How Bruce Springsteen Demonstrated the Antidote to Tribalism in America


At a time when Americans are divided along almost all lines possible, we can use almost anything, any common principle to bring people back together in some form of national unity. One of the unexpected shining lights in our country today comes from Bruce Springsteen. During his performance, he steps forward to the edge of the stage and seems to talk directly with the audience.

Economist Michael Strain recently went to see Springsteen and observed this happening. He described the experience and his thoughts in a recent article in Bloomberg.

The notion of community permeates the show. At the beginning, Springsteen describes his “magic trick” as his ability to demonstrate that “us” actually exists. The specific “us” — the specific community — to which he is referring is not entirely clear. But for the artist who describes his life’s work as “judging the distance between American reality and the American dream,” my mind immediately turns to the U.S. as a national community.

Strain is one of those people who is skeptical of our ability to come back together in unity, given just how toxic the political landscape has become. But Springsteen's emphasis on "us" gave him some hope for our future, that in spite of these differences we can coalesce around certain core principles that bind us together as Americans.

The bonds that hold Americans together are not ethnic or religious, nor are they even based on a shared kind of life experience. No, Americans are bound together by national understandings, a creed that recognizes the inherent dignity of all people and the importance of freedom for the human spirit.

Springsteen's show offers the view of a better path, even with the current political landscape.

This particular audience, like every Springsteen audience, had people from all stages and walks of life. My companion, a childhood friend, traveled hours to be there. Those seated near me had similar stories — people going to great lengths and expense for a common experience. After all these decades, the chords of “Born to Run” themselves have become a shared story, a demonstration that community — that “us” — does exist. ...

Springsteen and his audience give me hope that tribalism will pass — that the story can be recovered and celebrated. Or, in his words, that “the country we carry in our hearts is waiting.”

Is Springsteen a unifier? What are your hopes for reestablishing national unity around a core creed?