You can hear more on this in our interview with Justin below.
Freedom from Oppositional Politics
Maybe an analogy will help. As a graduate of the University of Missouri, my favorite college team, regardless of the sport, is Mizzou. My second favorite team is whoever is playing Kansas. I’m not really rooting for the other team as much as I’m rooting against Kansas. Rooting against a sports team may be silly, but it’s harmless. It’s much more serious when we find ourselves rooting against our current president or an entire political party.
Think about two of Jesus’s disciples who were members of very different political tribes. Matthew was the tax collector who’d sold out to do Rome’s dirty work and Simon the Zealot was part of a group that wanted to violently overthrow Roman rule. Then they were both following Jesus. Imagine the late-night conversations they must’ve had!
Oppositional politics isn’t new. I’m sure that if Simon found out that Rome was for something, he was automatically against it. But what Jesus wanted them to learn, what he wants all of us to learn, is that when we follow him, we have something more important than winning a political argument. And that’s our witness.
When our witness is more important than winning, we search for common ground so that we can work together toward the common good. When we care about our witness more than winning, we recognize that neither side has a monopoly on Jesus’s kingdom. Therefore, we are willing to critique our political tribe as well as the other political tribes.
Jesus frees us from oppositional politics by inviting us into his tribe. And his tribe is a worldwide community based on grace, not on having the right politics.
Do you ever feel this way? “If they’re for it, I’m against it”? Then consider taking our tribal assessment. You’ll discover where you land on the tribal spectrum and we’ll provide you with some practical ways to begin to detox from tribalism and choose truth.
Posted by Keith Simon