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Ben Sasse Warns 'We're Headed to a Deeper, Darker, Tribal Place'

On Monday, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) warned that America's cultural problems supercharge political tribalism, and that the problem is likely to grow worse before it gets better. The senator even compared the present animosity to the Civil War, a tragically apt comparison considering the increasing incivility and pass protests.

"I think we're headed to a deeper, darker, tribal place for a time," Sasse told CBS "This Morning." He spoke about his new book "Them: Why We Hate Each Other — and How to Heal."

"I named this book 'Them' because we act like political differences are sort of core anti-identities for people," the senator said. These anti-identities are driving Americans apart, creating a tribalism not seen since the Civil War.

"I would say the Civil War was really bad, but since then, this is pretty terrible," Sasse argued. "Politics are important, but it's not like our politics are really wrestling with bigger questions than 15 or 20 or 25 years ago."

So where does the tribalism come from? "It's that politics is filling a void of the hollowing out of natural, local, traditional tribes," the senator suggested. "People usually understood that family, shared vocation, workplace, neighborhood were the core places where your identity was found. Now they're looking to politics."

Sasse lamented that the average size of a new home has grown by 350 percent in the past 50 years, adding that "there's a lot of data that shows if your house gets farther and farther from your neighbors, you're less likely to know the person that lives two doors from you — that's statistically correlated with being happy." Big picture? "A bigger square-footage house doesn't actually make you happier."

The senator also referenced NIH "researchers and scientists who see loneliness as the number one public health crisis in America." In the last 27 years, levels of friendship have "halved." In 1990, the average American had 3.2 friends. In 2018, that number is down to 1.8, and "40 percent of people have either zero or one confidant."

"That hurts," Sasse remarked. But how does it relate to politics?

The decrease in friendship and natural social connections correlates with an increase in political tribalism, as people attempt to fill the holes in their hearts by association with a political tribe, the senator explained.

"I think politics are important, but they're not the first thing — they're certainly not the only thing," Sasse said. "And I think right now, our politics are suffering because a lot of people are looking to find grand meaning there, because we're not reflecting well on these core underminers of happiness at home."

Perhaps for these reasons, Americans are self-segregating, so they no longer live in communities "where your friends are, where you're raising kids next to neighbors who may differ with you on politics. Increasingly, we're segregating our neighborhoods so you don't live next to people who disagree with you on politics."