Do We Live In A Tribal World?
In the 21st century, it can be difficult to categorize the kind of world in which we live. The current issue of Foreign Affairs asks and answers that question with several excellent essays. One in particular caught my eye. Yale Professor Amy Chua, famous for her books like “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” argues that our world is tribal.
The piece is not particularly long and is a fascinating read. Professor Chua succinctly and coherently explains why the policy makers in the United States failed to see the importance of tribalism, ethnicity and other identifiers and instead relied on concepts like ideology and nation states in several foreign policy blunders. This failure is most notable in the Vietnam War and the War on Terror.
With regards to Vietnam, ….because U.S. policymakers completely missed the ethnic side of the conflict, they failed to see that virtually every pro-capitalist step they took in Vietnam helped turn the local population against the United States…If the United States had actively wanted to undermine its own objectives, it could have hardly have come up with a better formula.
Since U.S. authorities stubbornly viewed the Vietnam War in the ideologies of capitalism and socialism, and ignored the real, tangible ethnic realities in the country, they actively undercut their own goals with their policy. What a deep and thought provoking argument. Much bloodshed and material waste could have been avoided if this had been realized sooner.
While the sections on foreign policy have great insights, Professor Chua’s analysis of the ‘Trump Tribe’ has even more. The Trump Tribe includes many ordinary Americans who have seen power and wealth slip away from them during demographic and economic shifts. On Election Night 2016, President Trump promised to never forget these men and women again. In other words, his tribe.
Professor Chua notes that the ‘coastal elite’ class, whose members include Wall Street titans, Silicon Valley innovators and many of the media. This group is ‘culturally distinct and insular’, leading many middle class Americans to view them as ‘indifferent or hostile to the country’s interests.’
As the coastal elite class consolidates more power and wealth into its tribe, the Trump Tribe puts more and more faith into their leader. As Mrs. Chua astutely notes, “When the American dream eludes them (the Trump Tribe)-even when it mocks them, they would sooner turn on the establishment, or on the law, or on immigrants and other outsiders, or even on reason, than turn on the dream itself.
Mr. Trump is filling the void these self-proclaimed cosmopolitan and culturally inclusive elites have neglected. The elites seem to care about every group accept their less fortunate American citizens. Although the cycle of elites vs. the commoner has occurred many times in both world and U.S. history, this recent division may be different.
Professor Chua concludes with the most explosive and gut wrenching point:
Moreover, to an extent that American elites may not realize, their own status has become hereditary. More than ever before, achieving wealth in the United States requires an elite education and social capital, and most lower-income families can’t compete in those areas…..The collapse of upward mobility in the United States should be viewed as a national emergency.
Hereditary status. Let that sink in for a moment. Hard work, grit and a decent education are no longer enough. We are drifting to a neo-feudalist society in which classes are being determined before we are even born. What kind of America is that? Where is the American Dream?
Instead of hearing about the death of the American Dream, about what do we hear? With regards to politics, most of the news concerns petty squabbling over idiotic or comparatively less important matters like the First Lady’s jacket, Trump administration officials being asked to leave restaurants or the same old rhetoric at a rally.
I repeat Mrs. Chua’s words: the collapse of upward mobility in the United States should be viewed as a national emergency. She is 100% correct. Whenever you find yourself caught up in a political debate, ask yourself how important it is. Odds are, it will not be as important the decline and death of the American Dream and social mobility.
Some politicians, like Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and President Trump, have attempted to address this depressing reality, at least in theory. Nevertheless, the vast majority of our political class acts like the other members of the coastal elite and does nothing to remedy the problem. Instead, we get garbage like I mentioned earlier.
The average citizen is animated, ready to go and pulverize anyone who disagrees with him or her about Mr. Trump’s recent tweets or Mrs. Trump’s latest fashion decision. But if they spend all their time arguing until they are blue in the face about these events, how will they have any time to notice that the American Dream is disappearing and fight for it?
As I have pointed before and will undoubtedly do so again, so much of politics is a distraction from unpleasant truths like these. Do yourself a favor and dig deep. You may not like what you find, but knowledge is half the battle. Without an informed citizenry, there is no hope to revitalize the American Dream.
Let us hope that American can become one big tribe again, leaving these acidic divisions behind.
Originally published at theprimacyofpolitics.blogspot.com on June 25, 2018.