Why Intolerance pays off in American Politics

Intolerant minorities and single-issue pressure groups have the edge in American politics.

The intolerant win because of their intolerance philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb observed in his latest book Skin in the Game. Intolerance pays off because of its inflexibility. Historically, two very intolerant religions; Christianity and Islam, overcame the far more tolerant paganism, Taleb pointed out.[1]

Taleb’s thesis explains the success of both the Religious Right and the politically correct left in American politics. The two groups succeed because they refuse to compromise or submit on a wide variety of issues.

How Intolerance pays off in American Politics

Strangely, these groups succeed because their intolerance makes them easier to cooperate with.

Intolerant groups take definite stands on specific issues. The Religious Right refuses to compromise on abortion, for example. However, there are many issues the Religious Right has no real interest in such as economic policy.

Therefore, it is easy to compromise with the Religious Right as long as you long as you agree with its stand on abortion. President Donald J. Trump (R-New York) won the Religious Right’s support for his economic agenda by adopting the Religious Right’s radical opposition to abortion.

Intolerant groups have the advantage of consistency. Would-be allies do not have to worry about the intolerant suddenly changing a policy or switching sides. Trump will receive Religious Right backing as long as he sides with it on abortion.

On the left, politicians like Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-California) know they can count on the women’s movement as long as they agree with it on abortion. Likewise, politically correct leftists are dependable allies for “moderate Democrats” willing to compromise on economic issues.

The intolerant succeed in American politics because they are dependable allies. Moderates make lousy allies because they are always open to shifting alliances.

This is why both extreme libertarians and the Religious Right have so much influence over the apparently moderate President Trump. Both groups are dependable allies. Likewise, moderate Democrats; like Hillary R. Clinton (D-New York), are beholden to far-left groups.

How Single-Issue Groups Succeed in American Politics

Single-issue groups; such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) and gay rights organizations, have a similar advantage in political battles.

The NRA will support any politician that accepts its gun rights agenda. Gay rights groups will back any candidate that signs on to their program.

Politicians like such support because it gives them a great deal of freedom on other issues. President Trump is free to change his foreign policy because he knows he has NRA support. Pelosi is free to change her position on health insurance because she knows gay rights groups have her back.

Single-issue groups are intolerant minorities and easy to negotiate with. All you have to do to reach a compromise is to agree with them on one; or a handful, of issues.

How Intolerant Minorities Hurt the Working Class

The losers in the intolerance and single-issue game are the working and middle classes. The intolerant minorities on both sides of the aisle have no interest in economic issues.

The lack of interest in issues like taxes, healthcare, foreign policy, education, defense, the environment etc. makes it easy for politicians to work with intolerant minorities. A candidate that accepts the Religious Right’s agenda on abortion is free to take almost any stand on taxes, for example.

The working class loses because the candidates most likely to ally with intolerant minorities take regressive stands on economic matters. Intolerant allies like Trump and Pelosi, are most likely to sign off on tax cuts for the rich, union-busting, cuts to entitlement programs, and increases in payroll taxes.

Candidates that push a broad agenda of New Deal or Reagan style reforms are at a disadvantage when dealing the with the intolerant minorities. Those minorities; especially the Religious Right and the NRA, can mobilize working class support but refuse to support the entire agenda. They will pull out of the coalition the moment the other side adopts their issue.

How reformers can win in Intolerant Politics

Reformers and progressives can win by adopting the tactics of intolerance. An obvious strategy is to become a single-issue pressure group.

The $15 an hour minimum wage and Medicare for All campaigns have adopted this strategy. Those groups will not support candidates that refuse to commit to those issues. Candidates have a strong incentive to go along because backing Medicare for All; or the $15 minimum wage, guarantees votes. A Basic Income movement using the same tactics is likely to develop.

Another tactic is to demonize and attack any direct opponent. Anybody allying with that opponent is automatically the enemy. Cultural and fiscal conservatives have been great at this for a long time. Recently, the Gun Control movement has adopted the same tactic regarding the NRA.

Gun controllers are demanding zero tolerance for the NRA. That strategy is simple but sophisticated. The gun control movement’s silence on all other political issues, signals its willingness to work with any politician that accepts its basic agenda.

An obvious way for a Republican to split the left is to accept the gun control agenda. Likewise, a Democrat can split the Right by agreeing with the NRA’s gun-rights agenda.

Therefore, neither the single-issue groups nor the intolerant minorities are as intolerant as commonly believed. Such groups are open to compromise on their terms.

These groups trap themselves because they base their power on unconditional loyalty. It forces the NRA and the Religious Right to work with somebody as corrupt and loathsome as Donald J. Trump because he supports their agenda. The strategy stuck gay rights and gun control groups with the equally corrupt Hillary R. Clinton.

How Intolerant Politics can Help Trump Survive Impeachment

Supporters of causes like Basic Income, Medicare for All and the $15 minimum should understand this trap. They might defend Donald J. Trump at some point soon. All Trump needs to do to win their support is to endorse their cause.

A Trump impeachment could become a nightmare for single-issue progressives. A Donald facing impeachment might endorse Medicare for All, the $15 minimum wage, or gay rights to win those groups’ support.

To thwart impeachment, Trump could Tweet his willingness to sign Medicare for All, a $15 minimum wage, gun control laws, a Basic Income program, or gay rights legislation. Such a Tweet would have progressives at each other’s throats.

Intolerance pays off in American politics. It put Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office and might keep him there.

[1] A far more detailed version of this argument is found in chapter three of Skin in the Game appropriately entitled The Most Intolerant Wins.