One of the most familiar mottos of the United States of America is E Pluribus Unum, a Latin phrase which translates to “out of many, one”. The term applied to the founding of the country in that the original 13 colonies joined together to form a single nation. The phrase also suggests that we are one nation with a national identity, where citizens assimilate and become “Americans” with unified ideals. Likewise, the Pledge of Allegiance provides that America is one “indivisible” nation
But the question that is being raised by a number of people is whether America might be a nation (a republic) that is breaking apart and becoming — or has become — so divided into non-assimilating and polarized groups and subgroups that it needs a new Latin motto: Ex Uno Multi, or “out of one, many?” (Thank you, Latin-English online translator and dictionary). It is interesting that the terms used by many of those who ask the question are “tribalism,” “new tribalism” and “neotribalism”.
There have always been groups or tribes in America. They have been based on religion, ethnicity, language, national origin, employment of the members, class and economic status, geography and other things that make the groups attractive to their members. However, over the years since the country was founded, the members of those groups have also viewed themselves as national citizens, as Americans, and have had an allegiance to the country and its ideals. There was always the idea that we were a nation, that we needed to be united as a people and as a country.
In modern America, there are many separate, opposed and conflicting groups, and subgroups of those groups, including alt-right groups, alt-left groups, pro-Trump groups, anti-Trump groups, “pro-establishment” groups, “anti-establishment” groups, America-first groups, pro-globalist groups, pro-vaccination groups, anti-vaccination groups, pro-gun ownership groups, anti-gun ownership groups (the gun issue has moved to the front again — as it should — because of the recent horrendous school shooting in Florida), and other groups holding various views. Several years ago, the political groups used to be simple to identify. There were basically two, the Democrats and Republicans, with some spin-offs of the two, along with a few non-“mainstream” groups.
In present-day America, the Democrats and Republicans are more complicated but can still usually be divided by major policies, and each has its own set of talking points. The Democrats generally favor a woman’s right to choose, gay marriage, gun control (including the outright ban of certain assault or mass-shooting weapons) and diversity. And they typically believe that there is global warming caused by humans. The Republicans generally favor the right to life, the right to bear arms (without much or any regulation), marriage only between a man and a woman and tight immigration controls. And they question whether “climate change” (if it indeed exists) is caused by humans. There are also subgroups among many of the above groups, including the political parties. There are Bernie Sanders Democrats, traditionally liberal Democrats, and moderate Democrats. There are Tea Party Republicans, traditionally conservative Republicans, and moderate Republicans. Each of those groups have additional dividing lines, and both parties have some members who are in favor of — or opposed to — free trade or some modification of trade rules to protect certain jobs, big/small business, government-sponsored health care, labor unions, big/small government, more military spending, more social spending, limits on immigration, etc.
Most of the current groups are held together by ideology, opinions and group interests, including economic interests. Some are single-issue tribal groups, and some are multi-issue groups. Often, the groups are in open conflict, have distrust or fear of one another, and will not communicate or have an open discussion with the other “opposition” groups. If they do engage in communications, the dialogue is frequently not open or respectful. It is like “us” versus “them,” and “we are right and they are wrong,” with no tolerance for any alternatives or compromise, and the idea that the other, conflicting groups are bad or evil and must be defeated.
Too many of the groups and subgroups resist modifying any of their thinking, and they can easily find support (and supporters) for their positions and thinking, and disapproval of the positions and thinking of those they oppose.
What is alarming is when any of the groups truly separate themselves from their larger communities, advocate hostility or hatred toward — and conflict with — other tribes, or put the interests of the group above the interests of America as a nation. “United we stand, Divided we fall” is the American ideal, along with E Pluribus Unum.
I believe (or at least hope) that the “tribes” can be re-united in part in order to save the union, but it will take a lot of work and the willingness of Americans across the country. We need to seek some common ground, keep things in perspective, get back to some basic uniting values, and recognize that there is nothing wrong with the tribes being civil toward one another and looking for appropriate compromise.
We can start by “lightening” up and using some humor to break through barriers. And we need to reach out to, interact and respectfully communicate with, and really listen to “other” groups and people, examine our own preconceptions and consider the ideas and opinions of others, figure out ways to be hopeful and help resolve the problems confronting the nation.
Additionally, we can work on helping each other and making our States and America better through some sort of community service. We also need to have open, candid, rational and courteous (polite and non-confrontational) conversations about the common good, and about what we can agree on (such as the importance of putting the country above parties and politics, and the importance of free speech and freedom with regard to religious choices) or where compromise is possible, the main ideals that first united — and hopefully continue to unite — the States and the significance of the American experiment.
Opinions expressed in The Nevada Sagebrush are solely those of the author and do not necessarily express the views of The Sagebrush or of its staff. Seth Bell studies political science. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @salsuppe.