Photo from Wikipedia.
For generations, the collective character of the United States has drawn from the strengths and traditions of many identities, while still somehow being uniquely “American”.
Today's American culture is one of a developing tribalism; some of this narrowing in our daily circles results from an ever-enhanced technological ability to choose our associations. But some of it is carefully engineered.
Right-wing “thinkers” have been consciously playing with the idea of manipulating American tribalism. On April 8, 2011, Pat Buchanan, the sometime id of the Republican Party, wrote an article in American Conservative magazine in which he opines that our long-held multicultural social model is “risky”. If you believe this, future civil unrest - possibly even civil war - as well as draconian measures to stop the upheaval are not implausible.
There have always been people who identified themselves as politically conservative – Red – and those who identified as politically liberal – Blue. Today, you can choose your brand of information – Red or Blue – and you can instantly tweet, text, comment and blog vocal support of your tribe and your deep distrust and hatred of the “other”.
If you want people to identify with a striving, competing, pull-yourself—up-by-your-bootstraps ethic, in which almost no one is deemed worthy of help and fewer still receive it, it helps to define the “other” that you'll tromp over once you get those boots on. That's why the Red tribe has done a much better job of tribal branding than the scattered, contentious Blue tribe.
The concerted Red effort to make sure that political tribal identity follows race and religion, their consistent and careful portrayal of the poor as lazy losers who will never achieve anything better than ugly shameful scavenging for scraps of dignity, serves a purpose greater than getting Red politicians elected. If the black mom in the inner city is a foreign creature that the rural white mom can't identify with, that rural white mom won't join with her in a fight for better wages or for better health care. Instead, she'll vote against that black mom’s interests, never intuiting that those interests exactly match her own.
After all, no one wants to willingly brand-identify themselves as a loser; if “corporate tribalism” can motivate us to spend hundreds of dollars in pursuit of a branded image, why wouldn't we willingly square off against each other to avoid strongly negative social class connotations? And in the end, if civil unrest ensues – the poor of the middle class against the poor of the lower class, black against white, rural against urban or Red against Blue – what steps would society take? I have to wonder if they are likely to be steps that Pat Buchanan would approve of.