WinLoseorDraw has been reading Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein. He recommends it, highly. The author re-enforces many of the opinions expressed on this blog with scholarly and professionally conducted research. Imagine that.
WinLoseorDraw found a two page Interlude, located appropriately in the middle of the book (page 135), which summarized what Mr. Klein has written up to that point.
What follows is that two page Interlude, starting with paragraph two and with parenthetical interjections by WinLoseorDraw:
The human mind is exquisitely tuned to group affiliation and group difference. It takes almost nothing for us to form a group identity,….. (Mr. Klein has cited studies that show any random separation of people into two non-distinct groups is all that is necessary for a group identity to take hold.) Quote continued: and once that happens, we naturally assume ourselves in competition with other groups. (Also extensively backed up by numerous valid studies) Quote continued: The deeper our commitment to our group becomes, the more determined we become to make sure our group wins. Making matters worse, winning is positional, not material; we often prefer outcomes that are worse for everybody so long as they maximize our group’s advantage over other groups. (As in the current political environment.)
Quote continued: The parties used to be scrambled, both ideologically and demographically, in ways that curbed their power as identities and lowered the partisan stakes of politics. (Klein is referring to the political environment leading up to and including the 1950’s.) Quote continued: But these ideologically mixed parties were an unstable equilibrium reflecting America’s peculiar, and often abhorrent, racial politics. The success of the civil rights movement, and its alliance with the national Democratic Party, broke the equilibrium, destroyed the Dixiecrat wing of the Democratic Party, and triggered an era of party sorting.
That sorting has been ideological. Democrat now means liberal and Republican now means conservative in a way that wasn’t true in, say, 1955. The rise in partisanship is, in part, a rational response to the rise of party difference—if the two sides hated and feared each other less fifty years ago, well, that makes sense; they were more similar fifty years ago.
But that sorting has also been demographic. Today, the parties are sharply split across racial, religious, geographic, cultural, and psychological lines. There are many, many powerful identities lurking in that list, and they are fusing together, stacking atop one another, so a conflict or threat that activates one activates all. And since these mega-identities stretch across so many aspects of our society, they are constantly being activated, and that means they are constantly being reinforced.
All this is happening in an era of profound, powerful social change. A majority of infants born today are non-white. The fastest-growing religious identity is no religious identity at all. Women make up majorities on college campuses. Soon, a record proportion of America’s population will be foreign born. Groups that are rising in power want their needs reflected in politics and culture, groups that feel themselves losing power want to protect the status and privileges they’ve had, and this ve had, and this conflict is sorting itself neatly into two parties. Obama’s presidency was an example of the younger, more diverse coalition taking power; Trump’s presidency represented (or represents) the older, whiter coalition taking it back.
(Skipping part of the next to last paragraph and continuing the quote): I want to 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.
Polarization isn’t something that happened to American politics. It’s something that’s happening to American politics. And it’s getting worse. (End quote).
Proposal: Let’s stop identifying as one thing and not the other. The next time the ideological bus stops to let you on, just keep on walking.