On Speaking From One’s Tribal Mind

Mike Lee, since he stopped being the pre-2016 Ted Cruz’s more principled and less self-promoting sidekick and became a pathetic panderer to the Trump cult, seems to have lost his intellectual moorings. No longer sounding like a rare libertarian with a moral compass, Lee increasingly sounds like a slightly less smarmy and disingenuous imitation of the post-2016, pathetically bootlicking Ted Cruz. 

Lee’s new-found tribal stupidity reaches a new low today, as he has joined the alt-right monkeys on social media in retweeting an out-of-context clip of Volodymyr Zelensky referencing the possibility of American men and women fighting and dying against Vladimir Putin’s army, deliberately feeding the anti-Ukraine fervor within the Trumpified Republican grassroots by implying that Zelensky is calling for the American military to fight in Ukraine.

But now, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story. The brief clip in which Zelensky makes the supposed reference to Americans fighting in Ukraine is in fact part of a longer answer to a direct question about the opposition within America to supporting Ukraine, which is coming from exactly the kind of simpletons who are now misinterpreting his words. His answer, to state it simply, was the obvious reply to such people: If Putin is allowed to achieve his goal in Ukraine, he will certainly push forward into the Baltic states, which are NATO members; and this would force the U.S. into a more direct military conflict with Russia. His reference to Americans dying in Europe was explicitly premised on Putin’s predictable actions after a Ukrainian defeat, and was in no way suggesting that he was demanding that Americans die for, or in, Ukraine.

But let us look at the out-of-context words that Mike Lee and his alt-right leash-holders are all excited about:

The U.S. will have to send their sons and daughters, exactly the same way as we are sending [our] sons and daughters to war, and they will have to fight. Because it’s NATO that we’re talking about. And they will be dying. God forbid, because it’s a horrible thing.

In truth, then, even the short clip that Lee, Monica Crowley, and other Republican Trump sycophants have quoted out of context, if heard with one’s brain turned on, is quite clearly discussing the prospect of a war expanded into NATO countries — in the clip, Zelensky directly mentions fighting for NATO (of which Ukraine is not a member, in case Lee has forgotten), and is speaking explicitly about a future possibility, not a current reality — so there is no excuse whatsoever for such a gross misrepresentation of his meaning, even without the elaborating context.

There is no excuse, but there is a reason: tribal mind. If you sell your reason to a crowd, and your independence for that crowd’s love, you have rendered yourself intellectually defenseless against any nonsensical claims or sentiments that become popular within that crowd — as the past two years of the Republican base’s final implosion have demonstrated beyond any doubt.

It is not at all surprising that alt-right dupes, in the grassroots and within the “conservative media,” would fall for this falsehood, or even deliberately cultivate it. But it is truly sad that a once reasonable and promising statesman like Mike Lee should be diminished in this way. If Lee can fall to this, then who is left to uphold the standard of the Republican Party’s old Tea Party movement? And I refer to the Tea Party as “old” because that movement, though it was thriving less than a decade ago, now seems like an implausible rumor from the ancient world.

(Lee has now deleted his retweet of this nonsense. Presumably one of his better angels, which is to say a more independent-minded member of his staff, heard the Zelensky clip with his or her brain turned on, and saved Lee from his tribal drunkenness, or over-eagerness, or whatever you would like to call it.)

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