Both Democrats and Republicans have been accused of tribalism for their refusal to cooperate legislatively for the nation’s common good.
But exactly what is meant by “tribalism” anyway?
Generally defined, tribalism is “the tendency of individuals with similar backgrounds, interests and needs to band together for mutual security and cooperation.” Humans seem to have an inborn urge to form groups based on common needs, concerns, fears and loyalties. And, as with other ambiguous terms, tribalism can have both positive and negative implications.
Until recently our human need to form associations was usually met by churches, civic groups, college fraternities/sororities, labor unions, fraternal orders and social clubs. But today many of these organizations are either defunct or are fast losing their relevancy. Among the few groups still attracting members are political parties. But they often abandon their original philosophy and principles.
President Lyndon Johnson’s 1960s civil rights legislation caused a mass exodus of Southerners from his own Democratic Party where they had comprised a significant conservative voting bloc since before the Civil War. And after World War II the Republican Party began attracting fewer moderates. Today “Republican” and “Democrat” have become mere synonyms for “conservative” and “liberal.”
Throughout our history most legislative accomplishments have involved some form of compromise. But today’s “hell no, never!” attitude has made reconciliation and cooperation nearly impossible. Everyone is dead-certain their way is not just the right way, but the only way. There’s no longer any middle ground for compromise and few signs of reviving it.
When President Obama took office in 2009 the economy was foundering as it never had since the Great Depression. Another stock market crash appeared to be just around the corner. But through political skill, including compromise, he was able to push through the legislation needed to turn things around by the fourth year of his first term. Since then we have experienced steady economic and job growth. But in his second term intractable Republican tribalistic opposition prevented any further corrective legislation being enacted, especially improvements to Obamacare.
During his presidential campaign Trump ranted about the sad state of the nation under Obama: the failing economy, raging unemployment, the flight of American businesses to off-shore tax havens, the failed NAFTA agreements with Mexico and Canada and the overwhelming influx of illegal drugs and criminal aliens across our borders. But one glaring thing was missing from his rantings: He never supported his accusations with documentation, facts or numbers, not even once. Does that make a statement about him? About us?
And how could Trump get by with making such outlandishly wild claims when the true facts are so easily verified? Because he relies on his support base believing his (dare I say it?) “fake news” without ever verifying it.
As I’ve stated previously, President Obama inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression and turned it around in less than four years. That is a fact that is easily checked — that is, if anyone is actually interested. And while you’re at it check on exactly when our unemployment rate first began to drop. You might be surprised.