Political polarization is the idea that the two main political schools of thought, Democrats and Republicans, are moving further away from each other. In this theory, that movement explains why there’s been a less willingness for compromise in American politics, or really, anything. It also explains some of the social sorting that has been going on in America for more than 50 years.
In his book, “Why We’re Polirized”, Ezra Klein, a founder of Vox Media, looks into that thesis. Klein’s source material includes a ton social science research. That research explains why, in today’s politics, the idea of having a grand bargain, a la the Ronald Reagan/Tip O’Neal agreements of the 1980’s, is as much a fairy tale as Goldilocks herself.
Klein details the societal sorting and group dynamics that have become the primary feature of politics in the United States.
Like many things in politics, the group dynamics don’t always make sense, nor are they inherently ideological. They are, ultimately, about identity, and what identity means to the individual.
That identity, that self-sorting, has come to be THE defining factor on who and how people vote.
Klein, whose explanatory journalism chops are on full display, takes the reader down a path that many have tried to nail down, but failed.
The section on group dynamics alone is enlightening. The way individuals will work in their own self interest to benefit their group is understandable. That those same groups will act against self interest to deny an opposing group, is both fascinating and frightening.
Klein’s descriptions of group dynamics gives the reader a better understanding of political momentum over the past 50 years. In the process, he details how it got there, more succinctly than anything the regular punditocracy has delivered.
By slowly and methodically cutting through the concentric circles of falsehoods and misdirection we’ve been all to willing to consume, Klein drills down to the core of what has both made, and will continue to make, the two dominant political parties look and behave completely differently.
In doing so, he reveals the dangers of the current path, and the challenges of getting back to a kind of “loyal opposition” governing structure that is a feature of Parliamentary forms of government.
Weighing in at about 270 pages, Why We’re Polarized is a pretty quick read. People familiar with social science research will easily fall in to the connections he draws between disciplines. Those less familiar with recent social science, will walk away with a reading list.
This is Klein’s first book, though he’s written extensively since the early 2000’s. You can also find more of his work at vox.com and listen to his podcast, which I highly recommend, here and follow him on twitter here.