Trump Remorse and Politics as Tribalism

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has the latest of what seems like dozens of stories in which people who supported Trump find themselves in trouble precisely because of the policies Trump plans to enact.

There are a lot of things that can be said about these “Trump remorse” articles. The first impulse of many is to point and laugh or to call the subjects of these stories “suckers.” ​I understand why that is, but I can’t get on board with that. Sadness and suffering is sadness and suffering even if it’s self-inflicted and it’s nothing I want to celebrate.

My takeaway: this is a result of politics’ transformation into team sports and base tribalism.

The business of policy and governance has, over the past decade or two, been turned into an exercise in self-image, group identification and, above all else, a grand loyalty test. Them or us. Our side and the other side, defined in the most superficial ways, dealing with attitudes and fashion more than substance. The defining of one’s tribe by contrasting it with those one opposes for the broadest and, ultimately, least consequential of reasons. People aren’t voting against their interests as such. With respect to government, their very interests have been transformed from those dealing with policies and outcomes to basic fandom and a base disposition to be conservative or liberal as a matter of style as opposed to politics.

It boils down to team colors. Just as I still watch the Atlanta Braves even if they suck and do things I hate, an alarmingly large number of people support their party — or their rogue offshoot of their party — regardless of what it means for governance. “Hey, Trump may enact policies which will ruin my life, but at least he’s not a libtard or a social justice warrior!” And yes, there are similar examples on the left — many dealing with labor — though they’re less obvious now that Democrats are out of power.

This cycle will continue until people stop looking at politicians and parties as personal avatars or lifestyle brands and begin looking at them as merely the means via which a bundle of policy choices are implemented. I’m not sure how we get to that place, but until we do, we’ll see more and more stories like these.

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the author of the daily baseball (and other things) newsletter, Cup of Coffee. He writes about other things at He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.