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Trumpism is a toxic brew of hyper-tribalism, hyper-individualism, and dogmatic false certainty. Let’s first distinguish between “Trumpism” and “Conservatism.” There is some overlap, and there are some conservative (as well as, frankly, some liberal) ideas in the mix of Trumpism that are simply bad ideas in their own right, but Trumpism distinguishes itself by being almost entirely toxic, with very few glimmers of well-conceived and generally beneficial aspects to it. Conservatism covers a wide range, including many of the elements that go into Trumpism, but it isn’t inherently or inevitably anti-intellectual; it isn’t inherently or inevitably anti-fact or anti-reason; it isn’t inherently or inevitably religiously fanatical; it isn’t inherently or inevitably anti-Latino or anti-Muslim or anti-Black; and whatever of Conservatism is left after filtering those toxic elements of Trumpism out is the governing partner this country needs and deserves and this world requires of us.

We can examine this toxic mix of hyper-tribalism and hyper-individualism in relation to virtually any issue we face, but one that gets at its essence and is repeatedly, tragically, brought to the fore is the debate over gun violence in America, and particularly mass shootings. Guns aren’t the underlyng problem (though they are the most immediately tractable causal link). The combination of hyper-individualism and hyper-tribalism is the underlying problem (as it generally is).

At the time of this writing, we are in the wake of yet another mass shooting (two, in fact, occurring with 24 hours of each other). One of these recent shootings was carried out by a Trump supporter echoing Trump’s language and targeting a group Trump has consistently and relentlessly vilified. Every Trumpist insisting that the shooting in El Paso was in no way Trump’s fault insists that it is ONLY the shooter’s fault, or the shooter’s fault and the fault of society at large for failing to deal with mental health issues more effectively. By that logic, ISIS inspired lone-wolf terrorism isn’t ISIS’s fault; it’s either only the lone-wolf terrorist’s fault or the fault of OUR society (when the ISIS inspired terrorist is residing here) for failing to deal with mental health issues more effectively. Let’s examine both of those claims, determining how evenly they are applied, with how much integrity they inform ideological positions as a result of being applied, and the systemic ways in which they are or are not applied depending on other variables.

The illogic of hyper-individualism isn’t applied evenly; it’s applied conveniently. When something happens because of systemic or non-proximate causes that Trumpists, for ideological reasons, do not want to address, it is the individual –the proximate cause– who (according to Trumpists) bears all of the responsibility, but when something happens because of (real or imagined) systemic or non-proximate causes that Trumpists want to address, entire races are to blame. In other words, they are hyper-individualistic in terms of shouldering responsibility for what members of their own tribe do at the instigation of their own tribal leader (“it’s not our responsibility or Trump’s responsibility; it’s just the shooters responsibility”), but hyper-tribalistic when allocating responsibility for what members of other tribes do (“Muslims are out to get us! Mexicans are rapists and murderers!”).

Hyper-tribalism attributes every bad act by any out-group member to all of the out-groups in their entirety to which that individual belongs, while selective hyper-individualism allows the absolute hypocrisy of attributing any bad act by any in-group member to that individual alone while insisting that the rest of the in-group is blameless even if there is direct evidence of blame elsewhere within that group (such as Trump’s and Fox News’s incitements).

When Tumpists insist that the real problem is a mental health problem –despite that not generally being the case in the clinical sense of the term “mental health”– they are protecting their tribe by invoking some non-tribal force at play instead, but, even if that non-tribal force were really the pivotal causal factor, the selective hyper-individualism of their tribe kicks in and perpetually obstructs efforts to address things like mental health in a publicly funded way, because that is “too much government.” And, in fact, there are indeed societal factors in play, things we as a society could address if we were willing to be more proactive and less reactive, more aware of our interdependence and less hyper-individualistic, but which the same faction that refuses to allow us to address the role that guns play refuses to allow us to address as well.

The hyper-individualism also allows gun idolaters to focus exclusively on the individual pulling the trigger, and not on the role that our gun laws play in giving him a trigger to pull. The role that guns play as the fetish of this tribe, the totem at whose altar they worship, increases the incentive to mobilize the hyper-individualism in service to this farce, such that it is impossible to penetrate the demonstrably false narrative with fact and reason.

This combination of hyper-individualism and hyper-tribalism on the Trumpist right has become the perfect toxic storm, one which is already doing serious harm to large numbers of people and is placing our national and world in serious danger. True patriots find the courage and integrity to reassess and redirect themselves, for the good of their fellow countrymen and their fellow human beings. It’s time for Trump supporters to become true patriots and, frankly, stop supporting this toxic walking disaster of a president. Conservatism deserves a better leader.

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