The United States is proving to be an interesting case-study on tribalism

Just eight short years ago, Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin was praising Barack Obama. He expressed hope that the new administration would help with negotiations between our two countries. Obama felt the same way, and less than two years later he announced that we have “succeeded in resetting” the relationship with our traditional adversary. Fast forward to Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012 and he received Putin’s blessing yet again.

At the time, Republicans seized on this as a gift from the heavens. Romney famously referred to Russia as America’s number 1 geopolitical foe. The left mocked him relentlessly for wanting to reignite the Cold War, but my how the times have changed.

In the wake of Trump’s ascension to power, the Democrats have been scrambling to find an excuse for their loss other than their own incompetence. They need something to distract from their own scandals, as well as all those internet news articles that get written by people outside their sphere of influence.

Americans have been conditioned to fear the Russians for over seventy years, so…

That’s it, the Russians did it!

In a stunning role-reversal, the Democrats are now entering a period of McCarthyism. Everything is a secret Russian plot to “erode trust” in the U.S. electoral system. Never mind that the erosion was well earned from internal sources. It’s the exposure that’s truly nefarious.

The motives of the truth-tellers somehow became more important than the truth. Why address a problem when you can deflect? Plus, the Republicans did all the hard work. All the Democrats have to do is invoke all that anti-Russia brainwashing left over from the Cold War.

As if that weren’t enough, Orwellian terms are becoming normalized on the left side of American politics. The term “fake news” is being thrown about more than accusations of fascism in an internet comment war. The establishment, both left and right, is trying to control perception of independent media since they can’t control content.

Foreign media is also feeling this new onslaught. The right has long admonished media outlets such as Al Jazeera and RT as untrustworthy. The left is now joining them. RT is being touted as pure Russian propaganda, as if a media outlet exists that doesn’t have bias.

Americans discount the possibility of bias in news sources that share their opinions, but feel it is obvious in sources from opposing organizations. That grows as the source is distanced from reader’s identity. For example, a Democrat will trust the New York Times but not the Wall Street Journal. However, if RT disagreed with the Wall Street Journal, the Democrat would trust the “conservative” news source over the “foreign” source.

Tribalism, or the loyalty to one’s own community, is what makes this manipulation possible. We are naturally inclined to side with our own “tribe” over that of an outsider. Tribalism makes it very easy to distract the populace with a foreign threat.

Exploiting tribalism is a time-honored tradition in authoritarian rule. We’re supposed to have an intellectual left to combat nationalistic tendencies such as this. Where did that go?

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