Al Franken & The Trouble With Tribalism

It may seem strange that a Member of the Tribe is going to denounce tribalism. But I’m going to try to do just that.
Last week, I had the opportunity to interview Minneapolis mayor-elect Jacob Frey. He decried the state of politics and social media keyboard warriors who feel 10-feet tall and spew what they want.

“Far too often, people get lost in the headline or hashtag and there are these bubbles created. On social media, you pick your friends, you pick your hashtag, you pick who to follow or not, and in the end, you don’t understand you’re talking to a 2,000-person bubble with hundreds of thousands who don’t agree with you,” he said.

Your bubble is your Tribe. Think you’re not guilty of this? Congratulations, I guess – but to some degree, this is you. This is me, too.

Political Tribes generally fall into Democrat and Republican (there are many Tribes within those Tribes). In Alabama, Judge Roy Moore’s candidacy for U.S. Senate has been teetering this week with allegations of everything from pedophilia and sexual assault, to sexual harassment. Moore is said to have hung out at malls when he was in his 30s, trawling for teenaged girls.

The Democratic Tribe didn’t like Moore to begin with. He has a long history of flaunting the rule of law, thinks Muslims (Minneapolis’ Congressman Keith Ellison, specifically) shouldn’t be allowed to serve in Congress and is generally racist, homophobic, transphobic, etc.

There was widespread enthusiasm for the comeuppance Moore has been getting from our Tribe – as well as many in the Republican Tribe.

So now, having digested the news that broke of Minnesota Sen. Al Franken forcibly kissing and groping radio news anchor Leann Tweeden on a USO tour in 2006, most of the Tribes went to their predictable places.

Those who were in that other Tribe were either firmly supportive of Roy Moore and/or stridently opposed to Franken and took solace in what they saw as the latest example of liberal hypocrisy.

As the editor of TC Jewfolk, however, I am far more interested in the reaction of Members of our Tribe to the shocking allegations against Franken, as well as his apology.

For the most part, the reaction I observed was hurt, confusion, anger, sadness, and profound disappointment in the behavior of not just a member of our Tribe, but in a national leader who has quickly come to personify the resistance to the worst excesses and disloyalty of the president and his administration.

Many made a point of publicly expressing their support for Tweeden. Though a few expressed annoyance that these allegations – as true as they might be – were a distraction from the damage being inflicted on the environment by the most recent oil spill or more broadly our nation by whatever outrageous thing the Trump administration and Congress were doing that day.

Still, the fact that the vast majority of people within our Tribe did not act defensively, were not dismissive of Tweeden’s truth, or hide in the game of double standards and, “well, your guy is worse,” feels like progress.

Not being a psychologist or a sociologist, I am not sure why most of our Tribe reacted as we did. Maybe it is because having so publicly stood up for other victims of sexual harassment and abuse over the past few weeks and so adamantly against their abusers, it was important for us to not allow ourselves to become instant hypocrites.

Or maybe it is because, despite our deep Tribalism, it is more important for us to be decent. No doubt, the fact that Franken did apologize – including asking for a Senate Ethics Committee investigation – and ours is not a Tribe in which the charge of “fake news” holds any currency, it may just have been easier for us to avoid the traps of denial which still inflict Moore’s core supporters in the other distant Tribe.

Whatever the reason may be, on a day which most of us would just as soon forget, I am proud of our Tribe for holding our own accountable and not betraying the values which make our Tribe worth continuing from generation to generation.