The world appears to be receding into tribalism. Heightened nationalism in Europe presaged the election of Donald Trump in the United States. Post World War II, people, spurred by the historic horrors of that cataclysm, sought to rebuild the world, attempting to create social and economic bonds between the peoples of the world in the hope of a peaceful international order. Today, globalism has become an epithet on the tongues of many of the world’s leaders, as nations across the globe retreat to the cultivation of national identity. We wish to make America great again, conjuring up the days when we were a white, male dominated, largely economically self-sufficient, Christian country that talked tough and carried a big stick. We know from history that national vainglory leads to the vulgarization of patriotism and leads inevitably to conflict.
By rejecting what all humanity shares and focusing instead on our differences, we retreat into small-mindedness. Witness the recent upsurge in white initiated hate crimes in our country. The president-elect tweets the other day that Americans who burn the American flag in protest should lose their citizenship, he being seemingly unaware of the constitutional protection of free speech. The attack on public education is intensifying, the incoming Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, being given a mandate to undermine public schools through channeling public funds to parochial and private schools through government vouchers. The strides we have made in the extension women’s, LGBT and workers’ rights are all now threatened in the name of America regaining its greatness. In the name of challenging intellectual elites, I suspect we can look forward to increased pressure on our education institutions to teach a curriculum more aligned the mythical longed for America of years passed.
Educators during this period of retreat from the world will have a special obligation – to nurture the hope of a world that can transcend the tribal impulse, a world that continues the inevitable march to the unity of mankind and the tearing down of the political, economic and religious walls that have inflamed our belligerent impulses. Tribalism is a retreat to darker, more dangerous times.