Letters: ‘Tribes Do Not Tolerate Freedom’

Readers react to Peter Wehner’s reflection on what he’s gained by leaving the Republican Party—and discuss how tribalism has shaped the political debate.

Library of Congress

What I’ve Gained by Leaving the Republican Party

Since the political rise of Donald Trump, Peter Wehner has found himself deeply disappointed in—and often at odds with—the Republican Party. Both losses and insights come from being politically homeless, he wrote last week: “The main thing I’ve gained in unfastening myself from the GOP is critical distance and detachment. One can see certain things from outside the silo that one cannot see within it.”

As a lifelong Republican, I pretty much agreed with every sentiment Wehner expressed. And it meant something to me, living in a world where I feel increasingly alone, because I am unwilling to align myself with my fellow Republicans who have doubled down on Trump’s brand of crazy, and yet unwanted by a Democratic Party hell-bent on its own brand of extremism.

I don’t know what that means for me, but for now it’s at least somewhat comforting knowing I am not alone.

Grey Proctor
Ridgefield, Wash.

Peter Wehner makes the point that only once he left the Republican Party was he able to view issues outside of the tribal lens. I believe that this may be the critical issue of our day: We have enabled partisanship to the point that all issues are now forced into a tribal argument. Honest conversations are no longer relevant. How can we choose the right path for America while we are busy looking to see which party has the most to gain? Everyone looks to a leader who can unite us, but I think the problem is within ourselves. When all is said and done, every single one of us has a solemn responsibility to truth and morality.

Diane M. Sloan
Schaumburg, Ill.

Peter Wehner’s “What I’ve Gained by Leaving the Republican Party” resonates with me. I am a former conservative evangelical minister. I now consider myself a Christian nonbeliever.

Wehner focuses mainly on the tribal impact—the willingness to overlook certain flaws in fellow tribal members, to give them the benefit of the doubt when they don’t live up to tribal ideals. He eschews, at least for himself, the idea of automatic blinding to other points of view, but does praise the concept of critical distance detachment. “One can see certain things from outside the silo that one cannot see within it,” he says.

In conservative Christianity, belief is the litmus test. One is continually fussing about what it is they believe about something and seeking out others who believe what and like they do. Belief is not a benign thing; it is, like membership in a political party, a choice, a commitment.

While I was pastoring in my church, despite my own predilections for study, I knew there were some things I just could not research or analyze in depth. To do so would risk arriving at contrary positions to my church. I deliberately avoided thinking about things so that I could with integrity continue to affirm commitment to the Statement of Faith of my denomination and church.

Once I left, I reveled in the freedom to explore these things knowing that my employment and my status were no longer attached to them in the same way. My thinking on these items has changed.

Wehner’s article is a call for freedom. Freedom to explore, think, and be different. Tribes do not tolerate freedom. When they do, they risk a metamorphosis of the tribe, and that may not be what they want.

Andrew R. McGinn
Cambridge, Ontario, Canada

I applaud Peter Wehner for having the guts to question the foundation of his entire adult life. I did the same thing myself (although it was half my life ago, around the age of 20).

My family’s deep Catholicism denied me access to sex ed and birth control. I didn’t want to burn in hell, of course, so I didn’t think for myself and just go out and get it. Instead, I thought, how would I get through the phalanx of Planned Parenthood opponents whom I knew (through being forced by my mom to pray the rosary with them every Sunday at the same clinic)? But really I was afraid. Isn’t an abortion clinic where women go to die? Where they are murdered by rich and calculating abortionists? As a pregnant teen, I often thought I’d be better off if I just drove really fast into a brick wall, but I couldn’t quite get up the bravery required. So I looked through the pile of wannabe adoptive parents—thoughtfully provided by the pro-life folks—and looked through the legal contract.

My son is now 22. We both volunteer for Planned Parenthood.

It is great that Mr. Wehner found compassion and regret in looking back at the Willie Horton ads. I hope that he will meet more women who tell them their late-term abortion nightmare stories so that he will be able to one day have compassion for them, too.

Joan Vignocchi
Santa Barbara, Calif.

Thoughtful editorial; helped me clarify my own thinking. Unfortunately, insight and distance aren’t enough to offset the immense grief of having arrived at where we find ourselves.

Jim Koloc
Eagan, Minn.

Mr. Wehner is more a part of a growing group of people in this country than he realizes. His views on his party have been reflected by more than a few on the left as well, but many, including me, are fearful of voicing their views. The left hands out harsh criticism to anyone who disagrees with it. As a woman of color and a veteran of the very liberal world of Hollywood, I have realized that I, too, have no political home base anymore. But I simply cannot look away from what I see. Donald Trump is a product of deeper problems in this country, and the left ultimately put him in power. If they aren’t careful, they are going to do it again. Mr. Wehner is in good company, and I’m glad he isn’t the only one questioning. Please thank him for having the guts to put his piece out there. And yes, there are people on the other side doing exactly what he is doing.

Gina Nelson
North Hollywood, Calif.