American Political Tribalism

When Americans hear about “tribalism,” they often imagine a faraway land where one    ethnic or religious faction mercilessly persecutes another for generations. Only recently have many in this country begun to appraise the extent of tribalism at home  Laila Lalami

This blog is a result of my reading the article, Our Gang, by Laila Lalami in The New York Times Magazine, July 1, 2018. This blog is also being written during a time when the Supreme Court’s liberal and conservative imbalance is in the news, and when partisan politics is at an extreme. And this is a time when we are increasingly  appraising the extent of tribalism in American politics.

Laila Lalami says American politics is now made up of republican and democratic gangs deciding to fight it out. Here are some of the descriptive quotes about the two tribal political gangs from her article: A zero-sum triallist contest (Amy Chua). People are retreating into their own little cocoons, (Jonah Goldberg). Identity politics — tribalism by any other name – could turn the nation into a divided country of ideological ghettos (Orin Hatch). I like the metaphoric analogies.

Tribalism leads to “Myside Bias – Self-Serving Bias In Politics” (My blog  10 – 18– 17). The myside bias is also known as the confirmation bias. I believe this major belief tendency — to believe to be true what we want to be true — is the reason for today’s political turmoil. In the American two party political system, it is easy to be “myside partisan”. All you need to know on any given subject is which side you’re on. Andrew Sullivan. This could also be called the “bandwagon bias”.

America is not a “melting pot” — and never was. What we seem to forget is that tribalism apparently has always existed in American politics. For most part of America’s history, one tribe has held power, deciding who was allowed to settle the land and who could be dispossessed, who was free and who was enslaved, who had the right to vote and who did not.  Laila Lalami.

Does the fact that tribalism has always existed in American politics mean that it will always exist? It is probably true that the confirmation bias, myside bias and bandwagon bias will always exist in human nature. It seems to me that a tribal mindset (us and them) will always exist. Racism in America could be considered a tribal mindset. Liberal and conservative Supreme Court judges could be considered tribal mindsets. Tribal mindsets exist today. I am sure we could identify several other tribal mindsets today.

So, since we have always had tribal mindsets, will we always have American tribalism?

I have met the enemy and it is tribalism.  Jon Udell

Does this mean we are the enemy?


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  1. Eugene Unger says:

    Always ! Is correct. That’s just politics. My way! How could you have another? Washington yes’ Lincoln killed for his way , Kennedy killed for his way. Although he has done more to lift America up and begin to solve big problems here and abroad, he is a hated man by many and loved by others. Politic as usual in our country. Love it or leave it.



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