Now, there are perfectly thoughtful reasons to stick with people when a strict accounting of pros and cons might argue otherwise. You made a commitment and you want to honor it. You have an agreement involving mutual aid. You know someone well enough to give her the benefit of the doubt until you know more. But all of those still leave you with your autonomy intact.
Loyalty does not. Which is why it has never struck me as a virtue.
Some loyalties are sad, like those to abusive or neglectful relatives. Some are scary: fealty to evil regimes, for instance, or even to generally well-intentioned democracies. Am I the only one who’s creeped out by the Pledge of Allegiance as droned by elementary school students with their hands on their hearts and their bodies angled toward the classroom flag? Not for nothing: “My country, right or wrong” has the word “wrong” right in there.
Some kinds of loyalty are just silly. I went to a college that cultivated school loyalty and, as far as I could tell, some of my classmates seriously believed Our College to be infinitely better than Rival College, which was on paper exactly the same.
But at least in theory, you choose the school you attend and thereafter pledge to defend it against all insults, foreign and domestic. Not so for sports teams, which most people “choose” based on proximity when they’re young. Or religions, which most people “choose” based on their parents’ religion. Doesn’t it ever humble true believers to think that, but for the grace of God, they might have been born into a family of Yankees fans?
Being a sports fan is fun, though, unless you’re for the Cleveland Browns, but even then your shared suffering gives you a sense of identity and belonging. More important, and in distinction to some truly bloody religious rivalries, team loyalty rarely hurts anyone.
Which brings us to congressional Republicans and the vote last month in the House to move forward on an inquiry into whether President Trump should be impeached. Not a single Republican voted “yes.” Some of them, I’m sure, are truly convinced there was nothing illegal in Trump’s demand that Ukraine investigate the Bidens if the country ever wanted to see its military aid alive again — or if there was, well, quid pro so? Some of them probably fear for their electoral prospects should they cross Trump. But not a single one of the 194 House Republicans who voted — not even the 20 or so who aren’t seeking reelection — thought the matter should be investigated?
I don’t think so. I think many voted based on party loyalty. And because I’ve got this thing about people actually thinking for themselves, to me that means they’re not doing their jobs. They made a commitment, after all, to defend and protect the Constitution, which at least might be in jeopardy on account of this president’s (witnessed, admitted, repeated) behavior. They don’t seem even to want to know whether it is.
What would happen to U.S. politics if our representatives voted only on the evidence before them — and for the good of the country? What would happen if the party ID beside someone’s name on the ballot indicated a general set of beliefs and values rather than a promise to vote however party leaders demanded?
This is the part where I’m supposed to include, for “balance,” a mention of the Democrats’ own dumb loyalty. Almost all House Democrats voted “yes” to the impeachment inquiry. (Two did not, which tells you something right there.) Although I would argue that Democrats are more likely to break ranks than Republicans, I concede that, yes, it could be party loyalty that made them consider U.S.-aid-in-exchange-for-Trump-2020-aid a scheme worth investigating. But it’s impossible to tell in this case because it so obviously is a scheme worth investigating. If it’s the right move, there’s no way to prove it’s the partisan move.
But if it’s the wrong move — and whether we are talking about Deflategate or the Brett M. Kavanaugh confirmation or what happened in the fight between my kid and that other kid, not investigating seems like the wrong move — chances are it’s driven by sheer, dumb loyalty.