Thursday, July 28, 2016

Conservative tribalism, which places loyalty to the "tribe" over loyalty to country, was on flagrant display at the Mike Hubbard criminal trial in Alabama

"Yella Fella" Jimmy Rane: Part of Mike Hubbard's tribe
The Mike Hubbard trial in Alabama, which ended with the former House Speaker being convicted on 12 counts of violating state ethics law, clearly was a major legal and political event in the state's history. But the trial also was a virtual greenhouse for sociological trends that threaten the state's prosperity going forward.

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."


Anonymous said...

I had never thought of it in these terms, but I think you make an interesting point, LS. Rane, Burton, Brooke . . . they all might as well have said, "We are in the same tribe as Mike, and we don't think state laws should apply to him, or us."

Anonymous said...

I work in public schools, and I've had a similar experience with parents. You discipline Johnny or Janie, no matter how mildly, and the parent arrives at your door to go berserk. You explain what Johnny or Janie did to violate classroom rules or harass another student, and the parent doesn't care. They don't want the rules applied to their kid.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to note that Bush tried to impose democracy on Iraq and Afghanistan, two countries riddled with tribalism, and he left our country riddled with tribalism. Worst . . . president . . . ever. And Trump probably would make Dubya look like Thomas Jefferson.

Insurance Geek said...

This I can guarantee: If a child had gotten hurt on your property, one of those parents would have been the first to sue you. Ms. "It's God's property" probably would have been first in line. They would not have sued God; they would have sued you.

This might sound like a minor deal, involving kids and toys and stuff. But believe me, it can turn into a major financial issue. Your homeowners' premiums could have skyrocketed. If the injury was severe, you could have been dropped altogether as an insured. I've seen this kind of thing happen multiple times.

The number of headaches this could have caused you is incalculable. Your neighbors were not only tribalists (I'll take your word on that), but they were incredibly inconsiderate, thoughtless, and clueless.

legalschnauzer said...

Thanks for your insights, IG. Our insurer was State Farm. I've often wondered if I should have called them, maybe asked if they would write a stern letter, telling the neighbor to keep himself and his brethren off property in which they had a financial interest.

Instead, I called a lawyer named Bill Lewis, and he wrote a warning letter to McGarity, but ultimately, it did no good. If State Farm had threatened legal action, perhaps it would have been more effective. What do you think?

Insurance Geek said...

That might have helped, LS, it's hard to say. You probably would have contacted your agent, and some agents are reluctant to rock the boat on anything. You might have had better luck contacting the Birmingham office in Homewood, but then you get into a bureaucracy, and that can be difficult.

In my view, had you contacted State Farm, they should have taken action. As you say, they had a financial interest in your property and any lawsuit was going to eventually land on their desk. They should have taken preventive action, but my experience has been that insurance companies aren't very good at taking preventive action. Their mindset is to see a problem pop up and then react. They are reactive, not preventive.

Anonymous said...

My favorite part of the post:

"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?"

That tells me you were dealing with a tribe of arrogant pricks, who wanted something for nothing. They probably point fingers at "welfare queens," but they are a bunch of lazy bums themselves.

Anonymous said...

Get off my lawn!

Anonymous said...

"Of course, I'm going to believe my son."

Any parent who said that to me would get this, "Keep your kid off my property and keep him as far away from me as possible."

legalschnauzer said...

I hear ya, @6:31. This was a classic case of parental arrogance. This woman was saying, "This is my child, and he goes to a Christian school, so he could not possibly lie."

Robby Scott Hill said...

Profits have always driven conflict. Abraham Lincoln could have purchased the freedom of every slave in the Confederate States for less than the cost of a few months of the Civil War. However, slave owners in the border states, including Ulysses S. Grant, could not accept the idea of Southerners "getting a windfall" to stay in the Union when they weren't leaving the Union & didn't want to lose their slaves. Neither was the prospect of massive numbers of unemployed, free Blacks (who they couldn't control) moving to their states, voting & competing for jobs acceptable. Yes, the Civil War was fought over slavery, but not in the way it was represented to us in school textbooks. It wasn't to free all the slaves, but whether it would be the Border State or the Confederate State slave owners who got paid the most money during the gradual elimination of slavery. It's a similar situation with this gradual elimination of private healthcare our nation is experiencing. Never before have so many medical doctors & nurses become lawyers, legislators & state governors. The medical profession is struggling to protect its investment. This really hit home in Alabama with the Trial of Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard which showcased a medical doctor turned Governor (we can't figure out if he's really a dermatologist or a gynecologist due to his love of female body parts) who refused to expand Medicaid & his Medicaid Administrator as they struggled to distance themselves from Hubbard & law firms whose partners & clients included successful medical doctors whose profit margins were in decline. At least we know Bentley loves pussy. If I worked for the state again, I'd feel more comfortable around him than all those closeted, gay Republicans who might up & grab your butt, touch your dick or text you a picture of their penis which was going on all the time when I worked for the state. Goat Hill is not a place for kids.

Anonymous said...

You sir are the definition of a psychotic narcicist. Who writes a blog about events that occurred almost 25 years ago and puts people names and intimate details in them? Do you relive this on a daily basis? Are you one of those crazy people that just cant let things go? It sounds like you seriously need a hobby or something better to occupy your time with. Or better yet, you need a psychiatrist with a great deal of patience who can afford to listen to your sad little story. I was directed to your blog as a joke by a friend who found you on accident, and while I found it wildly entertaining that you are so pathetic, I also could not help but feel bad for you and your sorry small life. Good luck 'getting the word out there!'

legalschnauzer said...

Events that occurred almost 25 years ago? What on earth are you talking about? Your advice means so much, coming from someone who is too cowardly to state his name.

If you have the guts -- and I know you don't -- contact me at or (205) 381-5673. BTW, if your "friend" thinks this blog is a joke, you need to get smarter friends. LS has been named among the top 50 law blogs in North America, the only one on the list not tied to a law school, law firm, or law-minded association. How many law blogs are there in North America? I don't know, but I'm guessing 200,000, and that's probably low. Better guess is 500,000 plus. And this is top 50? That's no joke. Your friend might be, and you seem to be, but this blog isn't.