Why We’re Polarized

I have added a new book by Ezra Klein to my Library. The book titled “Why We’re Polarized” takes us on a fascinating journey to the past, helping us see that for all our problems, we have been a worse and uglier country at almost every other point in our history. Having said that, our current polarization has made it impossible to govern. I found his historical perspectives on the framing of our current political system very timely, and the notion that what works in one era fails in the next. The institutions, frameworks, and beliefs born in a vastly different era, struggle to keep pace in an era that looks very different.

Yet Unlearning that which we are familiar with is difficult for humans to do. as the book’s abstract states: America’s political system isn’t broken. The truth is scarier: it’s working exactly as designed. Ezra Klein reveals how that system is polarizing us—and how we are polarizing it—with disastrous results. That’s insightful, and we can apply that insight to just about everything. Just because the foundation of society is working as designed, does not mean that it is an effective foundation for a world that has shifted.

There are countless examples of this changing world provided in the book. Much of the political change in the U.S dates back to the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s. But there are many other Societal Factors at work. For example, here are several societal changes identified by the book:

  • Economist Jed Kolko notes that the most common age for white Americans is fifty-eight, for Asians it’s twenty-nine, for African Americans it’s twenty-seven, and for Hispanics it’s eleven. A report out of the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Applied Population Lab found that white births are now outnumbered by white deaths in twenty-six states, up from seventeen in 2014 and four in 2004.

  • The government predicts that in 2030, immigration will overtake new births as the dominant driver of population growth. About fifteen years after that, America will phase into majority-minority status—for the first time in the nation’s history, non-Hispanic whites will no longer make up a majority of the population.

  • According to the Census Bureau, 2013 marked the first year that a majority of US infants under the age of one were nonwhite. Meanwhile, America’s foreign-born population is projected to rise from 14 percent of the population today to 17 percent in 2060, more than 2 percentage points above the record set in 1890.

  • In 2018, for the first time, Americans claiming “no religion” edged out Catholics and evangelicals to be the most popular response to the General Social Survey’s question on religion. Robert Jones, the CEO and founder of the Public Religion Research Institute, projects the religiously unaffiliated will edge out all Protestants in 2051—“a thought that would have been unimaginable just a few decades ago,” he writes. When Obama took office, 54 percent of the country was white and Christian. By the 2016 election, that had fallen to 43 percent.

A major theme of the book has to do with our identities and how we associate with groups. It dominates our behavior. There are several very good examples and studies that make this point very real. This is a very timely book with a strong message – I highly recommend it. Here is the book abstract from Amazon:


“The American political system—which includes everyone from voters to journalists to the president—is full of rational actors making rational decisions given the incentives they face,” writes political analyst Ezra Klein. “We are a collection of functional parts whose efforts combine into a dysfunctional whole.”

In Why We’re Polarized, Klein reveals the structural and psychological forces behind America’s descent into division and dysfunction. Neither a polemic nor a lament, this book offers a clear framework for understanding everything from Trump’s rise to the Democratic Party’s leftward shift to the politicization of everyday culture.

America is polarized, first and foremost, by identity. Everyone engaged in American politics is engaged, at some level, in identity politics. Over the past fifty years in America, our partisan identities have merged with our racial, religious, geographic, ideological, and cultural identities. These merged identities have attained a weight that is breaking much in our politics and tearing at the bonds that hold this country together.

Klein shows how and why American politics polarized around identity in the twentieth century, and what that polarization did to the way we see the world and one another. And he traces the feedback loops between polarized political identities and polarized political institutions that are driving our system toward crisis.

This is a revelatory book that will change how you look at politics, and perhaps at yourself.

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