Tribalism and Violence

Yugoslavia was a quilt stitched together during World War II by the Soviet Union aided by the United States of America. It included historic enemies within its “new” borders including Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. These were, prior to the forced alliance, basically tribal enclaves representing both ethnic and religious factions – Croats, Serbs, Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims. They existed under the iron first of Yugoslavian dictator Marshall Josip Broz Tito – yet another ruthless dictator grown out of the Eastern Europeans’ fascination with Communism.

But despite Mr. Tito’s common bond with the Soviet Union– Communism as a means to totalitarianism – Mr. Tito maintained a distance from Moscow and the criminals that ran the Soviet Union. The maintenance of that distance was due in large part to the very tribal suspicions that he was holding at bay in Yugoslavia.

Although Mr. Tito’s death in 1980 preceded the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1989 through 1992, they both contributed to the civil war beginning in 1990 and ultimately the breakup of Yugoslavia – without Tito there was no unifying leader to tamp down the tribalism of the formerly independent nations (Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia) and there was no backup military repression from the failing Soviet Union as was true in Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968). Age old tribal rivalries rose almost immediately and revenge for decades old atrocities surfaced to demand new atrocities. In the end an uneasy peace has been restored by NATO forces led by the United States. But . . .

The same scenario has played out in Ireland seemingly forever. The British Empire carved out the north end of Ireland to create a Protestant enclave in Catholic Ireland. Despite the sectarian titles, most agree that “the troubles” in Ireland were more about colonial repression by the English, nationalism and historic (tribal) conflicts dating back hundred of years. Again an uneasy peace agreement has been made but there remains that tribal distrust, and fuel has been added to the fire in the form of economic treatment between Great Britain and Ireland. While both Ireland and Great Britain were part of the European Union (EU) the conflict was mild but with Great Britain exiting the EU taking Northern Ireland with it, there are new and greater tensions. The tribal hatreds not only linger but are burnished routinely by current events. And at any moment the opposing sides could take arms once again.

Tribalism is most often described as strong loyalties to ones own ethnic or social group. In its rawest form, it is a “loyalty” regardless of right or wrong but simply because there is a common bond. Historically that bond has usually been born out of common ethnicity, religion or territory. I relate this because of a fascinating new article in The Wall Street Journal (August 26, 2023) by Aaron Zitner. The fundamental principle argued by Mr. Zitner is found in his second paragraph:

. . . Decades of social science research show that our need for collective belonging is forceful enough to reshape how we view facts and affect our voting decisions. When our group is threatened, we rise to its defense.”

Mr. Zitner simply acknowledges that in today’s world conflict is more likely to arise from differences in political views than physical or religious conflict. And because we have allowed government (politics) to intrude so deeply into the regulation of our lives those difference are seemingly as existential as conflicts between tribes, revolutions within nations and world wars effecting not just the participants but all those affected by the interruption of our now global economy.

So today, more than ethnicity, more than religion, more than gender, and more than geography, tribalism has taken on a new face – a face in which people now cluster to find commonality of secular beliefs and fear of those who deny the legitimacy of those beliefs.

Mr. Zitner points out the former President Donald Trump has been a master at mustering the tribal forces of conservative Republicans, while the entirety of the Democrat party has consistently railed against those same Republicans. Both promote the rising tide of political tribalism,

Mr. Zitner notes:

Ahead of his arrest on Thursday in Georgia, Donald Trump repeatedly told his supporters about the legal peril he faced from charges of election interference. But the danger wasn’t his alone, he said.’In the end, they’re not coming after me. They’re coming after you,’ he told a campaign rally.”

And there is a ring of truth in what Mr. Trump says as demonstrated by Democrats use of proprietorial power to not only charge and try Mr. Trump but virtually everyone who served or championed Mr. Trump over the past six years. Included in that number are the people who participated in the riot at the nation’s Capitol. They were charged variously for sedition, insurrection, assault, etc. and stand in marked contrast to the hundreds of nightly rioters in Portland in the summer of 2020 who saw their charges dismissed by Democrat prosecutors. (Just to be clear, there was a riot in Washington DC on January 6 – there is no evidence of an insurrection and quite frankly you would be hard pressed to find three people involved who could spell “insurrection or sedition” or know the difference between them. The majority of those involved couldn’t organize a barbecue let alone a revolution.)

But Mr. Trump does not stand alone in promoting tribalism. Mr. Zitner notes:

Democrats are using the tactic, too, if not as forcefully as Trump. The Biden campaign criticized Republicans in Wednesday’s presidential debate as extreme candidates” who would undermine democracy, and President Biden himself has accused “MAGA Republicans” of trying to destroy our systems of government.”

Add to that the professional liars in Congress who continue to rail about Republicans trying to destroy democracy while they press hard to silence all those with whom they disagree. Just a sampling would include Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) echoing Mr. Biden’s claims that Republicans are trying to destroy our system of government, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) urging people to single out Republicans in public places and demanding they leave, Rep. Adam Schiff D-CA) lying repeatedly about a Hillary Clinton (D) planted story about Russian collusion by Mr. Trump and a host of mainstream media monkeys repeating without verifying all of the Democrats demagoguery.

Demographic data shows that people now move to areas more aligned with their political persuasion – progressive to the West Coast and Northeast states while conservatives to the Mid-west and South. The voter registration and participation appears to reflect that trend. (There is also fear on the right that as progressives have destroyed major cities/states that those fleeing to safer climates bring their political values with them – seemingly unaware that they contributed to the failures of their old communities by supplying and contributing to the very political agendas that caused the demise.)

You would think that the voices of moderation, or compromise and tolerance would arise and punish the political offenders who have fueled this political divide. However, Mr. Zitner’s research has indicated that the intensity of tribalism are far more powerful than the benefits of moderation.

The split in the electorate has left many Americans fatigued and worried that partisanship is undermining the country’s ability to solve its problems. Calling themselves America’s “exhausted majority,” tens of thousands of people have joined civic groups, with names such as Braver Angels, Listen First and Unify America, and are holding cross-party conversations in search of ways to lower the temperature in political discourse.

Yet the research on the power of group identity suggests the push for a more respectful political culture faces a disquieting challenge. The human brain in many circumstances is more suited to tribalism and conflict than to civility and reasoned debate.”

Is there a solution at hand? There are those that suggest that barring Mr. Trump from the 2024 presidential election coupled with forcing Mr. Biden to withdraw by impeachment or otherwise will go a long way in reordering the temperament of the electorate but I doubt that is true. Those standing in the wings on the Democrat side are all progressives with a demonstrated passion for demonizing those with whom the disagree – Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (Socialist-VT). Vice-president Kalamata Harris (D), Govs. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) and Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI), Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and perennial loser Stacey Abrams. And similarly, those on the Republican side include Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Tom Cotton (R-AR ), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Rand Paul (R-KY).

Others have suggested that this is likely to lead to a revolution although when pressed they most often suggest that a “revolution,” as they perceive it, is a momentary incident of violence which shocks the conscience and sobers the electorate. I’m not sure what it takes to “shock the conscience” given the level of violence already existing in most of our major cities – particularly those run by progressives. You would think that one hundred straight nights of rioting, burning, looting, assaults and general desecration of a major city (Portland). But it doesn’t, the prosecuting attorney dismissed the overwhelming majority of cases against the rioters and the people of Portland re-elected the morons who were the root cause of the societal that continues to this date. You would think streets filled with narcotic addicted zombies and businesses routinely looted by flash mobs would be prove enough but San Francisco continues down the path of destruction. Pick a city and you will see most of this repeated. And while prosecutors don’t have the time to prosecute these felons, they seem to be able to find more than enough time to use their often to pursue, persecute and prosecute their political rivals. We are beginning to look more like “banana republics” than the world leader of civilization.  

Where this ends depends on you. Step up.