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.)
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
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. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump 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.
Polarization is the story of American politics today. It affects almost every aspect of American political life and has been studied by scholars from many different angles, with dozens of good historical and experimental approaches. Wouldn’t it be great if someone would digest all these studies, synthesize them and produce a readable book that makes sense of it all? Ezra Klein has done just that with his compelling new work, Why We’re Polarized. . . . Powerful [and] intelligent.” —Fareed Zakaria, CNN
"Why We’re Polarized delivers. . . . What Klein adds especially to [is] our understanding of how we got here—why Trump is more a vessel for our division than the cause, and why his departure will not provide any magical cure. . . . A thoughtful, clear and persuasive analysis.” —Norman Ornstein, New York Times Book Review
"Superbly researched and written . . . Why We’re Polarized provides a highly useful guide to this most central of political puzzles, digesting mountains of social science research and presenting it in an engaging form. . . . An overall outstanding volume." —Francis Fukuyama, The Washington Post
"Brilliant and wide-ranging. A book about what just might be our central, perhaps fatal problem. This is the kind of book you find yourself arguing with out loud as you read it and will stick in your head long after you've finished. Absolutely crucial for understanding this perilous moment." —Chris Hayes, host of “All In with Chris Hayes” on MSNBC and author of A Colony in a Nation
“Klein’s careful book explains how different groups of Americans can see politics through such different lenses, examining how various psychological mechanisms allow committed partisans to rationalize almost anything their party does. . . . This book fully displays the attributes that have made Klein’s journalism so successful.” —Dan Hopkins, Washington Post
“Eye-opening . . . Klein’s brilliant diagnosis and prescription provide a path to understanding—and healing.” —O Magazine
“A fascinating book, rich in politics, history, psychology and more.” —David Leonhardt, New York Times
“Well worth reading.” —Andrew Sullivan, New York magazine
"Klein writes captivatingly well. Reading Why we’re Polarized is like having a conversation with a brilliant, extremely persuasive friend who has read everything and who is armed with scores of studies that he’s able to distill into accessible bites." —Amy Chua, Foreign Affairs
“Even at his most wonky, a deep strain of humanism runs through [Klein’s] journalism and that infuses his new book, Why We’re Polarized.” —Krista Tippett, On Being
"In this thoughtful exploration of American politics, Ezra Klein challenges the conventional wisdom about why and how recently we've come apart, and suggests that the fantasy of some unified American middle is perhaps at odds with the ongoing fight for truly representational politics. Why We're Polarized makes the compelling case that the centuries-long battle to perfect our union means we were built to be split; Klein's provocative question is whether America's democratic systems and institutions can bear up under the weight of our divides." —Rebecca Traister, New York Times bestselling author of Good and Mad
“Something has gone terribly wrong with American politics in the last decade or so, and Klein gives us the clearest and most comprehensive analysis I have seen. He shows how we entered the realm of political ‘mega identity politics,’ and how feedback loops between our tribal psychology and our rapidly evolving media ecosystem may be driving our democracy over a cliff. The book reviews so many studies that in lesser hands it would earn the label ‘wonkish,’ but Klein’s writing is so good that it is a joy to read, even as you experience a range of negative emotions from what you are reading.” —Jonathan Haidt, Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership, New York University—Stern School of Business, author of The Righteous Mind, Co-author of The Coddling of the American Mind
“A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant . . . Deeply insightful . . . A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A timely, thought-provoking debut . . . This precise and persuasive guide helps to make sense of the current state of American politics. . . . Political junkies as well as general readers will learn from his analysis of the U.S. media landscape.” —Publishers Weekly
“Klein’s accessible work is for anyone wondering how we got here; it shows how understanding history can help us plan for the future. . . . By combining political history with social commentary, this book will retain relevancy.” —Library Journal
“By weaving together a composite of group psychological theory and political history in the trademark, rigorously logical style of Vox’s Explainer series, journalism, Klein traces the path of polarization from a time when the Republican and Democratic parties were virtually indistinguishable from each other to today.” —Emma Levy, Seattle Times
"It's been a long time since I learned so much from one book. [Klein] shows just how broken the American political system is." —Rutger Bregman, author of Utopia for Realist