Freedom of thought, not tribalism, is what makes America great

Freedom of thought, not tribalism, is what makes America great. By Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, is president pro tempore of the US Senate and chairman of the Finance Committee.

Our tendency to use labels to box each other in is indicative of a much larger societal problem: the unleashing of identity politics. Identity politics is tribalism by another name. It is the deliberate and often unnatural segregation of people into categories for political gain. Under this cynical program, the identity of the group subsumes the identity of the individual, allowing little room for independence, self-realisation or free thought.

Some play down the dangers of this practice, but identity politics is a blight on our democracy. It feeds fear, division, acrimony and anger. Worse, identity politics is inimical to the very idea of what it means to be American. For more than two centuries, we have been able to weave together the disparate threads of a diverse society more successfully than any nation. How? Through the unifying power of the American idea that all of us, regardless of colour, class or creed, are equal, and that we can work together to build a more perfect union. It’s the idea that our dignity comes not from the groups to which we belong but from our inherent worth as individuals — as children of the same God and partakers of the same human condition.

Identity politics turns the American idea on its head. Rather than looking beyond arbitrary differences in colour, class and creed, identity politics separates us along these lines. It puts the demands of the collective before the sovereignty of the individual.

Identity politics conditions us to define ourselves and each other by the groups to which we belong. Soon, we lose sight of the myriad values that unite us.

We come to see each other only through the distorted prism of our differences. Where identity politics reigns, so, too, do its regents: polarisation, gridlock and groupthink.

Identity politics is cancer on our political culture. If we allow it to metastasise, civility will cease, our national community will crumble, and the US will become a divided country of ideological ghettos.

To save the American experiment, we must reject tribalism. On the left and right, we must renounce identity politics in every form.

We must resist the temptation to use labels, and we must allow each other room to be more than one thing. Ideas — not identity — should be the driving force of our politics. By restoring the primacy of ideas to public discourse, we can foster an environment that will allow democracy to thrive, an environment of free thought and open deliberation unconstrained by the excesses of political correctness.

Well said, Sir.

hat-tip Barry Corke, Stephen Neil