Why We’re Polarized

by Ezra Klein
First sentence: “‘I’ve spent a part of every day since November 8, 2016, wrestling with a single question,” writes Hilary Clinton in What Happened.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some mild swearing. It’s in the Current section (it’s where we put all political books) at the bookstore.

I don’t usually read political book. I leave that to my husband, who then (sometimes) summarizes them for me. But the title of — and the idea behind — this one captured my attention. I have noticed over the past four years (though probably longer, if I’m really honest) that we’re just getting more and more polarized politically, and I wanted to know what to do about it.

Well the bad news: Klein doesn’t have a whole lot of ideas about “what to do about it”, and what ideas he does have probably don’t have much chance of getting passed (get rid of the Electoral College, increase the Supreme Court to 15 people, and so on). But what he did do was help me understand how we got to this place. And the reason? It’s actually a logical growth from the way politics has been headed since the 1960s. In short: political parties could agree and compromise more because they both basically agreed that black people were the worst. Change things so black people have rights, and suddenly (well, over time), one party becomes a haven for everyone who thinks that’s a Bad Thing and the other party becomes more open to diversity. Sure, that’s simplifying, but it has a lot to do.

There are other reasons: how politics have become national (can you name your state representative?) instead of local, and that’s more polarizing. Or how parties have become less about politics and more about identities and how we identify. It’s less about concrete policies and more about ideologies, which isn’t a great way to run a country.

So, even though it’s not terribly helpful on the action end of things, it was quite fascinating to understand how we got to this point. Especially for someone who doesn’t read a lot of political science scholarship.

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