The “De-Tribalization” of America

17 mins read

This comment was posted on Twitter by ss_gallifrey after reading a thread I wrote about a propaganda technique employed by the right commonly known as the “Fire Hose of Lies”:

I’ve been thinking about this thread a lot lately because of a previous interaction on Twitter with a lifelong Republican and two-time Trump voter, who engaged in a remarkable self-exploration as well as an examination of the Republican Party.

Our friendship began with her angrily responding to my threads on Twitter, especially those that were critical of religion. Yet she kept reading and responding. Eventually the responses grew less angry.

One day, after several critical threads/tweets about Ben Shapiro, Tucker Carlson, and Candace Owens, she commented that she was surprised and curious why they didn’t come after me because, and I’m paraphrasing, they don’t pass up opportunities to attack critics. 

I explained that when someone has more than a million followers it’s easy for things to get lost in the deluge of mentions but that they also don’t want to “punch down” and elevate a small account, especially someone who can psychologically dissect/analyze/expose them to their followers. Over the past 10 months, we discussed her personal and childhood experiences that led to her political beliefs as well as the extremely difficult process of accepting the realities of Trump and the Republican Party.

Specifically, we discussed the trauma feedback loop that is tearing apart the country. Hurt people hurt (other) people. It’s a loop where we project our trauma onto others who have not yet fully healed from previous trauma. They then re-project/redirect the trauma back at us before we have a chance to process and heal … rinse and repeat.

As a society  we are individually and collectively traumatizing, and being traumatized repeatedly and constantly. It results in trauma layering upon trauma.   

We also discussed how this trauma feedback loop is magnified and exacerbated when it plays out within the political theatre of war. When the main purpose of politics becomes the fight, we have people who no longer enter politics to advocate ideology or specific issues. Instead, people enter the arena simply to fight. The fight is both the means and the ends. This will inevitably attract people who are conflict-oriented: who derive purpose from fighting; who receive narcissistic supply from conflict; who are inexhaustibly conflict driven.

As time passed, and as my new friend continued to read my work/analysis, she began to realize and acknowledge that tens of millions of people had been manipulated and exploited with lies and fear. At one point, after reading an article I wrote about the weaponization of chronic fear against Republican women, she responded: “You get it. You just get it. All of it.”

Eventually, she changed her views on Trump, Bannon, and the rest. She didn’t change her values (protecting children, etc.) or her conservative sensibilities, she just became aware of how those bad actors were manipulating and exploiting those sensibilities. 

She began to realize that although Democrats may disagree with her, they overwhelmingly were not what the bad actors on the right were characterizing them to be with manipulative, dishonest narratives.  

She has repeatedly expressed guilt, sadness, and even shame for what the Republican Party has turned into … and for having been susceptible to what she uncomfortably acknowledges as a “cult.”

I repeatedly remind her of the level of sophistication of the psy-op war being waged against the country, and especially against Republicans.

I repeatedly remind her that the shame doesn’t lie in having made a mistake … because everybody makes mistakes. Instead, the shame only lies in refusing to self-correct.

I repeatedly remind her of all of the factors (dopamine, ego, identity, fear, alienation, etc.) that make it incredibly difficult to do what she is doing and how this country needs tens of millions more people to emulate her process.

Unfortunately, too often this is the case:

______________________________________________________________________

Lately, we’ve been discussing the signs that indicate that some of the elites on the right may be coordinating a pivot away from Trump. We have also been discussing how she is sensing a change among Republican voters generally, as well as in her inner circle and community.  

We also discuss how to connect to more people like her, because she says there are a lot of them out there. She feels it, she sees it and them.

As this excerpt from a 2021 article below indicates, I have never been comfortable with the use of things like brainwashing and deprogramming.  

The “how do we fix this” is perhaps the most important question we face as a country. To the extent that it can be fixed, it starts with framing and language used to describe the problem and solution. The “deprogramming” and “brainwashed” verbiage has to be eliminated. No one is receptive to finding “common ground” when the starting point of the person who claims to desire common ground is telling them they’ve been brainwashed, and that they need to be deprogrammed.

Obviously, the messaging is very important, and it’s something that I think about often.  Especially since some of my personal relationships have been plagued by aggressive/contentious/resentful arguments with people who accuse me of believing/writing that they have been “brainwashed” and then state that I “believe stupid shit.”   Obviously, it is not healthy for people who care about or even love each other to be trapped in this mindset.

 Below is an excerpt from one of my conversations with the woman mentioned above along with her response to the detribalize framing (used with her permission):

Unfortunately, but understandably, there were a number of negative responses to not just the thread, but toward the woman (which caused me to be relieved that I kept her anonymous).

Some of the responses:

The responses to this article are understandable.  Everyone is exhausted, pissed off, and hurt. But there are several things to keep in mind.

First we must be realistic in acknowledging that the vast majority of MAGA are not going to be swayed. But the focus is not on them, it’s on those who are reachable.  

Who better to convince the middle not to vote for or support manipulative/exploitive politicians/media personalities than someone who experienced it personally, someone who had the courage (ego/identity) and did the work to walk away? That is why people like my new friend are so important.

Second, if we don’t allow people the opportunity/space to self correct … then they never will. When we condemn those who don’t or can’t admit mistakes or change their position, and then condemn those who do, it leaves zero space to self-correct on an individual level, which is needed to self-correct on a societal level.

One of the most difficult things for Republicans to do is to defy their tribe, church congregation, family, friends, co-workers, etc. and risk being alienated by every community of which they consider themselves members … and then be shunned by the left, when they do exactly what the left wants them to do and has criticized them for not doing.

This creates a disincentive for Republicans to speak out against or leave the party.

There has to be an incentive structure in place where self-correction is accepted and rewarded. Two things can be true at the same time. Evolving Republicans can bear responsibility and they could also be part of the solution.

Third, what is the objective?  Do we want to fix the problem?  Or do we just want to be permanently pissed off and hate each other and let an authoritarian-aspiring Republican Party take over the government?

Fourth, I get it. It feels unfair.  But, what’s the alternative? To live under authoritarianism but be comforted by the fact you didn’t have to do more than the other guy?

Stuart Stevens of the Lincoln Project often says:  “You have to fight the war you’re in, not the war you want.”

Similarly:

Finally, If a former member of a “cult” (my friend’s words) informs us what will help more people to abandon the tribe then, perhaps we should listen…


For those who are interested, here is a little refresher about the right-wing media echo chamber’s tactics:

Roughly half of the country has been conditioned to believe that they can’t believe anything reported by the mainstream media (MSM), so the people that would need to see and hear a consistent and sustained MSM campaign of truthful messaging never would.

This has been by design because the more that right-wing media echo chamber can convince its consumers that any information originating outside of (or contradicting) the echo chamber is a lie, the more the consumers will insulate themselves within the echo chamber (“consumer/product loyalty”). The more insulated the consumers are in the echo chamber, the more likely they are to impulsively consume and believe information without skepticism or critical thinking.

It is at this point that lies and disinformation can be introduced into the equation.

Once the lies and/or disinformation are consumed and/or digested, the echo chamber gradually increases the “dosage” (degree of falsity) of the disinformation, and the situation becomes a frog in the gradually boiling water scenario. The right-wing news consumers never jump out of the proverbial boiling water because it’s been a gradual, decades-long process.

The worst part: if the MSM contradicts the lies, this actually reinforces the belief in the disinformation. Because according to the echo chamber: “everything the MSM says is a lie” so whatever their own sources tell them must be the truth. As I’ve previously written, there also appears to be an addiction/dopamine component to this process:

This process basically mirrors “tolerance” as seen in other forms of addiction, except that rather than building a tolerance to increased levels of an addictive substance, the individual builds a tolerance to the known (dis)information.

A follow-up addiction article analyzing the parallels between addiction and white supremacy, and how people expand their “sacred values” beyond their moral framework:

This also explains why otherwise decent/rational people have become unrecognizable over the last 5 years, because,…social exclusion causes people’s “sacred values” to expand… presumably beyond actual, moral values.

This has real-world application if the “sacred values” allow you to do things that would be amoral, like killing someone to defend your country from liberals..

The expansion of “sacred values” has resulted in intolerance metastasizing into inhumanity, as explained here.

The only way that it appears that any of this will change and improve is if the incentive structures change so that chaos is not rewarded:

Until the incentive structures change, it’s difficult to see it getting better before it gets worse. Right now, the incentive structures reward chaos, division, and disinformation, for both the political class (Trump/MTG), and the elite media class (Tucker Carlson, etc.).

But, unfortunately, chaos is the objective, because, as explained in this article dissecting Steve Bannon’s “America First” movement:

The objective of Bannon, Carlson, etc., is to not only create the perception of chaos, but to create literal chaos……because when people sense/fear chaos, they will vote for, or in extreme cases, violently install a “strong man” to restore “order.”

An article analyzing the business model of the disinformation campaign:

This “captured audience” literally believes that all of FOX’s competitors’ “products” would harm them and that only FOX’s “product” is safe for consumption, even while Fox itself is often “polluting,” and in some cases, “poisoning” its product/consumers. Imagine if Coke lied and claimed that Pepsi was unsafe for consumption while simultaneously adding ingredients that not only harmed its consumers but that actually caused addiction (indoctrination) in those consumers? This is essentially the strategy that Fox has employed.

Furthermore, market forces have pushed Fox’s already “aggressive” business model in an even more extreme direction because the “demand and supply” pressures of right-wing consumers have basically put Fox in a position of either supplying those consumers with what they want or risk losing them to even farther right, more extreme “news” organizations (Breitbart/Infowars) that use guerrilla tactics to make a name for themselves, and who continually put pressure on FOX to not be outflanked by the extremely aggressive tone/angle of the content. This results in a self-reinforcing dynamic where right-wing media consumers increasingly demand biased, aggressive content … which is happily supplied by media outlets/personalities who scare consumers with threats about the dangers of listening to alternate sources of news … which exacerbates the consumers’ bias, whets their appetite for “aggressive” content … .and repeat.


Originally published here on Patreon.


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Here’s a new bio for Nick C.

Nick Carmody, JD, MS-Psychology, has an undergraduate degree in Management of Criminal Justice from Concordia University Wisconsin, a law degree from The University of Illinois Chicago School of Law, and a Masters of Science degree from Tiffin University in Ohio. Nick has a private practice based in Denver, Colorado, and also works with low income children who have experienced trauma (many of whom are currently in foster care).

In 2010, Nick experienced two life-changing Traumatic Brain Injuries (eight months apart). The changes in brain functioning, personality, and emotional processing (along with other intense personal experiences such as childhood sexual abuse, exposure to Cluster B Personality Disorders) created an obsession-like need to understand and confirm these experiences, and served as motivation to go back to school and work in the field of psychology. Nick’s experiences with trauma have shaped a very unique life experience that created an unconventional path to a career helping people who have similar lived-experiences.

Nick writes extensively on https://Twitter.com/Nick_Carmody, and, time permitting, reposts the work as free articles on http://Patreon.com/NickCarmody.

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