We are witnessing a reversion to tribalism around the world, away from nation states. The same pattern can be seen even in America – especially in American politics.
Before the rise of the nation-state, between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, the world was mostly tribal. Tribes were united by language, religion, blood, and belief. They feared other tribes and often warred against them. Kings and emperors imposed temporary truces, at most.
But in the past three hundred years the idea of nationhood took root in most of the world. Members of tribes started to become citizens, viewing themselves as a single people with patriotic sentiments and duties toward their homeland. Although nationalism never fully supplanted tribalism in some former colonial territories, the transition from tribe to nation was mostly completed by the mid twentieth century.
Over the last several decades, though, technology has whittled away the underpinnings of the nation state. National economies have become so intertwined that economic security depends less on national armies than on financial transactions around the world. Global corporations play nations off against each other to get the best deals on taxes and regulations.
News and images move so easily across borders that attitudes and aspirations are no longer especially national. Cyber-weapons, no longer the exclusive province of national governments, can originate in a hacker’s garage.
Nations are becoming less relevant in a world where everyone and everything is interconnected. The connections that matter most are again becoming more personal. Religious beliefs and affiliations, the nuances of one’s own language and culture, the daily realities of class, and the extensions of one’s family and its values – all are providing people with ever greater senses of identity.
The nation state, meanwhile, is coming apart. A single Europe – which seemed within reach a few years ago – is now succumbing to the centrifugal forces of its different languages and cultures. The Soviet Union is gone, replaced by nations split along tribal lines. Vladimir Putin can’t easily annex the whole of Ukraine, only the Russian-speaking part. The Balkans have been Balkanized.
Separatist movements have broken out all over — Czechs separating from Slovaks; Kurds wanting to separate from Iraq, Syria, and Turkey; even the Scots seeking separation from England.
The turmoil now consuming much of the Middle East stems less from democratic movements trying to topple dictatorships than from ancient tribal conflicts between the two major denominations of Isam – Sunni and Shia.
And what about America? The world’s “melting pot” is changing color. Between the 2000 and 2010 census the share of the U.S. population calling itself white dropped from 69 to 64 percent, and more than half of the nation’s population growth came from Hispanics.
It’s also becoming more divided by economic class. Increasingly, the rich seem to inhabit a different country than the rest.
But America’s new tribalism can be seen most distinctly in its politics. Nowadays the members of one tribe (calling themselves liberals, progressives, and Democrats) hold sharply different views and values than the members of the other (conservatives, Tea Partiers, and Republicans).
Each tribe has contrasting ideas about rights and freedoms (for liberals, reproductive rights and equal marriage rights; for conservatives, the right to own a gun and do what you want with your property).
Each has its own totems (social insurance versus smaller government) and taboos (cutting entitlements or raising taxes). Each, its own demons (the Tea Party and Ted Cruz; the Affordable Care Act and Barack Obama); its own version of truth (one believes in climate change and evolution; the other doesn’t); and its own media that confirm its beliefs.
The tribes even look different. One is becoming blacker, browner, and more feminine. The other, whiter and more male. (Only 2 percent of Mitt Romney’s voters were African-American, for example.)
Each tribe is headed by rival warlords whose fighting has almost brought the national government in Washington to a halt. Increasingly, the two tribes live separately in their own regions – blue or red state, coastal or mid-section, urban or rural – with state or local governments reflecting their contrasting values.
I’m not making a claim of moral equivalence. Personally, I think the Republican right has gone off the deep end, and if polls are to be believed a majority of Americans agree with me.
But the fact is, the two tribes are pulling America apart, often putting tribal goals over the national interest – which is not that different from what’s happening in the rest of the world.
By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, March 23, 2014
“If You Go Back To 1933″: Another Billionaire With A Victim’s Complex And An Unhealthy Nazi Fixation
Ben White and Maggie Haberman report this morning that the political winds seem to have shifted lately in the One Percenters’ direction. Whereas a few months ago, economic populism looked like it’d give Democrats a boost in 2014, and polls showed strong public support for addressing economic inequality, Wall Street and its allies are feeling more confident.
In two-dozen interviews, the denizens of Wall Street and wealthy precincts around the nation said they are still plenty worried about the shift in tone toward top earners and the popularity of class-based appeals…. But wealthy Republicans – who were having a collective meltdown just two months ago – also say they see signs that the political zeitgeist may be shifting back their way and hope the trend continues.
“I hope it’s not working,” Ken Langone, the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot and major GOP donor, said of populist political appeals. “Because if you go back to 1933, with different words, this is what Hitler was saying in Germany. You don’t survive as a society if you encourage and thrive on envy or jealousy.”
Oh for crying out loud. Do we really have to deal with another billionaire with a victim’s complex who sees a parallel between economic populism and Nazis?
If this sounds familiar, it was just two months ago that venture capitalist Tom Perkins caused a stir in a Wall Street Journal letter, arguing that the “progressive war on the American one percent” is comparable to Nazi genocide. “Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930,” he wrote, “is its descendent ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?”
He later said he regretted the Kristallnacht reference, but nevertheless believed his point had merit.
Despite the controversy surrounding Perkins’ bizarre concerns, Home Depot’s Ken Langone apparently decided to embrace the exact same message.
This shouldn’t be necessary, but as a rule, Nazi comparisons in domestic political debates are a bad idea. But they’re an especially egregious mistake when they’re rooted in a ridiculous fantasy.
Whether Langone understands this or not, the scope of contemporary economic populism is often quite narrow. In a political context, it tends to focus on stagnant wages, regressive tax policies, and safeguards against the worst of Wall Street excesses. As a policy matter, we’re generally talking about a higher minimum wage, extended unemployment benefits, food stamps, access to affordable medical care, and lately, expanded access to overtime compensation.
Billionaires may have substantive disagreements with these concerns and their proposed remedies, but to see them as somehow similar to Nazi genocide is more than a little twisted.
The more annoying phenomenon isn’t an American mainstream that believes the wealthy can afford to pay a little more in taxes, but rather, coddled billionaires benefiting from a modern-day Gilded Age feeling sorry for themselves.
As we talked about in January, it’s comparable in a way to a curious strain of political correctness. The more progressive talk about the concentration of wealth at the very top, tax rates, poverty, and stagnant wages, the more some of the very wealthy tell each other, “Oh my God, they may be coming to get us.”
If liberals would only stop talking about economic justice, maybe the richest among us wouldn’t have their feelings hurt.
Or maybe billionaires should just let go of this fantasy, stop seeing themselves as victims, and abandon the disgusting notion that American liberals have something in common with Hitler because they’re concerned with the consequences of growing economic inequality.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 18, 2014
“Clarence Thomas’ ‘Sadness’ On Race”: How Things Have Changed, The Views Of “My Grandfather’s Other Son”
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas gave a speech in South Florida yesterday, where the jurist, one of only two African Americans to ever serve on the high court, reflected on racial issues.
“My sadness is that we are probably today more race and difference-conscious than I was in the 1960s when I went to school. To my knowledge, I was the first black kid in Savannah, Georgia, to go to a white school. Rarely did the issue of race come up,” Thomas said during a chapel service hosted by the nondenominational Christian university [Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach].
“Now, name a day it doesn’t come up. Differences in race, differences in sex, somebody doesn’t look at you right, somebody says something. Everybody is sensitive. If I had been as sensitive as that in the 1960s, I’d still be in Savannah. Every person in this room has endured a slight. Every person. Somebody has said something that has hurt their feelings or did something to them – left them out.
“That’s a part of the deal,” he added.
At a minimum, the Justice’s comments appear to be at odds with his 2007 autobiography, which paint a different picture of Thomas’ youth. Yesterday, Thomas said race was “rarely” an issue growing up in Savannah,” but as Adam Serwer noted, Thomas wrote several years ago that as a kid in Savannah, “No matter how curious you might be about the way white people lived, you didn’t go where you didn’t belong. That was a recipe for jail, or worse.”
Thomas even said he left his seminary in 1968 after feeling “a constant state of controlled anxiety” over being a racial minority.
That said, Thomas’ broader point about Americans being more conscious of racial issues may be true, though it’s not entirely clear why he, or anyone else, would consider this a discouraging development.
Jamelle Bouie’s take rings true.
Let’s say that Americans are more sensitive about race (and gender, and sexuality) than they were in the 1960s. This is a good thing. If blacks in Jim Crow Georgia were willing to answer to “boy” and shrug at “ni**er,” it’s because they risked danger with any other reaction.
But that’s changed. We’ve made progress. And now blacks, as well as other minorities and women, feel entitled to public respect in a way that wasn’t true in the 1960s. In turn, there’s a public recognition that we should be sensitive to the concerns of these groups. This isn’t a setback – it’s progress.
Jon Chait added:
Maybe the reason race came up rarely is that the racial situation in 1960s Georgia was extremely terrible.
For instance, for the first 14 years of Thomas’s life, Georgia had zero African-Americans in its state legislature. Majority-black Terrell had a total of five registered black voters – possibly because African-Americans were so satisfied with their treatment that they didn’t see any reason to vote, or possibly because civil-rights activists in Georgia tended to get assassinated.
So maybe “reluctance to bring up racial issues” is not, in fact, the best measure of a society’s racial health.
By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, February 12, 2014
What is the greatest fear of conservatives when they warn against the dangers of big government? It is that a leader or the coterie around him will abuse the authority of the state arbitrarily to gather yet more power, punish opponents and, in the process, harm rank-and-file citizens whose well-being matters not a whit to those who are trying to enhance their control.
This, of course, is a quite precise description of what happened when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s aides ordered the closure of some access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in September. Their motivation was political payback. The result: thousands of commuters along with emergency vehicles, school buses and pretty much the entire town of Fort Lee, N.J., were thrown into gridlock.
Using public facilities for selfish ends is the very definition of corruption, which is why this scandal bothers people far outside the conservative orbit. It took months for the episode to hit the big time because so many (the governor claims he’s one of them) had difficulty believing that government officials would act as recklessly as Christie’s gang did — and with such indifference to how their actions would affect the lives of people in northern New Jersey who were bystanders to an insider game.
Christie was finally moved to condemn the indefensible only after the smoking gun emerged in the form of e-mails from his staff and his appointees. Their contents reflected a vindictive urge to squelch all resistance to the governor’s political interests.
And this is the problem Christie hasn’t solved yet. At his epic news conference Thursday, he focused again and again on how loyal staff members had “lied” to him and how he felt personally victimized. What he never explained was why he did not press his staff earlier for paper trails so he could know for certain that all his vociferous denials were true. He didn’t deal with this flagrant foul until he had no choice. Saying he had faith in his folks is not enough. Christie still has to tell us why he did not treat the possibility of such a misuse of power with any urgency.
Even assuming that Christie’s disavowal of complicity holds up, he faces a long-term challenge in laying this story to rest. History suggests that beating back a scandal requires one or more of these assets: (1) a strong partisan or ideological base; (2) overreach by your adversaries; or (3) a charge that doesn’t fit people’s perceptions of you. Christie has trouble on all three fronts.
If Christie has a base, it consists of Wall Street donors, a media fascinated by his persona and relative moderation, and some but by no means all members of the non-tea-party-wing of the Republican Party.
He does not have the committed ideological core that Ronald Reagan could rely on to overcome Iran-Contra. He does not have the Democratic base that stuck with Bill Clinton during his sex scandal because the excesses of a special prosecutor and then of a Republican House that impeached him came to enrage Democrats even more than Clinton’s misbehavior.
What of Christie’s base? Wall Street is fickle and pragmatic. The media can turn on a dime. And the Republican establishment, such as it is, has alternatives. Oh, yes, Christie also has support from some machine Democrats in New Jersey who have made deals with him. But they will be even more pragmatic than Wall Street.
Overreach by one’s enemies is always a possibility, but there are no signs of this yet. Christie’s detractors have every reason to take things slowly and methodically. They will enjoy dragging this out.
And as has already been widely noted, the Christie operation’s penchant for settling scores is legendary. This charge fits the existing narrative about the guy so well that Christie had to say the words, “I am not a bully.” Denials of this sort usually have the opposite of their intended effect.
Christie has one other obstacle, and this may be the most important. A great many conservatives never trusted him, and a tale that plays so perfectly into their critique of government could make things worse. Erick Erickson, the right-wing writer, captured this rather colorfully. People sometimes want a politician to be “a jerk,” Erickson wrote on Fox News’ Web site, but “they want the person to be their jerk,” not a jerk “who tries to make everyone else his whipping boy.”
To win Christie some sympathy on the right, defenders such as former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour quickly deployed the GOP’s first-responder technique of attacking “the liberal media.” But liberals are the least of Christie’s problems.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 12, 2014
“Beyond Polarization To Warfare”: It’s The Broader Acceptance Of Political Warfare In The Conservative Movement That’s Most Alarming
At WaPo’s Monkey Cage subsite today, there’s an important piece by University of Texas political scientist Sean Theriault that gets to a distinction in political attitudes that some of us have been trying to articulate ever since the radicalization of one of our two major parties occurred:
I have been studying party polarization in Congress for more than a decade. The more I study it, the more I question that it is the root cause of what it is that Americans hate about Congress. Pundits and political scientists alike point to party polarization as the culprit for all sorts of congressional ills. I, too, have contributed to this chorus bemoaning party polarization. But increasingly, I’ve come to think that our problem today isn’t just polarization in Congress; it’s the related but more serious problem of political warfare….
Perhaps my home state of Texas unnecessarily reinforces the distinction I want to make between these two dimensions. Little separates my two senators’ voting records – of the 279 votes that senators took in 2013, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn disagreed less than 9 percent of the time (the largest category of their disagreement, incidentally, was on confirmation votes). In terms of ideology, they are both very conservative. Cruz, to no one’s surprise, is the most conservative. Cornyn is the 13th most conservative, which is actually further down the list than he was in 2012, when he ranked second. Cornyn’s voting record is more conservative than conservative stalwarts Tom Coburn and Richard Shelby. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz disagreed on twice as many votes as John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.
The difference between my senators is that when John Cornyn shows up for a meeting with fellow senators, he brings a pad of paper and pencil and tries to figure out how to solve problems. Ted Cruz, on the other hand, brings a battle plan.
That’s probably why Cornyn has attracted a right-wing primary challenge from Rep. Steve Stockman.
The rise of “politics as warfare” on the Right, accompanied with militarist rhetoric, is one that my Democratic Strategist colleagues James Vega and J.P. Green and I discussed in a Strategy Memo last year. We discerned this tendency in the willingness of conservatives to paralyze government instead of redirecting its policies, and in the recent efforts to strike at democracy itself via large-scale voter disenfranchisement initiatives. And while we noted the genesis of extremist politics in radical ideology, we also warned that “Establishment” Republicans aiming at electoral victories at all costs were funding and leading the scorched-earth permanent campaign.
All I’d add at this point is that it’s not terribly surprising that people who think of much of the policy legacy of the twentieth century as a betrayal of the very purpose of America–and even as defiance of the Divine Will–would view liberals in the dehumanizing way that participants in an actual shooting war so often exhibit. But it’s the broader acceptance of political warfare in the conservative movement and the GOP–typified by the perpetual rage against the Obama administration–that’s most alarming.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, January 10, 2014