This New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller shows us that America’s political system isn’t broken. The truth is scarier: it’s working exactly as designed. In this “superbly researched” (The Washington Post) and timely book, journalist Ezra Klein reveals how that system is polarizing us—and how we are polarizing it—with disastrous results.
“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.”
“A thoughtful, clear and persuasive analysis” (The New York Times Book Review), Why We’re Polarized 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 20th 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.
“Well worth reading” (New York magazine), this is an “eye-opening” (O, The Oprah Magazine) book that will change how you look at politics—and perhaps at yourself.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
We can describe America’s current political landscape in a single word: divided. Americans are separated along sharp ideological lines, and not just in the voting booth. Everything from the music we like to the restaurants we eat at has become a marker for our political identities. In this pithy, thoughtful examination of 21st-century American politics, journalist Ezra Klein argues that all of this started well before the 2016 election. He builds a convincing case that our current political climate—in which even self-described “independents” consistently vote for only one party, and we’re more likely to vote against one candidate instead of for another—was designed to thrive on conflict. Using sociological studies and expert analysis, Klein lays out how the political parties and the media companies that report on them have benefitted from sowing discord for decades. Klein’s suggestions for combating this polarization, like abolishing the Electoral College and giving statehood to Washington, DC, will cause traditionalists from both parties to clutch their pearls, but Why We’re Polarized provides a consistently balanced, calm, and fiercely intelligent view on our political landscape.
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.