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What is Your Political Orientation?

The fundamental political difference between people is not liberal versus conservative, socialist versus capitalist, or any other worldview you can mention.

The two kinds of political orientation are those who care more about what happened than who did it, and those who care more about who did it than what happened.

We’ve learned to be suspicious of simplistic formulations that place human behaviors on two ends of a pole, like a magnet. People come in infinite shadings on any spectrum, like gay or straight. Most people fall somewhere in between.

But the poles are there, and real, nonetheless. Totally gay or completely straight aren’t absurdities, they define the antipodes of human sexual preference. They are the ends of a spectrum of sexuality.

A similar dialectic defines human political behavior. Let me coin a word here. The political equivalent of sexuality is politicality.

My politicality is more oriented to consequences than personalities, but I understand the other impulse.

Take free-trade Republicans who became Trump protectionists because they care more about Trump than free trade. Or the malleability of conservatives who viciously opposed Trump the candidate, the same super patriots who now are utterly indifferent to Russian meddling in American democracy because it reflects badly on Trump the president. It’s enough to produce tears, or tears of laughter, take your pick.

But there is a rational basis for believing in someone who may disagree with you about one thing, or even many things. The future is unknowable. When you put your faith and trust in an individual, what you’re saying is that you trust that person to hedge the future. You may identify with him or her, you may like their cutting rhetoric or the cut of their jib. Your attraction to them isn’t about position papers, it’s about who you think they are as people.

That politicality isn’t ridiculous. We are human, chemistry matters, and people fall in love, or hate, all the time. And once we do, we’re tenacious. We call that trait loyalty and, for a social species, loyalty is not to be despised.

But there is a price. Too much uncritical loyalty, too much caring about who’s doing it and not what they’re doing can be a dangerous thing. Lemmings come to mind. You never know what’s over that cliff. Lincoln’s promised land or Stalin’s gulag.

The other politicality is not an unalloyed virtue, either. A million people pulling in a million directions get nowhere. And leaderless revolutions always fail. From the whiskey rebellion to Occupy Wall Street, the lessons are clear. Much noise plus much energy plus zero leaders equals zero change. We’re the species that needs to put a face to it.

Seeing politics in this way makes it easier to understand, for instance, how religious conservatives excuse the sinful behavior of our president. For all his marriages and liaisons with porn stars, gutter language and devilish rhetoric, they’re all in with Trump. He tells them how great they are, and he doesn’t talk down to them like some snob on the coast.

And if he’s a sinner, well, so are we all. It doesn’t matter to them that good family man Barack Obama gave them health care and serial philanderer Trump wants to take it away. They don’t care what happens, they only care who did it. If Trump does it, it’s good, if Obama did it, it’s bad.

Democrats are as oblivious in the other direction. Rent by a thousand small issues, talking shop when people want to hear heart, the Democrats fail and fail again because they rarely can put an attractive face on their politics. The party of the people is the party with no personality.

The lesson here isn’t that one type of politicality is better than the other. It’s the recognition that both attitudes exist, and all people fall somewhere on the spectrum of caring more about who did it or caring more about what happened. I don’t think we’ve paid enough attention to that split. And I think politicality, and not liberal versus conservative, is the bleeding heart of our political dysfunction, the ultimate cause of gridlock.

What is your politicality? Do you care more about what happens or more about who did it? Look deep in your soul and figure it out. Then try to move, just a little, to the opposite pole. Somewhere in there are the right policies fronted by the right leaders. Without both, nothing happens. Nothing good, that is.