Group identity is an odd thing. It can be shattered by disaster, or forged into an unbreakable bond. People who suffer through adversity, who lean on each other, depend on each other, and save each other’s lives over and over, bond in ways most people will never understand.
The plague and the Collapse caused people to break into small groups, then caused those groups to bond together tightly.
The plague broke the back of commerce, and food deliveries stopped. Stores emptied out, quite quickly, and people were left with what they had on hand, or what they could acquire. (However they went about it.) Packs — ad hoc mobs led by a strongman — formed, and fought over the scraps.
When the cities ran short of food, people left for the countryside. And they were desperate. And they fought for food any way they could — it was literally a matter of life and death. But there simply was not enough food to feed everyone.
In the countryside, the towns (on the whole) said “no”. This usually ended badly, for both sides.
Sometimes the town could fend off the “locusts” (as they called the urban refugees). More often, the refugees overran the defenders and took the town. In rare cases, a modus vivendi was reached.
These conflicts, these bitter little wars over food and shelter are burned into the minds of those who lived through them. On either side, people were driven by sheer desperation to do things they abhorred. And the survivors remembered.
The refugee packs, by and large, bonded due to their shared experience of famine in the city, flight to the countryside, and supporting their leader in armed confrontations. They became proud of their group, proud of their leader, and became a family, a tribe. They became willing to fight and die for their tribe.
Rural cities bonded over shared struggles to restore order, feed themselves, and fend off locusts. They became proud of their town, proud of their fellow citizens, and proud of their successes in their struggle. (Towns who weren’t successful disintegrated or simply died.) They became a tribe, and were willing to fight and die for it.
Military bases, cut off from command and each other, became a tribe. Families were sheltered there, fed, clothed, and cared for there, and soldiers fought to keep themselves and their families safe. People were willing to fight and die for this tribe.
Most people lived through similar experiences. By the end of 2016, nearly everyone in America saw themselves as part of a tribe, even if they didn’t recognize it.
2015 shattered America. But 2016 cemented those divisions. After that year — a long year of famine and strife — people no longer thought of themselves as Americans, one indivisible nation.
They said they did, they thought they did, they aspired to. But deep in their hearts, those they fought and survived with were their tribe and everyone else was “Them”.
Even the efforts of the Reconciliation Conference (in 2018) couldn’t overcome the baked-in distrust and enmity that sprang from the events of 2016.
[Note: That’s the end of the depressing stuff. Apologies, this really isn’t a grimdark campaign setting. But to understand America in 2039, you have to understand 2016, and what happened then was pretty grim. Next time, the posts should be more upbeat. Or, at least, deal with less thoroughly horrible subjects.]