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The Dangerous Impact of Tribalism in American Politics

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Exploring the divisive nature of tribalism in modern political discourse.

description: an anonymous image depicting a divided crowd waving banners and flags, symbolizing the tribalistic nature of modern politics with a backdrop of a government building.

Tribalism in politics has become a defining characteristic of the American landscape. It was the latest example of the Republican former president employing a potent driver of America's partisan divide: group identity. Decades of political polarization have fueled the flames of tribalism, leading to an "us vs. them" mentality that permeates every aspect of society.

The Hannah Arendt Center Conference Tribalism and Cosmopolitanism responds to the undeniable fact that tribalism is real, appealing, and dangerous. We ask: If tribalism is so ingrained in human nature, how can we overcome it to create a more inclusive and united society? The conference brings together experts and scholars to delve into the roots of tribalism and explore potential solutions to combat its negative effects.

This week, three North Carolina counties rejected election protests from House incumbent Michael Wray, D-Northhampton, highlighting the deep-seated tribal loyalties that often dictate political decisions. Tribalism is not limited to national politics but can also be seen at the local level, where personal affiliations and group identities play a significant role in shaping electoral outcomes.

Tribalism is baked in the cake. I mean, I'm no evolutionary biologist — I should have studied harder in school — but tribalism seems natural. Humans have a tendency to form groups based on shared beliefs, values, or interests, and this instinctive behavior often translates into political affiliations that reinforce tribal loyalties.

Indeed, in his farewell address, Founding Father George Washington presciently warned that partisan tribalism could be the nation's undoing. The toxic nature of tribalism has the potential to erode the very foundations of democracy, as individuals become more focused on defending their tribe rather than working towards the common good.

Why has this existential threat to humanity become political? To address this question, one should consider that humans evolved as tribal beings, relying on group cohesion for survival. However, in the modern era, this evolutionary trait has been weaponized for political gain, leading to increased polarization and animosity between opposing factions.

Social scientists say polarization is increasingly based on a visceral dislike for the opposition rather than extremely divergent policy. This shift towards identity-based politics has exacerbated tribalism, creating an "us vs. them" mentality that hinders productive discourse and collaboration.

Molineaux is the former co-publisher of The Fulcrum and president/CEO of the Bridge Alliance Education Fund. His work focuses on promoting bipartisanship and bridging the divide between tribal factions, emphasizing the importance of finding common ground to move past entrenched political rivalries.

For almost all of its thirty-year duration, it seemed quite natural to think of the conflict in Northern Ireland, unfolding just a few dozen miles away from the mainland of the United Kingdom, as a quintessentially tribal conflict. The deep-rooted divisions between Catholics and Protestants underscore the destructive power of tribalism in shaping political outcomes and perpetuating intergenerational conflict.


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