Let’s not be separated by tribalism

By Frank Carroll


I’m probably not alone in my disquiet about the state of our national discourse. We seem to be increasingly dysfunctional from the national level right down to little ol’ Custer.

L. Ron Hubbard was a masterful science fiction writer whose thinly veiled series of books on Battlefield Earth seem prophetic in hindsight. He wrote about a deeply cynical society in which public relations experts ruled the day, where the ends justified the means. As a public relations practitioner years ago, I was offended by his world view. Today, he looks like a genius.

Either President Trump read Hubbard and became an enthusiastic acolyte, or Hubbard saw the handwriting on the wall and just predicted the inevitable. In any event, life is imitating art in every direction, again.

What gets lost in the mess is who we are and what we accomplished in a couple of short centuries.

Let me just say that I acknowledge our shared history. America as we know it today is a creation of war and atrocities, of colonization and conflict. As with everywhere else on earth, our history is one continuous fight with inevitable winners and losers. American Indians have a very different view from my own, and rightly so. My people came here under extreme duress. They survived terrors and injustice. The list of complaints and trials on all sides is long and pitiful, and there is no solving it.

What is not in question is where we are today. Like most societies and peoples, we find ourselves on an imperfect ship at sea with no good alternatives. Some of us are enjoying the voyage more than others. Some of us have better quarters than others. Some of us are in charge, and some of us are in the boiler room.

At the risk of great censure, I submit that our American ship-of-state is the best chance we have, collectively, to improve the future for everyone. Conditions today are infinitely better for most human beings across the planet than conditions three hundred years ago. We can expect that conditions in 300 years will be better than things are today. It’s just how things work, for the most part.

I think most Americans feel we’re on the right course, generally. The alternatives are stark and unattractive. The sea of people headed here on foot from Honduras, over 2,500 miles on foot, would agree. There is no mass migration to the Ukraine or Uganda. No tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to be free are headed to Kenya, Pakistan or Nicaragua.

When our country lights the signal fires for war, we show up under arms and we do our duty. It’s fascinating to me how we respond to war. Right or wrong, left or right, young or old, people from Pine Ridge and Denver, from Detroit and Jackson sign up and show up, over and over again. We respond to selective service and we volunteer.

A former Marine recently said that “America is not at war in Afghanistan. The Marine Corps is at war in Afghanistan. America is at the mall.” Maybe. The miracle is that we continue to move forward together, mostly, in spite of all that divides us. And it is right that it should be that way.

What is often forgotten in the mad plunging around to find and maintain our identity is that we have a bedrock of principles that guide us unerringly in the darkness. Old dead white men wrote them down, but they apply to everybody.

First is that the individual and individual rights matter. It’s why we have a Bill of Rights. It’s why we have laws and why we have guarantees that protect us as individuals. The Bill of Rights is not about what color we are, or where we came from, what god we pray to, or what gender we claim. The Bill of Rights is a document unique in human history. That document established the ascendancy of individuals and the rights of one person, even in the face of majorities who disagree with that one person.

Second is that a federal government is the crystallization of the Bill of Rights in a form that guarantees individual liberty by force of arms. We had to fight a civil war to establish the power of the federal republic to override any local considerations in pursuit of individual liberty. That issue is settled.

Watch “Napoleon Dynamite” if you’re confused about who we are, with all of our warts and imperfections. The movie is incredibly insightful. It’s not clear how the main characters can possibly prevail against all the forces arrayed against them, but they do. Only in America.

I regret our history of slavery. It’s a shame we chose war to settle the West and seize ancestral lands of peoples who were already here. I don’t care who you sleep with. I don’t care what color you are. I don’t care about your religion or which gender you claim.

Tribalism was the rule across the planet when we established the Constitution. The Constitution and Bill of Rights do not countenance or support tribalism or multiculturalism as we think of those things today. Our model of society is not based on our separateness, but on our individuality, and our willingness to conform to our founding principles, everything else aside.

Our past is past. Our future is uncertain. Our now is right in front of us.

Now, it’s time for all of us to recommit to our Bill of Rights and our Constitution, and to our form of government including our imperfect president, Congress and Supreme Court. It’s time to get over yourself and move on. There’s room for all of us, and, together, we cannot be defeated. Separated into little tribes with special considerations merely tears us apart.

We welcome who we can, and we expect you to leave your past behind and join us. We are loyal to each other and to our friends and hope to spread freedom in the world. Go vote at this midpoint in the election cycle and be thankful for the miracle of our America that we created together, not so long ago.