Tribal Failings of ‘Super-group’ US
The world is seeing the unfolding of deleterious identity politics challenging liberalism in both international and domestic arenas. Yale Law School Professor Amy Chua explains here the failures of US foreign policy in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and Chavez’s Venezuela, and the rise of the Donald Trump phenomenon, through the prism of what she calls “tribal politics” — a distinctive group politics based on not national but more primal group identities such as ethnic, regional, religious, sectarian, or clan identity. Her argument is straightforward: US foreign policy tumbled in these countries for failing to understand local tribal politics. But why? Chua finds her answer in America’s own distinctive historical experience: Because it is a super-group, a distinctive kind of group, in which membership is open to individuals of any background, but that binds them with a strong, group-transcending collective identity. But the widening chasm between the tribal identities of the country’s haves and have-nots is driving America to display the destructive dynamics of tribal politics, which contributed to propelling Trump into office. To get its foreign policy right, Chua thinks, it must grapple with political tribalism abroad; domestically it needs a group-transcending, integrative national identity capacious enough to resonate with, and hold together, Americans of all sorts.
To get its foreign policy right, the US must grapple with political tribalism abroad.
Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations By Amy ChuaPenguin Press, 2018, 304 pages, $16.57 (Hardcover)