Amy Chua — the John M. Duff Jr. Professor of Law at Yale Law School, a legal scholar and a writer — delivered Tuesday's forum address. She spoke on the root causes of political tribalism and offered proposals on how the future leaders of America can overcome them.
“We all know that America is in the grip of a vicious political tribalism. ... Partisanship has become toxic, and it’s increasingly difficult for people on different sides of the political aisle to talk civilly about issues like race, gender, climate change and election outcomes.”
Referencing a recent study of children between the ages of 4 and 8, Chua explained that tribalistic tendencies run through our veins.
“We’re hardwired that way. We can’t help it; we need to belong to groups. And once we connect with a group, we tend to want to cling to it, defend it and see it as better in every way.”
While subgroup closeness can be enjoyable in competitive sports and bring families closer together, Chua explained that pure tribalism becomes dangerous when it takes over a political system.
While America has always had “red vs. blue” debates, Chua discussed three reasons why recent bouts of tribalism are particularly toxic.
1. Massive demographic transformation Chua pointed out that the U.S.'s white majority, which has dominated the nation economically, politically and culturally for the last 200 years, has become more diversified. As a result, there is social unease.
“No group in America feels comfortably dominant. Every group — whites, Blacks, Muslims, Christians — they all feel attacked, persecuted and pitted against other groups.”
2. News and social media segregation While news media has had biases and lacked diversity in the past, Chua said many sources were still committed to sharing facts and being objective. However, she explained that many news reporters today make their biases clear, ignore facts and use outlandish claims to gain attention.
"If you write something loving and moderate, no one’s interested. Social media is basically an outrage machine, which creates echo chambers and pushes both sides further apart.”
3. Growing divisions between “coastal elites” and “heartland Americans” Progressive citizens on the coastlines of America and more traditionalist Americans in rural areas are becoming very divided, said Chua.
“We’re at a point where many Americans see people who voted for the other side as immoral, evil and un-American, which is a really dangerous state of affairs if you feel that way about half the country.”
All of these factors contribute to political tribalism and diminish America’s ability to function as what Chua has coined as a “supergroup.”
A supergroup is incredibly rare, Chua insisted, because it not only unites citizens through an overarching identity and inspires loyalty to that identity but also allows smaller subgroup identities (racial, linguistic, ethnic, religious, etc.) to thrive.
“America is a country where you can be Irish American, Syrian American, Japanese American, Mormon American, Jewish American, Cuban American and intensely patriotic at the same time.”
However, political tribalism is diminishing our ability to maintain supergroup status, which allows for beloved communities to be built and maintained.
Chua suggested three ways to create unity and decrease tribalism: first, to protect America’s national identity (primarily regarding the Constitution and its civic values); second, to promote eye-opening experiences among differing demographics; and third, to teach history in a way that condemns past wrongs but is optimistic about the Constitutional principles our nation was founded on.
Echoing the hopefulness of Langston Hughes’s “Let America Be America Again,” Chua encouraged everyone to become civically engaged, help fulfill the nation’s potential and form a more beloved community: “The American dream is a promise of freedom and hope, but it is also a call on all of us to make true the myths that we tell ourselves about what America has always been.”
Next devotional Anthony Sweat, an associate teaching professor of Church history and doctrine, will deliver the next devotional address on Tuesday, April 5, at 11:05 a.m. in the Marriott Center.
His remarks will be broadcast live on BYUtv, BYUtv.org (and archived for on-demand streaming), KBYU-TV 11, Classical 89 FM, BYUradio 107.9 FM and SiriusXM 143. Video, text and audio are archived on speeches.byu.edu.