Tribalism, Morality, and Political Discourse

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Politics Is About Morality, Not Tribalism

A few weeks ago, popular evangelical preacher, Ravi Zacharias, responded to the much-talked-about Mueller report with the following criticism:

If anyone ever thought the Mueller report would bring an end to this constant turmoil in Washington, they were the ultimate optimists, defying reality. There was no way with the toxicity present that any report would have brought peace. Each side walks away with what their own prejudices dictate.

Ravi Zacharias

As a blogger, I follow the news and subsequent social media reactions closely. What Ravi Zacharias described above is a trend in evangelical circles today. It is to dismiss political issues and short-circuit political discourse by accusing people of tribalism.


Now, in a sense, this is nothing new for Conservatives. Going all the way back to 1941, C.S. Lewis coined the term “Bulverism,” which became a sub-category of the fallacy of genetics. Simply put, Bulverism assumes that the message is wrong because of the source, without ever explaining why the source is wrong. Therefore, when one employs Bulverism, they simply dismiss the argument by citing a source which the public will generally view as discredited.

In the 1990s, during the Clinton administration, critics of Conservative thought said, “Oh, you just heard that on Rush Limbaugh.” The implication being that Rush Limbaugh was a fear-mongering bigot who was in the back pockets of big corporations. He was simply spouting fear on the radio so that the elites could keep their power.

In the 2000s, the boogeyman in the closet became Fox News. Critics said, “Oh, you just heard that on Fox News.” The implication being that Fox News was decidedly biased towards Conservatism and therefore could not be trusted.

On a personal note, I cannot count the number of times that someone has dismissed my article or opinion by simply saying “Oh, you must watch Fox News.” It does not matter to them that I do not, in fact, ever watch Fox News. And once they make the claim, people accept it as a valid explanation. No further comment needed.

Now, during the past two years of the Trump administration, the new buzzword is “tribalism.”


Tribalism harkens back to a time in our supposed evolutionary past when our primitive ancestors struggled to survive in a terrifying world. In this primitive past, the people had to be on guard against the outside world which threatened to destroy them. But this need was superseded in our evolutionary ascent by the need to embrace the world around us. In Left-wing ideology, Conservatism is a relic of an evolutionary primitive past. It is a roadblock to our ascent up the evolutionary ladder.

Tribalism appeals to our vanity as advanced evolutionary beings who are better than everyone who came before us. This is why the Left coined the phrase “Never trust anyone over 30” back in the 60s and 70s. They believed that there was nothing to learn from those who came before us.

More than this, however, are the misleading subtexts of words like Tribalism.

The Subtexts of Tribalism

First, it implies that neither side pursues truth. They only seek to win. Second, it implies that both sides are equally culpable for the dysfunctional state of American politics. Third, it promotes the fallacy of argumentum ad temperantiam – or “Argument to Moderation” – which states that all truth is found in the middle of two opposing positions.

Now, on any given political issue, all three of these subtexts might be true. On other issues, there may be trace elements of all three present. Insofar as the word “politics” describes the tactics used to govern, then both sides are guilty of “playing politics.” But there are two responses to this charge.

First, even William Wilberforce used political trickery to pass Abolition legislation in England. And we praise him for this because of the greater moral imperative. Second, most things are a matter of degrees. I would argue that the tactics used by the Left – see Saul Alinsky – are by degrees far more unscrupulous than exist on the Right.

To state the point plainly: we may criticize both parties for “playing politics” but that does not mean they are morally equal. Indeed, we see a much different view of the field when we examine politics on a macro level. Look at any hotly contested issue in American politics today and you will find a moral center.

Every Political Issue Is A Moral Issue

Abortion is a moral issue. The LGBT cause and agenda is a moral debate over whether God or society fixes gender and gender roles. Socialism vs Capitalism is a moral argument over which is the better way to feed, protect, and govern citizens. Social Justice is a moral movement over how minority and majority groups interact. The list goes on. In fact, I cannot find a single major issue today that does not have a moral root.

It is the system of attitudes, values, and beliefs which binds people together morally. If you believe in God, your system of morality flows from the Bible. If you do not believe in God, your system of morality flows from your feelings, your heart, or another religious source.

People are bound together by common issues depending on their system of morality. That is why if a person is Pro-Choice then they are very likely favorable to Black Lives Matter and also probably believe in Global Warming. Why would such unanimity be present on such a wide variety of seemingly unrelated issues?

Bound Together by Morality

Such unanimity is present because these issues are not unrelated. All of these issues flow out of the same moral headwaters. And that is what men like Ravi Zacharias either fail to recognize or choose to forget when making claims of Tribalism.

Men like Ravi Zacharias look at issues such as the Mueller Report and the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings as simply politics. But they never ask the pressing questions. Why is the Left so determined to remove Donald Trump from office? Why is the Left so against Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court judge?

The answer is that Trump, in spite of his flaws, governs as a Conservative. That is to say, he governs to conserve the Judeo-Christian value system, based in Scripture. And this runs contrary to the Left’s moral stream.

Kavanaugh, meanwhile, terrifies the Left because his nomination turned the Supreme Court Conservative. Now the Supreme Court will set the legal precedent for a generation and possibly even overturn Roe vs Wade.

Our Battle Is Not Against Flesh And Blood

If you don’t understand this, how can you understand anything about the spiritual forces at work in the political sphere? It is easier to just ignore it, pretend it doesn’t exist, or else just accuse everyone other than you of Tribalism.

Dennis Prager once said there are two types of people: the fighters and those who support the fighters. I would encourage you to be one of the two. However, I would add a third category: the Bystanders. Those who stand by while others fight either out of indifference or due to the consequences.

Don’t take the easy way out. Be a fighter for truth or someone who at least supports those of us who do. We need truth in these dark times.

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Micah graduated from The Master's University with a degree in Communications. He is an avid book reader and audiobook listener with a special love of biblical pre-Flood history. Micah lives in Montana, where he pursues his interests in writing and photography.