|"Yella Fella" Jimmy Rane: Part of Mike Hubbard's tribe|
We already have examined a concept we call "The New Confederacy" and it's role in the Hubbard case. Now, we turn our attention to "Conservative Tribalism," which might have played an even more prominent role in the trial.
Conservative Tribalism, to a great extent, is at the heart of the legal difficulties that my wife, Carol, and I have experienced for roughly 16 years and gave rise to this blog.
What do we mean by tribalism? Here is one of the most useful definitions I've seen:
Tribalism is the state of being organized in, or advocating for, a tribe or tribes. In terms of conformity, tribalism may also refer in popular cultural terms to a way of thinking or behaving in which people are more loyal to their tribe than to their friends, their country, or any other social group.
For our purposes, the key element is this: Members of a tribe are more loyal to that unit than to most anything else, including their country and its laws, constitutions, and governing concepts. In our experience, tribalism has been particularly evident among those who identify as conservative. But I have little doubt that liberal and moderate tribes are out there as well.
How is this for irony? George W. Bush, our most recent "conservative" president, led us into wars in two countries -- Afghanistan and Iraq -- that have been dysfunctional for decades (centuries?) largely because of tribalism. Bush supposedly tried to bring democracy to countries where it had almost no chance to thrive -- because tribalism was likely to keep it from taking root.
How was tribalism on display at the Hubbard trial? Remember all the businessmen -- Jimmy Rane (Great Southern Wood), Rob Burton (Hoar Construction), Will Brooke (Business Council of Alabama), and more -- who testified that they gave Hubbard "things of value," not because he was Speaker of the House but because they considered him a friend.
In fact, that mantra -- "Mike is my friend; I love him like a brother" -- was pretty much the only defense Hubbard had. Defense attorney Bill Baxley made almost no effort to dispute the prosecution's version of the facts.
What were the business executives saying when they declared their undying friendship for Mike Hubbard? They were essentially saying this: "We are all part of the same tribe with Mike. We do favors for him, he does favors for us, and we all get rich from that arrangement. Alabama statutes might say Mike's actions were criminal, but that's not the case at all. We have the kind of tribal friendship that goes beyond business and politics."
How has tribalism manifested itself in our lives? You might say Carol and I, without ever intending to do so, have crossed swords with the "parental tribe."
Let me make clear that we are not "anti parent." We don't have children, but we've been around enough people who do that we understand, and appreciate, that parenting is challenging and profoundly important work.
But we've discovered that, at least in postmodern America, some parents act like they are members of a tribe. They want to set their own ground rules, and if you question it, they can quickly gather forces and attack with ferocity. If their rules conflict with state and federal laws -- not to mention simple common courtesies -- well that's tough. You are to treat their rules with deference and obedience, or they will make your life miserable and try to banish you from the scene. If you try to argue that they are acting outside the law and societal norms, you are wasting your breath. Certain parents, apparently by virtue of having procreated, are always right -- especially on matters of children and family.
Here's how it played out in our situation: A couple named Larry and Lucille Lisenbee moved in next door to us around 1992. They seemed like nice people and had two young boys, Shannon and Nathan. Larry and Lucille told us they had moved to Birmingham from Mississippi mainly to enroll their children in the private and conservative Briarwood Christian School. That hinted to us that we probably weren't going to be on the same political page with them. But their political, educational, and religious choices were fine with us -- and they were none of our business -- so we looked forward to having a pleasant, neighborly relationship.
They did some nice things for us, and we tried to return the favor. Unlike the criminally inclined Mike McGarity, who arrived on the other side of us about six years later, the Lisenbees asked us if it would be OK for their kids to come on our yard to retrieve balls and such while they were playing. We said that would be fine, and I'm guessing the boys spent more time in our yard than they did their own over a two-year period or so.
Things started to get dicey when we came home from work one day to find Nathan (the oldest boy) kicking balls up against our garage window, intentionally trying to tease and torment our schnauzer, Murphy, who was minding her own business -- inside a pen, in her own garage.
Larry Lisenbee apparently saw this unfold, so there was no question about what happened. The boys and the parents apologized, we accepted their apology, and said we were fine with the boys continuing to come on our yard. In other words, we forgave them once.
For reasons I'll never quite understand, Nathan Lisenbee continued to act out several times on our property, to the point of acting disrespectfully toward both Carol and Murphy. I went over to the Lisenbee home one evening to express my concerns -- but this time I was met with denials and statements that more or less tried to blame any issues on us. When I said that Carol had told me in considerable detail what Nathan had done, Lucille said, "Well, Nathan said he didn't do it, and of course, I'm going to believe my son."
I made a mental note to myself: "If a parent is going to take an 8-year-old's word (I'm guessing at his age) over ours -- about events that happened on our property -- that's a sign of future trouble. If the boy claims I dropped my trousers in front of him, is the parent going to believe that?"
I left that night with this message: "I think we need to take a break from the boys having full access to our yard. If you can think of a solution that would prevent objects from flying over here, we'd be willing to consider that. If their stuff comes over, I would be glad to pick it up when I see it and throw it back. If one of us isn't out, you can call us, and we'll throw it back. But for at least a few weeks, I don't want the boys on our property. We'll see how things go from there."
Well, things didn't go so well from there. Carol, Murphy, and I were going for a walk one night when we came upon Lucille (and maybe one of the boys; I can't remember). We waved at them, and they walked right by us without any acknowledgement -- as if we didn't exist.
I called a day or two later and told Lucille that access to our yard now was denied, permanently. She said that Nathan had admitted to what he had done, and I said that's fine, but a trust had been broken, and our yard was now off limits to their kids.
That's where tribalism entered the picture. We saw Lucille talking in animated tones with several neighbors, Our impression was that she was stabbing us in the back -- and probably failing to note that Nathan had done exactly what Carol said he'd done. This was pretty much confirmed when McGarity moved in on the other side and made several references to the Lisenbees (who had moved by then), claiming that we hated children or some such rubbish.
Before long, McGarity, his kids, and guests were trespassing on our property at an almost daily rate. Our requests that they stay away were met with threats, sassing, and general infantilism from a grown man with two kids.
When our problems with McGarity finally led to him suing us . . . well, we were pretty shook up, especially since the guy had proven that trying to reason with him was fruitless. It was our first experience with being sued, and we did not enjoy it, right off the bat.
The couple that lived across the street, Bob and Karen Caldwell, had always seemed reasonable and pleasant, so we went over to their house one night after receiving the lawsuit. The Caldwells have a daughter, Helen, who attends Yale University (or I assume she still does), so obviously there are some brain cells present in the family. But you wouldn't have known it from our conversation that night.
We mentioned that McGarity's presence since the beginning had been upsetting, after he had sassed and threatened me and built a fence that took up almost 400 square feet of our property. "Roger, Mike's fence wasn't over on your yard," Bob Caldwell said.
Carol and I probably looked like we had seen an apparition. "Bob, you want to look at the survey we had done that shows his fence was on our yard?" Carol said. Bob Caldwell didn't have much of an answer to that, except to claim such encroachments are no big deal -- never mind that you lose the property if you don't do something about it.
I made a mental note to myself: "This guy is so arrogant that he actually thinks he knows more about the status of our property than we do."
At some point, Karen Caldwell chimed in with this: "Well, Roger, it's really God's property."
I had always seen Karen Caldwell as a pretty enlightened, intelligent person, so I was not sure how to respond to such a statement.
I made another mental note to myself: "Best I can tell, Karen, God created our property, your property, all the property on earth -- and any other planets. But last time I checked, our mortgage is made out to Carol and me -- and the mortgage company expects us, not God, to pay it. By the way, where are you and all these other neighbors when it comes time to pay the mortgage, or mow the lawn, or pick up brush, or clean up storm debris? Since all of you seem to want to use our yard, have any of you offered to help pay for it or maintain it?"
What did we learn from the whole unpleasant experience, from which we still are feeling the fallout? To some folks, their parental tribe is more important than your property rights; than local, state, and federal laws; than your basic self worth.
Our property was vandalized at least a half dozen times during this period. Did any of the neighbors express concern about that? Nope. One guy, Rob Murray, almost walked right over Carol and Murphy one morning while we were on a walk. He went out of his way to walk on the wrong side of the street and tried to intimidate my wife and dog. Did he ever apologize? Nope. Will he ever apologize for such disgusting behavior? I guess not, since he died several years ago.
All of this could have been resolved, of course, if any of the parents had acted like an adult and tried to help the kids find an alternative place to play -- perhaps explaining that we had property rights that weren't to be interfered with, that we and our rights were deserving of respect.
That, however, would have taken a little work and consideration on the parents' part. But they didn't want to go there, they didn't want to take responsibility for the kids they had brought into the world. It was easier, and probably more fun, to bully and harass us.
Was that mindset present at the Mike Hubbard trial? I think the answer is yes. I think the mindset was, "Yes, the state has ethics law, but we are all part of the business and political elites. We have important business to tend to, so we shouldn't have to be bothered with laws that govern everyone else."