"A gripping and troubling account of the origins of our turbulent times.” —Jill Lepore, author of These Truths: A History of the United States
When—and how—did America become so polarized? In this masterful history, leading historians Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer uncover the origins of our current moment. It all starts in 1974 with the Watergate crisis, the OPEC oil embargo, desegregation busing riots in Boston, and the wind-down of the Vietnam War. What follows is the story of our own lifetimes. It is the story of ever-widening historical fault lines over economic inequality, race, gender, and sexual norms firing up a polarized political landscape. It is also the story of profound transformations of the media and our political system fueling the fire. Kruse and Zelizer’s Fault Lines is a master class in national divisions nearly five decades in the making.
Coauthors Kruse (One Nation Under God) and Zelizer (The Fierce Urgency of Now), both Princeton history professors, examine American politics starting in 1974, a watershed year marked by Nixon's resignation, through to the present. The bedrock of the text is a readable, well-paced history that depicts in chronological order major events of the four decades, including the AIDS epidemic, the Iran-Contra affair, the rise of the Tea Party, and the passage of the Affordable Care Act. This provides fodder for an analysis of tactics used, primarily by Republicans, to foment partisanship and division, exploiting preexisting social divides surrounding racial relations, gender roles, income inequality, and immigration that were stoked by political sideshows such as the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings, the impeachment of President Clinton, and the Supreme Court's 5 4 decision in Bush v. Gore. Kruse and Zelizer also identify other factors accelerating the country's polarization, particularly the transformation in communications brought on by the internet and the growth of ultrapartisan media. They also argue that the tactics employed in win-at-all-costs politics have played an instrumental role in dividing the country. Their analysis is thoughtful and credible, but political partisans who have benefited from the divisive atmosphere will be unconvinced that much of what is covered is actually a problem.