The Threat of Tribalism

The Constitution once united a diverse county under a banner of ideas. But partisanship has turned Americans against one another—and against the principles enshrined in our founding document.

…Americans on both the left and the right now view their political opponents not as fellow Americans with differing views, but as enemies to be vanquished. And they have come to view the Constitution not as an aspirational statement of shared principles and a bulwark against tribalism, but as a cudgel with which to attack those enemies.

Of course, Americans throughout history have criticized the Constitution. Progressives have tarred it as plutocratic and antidemocratic for more than a century. In 1913, in An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, Charles A. Beard argued that the “direct, impelling motive” behind the Constitution was not “some abstraction known as ‘justice,’ ” but the “economic advantages” of the propertied elite.

In recent years, however, the American left has become more and more influenced by identity politics, a force that has changed the way many progressives view the Constitution. For some on the left, the document is irredeemably stained by the sins of the Founding Fathers, who preached liberty while holding people in chains. Days after the 2016 election, the president of the University of Virginia quoted Thomas Jefferson, the school’s founder, in an email to students. In response, 469 students and faculty signed an open letter declaring that they were “deeply offended” at the use of Jefferson as a “moral compass.” Speaking to students at the University of Missouri in 2016, a Black Lives Matter co-founder went further: “The people vowing to protect the Constitution are vowing to protect white supremacy and genocide.”

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