The Lines of Tribe

As a political speech, Barack Obama’s inaugural address was outstanding. The speech was well-written and delivered with Obama’s usual poetic cadence. His references to our founding principles stood out:

Every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents…

Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations.

I do have to partially disagree with Obama. America has prospered solely because we have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers. Presidents were not intended to have great vision; they were intended to be champions of our founding documents. Those presidents who historians consider great are usually credited with great “vision.” Yet, these “great” presidents, such as Wilson and Roosevelt, did grave damage to America’s founding principles. Let’s hope Obama is content with being a steward of America’s principles. This is a big enough and worthy enough job for any president.

A bit later in his speech came what for me was the show-stopper:

We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

Obama’s critique of “the lines of tribes” will probably be historic; yet, the vast audience was curiously silent. They clearly didn’t understand the significance of what they were hearing. The fundamental battle in the world is not between Islam and the West or between capitalists and socialists. Those are mere labels, and behind those labels are beliefs. There is nothing more fundamental in political or economic life than having either a belief system that accepts the supremacy of the tribe or a belief system that accepts the supremacy of the “rule of law and the rights of man.” In that basic choice, there is right or wrong. One choice protects basic rights; the other violates rights. The crowd listening to Obama may have been so conditioned by the multicultural claptrap that we all hear daily that they no longer know the difference.

In today’s America there are those working to reestablish “the lines of tribe,” and it was heartwarming to hear Obama speak against it. Make no mistake—America has become a great melting pot because our “lines of tribe” are less distinct than any other place on this earth. Our loyalty has been to our common principles rather than to our ethnic identity or the head of a clan.

In countries where the tribe or clan comes first, someone outside that tribe or clan is less than human and not worthy of dignity, respect, or basic human rights. Poverty, unspeakable misery, and war are the outcomes. No treaty, no mediation, no foreign aid, no Peace Corps volunteer, no president—none of these can instill the change of heart that must be made, individual by individual, in these countries. With that change of heart, they must say silently and out loud: “My forbearers have been wrong; other human beings are no different than I am. They have dreams and hopes and aspirations, and they are worthy of the same rights as I am.” Only then will the countries of the world burdened by “the lines of tribe” be set free and be at peace; only then will prosperity be the norm on this planet.

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3 Responses to The Lines of Tribe

  1. Tesh says:

    Considering the mentality demonstrated in the “My President is Black” exultations, I’d say we have a way to go yet. I suspect a good chunk of why Obama is even in office is because we’re still not thinking along universal lines, judging people by the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin (“not of my tribe”). Methinketh that those who need most to comprehend Obama’s talk of inclusiveness and brotherhood are those who are least able or willing to comprehend it. That crowd’s silence is very telling.

    I hope that something sinks in.

  2. Michael says:

    Like many things our President says, one could listen and draw just about any conclusion they find desirable, just as long you don’t pay attention to his policies or those actions as they are carried out.

    Today Obama economic advisor Robert Reich stated regarding the economic stimilus package and infastructure jobs:

    ” I am concerned, as I’m sure many of you are, that these jobs not simply go to high-skilled people who are already professionals or to white male construction workers. …I have nothing against white male construction workers. I’m just saying that there are a lot of other people who have needs as well. … Criteria can be set so that the money does go to others, the long term unemployed minorities, women, people who are not necessarily construction workers or high-skilled professionals.”

    This doesn’t strike me as the lines of tribe soon disolving. In fact I imagine the lines of tribe will do everything but disolve as those in power attempt to use those lines as much as possible to remain in power.

    Identity politics is probably one of the most dangerous threats to our democracy today. It’s also a very effective political tool used by the left in this country. I highly doubt it goes anywhere in the next 4 years, especially when these big government policies fail to live up to their promises.

  3. Tesh and Michael,

    Thank you for your comments. I agree the “lines of tribe” are far from dissolved and that many are projecting (without evidence) many different kinds of hopes on to President Obama.

    We will soon find out. Events running at the pace they are will not allow him to duck. The lines of tribe vs the rule of law; market solutions vs. more bailouts etc.– he will soon have to choose.

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