LONDON: Here’s an everyday event in Donald Trump’s America. Two people run into each other in their neighbourhood, or virtually on Facebook, and instantly start discussing the president.
If they are liberals, one might say: “Did you see that tweet?!” and the other will tap his forehead meaningfully. If the two support Trump, they might share a grumble about the media.
But they are also signalling something else to each other, namely: “You and I belong to the same tribe. We have a shared identity, and something to talk about.”
In other words, they are doing something that is usually considered positive: They are forging a new kind of community.
Everyone rightly laments polarisation, but what’s often overlooked is that it’s creating a novel sense of belonging and identity, in societies that were getting scarily atomised.
Many people in western countries have been struggling to define who they are, and what tribe they belong to.
Fifty years ago, most people found identity through their family, religious organisation, neighbourhood or their job or trade union.
But these identities have steadily weakened. As the Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam has observed, Americans are increasingly “bowling alone”.
Take family: Living alone has gone from freakish exception to almost standard. In the US, 39 per cent of adults are not currently married or cohabiting.
At work, too, old bonds are dissipating: Ever more people jump from one temporary job to another, and therefore don’t have regular colleagues. This tendency will only grow with automation. Churches are emptying even in the US.
As populations age, there are more and more people living alone with their television sets. Trump himself is the perfect case-study, but two-fifths of older Britons say TV is their main company, according to the Campaign to End Loneliness.
Now shops are starting to close, which…