The Year of Tribalism

Dawn J. Bennett, host of Financial Myth Busting and founder and CEO of Bennett Group Financial Services, recently called 2016 “The Year of Tribalism.” In her article titled, “2016: The Year of Tribalism,” she explains what has enabled a new type of tribalism to emerge and its advantages and drawbacks.

According to Bennett, the election of Donald Trump signifies a real paradigm shift in American politics— a shift from a politics driven primarily by issues to one driven by identity.  The rise of Trump’s nationalism populism and Bernie Sanders’ progressive populism shows voters are increasingly choosing a new Internet-era tribalism. They are joining together in likeminded communities with shared hopes and fears. This new sort of tribalism is supported and intensified by technology and the Internet.

“Increasingly, there are no gatekeepers, and the barrier to entry into the larger discourse is so low as to be non-existent. As a result, smaller groups can have a larger voice, and our political institutions have become increasingly fractious coalitions of polarized factions,” says Bennett.

The Democratic Party seeks to unite Sanders’ socialist tribe, the mainline Clinton progressives, environmentalist groups, and groups defined by race and gender. Meanwhile, the Republicans hold Trump’s nationalist progressives, mainline fiscal conservatives, the Tea Party, religiously motivated groups, and several groups of Libertarians.

“It’s messy, much more gray area than the clearly drawn lines we wish existed to make our choices easier,” says Bennett.

Bennett says there are both advantages and disadvantages to tribalism. Tribalism has a dark side, as it tends to generate an “us versus them feeling”, where people think those who aren’t with them are against them and those who are against them are the enemy. This “us versus them” mentality has been prevalent following the election. There have been group demonstrations against Trump’s election, as well as an increase in verbal and physical attacks that are directly motivated by the election’s outcome.

Tribalism can bring several advantages too. “With such commonality of purpose and belief, these tribes can be very passionate, enthusiastic and creative and compelling,” says Bennett. “They produce leaders like Trump, who are willing to takes risks, to challenge what has gone before, and to inspire others to do the same. And if that energy can be harnessed and not allowed to run amok, I think we actually have the potential to meet our challenging global future.”

Though the election is over, the challenges facing the nation are far from it.

“Eight years of sweeping economic fundamentals under a rug of bailouts and quantitative easing has left us in a fragile, volatile and dangerous position. Individuals, corporations and nations are overleveraged, with almost nothing left in the toolbox to deal with the next crisis,” says Bennett.

She continued, “To stand up and deal with these problems we have to acknowledge an uncomfortable truth. Our tribes, those groups that support our views and beliefs, that hold us up in times of uncertainty, that fight for us when we need fighting for—those tribes are social constructs. No single tribe can fix the problems facing our country, and no one can rely on their tribe to fix their individual problems.”

Bennett advises that in this time of change Americans should gather their own information, listen to many viewpoints, and in the end make their own decisions, and also protect their wealth and their future.