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Sheriff Manfre: Against Tribalism

| December 17, 2016

tribalism west side story jim manfre

A scene from Leonard Bernstein’s ‘West Side Story’ during a 2012 tour. (Nilz Böhme/BB Promotion)

By Jim Manfre

“When you’re a Jet you’re a Jet all the way from your first cigarette to your last dying day.” The refrain from one of the street gangs in Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story is the essence of what tribes believe: that they are connected to one another, to a leader or to an idea.


Over the course of our development as a civilization humans have joined tribes, gangs, religions, political parties, fan clubs. We thrive in groups. It is part of our instincts and DNA. Initially it was a matter of self preservation. We formed tribes to hunt, seek shelter or fend off attacks from animals or other humans. It served as a matter of evolutionary selection to allow the strongest and fittest to survive and pass on their talents and capabilities to ensure the continuance of the human species. Many benefits have resulted from this survival instinct to band together for safety. The progress of civilization has depended on this propensity to seek out others who have similar beliefs, talents and interests. Great nations, religions, musical groups, sports teams, businesses and educational institutions owe their creation to this fundamental need and desire to be part of something larger than themselves.

This same need to belong has also had its more destructive consequences as other tribes and belief groups oppose each other for land or power or battle over ideas, politics, ideology, religion. At its best the forward march of civilization has been to find common ground and lessen or at least manage conflicts so as to allow people the freedom to live in peace, with their own belief systems intact: a courtroom, a legislative floor, even an election for public office are all means of channeling conflict in constructive, peaceful ways.


Trumpism may be a reaction to an untenable pace of change. It could also be a more damaging undoing.


The forward march isn’t always smooth. Just before civilization makes some great leap in ideas, technology or cultural issues, conflicts between competing visions or consequences from those leaps trigger backlash. It can take the shape of protest and resistance, or in some cases violence or war. The civil rights era combined all those elements. The American Civil War was the ultimate shock between two competing visions and systems. But we’ve seen this in the course of human history with the rise of nation states, great religions, the industrial revolution, women suffrage, the technological revolution and now globalization.

As technology and globalization have brought the world closer the pace of change has caused a backlash among those worried about their way of life, their belief systems, and of course disappearing or migrating jobs. Tribalism has reemerged. The tribal instinct that once powered so many advances that improved standards of living or social justice is now acting as a brake on advancements such as climate change, multiculturalism, global trade, tolerance of race, gender and sexual orientation. We may be experiencing what Alvin Toffler predicted as “Future Shock” where the rapidity or intensity of change outpaces our collective ability to assimilate and adapt.

sheriff jim manfre reelection announcement

Sheriff Jim Manfre. (© FlaglerLive)

Regardless of what side you are on politically, Trumpism is clearly part of that reaction to the rate of change in American society as was Brexit to British society–the majority vote last June by the British citizenry to exit out of the European Union. Perhaps this is nothing but a pause or a reassessment. We’ve made progress on common issues of equality, tolerance and the need to find collective solutions to worldwide problems like war, poverty, hunger, water distribution and climate change. As with those historical leaps forward there’s no reason to think we won’t find our footing again and keep forging ahead with more determination and a sense of common cause after this period of friction.

If however this is a true reactionary movement to undo the progress on these fundamental issues of human survival, decency and peace, then thoughtful people must resist this tribal instinct to separate each other based on race, gender, religion or country of origin. As John F. Kennedy said, “change is the law of life. And those who look to the past or the present are certain to miss the future”.

We should not fear the future or resist progress. But it will take work to get there and a commitment to the lofty goals of this American experiment where we believe all men and women are created equal. Those who believe in the the advancements we have achieved over the past eight years must step up politically and turn back the tide of tribal fear. This will take organization at the local and national level and a appeal to the better angels in all of us.

Those demoralized by the outcome of this election must be prepared to work to regain the moral high ground by preparing for the next election cycle in two years. In the meantime, we must pray that the worst of the tribal instincts roused in this last election are collectively resisted.

Jim Manfre is the Flagler County Sheriff.

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24 Responses for “Sheriff Manfre: Against Tribalism”

  1. another vet says:

    so if we voted for trump we are afraid of progress and racist throwbacks? maybe we are tired of the bleeding heart left giving away everything for free and the fact that the democrats candidate was a career politician who BROKE THE LAW by using a private server and then lied about it

  2. Hello? says:

    Come on Sheriff……..moral high ground??? What part of the corruption in the DNC and the Democrat party did you miss during this last cycle??

  3. Lin says:

    So tired of that moral superiority hypocrisy of the Dems.

  4. The Ghost of America says:

    Ah, don’t worry guys. When president elect putin takes office heads will roll.

  5. Mark says:

    You mean the same “moral high ground” that slick willy stands on? The very same “moral high ground” that corrupt, incompetent, lying hillary stands on? Get a life sheriff.

  6. Tired of it says:

    It is hard to see the corruption when you are corrupt also. Well said statement Another Vet.

  7. footballen says:

    So you want everyone on the same page and working together and your way of accomplishing that is to insult the group that has finally progressed? Interesting

  8. Robert says:

    Trump Derangement Syndrome.

  9. Malc says:

    An intelligent comment piece. Here in the UK the “Brexit” vote was only a small majority. Looking at the analysis of the vote it was swung by the old and ill-educated. In my opinion a disaster for the young. I do wonder how things will pan out for you in America. As it happens the institution I work for is happy for Trump’s extremist comments about certain minorities as students from related countries may come to us instead of the USA.

  10. Sherry says:

    A great article Sheriff Manfre. . . but, unfortunately probably wasted on those in this community who supported Trump. They refuse to look at the truth numerous flaws of their candidate. . . preferring to continue with their disgusting gloating and “untruthful” blaming of the other side. They do not want to be reminded that they have thrown their morals out the window! The idea of a moral high ground is now meaningless.

  11. Freddy says:

    It will take the next election in two years to clean the scum off the bottom of the swamp.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Our left just cant take the truth that their ideas are not the ideals of this Republic.

  13. Ha says:

    Meanwhile… “real” cops are being murdered left and right around the country by “tribesmen”.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Great piece. But, as you know, wasted on those who support Trump. In spite of the fact that every day he proves again how unfit he is for the office of the president they continue to blindly support him.

  15. Edith Campins says:

    Great piece. However, as you well know, wasted on those who continue to support Trump. Every day he proves, by his actions, that he is not fit for the office of the president.

  16. Dave says:

    Do you really think that “THEY” will even be able to comprehend what you are saying here? I think not.

  17. woody says:

    Sherry really? moral high ground,Clinton and moral high ground should never used together.

  18. The Ghost of America says:

    innocents are being murdered left and right by blue tribesmen, I agree.

  19. Michael says:

    Jim… Get over it, there is a reason you lost… That doesn’t mean that flagler county is full of racists and idiots. If you don’t see what we see in Trump, the good he will do for the economy that’s too bad. Just because Hillary was qualified doesn’t make her a better candidate. Us working class are sick and tired paying for people milking the government, popping out as many children as they can then getting foodstamps, medicaid and a fat check for their tax returns…

  20. Sherry says:

    Here are just a few of the “Democratic Ideals” that apparently are scoffed at by many Republicans:

    1. All humans, of every skin color, are created EQUAL
    2. EQUAL justice, under the law
    3. The right to an EQUAL education
    4. The right to EQUAL pay
    5. The right to FAIR elections without manipulation by ANYONE. . . especially foreign powers
    6. Contributing to the “common good”. . . EVERYONE paying their “fair share” of taxes, even the wealthy
    7. The “UNITED” States of America. . . the essential role of the Federal government
    8. The opportunity to “legally” become a citizen, IF you are already a valuable part of our society
    9. Religious FREEDOM. . . with NO discrimination. . . the separation of church and state
    10. The right to control ones own private body
    11. High Ethics and Integrity. . . Doing the “right thing”, even if the law doesn’t require it
    12. Protecting our environment. . . clean air and water don’t just happen magically
    13. Trusting our scientists and taking care of our entire planet

  21. Michael says:

    You are not very smart if you think that republicans are against all those things…

  22. DaveT says:

    A great piece, but to bad its wasted on those democrats that got us in this mess.

  23. Flagler County is depraved says:

    Most Democrats do not even know what taxes are for. Let alone ethics and Integrity.

  24. Sherry says:

    @Michael. . . I can only go by what you and other Trump supporters say in these comments. . . what I hear is fear, prejudice, bigotry, xenophobia, chauvinism, etc. From those who say things like:

    “sick and tired of paying for those milking the government, popping out children”. . . etc. Was that a different Michael? Is that not a fear filled, bigoted statement?

    Are you really proud of your “billionaire” candidate who said that NOT paying taxes makes him smart? The sexual predator who brags about grabbing a stranger’s private parts? Who has been accused of raping a 13 year old?
    REPLY

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