Tribalism is here to stay. So let’s focus on growing the ‘American Tribe.’

“We’re tribal — we evolved for tribalism.  It’s how we created society. We’re not doomed to always be fighting each other, but we’ll never have world peace.” — Jonathan Haidt.

One constant throughout history is war.  When one tribe competes with another for resources, conflict is the inevitable result.  Most Americans my age have been raised to believe that world peace is achievable, so long as humans can learn to love and respect each other unfailingly.  While world peace is a beautiful and noble goal, it won’t be achieved in our lifetime.  We must be pragmatic enough to realize that over 150,000 years and five or ten thousand generations, tribalism has been baked into human DNA.

If other variables are equal, a group which demonstrates greater cohesiveness will always out-compete one which is less cohesive.  Jonathan Haidt, whom I quote above, is an author and Ph.D. in social psychology.  In his book ‘The Righteous Mind,’ he explores the evolution of tribalism throughout history and why it continues to influence each of us even today.  He argues that successful societies are the ones most efficient at turning modest amounts of resources into the most offspring.  For someone who studied evolutionary biology and ecology in college this isn’t a difficult concept to grasp; it is a concept which holds true across the millions of plant and animal species covering the globe.

For tens of thousands of years, argues Dr. Haidt, the shared morality among the humans belonging to specific tribes has been a powerful force which both binds and blinds.  Tribe loyalty binds us to those in our group, giving the group an evolutionary advantage.  But tribalism also blinds us to the plights and views of outside groups, and makes it difficult for each of us to acknowledge that there are good people on the other side.

Human DNA is tribal DNA.  Attempts to change that in a single generation are futile; we probably couldn’t change it in a hundred generations.  This is a challenge for American Democrats, as in modern times our party has proven to be more inclusive for outsiders and less religious than the GOP.  It seems our principles should attract more members than the Republican tribe, and they probably would if every American arrived at age 18 as a blank political slate.  But we all know this isn’t the case, as one’s upbringing and religious background are major factors in political affiliation.  The shaping of individual political ideologies starts in utero, not at college.  This puts Democrats at a big disadvantage, as our ideological openness dampens the fervor with which it is believed and practiced.

Pamela Melroy, George Zamka, Scott Parazynski, Stephanie Wilson, Douglas Wheelock, Paolo Nespoli, Daniel Tani

The human brain is hard-wired to respond more forcefully and instinctively to fear and emotion than logic and reason.  Republican political strategists are keenly aware of this fact, and are playing it to the bone.  Modern die-hard Republicans approach the political landscape with an “us versus everyone else” outlook which steels their unity as a tribe.  Thanks to our reverence for free thought and dissent, we Democrats are more loosely associated with each other’s personal ideologies.  This lessens the cohesiveness of the Democratic tribe.

How can Democrats overcome this?  Fortunately, Republicans have recently opened a wide door for us.  Led by Donald Trump, the current cadre of GOP power-players are abandoning many of the American ideals upon which their party was built.  Four of the principles recently jettisoned by the modern GOP are decency, transparency, a romanticization of the free press, and an uncompromising commitment to American independence.  Each of these can now belong exclusively to Democrats if we choose to openly embrace them.  We can use them to recruit all voters who consider themselves part of an ‘American Tribe.’


The leader of the GOP is currently married to his third wife, has had numerous well-documented affairs, paid hush money to mistresses, openly mocks the disabled, and is an avowed misogynist and xenophobe.  He told us that white nationalists are very fine people after riots in Charlottesville left one dead and others wounded.

A team will emulate the behaviors of its leader, as evidenced by WH aide Kelly Sadler’s mocking of American hero John McCain.  The comment has not been met with a single rebuke (let alone a dismissal) from President Trump or COS John Kelly.  In the words of GOP ‘flash in the pan’ Anthony Scaramucci, “A fish rots from the head down.”  When it went ‘all in’ on the rotten head of Donald Trump, The Republican Party relinquished any claim to an advantage in decency.


RNC Deputy Finance Chairman and the President’s personal attorney Michael Cohen accepted numerous payments totaling millions from Pharma execs, a Communications giant, aerospace fat cats, and Russian oligarchs.  Instead of draining the swamp, the GOP has chosen The Swamp Thing as its leader in order to build a bigger dam.

“There’s two people I think Putin pays,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy in a leaked 2016 recording,  “Rohrabacher and Trump. Swear to God.”  GOP Speaker of the House Paul Ryan replied, “No leaks. This is how we know we are a real family here.” Toss in EPA chief Scott Pruitt’s first-class globetrotting on the backs of taxpayers, Ben Carson’s absurdly adorned HHS office, and photos of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and wife practically knocking boots on stacks of cash, and it becomes clear that we have an administration devoid of both patriotism and shame.

In case you have forgotten, President Trump still hasn’t released his tax returns, despite a promise to do so once an audit was complete.  Too ashamed that the world would find out he is struggling with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity, Trump had his doctor sign a fraudulent letter which he himself dictated and sang the praises of his own “astonishingly excellent” health.

When one couples Trump’s hate/hate relationship with the truth and Michael Cohen’s propensity to funnel and launder money, is anyone surprised that Trump doesn’t want us to know who is funding him?  The modern GOP is led by a career con man who is as transparent as the mob, and arguably as dirty.


A free press and commitment to truth

President Trump lies about six times per day, and these are just the publicly told and tweeted instances.  Is it any wonder that Trump hasn’t held a solo press conference since February 2017?  He is utterly terrified of the truth, and when he calls the free press the enemy of the American People, he really means that the press is his own personal enemy.  For any powerful figure who spews lies and wishes to grift in secret, the press is like a police helicopter wielding an 18,000 lumen spotlight.

Mr. Trump has become so adversarial with the press that he recently threatened revoking credentials of WH media members who refuse to serve as his personal fluffers.  When it comes to attitudes toward and treatment of the press, even an amateur history student sees the parallels between Trump and past authoritarian leaders.  The free press is America’s “fourth estate,”  and was so revered by the Founding Fathers to be protected by the First Amendment.  A free press isn’t partisan — it is American.

The sanctity of American independence

There is a good reason that the Declaration of Independence preceded the Constitution.  Without independence, a nation may propose all the laws and institutions it wants, but those laws would be negotiable, and the institutions powerless.  Independence is the bedrock upon which America was built.

Rep. Eric Swalwell has compiled an impressive list of current and former Trump Administration and campaign members with ties to Russia.  This is important not just because it highlights the level of foreign influence which currently exists in top level American government.  We must also understand that the United States was actively sanctioning Russia when the foreign interlocutors found their willing accomplices here in America.

From the millions funneled from Putin to Manafort in Ukraine to Kushner’s “forgotten” Kremlin contacts which prevented his security clearance, Swalwell is accurate when he points out that with every tree you shake in this investigation, a Russian falls out.”  Putin and the Kremlin didn’t work furiously to aid Team Trump out of the kindness of their hearts — they did it to achieve a soft American stance on Russia which would enrich their country and weaken NATO.

When an administration is bought, compromised, or otherwise unduly influenced by a hostile foreign government, it, by definition, cannot act in America’s best interests.  Why would Erik Prince and Team Trump need a back channel of communication with the Kremlin if they weren’t attempting to subvert the American State Department and Intel Community?

With each passing day, it becomes more clear that Team Trump willfully sacrificed American independence for fame, fortune, and power.  This should infuriate every American who understands our country’s history and founding principles.

Growing the American Tribe

Above, I have outlined some non-partisan, American principles that Dems can promote to increase our appeal and grow our tribe.  If these seem like moderate points, it is because that is intentional.  We have seen Republicans like Rick Wilson, Max Boot, Richard Painter, Cheri Jacobus, Steve Schmidt, and others furiously criticize the un-American tenets of Trumpism. Many disgusted long-time GOP stalwarts have left the party altogether.  While it is unlikely that all dissatisfied Republicans will change their party affiliation to Democratic, it would behoove us to court their votes by making them feel welcome.

Of course we should include sensible gun reform, worker’s rights, and the empowerment of women, minorities, and the poor in our platform.  We will absolutely continue our commitment to environmental protection.  But why not draw in more Americans with these simple, unifying principles?  They are gifts left behind for us by a hijacked political party on a furious and careless quest to cement power.  We may now claim them, for they are ours alone.

Above all, we should quit trying to end tribalism in politics, because it just isn’t possible.  The tribe we are fighting against does not share our morals.  It is angry, inspired, powerful, and cohesive.  This makes it a formidable foe.  Considering the power Trumpists currently possess, it won’t do to merely outnumber them.  We already outnumber them.  To defeat them, we will need to vastly outnumber them AND demonstrate furious stamina.  With this in mind, we must grow our own tribe by making it an American one.  If we don’t do so soon, there isn’t going to be much left to fight for.

2 thoughts on “Tribalism is here to stay. So let’s focus on growing the ‘American Tribe.’

  1. Yes. This is an interesting look at the uncomfortable concept of “tribalism.” The four principles you discuss say so much about our daily drive to continue fighting this assault on our decency.

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