- File Size: 2282 KB
- Print Length: 335 pages
- Publisher: Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster (January 28, 2020)
- Publication Date: January 28, 2020
- Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
- Language: English
- ASIN: B07TRNVTZQ
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,136 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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“The story of this impeachment is the story of American politics today: polarization. It affects almost every aspect of American political life and has been studied by scholars from many different angles, with dozens of good historical and experimental approaches. Wouldn’t it be great if someone would digest all these studies, synthesize them and produce a readable book that makes sense of it all? Ezra Klein has done just that with his compelling new work, Why We’re Polarized. It is likely to become the political book of the year. . . . Powerful [and] intelligent.” —Fareed Zakaria, CNN
“Few books are as well-matched to the moment of their publication as Ezra Klein’s Why We’re Polarized. . . . Klein’s careful book explains how different groups of Americans can see politics through such different lenses, examining how various psychological mechanisms allow committed partisans to rationalize almost anything their party does. . . . This book fully displays the attributes that have made Klein’s journalism so successful.” —Dan Hopkins, Washington Post
"Why We’re Polarized delivers. . . . What Klein adds especially to [is] our understanding of how we got here—why Trump is more a vessel for our division than the cause, and why his departure will not provide any magical cure. . . . A thoughtful, clear and persuasive analysis.” —Norman Ornstein, New York Times Book Review
"Superbly researched and written . . . Why We’re Polarized provides a highly useful guide to this most central of political puzzles, digesting mountains of social science research and presenting it in an engaging form. . . . An overall outstanding volume." —Francis Fukuyama, The Washington Post
"Brilliant and wide-ranging. A book about what just might be our central, perhaps fatal problem. This is the kind of book you find yourself arguing with out loud as you read it and will stick in your head long after you've finished. Absolutely crucial for understanding this perilous moment." —Chris Hayes, host of “All In with Chris Hayes” on MSNBC and author of A Colony in a Nation
“Eye-opening . . . Klein’s brilliant diagnosis and prescription provide a path to understanding—and healing.” —O Magazine
“A fascinating book, rich in politics, history, psychology and more.” —David Leonhardt, New York Times
“Well worth reading.” —Andrew Sullivan, New York magazine
“Even at his most wonky, a deep strain of humanism runs through [Klein’s] journalism and that infuses his new book, Why We’re Polarized.” —Krista Tippett, On Being
"In this thoughtful exploration of American politics, Ezra Klein challenges the conventional wisdom about why and how recently we've come apart, and suggests that the fantasy of some unified American middle is perhaps at odds with the ongoing fight for truly representational politics. Why We're Polarized makes the compelling case that the centuries-long battle to perfect our union means we were built to be split; Klein's provocative question is whether America's democratic systems and institutions can bear up under the weight of our divides." —Rebecca Traister, New York Times bestselling author of Good and Mad
“Something has gone terribly wrong with American politics in the last decade or so, and Klein gives us the clearest and most comprehensive analysis I have seen. He shows how we entered the realm of political ‘mega identity politics,’ and how feedback loops between our tribal psychology and our rapidly evolving media ecosystem may be driving our democracy over a cliff. The book reviews so many studies that in lesser hands it would earn the label ‘wonkish,’ but Klein’s writing is so good that it is a joy to read, even as you experience a range of negative emotions from what you are reading.” —Jonathan Haidt, Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership, New York University—Stern School of Business, author of The Righteous Mind, Co-author of The Coddling of the American Mind
“A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant . . . Deeply insightful . . . A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A timely, thought-provoking debut . . . This precise and persuasive guide helps to make sense of the current state of American politics. . . . Political junkies as well as general readers will learn from his analysis of the U.S. media landscape.” —Publishers Weekly
“Klein’s accessible work is for anyone wondering how we got here; it shows how understanding history can help us plan for the future. . . . By combining political history with social commentary, this book will retain relevancy.” —Library Journal
“By weaving together a composite of group psychological theory and political history in the trademark, rigorously logical style of Vox’s Explainer series, journalism, Klein traces the path of polarization from a time when the Republican and Democratic parties were virtually indistinguishable from each other to today.” —Emma Levy, Seattle Times
"It's been a long time since I learned so much from one book. He shows just how broken the American political system is." —Rutger Bregman, author of Utopia for Realists
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It’s hard to believe how easily humans polarize, but Klein lays out the scientific evidence so clearly, and the experiments he draws on are so well-designed, that there’s no room for doubt. On the slightest pretext, everyone from young children to adults will divide the world into Us and Them. And Us will happily harm Them even when doing so harms Us as well.
So how has our nation - or any nation - ever held together? Klein’s answer is cross-cutting identities. He defines identities broadly - ethnicity and gender, of course; economic and social class too, but also religion, politics, age, urban/rural, sports-team fandom, etc. And he shows how powerful some of these can be. We can disagree on politics, but if we share, say, religious and sports identities, it’s hard to hate each other.
Klein even has data on how these cross-cutting identities reduce the chances of civil war.
The problem comes when these identities start merging into “mega identities.” It’s happening now as conservatives, religious, older-white, and rural identities all align and merge into a single mega identity which then sees itself in opposition to another mega identity: the left, secular, multi-ethnic and urban. That’s the key finding about why we’re in trouble, but there’s much more to it.
You may be wondering, “Should I buy this book?” Here’s my answer:
It depends. Klein brilliantly explains the deeper forces at work. That’s why I give him 5 stars. But if you want to understand how those forces are playing out in this election year, and what we can do about it, it's not here. For that, have a look at Ripped Apart: How to Fight Polarization . Both books are essential, they just address different questions.
The two books agree on the basics. For example, both blame the culture war more than economics - as Klein puts it, “economic anxiety cannot explain away our political or cultural divisions.”
Chapters 1 and 2 argue correctly that today’s polarization has its roots in the 1960s, but it leaves out what the right-wing sees as the most polarizing events, such as the fight over school busing, the massive urban riots, the counter-culture, black power, and anti-war bombings. This may be the weakest part of the book. “Ripped Apart” provides an antidote.
Chapters 3 and 4 cover the fascinating material discussed initially.
In a brief “INTERLUDE,” Klein announces that from here on that he will “show the feedback loop of polarization: institutions polarize to appeal to a more polarized public, which further polarizes the public, which forces the institutions to polarize further, and so on." It’s a vicious circle and it’s getting worse.
CHAPTER 6 shows how the media plays its part in this “feedback loop.” The result is that those who consider themselves the most politically well-informed -- among both Democrats and Republicans -- are in fact the most misinformed. I won’t spoil his shocking statistics showing how bad this can get.
CHAPTER 7 concerns our political parties. They have been getting weaker since the early 1970s, while partisan fervor has gotten stronger, because primaries, with their low turnout, favor the partisan extremes. This led to Trump's takeover of the Republican Party.
CHAPTER 8 takes a careful look at our two-party system, and the picture gets even grimmer.
CHAPTER 9 argues that Republicans have been more afflicted by polarization, and explains why the Democrats' diversity has partially protected them.
The Fatal Flaw
CHAPTER 10. After nine chapters spent explaining the terrible consequence of polarization, Klein suddenly concludes, “I don’t consider polarization, on its own, to be a problem.”
Here’s his argument: “Surely the polarization that followed [the 1964 Civil Rights Act] was preferable to the oppression that preceded it.”
Well sure, but since the polarization “followed” (came after) the Civil Rights Act, it could not have helped cause it. It might have been an inevitable bad side effect, but it could not have been a cause of the good outcome since it came later. As always, bad side effects are bad, not good. We should try to minimize them.
And, if you look at the history, most of which Klein omits, we see that the Civil Rights Act was passed in both houses by landslide margins of both parties — there was little party-identity polarization then. And four months later LBJ was elected with one of the biggest landslides ever. Still little polarization.
The polarization came after the polarizing events I mentioned above. But if you ignore his careless polarization-is-good punchline, the rest of the book is well worth five stars.
In the first half, author Ezra Klein seemed to try hard to be fair in his analysis, although from time to time he did inject his own political views. I concentrated on considering if the information Mr. Klein presented made sense, allowing his examples to strengthen his point that as our identities (everything we are that is primarily considered non-political) activate under one umbrella (our political identity), they become stronger. In his own words, “Our political identities have become political mega-identities.” Further into the book, Mr. Klein makes the point even clearer when referring to his own opinions: “I can’t tell you that’s not just my motivated reasoning in action.” But the main thrust of the first half of the book is not to point at each of us and show us how we each rationalize to support our beliefs. The question is what this behavior means and how it affects all of us.
The author traces the initial split - over half a century ago - to a time when conservatives and liberals were part of both major parties. The lines are more clearly drawn today, and I can’t remember recently seeing anyone identified as a liberal Republican or a conservative Democrat. The author presents a multitude of facts, surveys, and tests that support what happened politically in America and why we are more divided than ever. If I would have been highlighting old school in a book rather than on my Kindle, I would have gone through several highlighters.
Like many of you, I realized long ago that it is easy and comfortable for all of us to support our own personal views if we only seek them out from those who think the same way we do. For years, I have done my best to read and listen to opposing views, although I can’t say that my own motivated reasoning doesn’t get in the way from time to time. It certainly did for Mr. Klein, who speaks at length about polarization and motivated reasoning yet by the middle of the book used Republicans and conservatives as cannon fodder. Almost every example featured a negative look at Republicans without a matching balance aimed at the Democrats.
Thus, he presents the strongest argument for his premise through personal example. In turn, those who disagree with him may take exception to his comments, thus strengthening the polarization he speaks about. It’s too bad he didn’t take a step back and remove his personal filters, rather than spend the second half of the book echoing the political comments found in pro-Democrat news outlets. While Mr. Klein’s description of why America is so split at this time is spot on, his unnecessary backhand comments and distorted “facts” in the second half of the book do not match his definition of mindfulness in the last chapter, and caused me to rethink the five-star rating I was prepared to give after reading the first half of the book.
I still recommend this book for everyone, no matter where you see yourself on the political spectrum. Knowing why we are so polarized may provide new thoughts for all of us, perhaps offering a path toward working together rather than tearing each other down. Three stars.
My thanks to NetGalley and Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster for an advance complimentary electronic copy of this book.