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Why We're Polarized

by Ezra Klein

Kirkus A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant. Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and '60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as "tweedledum and tweedledee." With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that "kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would've been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would've been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age." Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a "true choice," Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of "identity politics." Americans, like all humans, cherish their "tribe" and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunatelyaccording to KleinTrump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Publishers Weekly Vox Media cofounder Klein explores political polarization in the U.S., from its psychological underpinnings to its impact on congressional lawmaking, in this timely, thought-provoking debut. Klein’s multifaceted approach draws on the work of political scientists, media critics, and social psychologists to address why individuals choose allegiance to party over policy, the pros and cons of identity politics, and the inherent instability of a presidential republic, among other topics. His pithy assessments (“The smarter the person is, the dumber politics can make them”) hit the mark more often than not, and political junkies as well as general readers will learn from his analysis of the U.S. media landscape. Klein provides unique insight into how journalists decide what stories to cover, and how that process contributes to a closed feedback loop in which efforts to persuade are less appealing to audiences than content that stokes partisan feelings. Klein’s modest set of principles for how the electoral system might “function amid polarization” may disappoint readers looking for more comprehensive solutions, but his thoughtful, evenhanded outlook fits the seriousness of the subject. This precise and persuasive guide helps to make sense of the current state of American politics. (Jan.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal In his first book, Klein, editor-at-large and cofounder of Vox and host of the podcasts The Ezra Klein Show and Impeachment, Explained, writes about how individuals reflect the systems around them. Klein shows how the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater later that year caused angry conservatives and Southern Democrats to gravitate toward the Republican Party. According to the author, there is nothing more dangerous than a group accustomed to power that feels its control is fading. Citing a range of primary sources and firsthand interviews, Klein reiterates that the United States is sorted into racial, religious, cultural, and geographic identities, which have led to Democrats becoming more diverse and Republicans more homogeneous. He effectively explains the impact of weak parties and strong partisanship, which can lead to demagogues. Among his ideas for reform are eliminating the Electoral College and granting Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico congressional representation. By combining political history with social commentary, this book will retain relevancy. VERDICT With YA crossover appeal, Klein's accessible work is for anyone wondering how we got here; it shows how understanding history can help us plan for the future.—Stephanie Sendaula, Library Journal

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