By Chet Yarbrough
The Red and the Blue (The 1990s and the Birth of Political Tribalism)
By: Steve Kornacki
Narrated by Steve Kornacki, Ron Butler
Steve Kornacki (American political journalist and correspondent for NBC News.)
Steve Kornacki identifies the source of 21st century political tribalism in his book, “The Red and the Blue”.
Political tribalism is not new. Political tribalism shows itself many times in history. Tribalism is shown in the early days of political party formation, in the American Civil War, in the South’s reconstruction after the Civil War, and in the 1929 depression’s aftermath.
In the late 18th century, it was the Federalist Party versus the Democratic-Republican Party. Alexander Hamilton’s tribe is the Federalist’ party. Thomas Jefferson’s tribe is the Democratic-Republican’ party. Hamilton’s tribe insists on a strong central government. Jefferson’s tribe insists on State’s rights.
In the Civil War, the stage is set for the northern state’s political tribe (largely Republican) versus the southern state’s political tribe (largely Democrat). In some sense it is a continuation of the two tribes represented by Hamilton and Jefferson. The respective leaders of the northern and southern tribes are Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis.
During the Franklin Roosevelt years, the followers of Herbert Hoover headed the Republican tribe, rallying against Roosevelt’s National Industrial Recovery Act.
The vituperative relationship between earlier political tribes was as vicious then as it is now. What Kornacki tells us in “The Red and the Blue” tribalism is revivified, if not reborn, in the 1980 s and is playing out in today’s America.
Of course, tribalism in America goes beyond political parties. Tribalism exists in the long history of American discrimination. Kornack touches on that reality with his recollection of Jessie Jackson’s 1984 and ’88 presidential campaigns.
Discrimination is a tribal conflict. It is not exclusively held by any political party but by a cultural divide.
Murder and isolation of Indians, and slavery are the most egregious examples of cultural tribalism in American history. That conflict is seen when a tribe with political power discriminates against another. Indians, blacks, Italians, Japanese, Hispanics, and Indians (not to mention various religions) have experienced tribal discrimination because of their weaker political power.
In America, the tradition of slavery began in mid-17th century. Indian discrimination dates to the American revolution and reaches a peak with President Andrew Jackson’s enforced “Trail of Tears”.
Donald Trump and Andrew Jackson are polarizing political figures that drink from the same trough. They reflect the tribalism of both Red and Blue political power brokers against minorities.
Andrew Jackson is the Father of the spoils system in which the president uses his power and position to appoint civil servants.
Trump is a “spoils to the victor” and “loyalty above all else” President. Jackson, like Trump, appoints civil servants based on loyalty to the President, without necessary qualification. To Trump and Jackson, the goal is to win, and when they win, they expect all who report to them to be loyal to their President. Trump and Jackson consider themselves Kings in their roles as Presidents. Neither defer to Congress, or the Judiciary. They use their power and position to prove their “royalty”.
Sexual discrimination is the oldest tribal conflict of all. It is shown in the beginning of recorded history, and undoubtedly began with humanities’ dawn.
The 20th and 21st century exemplars of sexual tribalism are the behaviors of Clinton and Trump. Kornaki’s book reminds listeners of Paula Jones. Her story is no less reprehensible than Trump’s dalliance with Stormy Daniels when his wife is pregnant. Many men use power and position to disrespect women. Men’s reasons are many but the consequence reinforces the world’s history of gender inequality.
What is striking about “The Red and the Blue” is its political spin. Living through the years of which Kornaki writes, one is struck by how much one forgets. From Kornaki’s reminder of Clinton’s caricature as “Slick Willie”–to his conclusion that Newt Gingrich is the source of 21st century tribalism–to Patrick Buchanan’s “make America Great Again” campaign—to Ross Perot’s “Bloomberg like” pitch for the presidency, Kornacki’s reminders are revelatory.
Clinton seems heir to Franklin Roosevelt, while Trump seems heir to Andrew Jackson. (This is a personal observation; not Kornaki’s suggestion.) Clinton is a dissembler, like Roosevelt. Clinton and Roosevelt knew what they wanted and pursued it through manipulation of legislators, either by the clever use of words or through the power of office.
Bill Clinton (42nd President of the Untied States.)
Clinton understands politics and how to translate the will of Washington’s Red and Blue tribal leaders.
In contrast, Trump bulls his way through the Presidency. Trump bypasses, intimidates, or co-opts Washington’s Red and Blue leaders.
One realizes after listening to Kornaki’s book, Clinton is twin to Trump in respect to moral turpitude. However. Clinton is a cleverer and more effective President. Trump, like Perot, finds politics is not for sissies. History shows politics cannot be separated from governance. Neither Trump or Perot understand politics.
Kornaki reflects on Clinton’s rise to the presidency. Kornaki shows how politically astute Clinton is in dealing with the scrutiny of candidates for public office. Kornaki artfully illustrates the era by recalling the details of Reagan’s appeal and defeat of Mondale, the weakness of the Dukakis’s campaign, Jesse Jackson’s misreading of Clinton, Patrick Buchanan’s tribal speech at George H.W. Bushes second nomination, the Clinton “White Water” and Lewinski scandals, and other stories. Kornacki shows how the table is set for deep Red and Blue conflicts in the 21st century. Kornacki explains how and why Bill Clinton defeats George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole despite Clinton’s disingenuous dodge of military service, extramarital affairs, budget crises, and ultimate impeachment.
Clinton is considered by some to be the greatest politician of the 20th century. His intelligence, charisma, and ambition overcome personal sexual scandals, draft dodging accusations, Red and Blue tribal conflicts, and the tumultuous effects of minority discrimination. Despite all of his personal challenges, Clinton manages to become a two term President.
The national debt grew to over 1.4 trillion dollars during the Reagan years. After the election of George H.W. Bush, the deficit remained high which led Bush to raise taxes when he has said “read my lips-no new taxes”. That and Clinton’s political skill derailed Bush’s election for a second term. Some would argue America prospered under Clinton.
“The Red and the Blue” is not about the birth of tribalism. It is about tribalism’s re-birth. Trump shows himself to be an inept politician. To overcome tribalism, American leaders must have political skill. In the foreseeable future, tribes will exist.
The only way forward is through politics (the activities associated with the governance of a country).
Steve Kornacki shows America is a Red and Blue nation disrupted by political tribalism. It is its strength and its weakness. Politics is the art of getting things done despite tribal differences. What is needed in America is a leader who can bridge tribal differences.