Partisans in Name and Form

We’re 10% Rational, the Rest is
Names, Forms, and Ideas

We’d like to think that we arrive at our political convictions, which include ideas about social justice, economics, liberty, and self-determination by having given different viewpoints their due. I’m not discounting that notion entirely: that we humans sometimes try to be rational persons. I suffer from this as a projection, both on myself and, more erroneously, on others.

I was professionally inculcated, not just trained to be rational. I believe in reason, at least partly because I believe that unless we Americans understand what it means to be “dedicated to a proposition,” we stand no chance. Such a proposition may be also impossible and contradictory, fraught with historical fiction and failure, but shouldn’t stop us. We all aspire to impossible things, and that’s not always a bad thing. Still, I always less regard the 90% of human identity that comes with how we feel about ourselves and each other, and how this drives us to identify with names, groups, tribe. We are principally _partisans_ to the names we prefer, the ones we think are “us” or will keep us with our group. Ideology, conviction, and belief are a distant second to this partisanship.

The power of names and ideas needs a closer look. Are people really “Republican” because they favor tax cuts for the rich, the dismantling of the current healthcare for all program, or “the wall”? Are they “conservative” because they are, or for other reasons? Are “Democrats” really believers in social justice or women’s rights? Are they more “liberal” because they harbor different ideas and values? Are their beliefs driving them? Certainly some portion of the issue is wholly present. But what’s in a name?

The information age, the power of media is driven by names. We are “yogis,” “football fans,” “humanists.” But methinks we count too much reason and _idea_ in the mix as we go forward identifying with _our_ name. We choose the ones that appear to represent ourselves with respect to _our_ people. Being “Republican” doesn’t need an issue, it needs to be the name we think we “like” (think: FB). We are referencing an idea of identity, “a group defined by measures of class, region, religion, race or even just partisanship itself.” This creates complexity because we may not actually identity _as_ LGBTQ when we identify _with_. We _feel_ with such persons as our persons. Now we may have indeed _very good reasons_ for finding our “name group” but the name drops we choose make us comfortable, they make us say inside, “I think I’m with them.”

Trump has no moral core, no political principles or ideology. His hollowness is filled with nothing but immediate, self-adulation, rage, and unreflective needs that must be fulfilled. But his appeal to some 39% or so seems unmovable and, more importantly, “Republicans” offer upwards of 79% support in most polls. We need not dispute the numbers, they aren’t the point. So why? It can’t be the ideas, they aren’t there. Is it the ideas that are there? Ryanism? Judge Moore? No, it’s about the names and words and only last about the issues that make an “us.” Trump uses “them” in ways that reinforce that process of choosing one’s name. Put an “R” after a candidate it might not matter at all what she or he thinks, says, or does. It’s an inoculation, not an idea. It’s a way of saying that name is me because I am with my people, not those people.

Democrats have a much harder time creating “Democrat” as an identity word— or even showing up to vote “for the Democrat”. This is because Dems are a far more diverse collection of measures: we cross class, race, region, religion, and lifestyle in ways that Republicans are whiter, more religious _in name_ and _group action_, and less willing to use names that too far from their immediate experiences. But as superficial as it may seem, it’s often in the words, in the names, in the identity that comes from saying “I’m 41% of Italian ancestry” even if you learned that from rational evidence of a DNA test.

Names are mythological, not rational. They point to destinations that are associative and interpretive. But like most myths that are meaningful, people don’t interpret them as such, they follow them. I mean, they identify with the story as meaningful and the characters as themselves, well, the ones they like. Political identity in America is no less a mythical identity, driven as it is by measures of association with words and symbols (think: flag, kneeling, etc), that tell you “these are my peeps, the peeps I sign on with…”

When we gather soon for Thanksgiving, we may be sitting with family who are ours by some measures but not others —you are blood, but not politically friendly. What you’ll experience is a dissonance not only of ideas and of values but of naming. “My brother the Republican.” Yeah, that hurts because there’s more in a name than just ideas or beliefs, there’s the need to have one. That draws us together or leverages us apart. It’s hard to have a middle ground that that isn’t just confused, and lordyknows, we don’t love complexity either. What’s in a name is us, and it’s a lot less rational than it is a measure of feeling.

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