Everyone belongs to social groups. Society – cities, counties, countries, churches, companies, art, science, food, sports, entertainment, memes: society – is organized around ingroup/outgroup dynamics.
Politics is fueled by ingroup/outgroup conflict. Ingroup cohesion – the strong identification with a defined social group – is the way in which people organize themselves and each other, anywhere, everywhere, all the time. To understand the irrationality and cognitive dissonance stampeding through politics requires adopting a framework of ingroup/outgroup dynamics. It can help explain the apparently self-defeating policies some low-income Republicans support, for instance, or the irrationality that drives the Democratic Party to continue pursuing failed political strategies, or the willingness of so many otherwise reasonable people to deny basic facts about observable reality, as with climate denial. Maybe more importantly, it can help virtuous groups win.
A fecal-flinging sludge-mound with flailing mini-digits and no political résumé managed to grab the White House by the pussy thanks to successfully building ingroup cohesion. He did this by exploiting the rituals, symbols, and principles that cohere large swaths of the population into various ingroups. For instance, some people believe there is a real War on Christmas and that kneeling at a football game is the greatest insult to the nation. These groups overlap. A network of pundits and media outlets have reinforced these ideas as part of a process of building ingroup cohesion. Politicians can then come in and say a few right words, “I’m bringing back ‘Merry Christmas,'” for instance, and gains access to, and power over, that defined group.
This happens among centrists and left-wing groups, too. Liberals celebrate Obama’s drone strikes and violations of due process while condemning Bush’s drone strikes and violation of due process. This kind of inconsistency comes down to ingroup loyalty. Praise Obama, malign Bush, even if their actions were often indistinguishable. (This of course has broken down as an ingroup boundary now that mainstream Democrats love George W. Bush.)
The myriad other contradictions and absurdities we find in modern politics can be explained by the process of building ingroup cohesion through opposition to outgroups. “Family values” Republicans promoted a known pedophile for Senate and happily look the other way when their politicians are caught violating their “family values.” But they’re quick to point out members of outgroups committing the same, or even less severe, transgressions. Totino’s™ Pizza Rolls-stained MRA web-dwellers complain about white males being more oppressed than all women and racial minorities because they are forging an ingroup against what they see as an oppositional outgroup: women and racial minorities, regardless of the empirically absurd premise on which their ideas rest. Most cases of moral contradiction, of inhumane disregard for others, of rejection of empirical reality, and of self-defeating unreason come down to ingroup loyalty.
The left likes to point out these hypocrisies and inconsistencies as if they matter. They don’t. They are essential and successful means of building ingroup cohesion. Pointing out these inconsistencies has never once helped the left win political power.
Political success depends on an individual’s or party’s ability to forge, maintain, and manipulate an ingroup, not their ability to maintain a consistent political philosophy or logical messaging. It always has and always will. The rapist dung-dune calling himself President is great at building, sustaining, and manipulating loyal ingroups by saying whatever his immediate audience wants to hear, regardless of its consistency with his past pronouncements. That’s how he won..that and the DNC creating an ingroup/outgroup divide within its own party through its gross mishandling of the primary.
Fox News – and the myriad multimedia propaganda networks like it – has been successful in putrefying the brains of an entire generation because it is great at crafting, maintaining, and manipulating ingroups through deliberate obfuscation and inconsistency. The Daily Show‘s main output for fifteen years was to point out the inconsistencies in Fox’s messages. But they seemed to miss the fact that that was the whole point; Fox doesn’t need factual integrity or robust research to sustain its success, it only needs ingroup cohesion. In fact, integrity and rigor would get in the way of their ability to build the group cohesion they’ve managed to mobilize. The extremist fringe of the Republican Party has conquered the nation because it has been more successful at building ingroups than any other political group in the country.
The incessant practice exercised by the left to point out the logical inconsistencies in their opponents drains energy and attention from building our own cohesive groups.
The Democratic Party has tried to build ingroup cohesion, but generally fails at it. It has tried to forge an ingroup composed of each racial category, LGBTQ people, rich conservative suburbanites, and women, and then stitch them all together, often to the exclusion of building other groups, like those on the left. Instead of building ingroup cohesion on shared values or goals, it has tried to build groups based on who has historically voted Democrat without regard to changing electoral maps, or who their pollsters predict maybe could vote Democrat. The political problem with this strategy is that these groups are not spread out across the country in sufficient quantities to ensure electoral success in capturing either the White House or Congress. Obama won because he was great at making vague, feel-good promises and slick campaign videos to achieve some rudimentary ingroup cohesion among the youth vote. But then he and the DNC lost more than 1,030 seats across the country – plus the White House – because they betrayed the values of the groups that elected him.
If the Democrats want to defeat the evil, bloated version of the character Hoggle from the 1986 cult classic Labyrinth currently polluting the Oval Office, they will have to get a lot better at building ingroup cohesion, especially building groups that are more spread out around the country. The molting pus goblin still enjoys access to a large and loyal set of cohesive ingroups. They will remain out groveling in force through 2020. Tightly organized groups of Nazis, nervous, affluent middle managers, nihilist redditing gamers, MRA / NRA trolls, armed conspiracists, and soccer moms remain comfortably huddled together in the pocket of Washington’s gilded pile of under-digested fast food.
To build an ingroup cohesive enough to defeat the coalition of groups currently lodged in the pasty, drooping ass canyon of the capital’s top nub-fingered slug, the Democrats will have to do the following at minimum:
+ Be good at geography. Got to build cohesive groups in states that are essential to win the White House and majorities in Congress. That means NYC- and California-based groups are insufficient. Avocado vegan artisan coffee ingroups are too small and too concentrated in a few places to be of much electoral use. There are plenty of populist groups waiting to be mobilized to make the country more egalitarian, but they tend to reside outside of the tiny, elite ingroups who think the main culprit in 2016 was Russia.
+ Be good at language. Whenever the word-challenged Butt-Banshee-in-Chief makes a grammatical mistake, the Elite Grammar Force race to their twitter accounts to proclaim, “ah ha! ‘covfefe’! that’s not actually a word!” and then the joke is on them because violating linguistic norms – even as mistakes – is great for Republicans. Bush Junior did it to great effect; mainstream Democrats misunderestimated him wildly during his term allowing him to get away with just about anything, and now they love him! The White House’s resident taint baboon does the same thing: small words, few words, good words. It works because to their ingroup, polysyllabic vocabularies are a coastal conspiracy. Or at least a pared down vocabulary is a marker that delineates their group from others. It builds ingroup cohesion. Mainstream Democrats fail at talking, to everyone. They should use linguistic markers to set boundaries around and forge their ingroups. A shared language – slang – is basic glue that binds people together. The left needs more, consistent slang.
+ Be superficial (sometimes). Those red hats worked. Pick some bright, identifiable, consistent badge that the tribe members can don to know, “Hey I belong to this great tribe with these great hats, we love and adore each other, hey look there’s a hat like my hat! I love you brother.” The “Pussy hats” were one version this; the DSA rose on Twitter is another example. Both are limited. It’s important to go further and build more inclusive identifiers like this. Rituals and visual aids are great for building group cohesion.
+ Couch simple principles in stories. Like slang, a few basic shared principles couched in a cosmogonic genesis are also great group adhesive. But they must be simple, common, easy to shout, and based on readily pronounceable diction and readily inscribable policy. Eat the rich. Down with elites. Whisky for all. And they should be embedded in cohesive stories that are archetypally attractive and enhance the dignity or sense of meaning of the audience. E.g., science data tables and victim narratives are not the best.
+ Balance the rational/irrational. Humans are both. We’ll do and think irrational things to maintain membership in our ingroups, but we also are interested in very pragmatic goals of advancing our principles and our own and families’ wealth and well-being. Knowing how to balance these impulses is central to building an ingroup, keeping it, and deciding what to do when its assembled together. It’s not enough to appeal to base rationality, but nor is it enough to take for granted that members will irrationally violate their own interests for the good of the group all the time. It’s important to work with both.
+ Be ok with fighting outgroups. Not everyone can be in the ingroup. Animus and identification against an outgroup is important for cohesion. Right now, it seems mainstream Democrats’ primary outgroup antagonist is the left. Some groups and some individuals in other groups can be negotiated with, enticed to join your group, or ignored. But some groups have to be defeated. The Democrats have a tendency to capitulate to all the right-wing groups, to give them everything they want without a fight, and to lie down subordinately like a small beagle in the unusual belief that this will grant them dominance. Meanwhile, they will deploy their best Machiavellian minds in fighting their progressive base. This is dumb. It’s time to build decent ingroups to fight the evil groups that are currently destroying the world, or else humans will actually go extinct.
+ Be courageous and experimental. Mainstream, centrist Democrats who currently dominate the party are cowardly and self-interested with few exceptions. They’ll have to try to new things and take new courageous stances that risk careers, risk losses, risk embarrassment, risk big donors, and risk orthodoxy if they are going to find successful strategies to build successful, cohesive groups. If they remain unwilling to risk this self-interest, then the Democrats will continue to lose.
There are probably more things necessary to build winning ingroups. But at minimum Democrats must do these things, or else we will likely be condemned to another four years of getting drenched in the bellowed spittle of America’s festering embankment of discarded swine anuses. Or, instead, if we work to build virtuous groups, the alternative future we can enjoy: Americans from myriad backgrounds band together to defeat aristocrats, Nazis, and aspiring dictators. Only mobilized ingroups can achieve that.