Today in Absurd Tribalism

The other day, President Trump told the world, on television, that he fired James Comey as head of the FBI because of the investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with the Russians to disrupt our elections. He said it. This is not a matter of interpretation.

But only six in ten Americans will admit to believing it.

Washington Post relays the results of a joint poll with ABC News:

A 56 percent majority of U.S. adults say Trump is interfering with such investigations rather than cooperating, while 61 percent say Trump fired Comey to protect himself rather than for the good of the country.

Notice I say “will admit to believing it.” Because in truth, the number of Americans who actually believe that Trump has attempted to interfere with the investigation is probably closer to 100%. You’d have to be brain-dead to believe otherwise.

But admitting that you believe it is something else entirely. Because a feeling of belonging is of paramount importance to most people. It’s a social imperative to be as one with your community, and to identify with a given group you’ve chosen. We’re talking deep, primordial tribalism.

And this forces us to ignore unpleasant contradictions or to deny obvious facts outright. It causes cognitive dissonance and we resolve this uncomfortable feeling in our minds and souls in whatever way we can, just to make it stop.

Partisans from both ends of the political spectrum are constantly forced to do this and always have been throughout history. What’s different this time is the degree to which Republicans are being forced to twist their minds into pretzels in order to get through the day. It’s unprecedented. And it’s not just the degree – it’s the sheer amount of times they’re being forced to by their party’s choice for President. No other US President has ever put the members of his party through something like this. The psychological damage will persist long after the constant lies and controversy begin to fade.

There’s a lot of talk about how people need to “put country before party.” Which sounds entirely reasonable. But it’s not going to happen. Because what we’re really asking people to do is to publicly admit their own errors in judgment, and to disavow their community or tribe to some extent.

This is very hard to do.

And so we get into a situation where 83% of Republicans pretend they didn’t see and hear what they actually saw and heard.

The implications of this sort of absurd tribalism for investors and markets are obvious and ubiquitously evident. What are the investment beliefs you hold that are not backed up evidence, but would be uncomfortable to let go of because of your firm affiliation, chosen career path or previously (publicly) held views?


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