Op-Ed: Writer on Jeff Sessions’ links with Russia, American parties, tribalism

By Nick Riebel || Staff Writer

Please keep in mind, that throughout my editorial-writing career at The College Reporter overall, and during the Trump era in particular, it seems that just when I turn my article for the week on Thursday evening to Friday around lunchtime, that I miss a major breaking news development later in the day, often relating to my story. For example, my most recent immigration article was right before Trump announced his executive order implementing the so-called “Muslim ban,” while my last article dealt with Trump’s relationship with the media before the announcement that he was partially blocking the access of several mainstream news organizations (including the New York Times and CNN) from his administration. Now, though, I hope you will forgive me if I turn this article detailing my opinion on the current controversy over Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and you read this on Monday after he has already resigned or dismissed (or some other unforeseen development in current events, related to this story or not). Regardless, from what we seem to know so far (including from Sessions’ own mouth), it seems that he has lied under oath (which is the crime of perjury), and that an independent investigation should take place immediately, as Sessions is fired, and Trump’s connection to the Kremlin is researched by our intelligence community, and explained thoroughly to the American people. Sessions recusing himself from the “Russian” investigations is insufficient: how can we trust this man when he lied under oath (unprompted) about this serious topic? There should be no unfair attacks or undue influence in these investigations into Trump and his administration: these should be impartial, independent (not Republican) investigations into all of Trump’s shady dealings with Russia, as well as his and his staff’s other financial and personal conflicts of interests around the world.

I believe it is worth noting that if Sessions is brought down, it won’t be due to his racism in the past, but due to his lies in the present. It seems incredibly likely that Jeff Sessions is guilty of perjury, when he told Senator Al Franken, under oath, that he did not have any contact with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign. Not only was this untrue (as he met twice with the Russian ambassador) but he is also a hypocrite, because he condemned Bill Clinton for lying under oath (for a relatively trivial matter): http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2017/03/02/list_of_reps_senators_who_ve_called_for_sessions_resignation_recusal.html. Now, I am sure that the Attorney General will wiggle out of this one, even though his alleged perjury (if this is proven to be the case) could send him to prison. Yet, it is disturbing that Republicans (as of this typing) don’t seem to be calling for his resignation, only for his recusal on related cases (at most). Some may bemoan the rise of polarization and partisanship, I think this speaks to a greater problem: that of tribalism.

Please do not misunderstand me: when I say “tribalism” I do not refer to literal tribes developing in American society (at least, not yet). I refer to the theory that Americans are increasingly identifying with groups similar to them, to such a great extent that those outside the group become dangerous enemies, and that they must support “their own” no matter what. I will be the first to admit that I may be guilty of this sometimes. But I am greatly perturbed that this type of tribal thinking allowed Trump to be elected in the first place, as his partisans forgave everything he did, elevating him to the highest office in the land. I have often been disappointed that sycophantic Democrats would justify anything President Obama did, even when it was obviously unwise or unjustified: see his  unwillingness to push Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court (as that would of course be impolite to the other side), drone warfare in nations we are not at war with (just an extension of his predecessor’s policy), or his refusal to prosecute war criminals or those behind the Great Recession (we must look forward, not back, after all, even if this means that illegal actions have no consequences for the wealthy and powerful people responsible for them), to mention just a few. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with supporting people in your party, or who generally share your beliefs or life philosophy. There is an issue, though, when doing so threatens society as a whole.

Look at what’s happened to the Grand Old Party. A political party obsessed with tradition embraces a man who has declared war on the status quo. The fiercest Cold Warriors now justify Trump’s bromance with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.

Republican concern with social stability is sacrificed for the good of the president. I could go on, but suffice it to say for now that the Party of Lincoln has become the Party of Trump. And for most Republicans, even if they are concerned with the direction that their party has gone, and is now leading the rest of us, they are still to reluctant to speak out or challenge this (except for perhaps Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, when it is politically convenient for them). But when we have a president who may be a Russian agent, shouldn’t the Republicans and conservatives re-discover their patriotism? They surely had at some point in the past, after all, perhaps they misplaced it.

Let us abandon tribalism. I mean this for all Americans: I do not just speak to conservative Republicans. If someone from your “tribe” or in-group does something wrong, don’t be so afraid to call them out or challenge them on it. I strongly disagreed with President Obama on many things, and I did so with Hillary Clinton, even though I supported them both over their Republican rivals. That is the tricky thing— if you criticize or challenge your allies, you fear strengthening or emboldening your enemies. But I think that if you truly disagree with someone, even a friend or ally, particularly if you think what they’re doing threatens the safety of the United States, stand up to them and defeat them if necessary. Stand up for what you believe in, not whom you vote for.

Or we can blindly follow those who align with us and lead us, putting our tribes ahead of our judgment and common sense. At a time when American politics are becoming increasingly corrupted by the wealth of powerful interests, the last thing we want to do is irrationally justify whatever our own “side” does on the basis of protecting one’s comrades. I do not want to say that we should all become centrists: they have plenty of their own problems, tribalism included. I merely hope that principle and patriotism would at least overcome party, and perhaps our other differences as well.

Let us unite under a better philosophy, in which we practice a more rational and compassionate politics. I do not call for increased partisanship, I call for people to stick to their principles, not just when it’s convenient, but when the good of their fellow citizens, our nation, perhaps the world depend on it. And I trust that, eventually, Americans will come around to this.

I may very well be mistaken, however. Maybe we’re too far gone in animosity towards others and blind faith in ourselves. Attorney General Sessions, carry on. You and your boss may have nothing to worry about.

Senior Nick Riebel is a staff writer. His email is nriebel@fandm.edu.

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