Back away from the political cliff: Reject tribalism, value character

By George Schroeder | LTVN Executive Producer

Preparing for college as a high schooler, I was ready to take on the liberal machine that wanted to dominate my worldview, silence my voice and relegate my beliefs to inside my own head. Since coming to Baylor, that has not been my experience, and while my values have remained largely unaltered, I have become far, far less politically engaged. It’s been great.

You need to know who I am first. I am a Christian (a follower of Christ, a born-again believer) whose faith-based values largely — if not wholly — influence my political preferences. In political practice, I am conservative and tend to lean away from libertarian beliefs.

Two years ago, had you met and followed me on social media, you would have quickly discovered I was very, very into politics (it sort of sounds cringe now). Almost daily you could find something political on my Instagram story, and usually, it was relatively inflammatory.

Not anymore. Like 56% of college graduates, I agree that college has made me more liberal, and because of that, it has made me less political.

Specifically, I have become more understanding and empathetic to many social issues facing our world. These can be difficult to come by when you believe you are right regardless of what others have to say but are completely necessary to living out a life that honors Christ.

I am not saying I would necessarily attend a Black Lives Matter protest, but I am saying it is possible to have disagreements while recognizing a real hurt, longing and desire inside someone that needs a caring, understanding and open response to heal.

In that way, I am far more liberal than I used to be, but how has where my needle points on the political spectrum made me less engaged in politics?

I am a contracted cadet in the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps. I am on my way to commissioning as an officer after graduation from Baylor. I am also a journalism major.

For many of the same reasons, it’s imperative that both military personnel and journalists at least retain the outward appearance of a neutral political posture.

This does not mean don’t vote. It means people shouldn’t necessarily know where you stand on absolutely everything, and in that way, they can focus on what makes you credible as a voice, a follower or a leader.

Practical, career-advancing reasons prompted me to back away from the political slippery slope, and I’m so glad something did. Life is far more peaceful when you don’t have to constantly worry about every little thing that goes on in Washington D.C.

More than consuming my thoughts, being less political makes me more approachable to more people. Yes, being a stalwart conservative or a hardcore liberal means specific types of people may gravitate toward you, but in that regard, often you are sacrificing one side for another and seeing people as less than what they are. This is pure tribalism.

Journalist George Packer said it best in the Atlantic: “Tribes demand loyalty, and in return, they confer the security of belonging … They’re badges of identity, not of thought.”

The article describes a situation so ingrained in American life it can only be described as primal. And that is absolutely correct.

Too often in my life have I seen someone not as a person with strengths, weaknesses, interests, hobbies, quirks and character, but as a liberal or a leftist.

On the other hand, many times simply for expressing an opinion I have been reduced to nothing but my perceived political identity or been personally insulted because of it. In those moments I know I am more than my political preferences. It is imperative I afford those around me that same understanding.

When all we do is see our fellow citizens as their political identities — or hopelessly attempt to categorize them when we are unsure — we are doing a disservice to ourselves and those around us. Human connection breaks down when all we want to do is hate “the other side.” Most of the time, we really don’t even know who the “other side” actually is.

Many of those I would consider friends likely would not line up with me on my side of the aisle. Who cares? I love for them because their worth is not found in their opinions, but the content of their character.

There are some people who make political decisions I legitimately cannot rationalize. There are some who make ignorant political decisions I do not appreciate. There are some who compromise their political decisions depending on a given situation which I do not respect. I still love them all.

Why? Because their worth is not found in their political identity.

Value cannot be found in politics. To see humans for their struggles, strengths, flaws, and values outside the political spectrum first, you must change the way you engage in politics. By no means am I saying give it up completely, I’m just telling you life is so much better when politics doesn’t dominate your life.

George Schroeder is a senior at Baylor University majoring in journalism. Currently the only student on his 4th year with the Lariat, he is the executive producer for Lariat TV News, he has worked as the managing editor, a broadcast reporter and an anchor for the program. In 2022 he was named the Baylor Department of Student Media’s “Broadcaster of the Year” and the inaugural winner of the Rick Bradfield Award for Breaking News Coverage. During his time with the Lariat, he has served as a member of the Editorial Board, a sportswriter and an opinion writer. He is a contracted cadet in the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps and will commission as an officer into the United States Air Force after graduation in 2024.