It is a central behavior of tribalism to embrace the words of your chiefs and shamans and deride the words of the other side’s chiefs and shamans, regardless of the facts. We do that with beloved sports teams and hated ones, and too often with races, religions and nations.
We are we, awesome because we are we. They are they, awful because they are they.
We do it with politics, too. We create loyalties so absolute that many Americans can immediately come out rabidly for or against any idea. All they need to know is whose idea it is. If that’s not enough, they can check Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow’s reactions to decide whether they’re furious at the idea. Or rapturous.
And few issues highlight the tribalism more clearly than the responses to the Iran nuclear deal and attempts to create a North Korean one.
President Donald Trump highlighted both deals in a Tuesday news conference, effectively pulling out of the Iran compact and touting the potential North Korean one — and that juxtaposition shows how unhinged this divide has become. Both sides are guilty, but on this, the right is behaving far more irrationally than the left.
In 2013, a historic agreement was struck between Iran and six world powers, not to end Iran’s nuclear weapons program in exchange for a lifting of economic sanctions, but to start to create the framework of a deal to do so. The plan would take 20 months to craft, and a reasonable measure of its success would have been based on compliance.
But the reaction from the right wing to the idea was instantaneous and mouth-frothingly furious: The (nonexistent) deal supported by then-President Barack Obama was terrible. The (not-yet-determined) protocols for inspections in Iran were far too weak. And if you didn’t assume Iran would lie constantly and break every facet of the agreement, you were an appeasing fool who hated America.
Some on the left were far too supportive of this hazy Iran deal touted by His Obamaness from the jump. But many said, rationally, that we should wait to see the details of inspections and sanctions before judging.
There are and were legitimate reasons to support or oppose the Iran deal, particularly once it was finalized. But how much do most of us know about the details of nuclear disarmament agreements? Practically nothing, except for what our shamans and leaders say, and what the other side’s say.
So the reactions to the still nonexistent North Korea deal followed basically the same pattern in reverse. Trump supporter Hannity, who decimated Obama for saying he’d meet with North Korea’s leader, said Trump’s plan is “seeing significant progress” when Trump said he’d do the same. The base is arguing fervently that their man has solved it!Like a boss!
Some on the left, like Maddow, are being too critical of the not-yet-a-deal on North Korea because it’s Trumpy, and saying anything good about him makes them throw up in their mouths a little. But another Trump nemesis on the left, Bill Maher, ripped liberals for “reflexively hating on this.” Some are, but some are cautiously optimistic that good could come of the talks.
It’s impossible to say whether the world is better off with the Iran deal, or would be with a North Korean one. The answers depend on the leaders of those nations, who we understand as well as frogs shoot skeet, and on future acts.
But we can say that forming our opinions based solely on what we’re told by our tribal leaders, rather than the evidence at hand, is madness. It is, in fact, how citizens are expected to determine their loyalties in North Korea and Iran.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.