A few years ago, those in the know were telling us in no uncertain terms that the EU model was the future — and that America had better get used to playing second fiddle to the economic giant that a united Europe presented. I found it hard to imagine that Europe would ever be able to overcome rivalries and tribal allegiances that span centuries, even millennia. I also did not believe that the socialist model, which might work in a small, homogenous culture, would be able to sustain a vast economic federalism. Watching what is happening in Europe now tells me that my common sense was infinitely more valuable than anything scholars and economists had to offer.
The whole EU collapse has gotten me thinking about tribalism. One of America’s greatest strengths, right up there with the Constitution and the continent’s natural bounty — is that tribalism didn’t take hold here as it did in Europe. From the beginning, we were too fluid a society. As soon as we got a good hate going against one immigrant group (the Irish, for example), two things happened: First, America’s lack of a class system, economic flexibility, and geographic mobility, resulted in significant numbers of the hated group leveraging themselves up into the middle and working class. Second, a new hated class invariably came on board (e.g., Jews or Italians or Puerto Ricans or Asians), restarting the same cycle.
This malleable system, with hatreds that couldn’t last long enough to become entrenched, was aided by our participation in two popular 20th century World Wars. (I use the word “popular” to distinguish them from the Korean War, which was greeted with exhaustion, and the Vietnam War and Iraq, which the Left used to create social divisions.) As Israel proves daily, boot camp is the best melting pot of them all. During the World Wars, the Brooklyn Jew and the Minnesota Swedish farm boy might not have liked each other, but they came into contact in structured environment, and fought for the same cause.
One of the most poisonous things the Left has done to America in the past 40 years is to create institutional tribalism. Instead of a distant government that kept grinding on, whether old immigrants hated the Irish or the Jews or the Italians or the whatever, the Left got the government involved in designating victims. Suddenly, the government is focusing like a laser on blacks and gays and differently-abled and whoever else is the Leftists’ victim célèbre. We now have a government that doesn’t discriminate against blacks, it discriminate for them (and for all the other designated victim classes, women included), with equally heinous results. Government should be above the tribal fray, not creating it.
Before anyone calls me on it, I know perfectly well that our Constitution, as originally written, did get involved in tribalism by treating Southern blacks as a separate class. I don’t think I need to remind anyone, though, what a horrible outcome that official discrimination had. Both the early Constitution and the Jim Crow era (when the South decided to perpetuate the Founders’ original mistake) are perfect illustrations of the disasters resulting from allowing governments to pick one tribe and discriminate against another.
As an aside, the only reason women haven’t been destroyed by this government discrimination is because of kids. Children have needs that, so far, our government isn’t meeting, so Mom still has to act like a responsible grown-up.
Tribalism is dangerous. Legislated tribalism is disastrous.