Although I sometimes enjoy Tucker Carlson’s commentaries on Fox News, last week Tucker offered an opinion that had me shaking my head in wonder. He started out reasonably, by condemning the violence and rage now being unleashed by the Trump-hating left. He showed pictures of masked demonstrators vandalizing buildings in downtown Washington and at Berkeley; and he stressed the difference between stating political dissent and encouraging insurrection, with the active or at least implicit support of the anti-Trump media and the Democratic Party. According to Tucker, such behavior indicates that the left has no interest in engaging the other side in discussion. And it is also intent on changing the nature of our polity, if necessary, by force.
Tucker then asserted that the kind of change the left now wants and is acting violently to achieve will turn us into a society “in which minorities will contend more and more for power.” Neither reason nor compromise will be possible in such an American future, for our critical differences will “no longer be ideological but tribal.” In this dystopian society all minorities will vie for advantage; and no one will care what other groups have to say. Once America descends into this tribal war, we will cease being the kind of political society we’ve been until now. We’ll “become like other countries,” in which inter-tribal strife is the rule and where no one listens to reasoned arguments from other groups.
Unfortunately this warning doesn’t make sense. Not all non-American societies are wracked by internal tribal conflict. Many are made up mostly or entirely of one ethnic group. Presumably Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, China, and Japan do not fit Tucker’s parochial picture of “elsewhere.” Tucker’s comments remind me of American immigrants whom I met as a kid who would tell me that everyone outside the United States was starving. One had to wonder how many inhabitants of the rest of the world these acquaintances of my parents had met.
It’s also ridiculous to claim that tribal identities had nothing to do with American politics before the current left came to monopolize our media and universities. I recall when party tickets for municipal officials in mayoral races in New York City were expected to include an Irishman, Italian and Jew. When the late Mayor Daley ruled over Chicago, he selected ward heelers on the basis of their ethnic identification with the Chicago neighborhoods to which they were assigned. Not only were the Poles, Italians, Jews, Irish, and Lithuanians given ethnically compatible liaisons with the mayor’s office. Black politicians in Chicago also got their start as ethnic representatives in the very expansive Daley-machine. Naturally the top posts went to Daley’s fellow-Irish but that’s the way American ethnic politics operated back then in the Windy City. Politics were much more tribal than, to use Tucker’s preferred state of mind, ”ideological.” But pardon my own preference: I didn’t mind the way Daley cut the municipal pie. It was sure better than having “ideological” warfare—or seeing the white working class shortchanged as in Hillary’s version of “inclusiveness.”
I’m also utterly puzzled by Tucker’s fear that we’re all becoming tribal. Does this apply to white Southerners who are watching Confederate monuments—celebrating the heroes under whom some of their ancestors fought—being torn down? Are these Southern “tribalists” receiving the same recognition as Black Lives Matter or do they enjoy the same respect as black politicians who say they’re offended by Confederate symbols? One might think, following Tucker’s logic, that in a society where all tribes are contending for power, Southern whites who valued ancestral symbols would be receiving the same encouragement as those on the other side. But of course this is not the case, because Tucker’s view of our present problem misses the point. Although tribalism has had serious historical consequences, it is not the same thing as multiculturalism. Tucker would do well to understand that the kind of tribalism permitted by multiculturalists is extremely selective and is not handed out to all groups in the same measure.
For years I’ve read and heard establishment Republican and neoconservative commentators warn that if we give in to the demands of black and Latino nationalists, we’d be opening the door to right-wing white tribalism. This has not happened to any significant degree; and where it has, the phenomenon has not resulted from following the multicultural ideology promoted by the left.
Clearly multiculturalists do not value all tribal identities equally. In fact they happily divide us into victimizers and victims. Presumably white Southern male heterosexual Christians are not intended to enjoy the same collective right to an historical identity as, say, a black lesbian or a Muslim gay activist.
It is possible that those with the low victim numbers may rebel at some point (this has already begun to happen with the alt-right) and demand the same identitarian rights as those held by our current preferred victims. Although this is a possible reaction to how the left rules, it has nothing to do with what the left teaches or the logic of its selective tribalism. What the left wishes to implement is toxic, because it weakens and then abolishes traditional cultural and social identities. It also reduces human beings to subjects of an ongoing therapeutic experiment. But let’s not confuse this with an African tribal war or the Balkan tinderbox that led to World War One.
I would finally note that the multicultural left hopes to end all tribalism by obliterating or at least downgrading the historic culture of those who are viewed as most responsible for ethnic prejudice, namely white Western peoples and the nations to which they’ve belonged. Progressive members of these groups are helping the left by removing crosses and other Christian symbols from public buildings, and by taking down monuments in New Orleans and Charlottesville, Virginia that offend minority leaders. Meanwhile the educational system is being reshaped in a way that justifies the claims of those holding high assigned victim cards.
In Germany the accommodation of the “other” has gone so far that there is absolutely no national culture that Muslim immigrants can assimilate into. The German minister of integration, a Turkish lady, defines as the official German culture “the diversification of diversity (die Vervielfältigung der Vielfalt).” Further, the German minister of defense, Ursula von der Leyen has just given orders that no German military installation will be allowed to bear the name of any past German war hero, including Frederick the Great. The Berlin City Palace, which was constructed in the early fifteenth century and is now being restored from damage caused by Allied war bombing, will be lacking a feature that it displayed until 1945; it will not have the cross that long rested on the cupola put back. This symbol, it has been explained by the municipal government, may not please Berlin’s Muslim minority. Multiculturalism has not been good for German tribalism; nor has the American version benefited our one-time ethnic majority.
Pace Tucker Carlson, there’s nothing to suggest that what the left here and in Western Europe wants is a general renewal of tribalism. Selective tribalism for designated minorities is not the same as encouraging all ethnic groups in a society to assert identitarian rights. Neither the ideology nor the practice of multiculturalism would cause me to believe otherwise.
Paul Gottfried is Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for twenty-five years. He is a Guggenheim recipient and a Yale PhD. He writes for many websites and scholarly journals and is the author of thirteen books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents. His books have been translated into multiple languages and seem to enjoy special success in Eastern Europe.