Reminder: Political Parties Are Granfalloons, and So Is America

Posted on November 13, 2016 by


There is far more that divides America than unites us—and that’s all right.

There is more that divides women than unites women. There is more that divides immigrants than unites immigrants. And there’s more that divides any single political party than unites it.

And that’s all right—because a cohesive collective of human beings is by definition a fraud.

Donald Trump’s Election Night victory felt to many of us like a physical shock to the system—like walking past a mirror and seeing a face there other than your own.

But ultimately, which is more abnormal: a president you don’t identify with or one with whom you do?

In 2008, when I saw then-candidate Barack Obama speak at a campaign stop in New Hampshire, I felt a euphoric kind of “we-ness” with the future president and his supporters. No drug in history has caused as much global devastation as that kind of euphoria—the addictive high of belonging to a movement.

The more you identify with a group or individual, the less need you have to think critically. From Vox:

Simply put, for most people, attachments to parties and candidates are more profound and more fundamental than attachments to issue positions. People take cues from high-profile party leaders and bring their opinions in line with what figures they admire think.

Even before Donald Trump’s devastating triumph last Tuesday, this election had already forced many Americans to finally (at long last!) question the what and why of the parties and leaders they identified with. What is the Republican Party when the Republican nominee is waxing against free trade and for increased infrastructure spending? What is the Democratic Party when the Democratic nominee voted for the Iraq War and pocketed millions from Big Banks?

Libertarians are lucky: infighting and double-guessing is what we weirdos do. That Gary Johnson disappointed libertarians only mildly (by being a doofus who failed to take advantage of the opportunity of three centuries, and also, I guess, Nazi cake) is evidence that libertarians were never successfully, cohesively organized to the point where most of us felt caught up in the moment—and so much the better for us.

That’s because the Libertarian Party is a granfalloon—the word Kurt Vonnegut uses in Cat’s Cradle for a false karass in the fictitious religion Bokononism. A karass is a group of people who are linked in a cosmically significant way; a granfalloon is a group of people who place undeserved significance on a superficial connection. Vonnegut writes:

Hazel’s obsession with Hoosiers around the world was a textbook example of a false karass, of a seeming team that was meaningless in terms of the ways God gets things done, a textbook example of what Bokonon calls a granfalloon. Other examples are the Communist party, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the General Electric Company, the International Order of Odd Fellows—and any nation, anytime, anywhere.

The Republican Party is a granfalloon. The Democratic Party is a granfalloon. And the United States of America is a granfalloon.

So while it’s worth worrying about the actual consequences of a Donald Trump presidency, there’s no value in clinging to that vague existential dread—that “This is the president of my country?” weltschmerz. Because there’s more that divides America than unites us—and that’s all right.

As Bokonon invites us to sing along with him:

If you wish to study a granfalloon
Just remove the skin of a toy balloon