Unless American society addresses the foundational trauma that is concretised deep within the edifice of the construction of the nation-state, and the violence, suppression and subjugation of Native Americans and the enslavement of African-Americans transported against their will, then the attacks on not only Asian-Americans but other American ‘tribes’ will continue.

The continuing epidemic of racist assaults in the United States, documented in the recent abuse by police officers in Windsor, Virginia, of a Latino African-American soldier, Caron Nazario, as well as the recurring attacks against Asian-Americans fuelled by Donald Trump’s white nationalism, is symptomatic of an underlying chronic condition of American tribalism.

These attacks are all connected and infected by the phenomenon of American tribalism which originates in the conquest and oppression of Native Americans and the enslavement and exploitation of African-Americans. It also traces its history to the abuse that Chinese migrants suffered while prospecting for gold in the 19th century, as well as the internment of Japanese in concentration camps during World War 2.

Tribalism is fuelled by discriminatory attitudes and behaviours that delude self-identifying communities to determine those people who are entitled to receive certain benefits and enjoy certain rights. Tribal affiliations determine who belongs and who is excluded.

America was fragmented along tribal lines from the outset in the 18th century when the 13 colonial states confederated. In colonial America, the patriots, who favoured self-government, and the royalists loyal to the British Crown, fought internecine wars of conquest to determine who had the right to govern the confederation. Subsequently, the American Civil War of 1861 to 1865 between northern states loyal to the United States against the southern Confederate States of America to continue to own African-American slaves, who they viewed as their “capital”, was also an outward manifestation of this tribalism.

The American Civil War did not end in 1865 as stated in school textbooks — it continued within state governments and in legislatures, courtrooms, law enforcement agencies as well as in the wider society. The storming of the US Capitol by armed rioters, some who were waving the confederate flag and celebrating the venues of Nazi genocidal acts such as “Camp Auschwitz”, suggests that the underlying issues infecting this society are not going to disappear through wishful thinking. They will require focused and introspective processes to excavate the root causes so that appropriate interventions can be implemented over the next few decades.

The contemporary form of American tribalism becomes abusive when state power is utilised to perpetrate exclusion and oppression, such as the Georgia governor’s adoption of voting laws that effectively render certain categories of people into second-class citizens. Police brutality is the epitome of American tribalism, as tribalistic “white supremacist” law enforcement officers abuse their oaths to “serve and protect” all citizens. In the mind of the tribal white supremacist police officer, the African-American is not worthy of the decorum and respect that all citizens deserve. These tribal ideas locate their origins in the founders of the US Constitution which categorised non-white as three-fifths of a human being. This “three-fifths” tribal mindset is very much alive in America.

Social commentators have always drawn attention to the psychological attitudes towards the “other” in America. Cultural performers have built their careers on showcasing and caricaturing these perceived differences. The frequency with which the fissures of American tribalism are erupting and causing harm to innocent people trying to go about their daily lives indicates that this disease has persisted within society. Practically, it requires more focused, federally driven nationwide interventions to begin to address the underlying malaise, which like sepsis, is infecting the fabric of American society.

The initial promise of the Biden-Harris administration to engage in healing the nation has pivoted into a business-like and technocratic approach to problem-solving. Concretely, it is time for the American federal government to direct more personnel and material resources through the establishment of a US Department of Peace, an idea that was first mooted in the 18th century, as a cabinet-level department of the executive branch of the federal government of the United States, with similar structures replicated at the state and municipal levels.

For healing to genuinely take root in America, society also has to drive communal processes of introspection, dialogue and truth-telling. The Native Americans and African-Americans are living with intergenerational trauma and they often bear the brunt of vilification for not lifting themselves up by their bootstraps. The reparations that were promised in the aftermath of the American Civil War turned out to be a cynical political sleight-of-hand. We can only speculate whether, if reparations had been instituted and implemented, this could have begun to address the underlying condition of American tribalism and altered the course of society by creating more broad-based socio-economic inclusion. The academic literature suggests that more integrated communities are less likely to manifest tribalistic tendencies.

White nationalism received a boost during Trump’s reign, and now tribal groups such as the alt-right Proud Boys have indicated that they are not going anywhere and have launched plans to “take back” the White House in 2024, after it was “stolen” from the former incumbent who they viewed as their champion of white supremacy.

Ultimately, we should care about what is happening in America because contrary to dominant perceptions, we are not the identities that we have drawn on the map using artificial borderlines. We are one humanity, and we are all citizens of this world, and every single human being has the right to pursue their life purpose without fear of harm from the other.

The country has to dig deep into its multiple layers of exclusions and compounded violations which makes almost all self-identified cultural groups feel like victims. This perceived victimhood and the victimiser blame-game is the underlying logic of American tribalism.

Unless American society addresses the foundational trauma that is concretised deep within the edifice of the construction of the nation-state, and the violence, suppression and subjugation of Native Americans and the enslavement of African-Americans transported against their will, then the attacks on not only Asian-Americans but other American “tribes” will continue.

The initiative to undo the legacies of the multiple layers of exclusion and compounded violations has to be led by the national, state and municipal leadership, working directly with citizen groups, associations and social movements such as #BLM, #MeToo, and #NeverAgain. This process begins with a national conversation that is convened by the White House and simultaneously by the governors, mayors and communities across the whole country.

On the surface, this might appear to be an over-reaction, or unnecessary, but this is precisely why for almost 300 years since the creation of America in 1776 there has never been any genuine interest in looking deeply inwards and introspection about the true nature of American tribalism. If this type of thinking continues then the attacks on African-Americans and Asian-Americans will continue to be commonplace.

Ultimately, we should care about what is happening in America because contrary to dominant perceptions, we are not the identities that we have drawn on the map using artificial borderlines. We are one humanity, and we are all citizens of this world, and every single human being has the right to pursue their life purpose without fear of harm from the other.

American tribalism, which continues to rear its ugly head and the fissures that it creates, will generate a centrifugal force that will continue to render asunder and fragment the nation-state. As this unfolds the traditional response of utilising a militarised suppression to maintain “law and order” will lead down the path of a more authoritarian and centralised disciplinary control system to contain the tribalistic forces.

Faced with this prospect, the convening of a national conversation and dedicated programmes of truth-seeking, psychosocial support, reparations and promoting socioeconomic inclusion which will redefine what it means to belong and reconfigure the very structure of the nation, seem like a much more effective and less destructive pathway for American society.