Why We’re Polarized, Part 1

by Gina Schouten on May 24, 2022

I started reading Why We’re Polarized, by Ezra Klein, back in November. I’d also given a copy to my dad, proposing that we both read it and then talk about it over a beer. I have the good fortune to have a father who disagrees with me about many things, who is kind and curious, and who presumes good will, not only when he’s talking to his daughter but when he’s talking to most people who haven’t given him a pretty good reason to abandon that presumption. He is also so exceedingly gracious that he can be relied upon to read any book given to him as a gift. I really wanted to read this book with my dad, and I knew he’d follow through because he never doesn’t. What could go wrong? Me, of course.

A few chapters in, life got busy and other things more urgently needed reading. So, by the time I picked the book back up a few weeks ago, it had lain open and face down for long enough to have collected an impressive cover of dust. But, flipping back through the pages and revisiting my scribbles in the margins, I quickly remembered how much I’d been enjoying it. Quite apart from the interesting content, the skillfulness of it is thrilling. Klein reviews so much social science research in these chapters and weaves such a compelling argument from the threads of that research that he has no business also having written a book that’s engaging and painless to read. Yet he’s done just that.

The book makes the case that the U.S. political system is now characterized by a vicious feedback loop between polarizing political identities and polarizing political institutions. Over the coming weeks, I’ll write a few posts about things that struck me as I worked my way (back) through the book, and I’ll frame some questions it raised for me. First up is Klein’s origin story about the feedback loop, which involves the sorting of our various identities into camps aligned with newly differentiating political parties.

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