The Hazards of Excessive Political Party Loyalty
As a lifelong Raiders fan, I am intimately familiar with the potential hazards of excessive loyalty to a team. I grew up in northern California when the Oakland Raiders were one of the most dominant teams in the National Football League. I remained loyal to them when they moved to Los Angeles and won their third Super Bowl in eight years.1 As a loyal Raiders fan, I felt obligated to root against rival teams, like the Kansas City Chiefs or Denver Broncos. My loyalty seemed to require me to root against the rivals, even if I had previously admired their players or coaches. Of course, a committed fan remains loyal not just during winning seasons; loyalty to your team continues through losing seasons, heartbreaking losses, and shifting locations (such as moving back to Oakland and then to Las Vegas). This is not unique to being a Raiders fan, but can apply to any team. Motivated by a seemingly tribalistic need for identity and belonging,2 loyalty to a team can cloud our good judgment, objectivity, and acceptance of other teams’ successes. I have learned that unchecked—or blind—loyalty to a team is a perilous road.
As I have passively observed the increasingly contentious party politics in the United States over the last two election cycles, many Americans seem to have become ensnared by party loyalty in the same way that I may have been ensnared by Raiders loyalty. Unfortunately, excessive party loyalty is much more perilous to the Army and the Nation than unchecked loyalty to a sports team. I recommend that all Army professionals, particularly those of us in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps family, carefully check our loyalty to political parties to ensure we avoid the often unseen or unappreciated snares of unchecked party loyalty.
The Army Ethic, described as “the Heart of the Army,” sets the standard for Army professionals.3 This standard explains the source of our identity and where our loyalty should be directed. “Living the Army ethic inspires our shared identity as trusted Army professionals with distinctive roles as honorable servants, Army experts, and stewards of the profession.”4 Trust is an integral part of the Army Ethic, and loyalty is the first of the Army Values. The Army Value of loyalty means to “bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States, the Army, your unit, and other Soldiers.”5 As Army professionals, we should take great care to ensure that loyalty to a political party does not overshadow or interfere with our loyalty to our Army team.
Army professionals must safeguard relationships with teammates by ensuring party politics do not erode trust within the team. There are clear rules that establish the boundaries for political speech within the Army workplace.6 Army professionals should also be aware that expressing or displaying loyalty to a political party can degrade trust of subordinates, peers, and even senior leaders. As with rival sports teams, opposing political parties can easily develop into a rivalry that undermines cohesiveness and trust within an office or unit. Once eroded, that trust can cause rifts in relationships, which can be difficult to repair.
In addition to discussions and displays in the workplace, Army professionals should be aware that political social media posts and other partisan expressions in public forums can easily erode trust and create friction within an Army team. Partisan posts in social media have been a concern for years.7 Unfortunately, this trend seems to be a continuing concern for the Army.8 All Soldiers and Army Civilians have the duty to be leaders, followers, and stewards of the Army profession, accountable to each other and to the American people.9 We should ensure that loyalty to a political party does not interfere with that duty.
Every Service member is free to associate with political parties within the limits of law, regulation, and policy.10 Army professionals should be well-informed of the political environment to ensure they understand the impact of policies on the Army’s mission. Nevertheless, we can be well-informed without being viewed as active partisans in a political fight.11 It is important to recognize that restraint often has real value, as exercising the full degree of our rights has the potential to cause significant damage to an Army team. In his farewell address, the first Commander in Chief, President George Washington, warned “against the baneful effects of the Spirit of Party, generally.”12 President Washington said the spirit of party “agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one party against the other, [and] foments occasionally riot & insurrection.”13 He charged it is “the interest and the duty of a wise People to discourage and restrain [the spirit of party].”14
Several years ago, while I was a student at the Command and General Staff College, an Army senior leader described how General Dwight D. Eisenhower refrained from partisan politics during his Army career. Inspired, I decided to make a concerted effort to step back from loyalty to any political party. After a short while, I found my patience and ability to listen to all sides of a political issue grew, my objectivity seemed to increase, and my focus shifted from the good of my team to the good of the Nation. Temperance, it turns out, increases a person’s tolerance for considering opposing viewpoints. The empathy gained from stepping away from blind loyalty is invaluable for a successful leader because fervent loyalty tends to leave little room for considering the “other”—whether it is a different sports team or varying political views.
As Army professionals, let us focus our loyalty less on political parties and more on the Constitution of the United States, the Army, our units, and our Army teams. The Army Ethic teaches us that Army professionals “accomplish the mission with mutual trust as a cohesive team of Soldiers and Army civilians, collectively demonstrating the characteristics of their profession and earning the trust of their fellow citizens.”15 Prudently focused loyalty can reinforce a culture of trust and build stronger Army teams. From now on, I will try to apply these lessons so I can avoid the perils of excessive loyalty to the Raiders—lest I undermine trust with the Chiefs fans on my Army team.16
1. Timeline—Raiders Historical Highlights, Las Vegas Raiders, https://www.raiders.com/history/timeline (last visited June 29, 2021).
Donald Green et al., Partisan Hearts and Minds: Political Parties and the Social Identities of Voters 24–26 (2002) (discussing party identification).
U.S. Dep’t of Army, Doctrine Pub. 6-22, Army Leadership fig.1-2 (1 Aug. 2019) (C1, 1 Nov. 2019) [hereinafter ADP 6-22].
5. Id. para. 1-71.
U.S. Dep’t of Def., Dir. 1344.10, Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces (19 Feb. 2008) (governing political activities of Service members); The Hatch Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 7321–7326 (governing political activities of Federal employees). See also 2020 Political Activities Training: What You Need to Know for the Upcoming Election, The Judge Advoc. Gen.’s Legal Ctr. & Sch. (27 July 2020), https://tjaglcspublic.army.mil/2020-political-activities-training.
7. See Dianna Cahn & Meredith Tibbetts, Army Officer Under Fire for Inflammatory Social Media Posts, Stars & Stripes
(Sept. 28, 2017), https://www.stripes.com/news/us/army-officer-under-fire-for-inflammatory-social-media-posts-1.490206.
8. See, e.g., Davis Winkie, Army Battalion Commander Under Investigation for Political Social Media Posts, Army Times (Oct. 22, 2020), https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2020/10/22/army-battalion-commander-under-investigation-for-political-social-media-posts/.
9. ADP 6-22,
note 3, para. 1-71.
supra note 6.
11. Cf. Lieutenant Colonel Jess R. Rankin, Officers Should Vote Early and Often, Army Law., no. 3, 2019, at 87 (arguing Army professionals will more effectively defend the Constitution if they participate in the political process).
12. George Washington, U.S. President, Farewell Address (Sept. 19, 1796), https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-20-02-0440-0002.
15. ADP 6–22,
supra note 3, para. 1-71.
e.g., Sergeant Major Manuel Ortiz III, Command Paralegal, V Corps, Fort Knox, Kentucky.