Tribal Fail­ings of ‘Su­per-group’ US

Global Asia - - BOOK REVIEWS - Re­viewed by Tae­hwan Kim

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)

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