photo by nacrowe
i think for a lot of AMERICANS, myself included, there has been a desire to understand what happened on election day in 2016 and what led our country to such a precipice that a troglodyte like DONALD TRUMP could even come within striking distance of the reigns of power.
WHY WE'RE POLARIZED (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2020) is an attempt by former WASHINGTON POST columnist and VOX founder/editor-at-large EZRA KLEIN, utilizing copious published studies, opinion pieces, political science treatises and statistical and behavioral analysis to answer the basic conceit of what forces have led to our current state as a society and a democracy that appears to be in a state of rapidly unraveling. it is a multi-pronged analysis but essentially there are two basic ideas that buttress his whole argument.
the first is the concept that we all have multiple identities (race, gender, sexual orientation, class, geography, education, occupation, sports team preference, etc) that can be activated in order for us to respond in defense. a benign example is the abuse i get from RED SOX fans who are friends of mine every time the YANKEES lose a consequential game (and oh they know how that irks me). what is interesting is that many of these identities are stacked with regards to a particular political party. this wasn't always the case.
pre-CIVIL RIGHTS ACT the AMERICAN electorate was not "sorted" as it is now with regards to these stacked identities. it used to be that people voted split tickets, meaning that they would vote a REPUBLICAN for senator and a DEMOCRAT for president, or mayor/education board/dogcatcher. it used to be that some DEMOCRATS were more conservative than some REPUBLICANS and vice versa, the political affiliation not being specific to a set of policy preferences. in a sense, local concerns ruled their priorities.
while we were not divided as now, this was due largely to the fact that the DEMOCRATIC party allowed the DIXIECRATS to rule unabated with their draconian and racist methods of suppressing the BLACK vote through intimidation and state-sanctioned violence. the modern era of polarization happened as a result of this agreement ending with the CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1965 and the basic handing of the south to the REPUBLICANS.
ok, enough history. so what?
basically with the advent of television, then cable news and later the internet and all its omnipresent mobile apps and social media and associated flood of voter information, we are now living an age were the business models of technology promote and actively seek out to activate these stacked identities and manipulate us collectively at scale. its quite remarkable.
we are essentially polarized by interests that seek to manipulate us for financial and political advantage and the mechanism are these deeply rooted identities that create an atmosphere where you are no longer voting policy, you are voting identity.
he makes other points about structural issues surrounding our democracy that relate to various outmoded parliamentary processes that diminish our ability to compromise and promote instability, but i will save that for interested readers.
needless to say this is a wonky book that i did not do just but recommend fiercely to anyone interested in the mechanisms of government and how they affect how we self-identify as AMERICANS. this should be required reading in high schools.