The Biscayne Times

Jul 21st
Tribalism Rears Its Ugly Head PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Ise, BT Contributor   
March 2018

Here’s a small step toward countering closed minds

TPix_JohnIse_3-18en years ago, as a Biscayne Park resident, I experienced the bare-knuckled, below-the-belt tactics of village politics. During the commission elections, a shadowy group called the Biscayne Park Homeowners Association distributed anonymous flyers that launched an aggressive attack on the current slate of incumbents, with personal invectives aimed at the director of code enforcement.

A few years later, I’m living in Miami Shores and watch as a Village Council election has candidates run as “old guard” versus “new guard,” with voters being nudged to align themselves with one bucket or the other. In El Portal elections, issues of race, ethnicity, and nationality are always close to the surface.

To live in modern times seems to mean we live, at least politically, in tribes. I’ve long wondered how the Sunnis and Shiites, Hutus and Tutsis, Spaniards and Catalans, Northern Irish Catholic and Protestants came to hate one another so much they turned to murder and even genocide.

But then the mind wanders back to local interactions. The tenor of political discourse during election season in our tiny villages quickly dials up to 100, thanks to the corrosive amplification of social media and a segment of the most engaged who may once have been cordial to others at Publix, but who have come to view their opponents as not merely wrong, but as immoral.

During the last Miami Shores Council elections, one candidate’s house was cased for potential code violations, and the Village manager’s image was used on Facebook to attack another candidate in a case that involved a child tragedy.

None of this behavior is appropriate, not to mention…oh, you know…normal. Yet the fear is, these tactics will multiply in the future. “There is no crime, absolutely none, that cannot be condoned when ‘our’ side commits it,” wrote George Orwell of the philosophy of the tribal politico. Or as candidate Trump said in January 2016, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

The most obvious manifestation of modern tribalism at the national level is extreme partisanship. Hardline Democrats and Republicans view one another as such threats that the goal seems to be the total annihilation of the other. Mutual respect for democratic norms and institutions, in which we move forward in compromise and moderation for the collective good, has given way to absolutism.

Encroaching on the BT’s Jack King territory, I maintain that much of this has been magnified by the elevation of Trump. I find my daily thoughts consumed by the man and his antics, trapped in his Twilight Zone, as Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi describes it. Every day another outrage sparks an inner rage, even as I fully know there are more important things in life to occupy me.

The unending, unyielding profane invective and coarseness infect my psyche in ways I struggle to overcome. “Rinse, outrage, repeat…a fatal mind loop.” That’s Taibbi’s diagnosis of my mental state.

Not that Trump hasn’t earned the animus. There’s his unhinged tweeting, the serial lying, the babbling assaults on the media “atrocities” and “fake news,” labeling Haiti a “shithole,” the demonization of political foes, even Hillary Clinton after all these months.

Need I add the tacit acceptance of white nationalist violence in Charlottesville and joking about groping women’s bodies in the Access Hollywood tape? When evangelicals can tolerate a Senate candidate accused of child molestation and then brush off hush-money payments to a porn star -- truly, Orwell’s tribal prophecy has arrived.

This is a true degradation of our civic culture, but there’s worse still. Put aside eroding norms, degraded institutions, bad behavior, and the poor role model for today’s youth. Arguably, the president’s gravest sin is directing fear and loathing onto already disenfranchised groups, particularly undocumented immigrants, and Muslim Americans.

Nobody objects to immigration restrictions and controlled borders. But using political rhetoric and levers of the state to instill fear in millions who, other than their immigration status, are law-abiding residents and hard-working employees, or to push hatred of a religious minority, is a terrible phenomenon.

Millions of immigrants illegally came to this country to escape poverty, understanding there was menial work to be had that few Americans were willing to do. But now we have stories of immigration agents routinely boarding Greyhound buses to interrogate those suspected of being undocumented, a chemist from Bangladesh arrested while taking his daughter to school, or a Detroit man from Mexico with no criminal record forced to bid a tearful farewell to his wife and children after 30 years. And something new -- fear -- prevails.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement acting director Thomas Homan has said as much, claiming undocumented immigrants “should be afraid” under this administration and pointing to 37,734 arrests of “noncriminal” immigrants in 2017. Is the forcible deportation of DACA Dreamers in the foreseeable future, now that Trump says it will fail?

Likewise, the calls to ban Muslims from entry and Trump’s “recollection” of a fictitious story in which “thousands and thousands” of Muslims danced on Jersey City rooftops after the 9/11 attacks all have one nefarious goal: to promote loathing and hatred.

Thus, we get a recent bomb threat against a Miami Gardens mosque, with a phone message of the perpetrator saying, “I hate you Muslims. You Muslims are terrible. I hate you people.”

What is the concerned citizen to do? As Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.” Make a conscious, mindful effort not to succumb to tribal impulses.

While you may share a dim view of Trump, resist the anti-Trump histrionics. Trump is more insult comic than fascist dictator. Also, his supporters are a varied, heterogeneous bunch, deserving of civility and respect, and their concerns merit addressing. Admittedly, transcending our own tribal instincts requires constant vigilance.

Another way to “go high” is to show all that you are welcoming to your Miami neighbors, near and far, of every origin, race/ethnicity, and persuasion. The Miami Shores Community Church has picked up on the national “We’re Glad You’re Our Neighbor” movement. Started among Mennonite churches in the Northeast to counter the anti-immigrant narrative, thousands of yard signs have been springing up in front of houses around the nation -- yet strangely not in immigrant-rich Miami.

The Miami sign proclaims, in different languages, “No matter where you’re from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.”

Picking up and displaying a hopeful message might be a tiny first step toward recovery.

It just may be the sign for our times.


“Welcome Your Neighbors” yard signs are available for $10 (which covers printing costs) at Miami Shores Community Church, 9823 NE 4th Ave. Call Harold Sloan-Marrero: 305-759-3445.


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