The initial reaction among decent people to a horrific terror attack is often one which undulates between horror, anger, sorrow and even fear. Once these strong emotions subside, the finger pointing begins. Of course, there are often many legitimate fingers to point at those who were supposed to ensure the safety of human life and have self-evidently failed. At the same time, many other frivolous fingers are pointed and as a result, platitudes are spouted while problems are rarely solved.
But rather than chasing platitudes with no lasting value, US presidential candidate Andrew Yang has highlighted tribalism within society as the factor behind an increased amount of political violence, including the kinds of terrorist atrocities that the world recently witnessed in New Zealand.
In his typical problem solving fashion, Yang describes the problem before outlining four proposed solutions. Yang writes the following on his official website:
“As the world becomes more connected and demographics in countries change, this sort of violence will only continue to rise unless we proactively combat it. One of our chief goals in the US should be reducing the tribalism and division that make these tragedies even remotely possible. It will be one of my primary goals as President. Among the measures I will propose:
- American Exchange Program: It’s important for Americans to get a sense of people in other communities. Every senior in high school should have the ability to spend one month living and working in another part of the country with 15–20 other seniors from different backgrounds before graduating. They would likely live with a family that has a kid who is similarly being sent to another community. This way, everyone will get to know different people from across state and cultural lines. It would make it much harder to demonize people because you would know them. Our kids don’t learn anything the spring of their senior year anyway—this program could help them make the most of the time.
- Mental Health Initiative: America is facing a mental health crisis, and only a small fraction of Americans who need help have access to care. My brother is a psychology professor and I know how much good the right support and treatment can do. We must invest massive resources to both provide help to those who need it and destigmatize the need for treatment. I will also have a White House Psychologist in part to show that everyone struggles and there is no shame in it.
- Hate Groups: Tribalism, when allowed to be poisoned and amplified, can lead to terrible things. As President, I would actively encourage efforts in anti-racism; that is, engaging people with racist beliefs and attempting to convince them that their beliefs are incorrect. I am inspired by the experiences of Deeyah Khan. Condemnation feels gratifying but isn’t a solution.
- Gun Safety: We all know this is the toughest one but likely the biggest difference maker. We should make sure everyone who purchases a gun goes through a federal background check. We license and test for vehicles. We should do the same for guns, particularly those that can kill many people in a public setting. We have to find a zone of agreement with responsible gun owners”.
Yang correctly realises that while living in a culturally diverse society makes everyone a richer person, when real or perceived economic disparities between various distinguishable social demographics exist, society can rapidly descend into tribal rivalries that never have a happy ending and far too often have a horrific ending.
By naming tribalism as a problem that can be exploited by otherwise fringe extremists, Yang has offered incredibly realistic solutions to the problem which can be summed up as a co-equal drive towards more international cultural exchange, better preemptive treatment of mental health problems among Americans, engagement with people who show extremist tendencies rather than condemning them and walking away and finally, changes to American gun laws.
For me personally, Yang’s point about engagement with those tottering on the fringes of social decency is a deeply important matter. As someone who has studied Pakistan’s fight against extremism, particularly in what is now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (KP province), it has been made abundantly clear that in addition to using police, military and intelligence resources to neutralise heavily armed terrorists, it is of equal importance to build a better society for young people so that they do not have the ability to be exploited by extremist ring-leaders. Furthermore, when it comes to young people who have had brushes with extremist tendencies, it is always preferable to engage with them in order to bring them back into normal society rather than push them further to the fringes.
Yang’s support for mental health programmes and more cultural exchange are self-evidently helpful proposals with no immediately ascertainable downsides. As for his proposal about regulating guns, this matter must be viewed in the American context, in spite of the fact that the fight against political extremism has many universal elements.
The US constitution guarantees every citizen the right to own firearms. This continues to cause controversy as many on the liberal end of US politics seek to effectively curtail or even abolish this provision of the constitution whilst for those the right, any revision to the idea of universal gun ownership as an inalienable right is tantamount to treason.
Within the context of this difficult political environment, Yang’s proposals seem reasonable. He does not seem keen to restrict gun ownership for law abiding men and women of sound mind, but he wants stricter standards applied to those in the US who wish to purchase a gun, in the same way that in countries with more stringent driving tests, there tend to be fewer car crashes. For a country that has forgotten the word “compromise”, this appears to be a deeply sensible compromise.
While Yang’s political slogan “humanity first” may sound like a cliche, the reality is that Yang has specific policies that he is very candid about when it comes to using reason, logic and mathematics in order to reach a conclusion that makes both politics and society more human and more humane. This is not only inspirational given the current state of US politics, but should be actively promoted as part of America’s wider political discourse in the wake of a deeply troubling terror attack in New Zealand.