The tribes are alike but the rest of us can be different

October 17, 2022 7:00 am

There are extreme sides of both political spectrums. The middle should work together, columnist argues. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Members of America’s warring political tribes tend to think of themselves as irreconcilably different. In fact, they have a great deal in common. Recognizing the similarities is an important first step for their frustrated fellow citizens and elected representatives who want to move the country past our ugly, dangerous stalemate.

The progressive-populist Woke and the nationalist-populist MAGA dominate the agendas of the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively—to the detriment of both “progress” and “national greatness,” ironically. Only a third or fewer of adult Americans identify with each group, according to polls. Yet the leaders of both major political parties defer almost completely to these populist minorities while the rest of us behave as though we must pick a side in a nascent civil war. 

But what if Woke and MAGA together are a side, and a majority of us still can aspire to reconciliation and problem-solving? It’s not a far-fetched perspective.

Some Woke-MAGA agreement is downright comical. For example, both believe that stolen elections are a serious problem in the U.S. — except when their preferred candidates win, and the same election systems in the same states apparently worked just fine.

On three big things, however, the two groups’ de facto agreement is harder to chuckle about.

More alike than they think

First, Woke and MAGA agree that the country is a shameful mess. The Woke tend to describe America’s problems as longstanding while MAGA suggests that we have fallen from a past period of greatness. But both depict a disrespected nation whose most vulnerable residents suffer from despair and discrimination with little hope of improvement.

Second, Woke and MAGA agree that America’s problems are almost entirely systemic in nature. For the Woke, an uptight patriarchy enshrined by our nation’s founding actually runs things and mostly protects its own. For MAGA, a “swamp” full of “elites” actually runs things and mostly protects its own. Each tribe has some specialized targets, but the broad overlap is remarkable: big corporations, law enforcement and the federal judiciary, traditional media, foreigners, and “globalists” are some of the shared culprits supposedly preventing utopia or national renewal. 

Finally—and this flows directly from the previous worldview—Woke and MAGA agree that individual Americans and their communities are nearly powerless. They highlight problems that often are genuine and serious but then behave as though they had no part in creating them and have no role in fixing them. Disparities in educational and professional attainment are the result of a never-quite-defined “systemic racism” or another form of “rigged system.” Opioid addiction is a healthcare-industry plot. A lost generation of men live in their parents’ basements because immigrants are taking all the jobs that aren’t being sent overseas—though of course the available jobs are boring and exploitative in any case. Student loans (unique among debts, it seems) are an unfair burden.


Supposed answers to these and other Woke/MAGA rallying cries invariably involve some form of economic or societal upending and vast quantities of other people’s money—but almost nothing by way of individual accountability or initiative, or even creative policymaking.  

All of this leaves a large gap in American civic life, ready to be filled by a “side” that rejects the nihilism and scapegoating associated with the dominant groups. Care about literacy and educational attainment? Then help figure out, for example, how to get parents to read and public schools to behave accountably. Care about drug addiction? Then work on healing the families and neighborhoods who simply must step up. Care about getting those basement dwellers into jobs? Then think imaginatively about why the connection between workplace needs and workforce skills broke down in America—and how to fix it. Care about the cost of higher education? Then insist on its reform, at long last.

These things are hard, and that’s the point. There’s nothing easier than denigrating your nation, blaming the system, and refusing to be accountable. Leave that to the Woke and MAGA. America needs a new “hard-stuff tribe” willing to get real, and one or both of its major parties to embrace it. Here’s betting (hoping?) that the winning side in 2024 does just that. 


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Gary Geipel
Gary Geipel

Gary is an Indianapolis author as well as a communications consultant with professional experience in the biopharmaceuticals industry and national-security research.