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作者:Laila Lalami




Does American ‘Tribalism’ End in a Compromise, or a Fight?


本文选自 The New York Times | 取经号原创翻译

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Early in June, the valedictorian at Bell County High School in southeastern Kentucky delivered a graduation speech filled with inspirational quotations that, he said with a twinkle in his eye, he’d found on Google. One line, in particular, drew wild applause from the crowd in this conservative part of the country: “ ‘Don’t just get involved. Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table.’ — Donald J. Trump.” As people cheered, though, the valedictorian issued a correction: “Just kidding, that was Barack Obama.” Right away, the applause died down, and a boo could be heard. The identity of the messenger, it was painfully evident, mattered more than the content of the message.


When Americans hear about “tribalism,” they often imagine a faraway land where one ethnic or religious faction mercilessly persecutes another for generations. Only recently have many in this country begun to appraise the extent of the tribalism at home. Writing for The Times’s Op-Ed page in February, Amy Chua, the Yale law professor who once extolled the merits of “tiger moms,” warned about the dangers of a “zero-sum tribalist contest.” Jonah Goldberg, the conservative columnist and pundit who once railed against “liberal fascism,” recently went on NPR’s “Morning Edition” to sound the alarm on “a cheap form of tribalism,” telling the host Steve Inskeep that “people are retreating into their little cocoons.” And in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Senator Orrin Hatch lamented that identity politics — “tribalism by another name” — could turn the nation into “a divided country of ideological ghettos.”


appraise /əˈpreɪz/ v. to examine someone or something in order to judge their qualities, success, or needs 评估

lament /ləˈment/ v. to express sadness and feeling sorry about something 对…感到悲痛,对…表示失望,痛惜

译者注:零和博弈(zero-sum game)指参与博弈的各方,在严格竞争下,一方的收益必然意味着另一方的损失,博弈各方的收益和损失相加总和永远为“零”,双方不存在合作的可能。(Baidu)

In its first sense, tribalism refers to the organization of people along lines of common ancestry or joint identity for the purpose of exercising political power — as the indigenous people of many parts of the world, including the Americas, have long done. But over time, as new forms of governance appeared — city-states, kingdoms and especially empires, which controlled vast colonies with different races, cultures and languages — tribalism came to be seen as crude and antiquated, a political structure that could never hope to address the challenges of large states. And now, in the modern era, the word is used almost exclusively in its second, derogatory sense, to suggest an irrational loyalty to your people.


indigenous /ɪnˈdɪdʒ.ə.nəs/ adj. naturally existing in a place or country rather than arriving from another place 当地的,本土的

derogatory /dɪˈrɑː.ɡə.tɔːr.i/ showing strong disapproval and not showing respect 诋毁的,贬损的

The impulse to belong to a clan is deeply human, however, and new tribes continue to form, organized not around ancestry but along fuzzier lines of ideology or demography. Modern tribes, like ancient ones, have idiosyncratic languages; one faction might speak of “illegal aliens,” “traditional families” and “the life of the unborn,” while the other talks of “undocumented workers,” “marriage equality” and “my body, my choice.” They rule over separate territories, listen to different oracles, uphold distinct values and dismiss contradictory information as unreliable propaganda or “fake news.”


idiosyncratic /ˌɪd.i.əˈsɪŋ.krə.si/ a strange or unusual habit, way of behaving, or feature that someone or something has (个人的)习性,特点

Above all, tribe members protect one another from perceived attacks by outsiders. Last April, when the MSNBC host Joy Reid was found to have posted homophobic content on a now-defunct blog (and claimed, dubiously, to have been hacked), many liberals rallied to her side anyway, pointing out that the posts were more than 10 years old and urging others to accept her profuse apologies. Had such posts been attributed to a Fox News personality, however, it’s almost certain those same liberals would have offered no opportunity for forgiveness. The gift of absolution is given within a tribe, and rarely outside it.


Political tribes can organize along stark lines: the working class versus the 1 percent, baby boomers versus millennials, city dwellers versus rural people. But they can also be more nebulous, forming around subtleties of education, lifestyle or cultural taste. Some years ago, when Howard Dean was the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for the presidency, the conservative PAC Club for Growth ran a TV ad in Iowa featuring an elderly white couple being asked about Dean’s tax proposal. “What do I think?” the husband says. “I think Howard Dean should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading —” Then his wife interrupts: “body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont, where it belongs.”


nebulous /ˈneb.jə.ləs/ (especially of ideas) not clear and having no form 星云的,含糊的

译者注:Political Action Committees(PAC),政治行动委员会,是支持候选人的私人政治组织

The question was at least putatively about Dean’s plan to repeal George W. Bush’s tax cuts, but instead of eliciting a coherent opinion on how much tax should reasonably be withheld, from whom and for what services, it provoked a rant against a particular group of people, who were characterized almost entirely through their lifestyle and consumer choices. There was no need to talk policy, because the policy was reframed as an embrace of one tribe and a rejection of the other.


putative /ˈpjuː.tə.tɪv/ generally thought to be or to exist, even if this may not really be true 想象的,推断的

In principle, the United States is a country where various tribes are supposed to work in coalition to form what the founders called “a more perfect union.” Americans also pride themselves on having a “melting pot” model of immigration, in which each new group is thrown into the mix, contributing to the overall sustenance of the nation. But the reality is that, for most of this country’s history, one tribe has held power, deciding who was allowed to settle the land and who could be dispossessed, who was free and who was enslaved, who had the right to vote and who did not. The hegemony of white landowners prompted few, if any, complaints about tribalism in the national conversation. It was only when other factions began to demand justice and recognition — the “seat at the table” that Trump, but not Obama, was applauded for encouraging people to seek — that the debate about which tribe holds power became explicit rather than implicit.


It is not a coincidence, then, that use of the word “tribalism” in print increased significantly during the civil rights struggles, anti-war protests and cultural clashes of the 1960s, reaching a peak in 1972, when Richard Nixon campaigned for and won a second term. That era was characterized by turmoil, both abroad and here in the United States, where tribes rebelled against one another in nearly every public arena, from draft offices to college campuses to lunch counters. After Nixon’s resignation and the end of the Vietnam War, complaints about tribalism declined steadily, only to rise again in the 1990s.


Why the 1990s? Over the course of his presidency, Bill Clinton moved the Democratic Party to the right: He deregulated banks, cut welfare programs, signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law, built a border wall between San Diego and Tijuana and expanded mass incarceration. These are not progressive ideas, which left Republicans with few concrete policies that could distinguish them from Democrats. Republicans did, however, have culture — and, eventually, character. When Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky surfaced in 1998, conservatives attacked him as the symbol of a lost and immoral society, while liberals minimized his offenses and portrayed the young intern as a harlot. Twenty years later, the two tribes would switch sides, with liberals denouncing Donald Trump for sexual predation while conservatives, including white evangelicals, rallied around him.


Political tribes often display similar group behavior, but this doesn’t mean that the values they hold are equivalent. Tearing migrant children away from their parents, for instance, is not a morally neutral policy. In moments like these, complaints about tribalism can be politically expedient — a way of making even the most consequential debate seem like a mere spat between loyalists on either side. (Where was this passion for the fates of asylum seekers, some conservatives have asked, during the Obama administration?) By reducing every question to tribalist point-scoring, it becomes easier to escape the moral implications of taking an asylum-seeking child from his or her mother and incarcerating them hundreds of miles apart.


Some people think that dialogue and debate can help the United States defeat its current tribalism. If only we could calmly talk about our differences, the argument goes, we would reach some compromise. But not all disagreements are bridgeable. The Union and the Confederacy did not resolve their differences through dialogue; it was a civil war that put an end to slavery. Jim Crow laws were defeated through mass protests and civil disobedience. Schools were desegregated though a Supreme Court decision, which had to be implemented with the help of the National Guard. The Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed as a political necessity during World War II. Some fights are not talked away; they are, in the end, either won or lost.



This is not to say that tribal impasses of the moment can’t be broken. But it is generally not a good idea to expect people on the receiving end of brutal policies — like families broken apart by police violence, immigration raids, travel bans or anti-L.G.B.T. discrimination — to hash out a compromise over sweet tea. “Maybe we pushed too far,” Barack Obama is quoted as saying in a new memoir by Benjamin Rhodes, one of his closest aides. “Maybe people just want to fall back into their tribe.” What the ever-compromising Obama doesn’t consider is that resolution sometimes requires pushing even further.


receiving end: the position in which one is subject to some kind of action or effect, especially an unpleasant one(usually used in the phrase at or on the receiving end)







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One Comment

  1. Grace Grace
    QQbrowser QQbrowser Android 5.1 Android 5.1
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    倒数第二段的第二句, the argument goes, 这句是否应该翻译成:他们认为(或者该观点认为) 啊?
    这个就相当于,把 he argues放到中间来了,不是吗?


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