• Mon. Dec 4th, 2023

Reviewing and quoting Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein

Mar 23, 2020

(side note, this was the 666th book I’ve marked as read on GoodReads.. LOL)

Ezra Klein had some decent insights. There were times it became a bit preachy, becoming exactly what it was talking about, polarized and some of his anti-Trump is reflected. Obviously this will make it difficult for any Republicans to read so at an attempt to perhaps bridge the gap, this book has failed.

For me, I learned some interesting stuff, but my journey recently has been to try to understand both sides of the coin. I may have reached that understanding but now I feel like I’m all alone on a deserted island because neither side will listen to me now.

Now I see from both sides and I see where people just don’t listen and also don’t hear. Don’t WANT to listen or hear.

For the past 10 years or so, after each election, people are wondering, what went wrong, what is weird, what caused this unusual outcome. Klein responds:

“What if nothing unusual happened at all?”

“We are so locked into our political identities that there is virtually no candidate, no information, no condition, that can force us to change our minds. We will justify almost anything or anyone so long as it helps our side, and the result is a politics devoid of guardrails, standards, persuasion or accountability.”

“And yet, we have not changed so much, have we? We still coach Little League and care for our parents, we cry at romantic comedies and mow our lawns, we laugh at our eccentricities and apologize for harsh words, we want to be loved and wish for a better world. That is not to absolve us of responsibility for our politics, but to trace a lament oft heard when we step away from politics: Aren’t we better than this?

“I think we are, or we can be. But toxic systems compromise good individuals with ease. They do so not by demanding we betray our values but by enlisting our values such that we betray each other. What is rational and even moral for us to do individually becomes destructive when done collectively.”

“As such, I have found that American politics is best understood by braiding two forms of knowledge that are often left separate: the direct, on-the-ground insights shared by politicians, activists, government officials, and other subjects of my reporting, and the more systemic analyses conducted by political scientists, sociologists, historians, and others with the time, methods and expertise to study American politics at scale. On their own, political actors often ignore the incentives shaping their decisions and academic researchers miss the human motivations that drive political decision-making. Together, however, they shine bright light on how and why American politics work the way it does.”

“Unfortunately, the term “identity politics” has been weaponized. It is most often used by speakers to describe politics as practiced by members of historically marginalized groups. If you’re black and you’re worried about police brutality, that’s identity politics. If you’re a woman and you’re worried about the male-female pay gap, that’s identity politics. But if you’re a rural gun owner decrying universal background checks as tyranny, or a billionaire CEO complaining that high tax rates demonize success, or a Christian insisting on Nativity scenes in public squares — well, that just good, old fashioned politics. With a quick sleight of hand, identity becomes something that only marginalized groups have.

The term “identity politics,” in this usage, obscures rather than illuminates; it’s used to diminish and discredit the concerns of the weaker groups by making them look self-interested, special pleading in order to clear the agenda for the concerns of stronger groups, which are framed as more rational, proper topics for political debate. But in wielding identity as a blade, we have lost it as a lens, blinding ourselves in a bid for political advantage. WE are left searching in vaid for what we refuse to allow ourselves to see.”

“This is a profound enough point worth dwelling on for a moment. When a division exists inside a party, it gets addressed through suppression or compromise. Parties don’t want to fight among themselves. But when a division exists between the parties, it gets addressed through conflict. Without the restraint of party unity, political disagreements escalate. An example here is health care: Democrats and Republicans spend billions of dollars in election ads emphasizing their disagreements on health care, because the debate motivates their supporters and, they hope, turns the public against their opponents. The upside of this is that important issues get aired and sometimes even resolved. The downside is that the divisions around them become deeper and angrier.”

“So here, then, is the last fifty years of American politics summarized: we became more consistent in the party we vote for not because we came to like our party more—indeed, we’ve come to like the parties we vote for less—but because we came to dislike the opposing party more. Even as hope and change sputter, fear and loathing proceed.”

“White voters who feel they are losing a historical hold on power are reacting to something real. For the bulk of American history, you couldn’t win the presidency without winning a majority — usually an overwhelming majority — of white vote. Though this changed before Obama — Bill Clinton won slightly less of the white vote than his Republican challengers — the election of an African American president leading a young, multiracial coalition made the transition stark and threatening.”

So what’s going on?

“The answer, they say, is that the parties we perceive are quite different from the parties that exist. To test the theory, they conducted a survey asking people “to estimate the percentage of Democarats whoa re black, atheist, or agnostic, union members, and gay, lesbian or bisexual and the perecentage of Republicans who are evangelical, 65 or older, Souther, and earn over $250,000 per year.” They were asking, in other words, how much people thought the composition of the parties fit the caricatures of the parties.

“Misperceptions were high among everyone, but they were particularly exaggerated when people were asked to describe the other party. Democrats believed 44 percent of Republicans earned over $250,000 a year; it’s actually 2 percent. Republicans believe that 38 percent of Democrats were gay, lesbian or bisexual; te correct answer is about 6 percent. Democrats believe that more than 4 out of every ten Republicans are seniors; in truth, seniors make up about 20 percent of the GOP. Republicans believed that 46 percent of Democrats are black and 44 percent belong to a union; in reality, about 24 percent of Democrats are African American and less than 11 percent belong to a union.

“But what was telling about these results is that the more interested in politics people were, the more political media they consumed, the more mistaken they were about the other party (the one exception was the income category: high levels of political knowledge led to more accurate answers about the percentage of Republicans earning more than $250,000). This is a damning result: the more political media you consume, the more warped your perspective of the other side becomes.”

I have consumed a lot of political media but I had no clue how many Republicans earned over 250k, otherwise, I definitely see the warp-ness.

I see the Fake News and I now realize how correct President Trump is about the news. They are extremely corrupt. Perhaps, as Klein points out, it isn’t their fault, but there are no checks and balances to wrest it under control or even any attempts to do anything more than give people what they want and provide click bait on social media.

“Politics is, first and foremost, driven by the people who pay the most attention and wield the most power — and those people opt in to extraordinarily politicized media. They then create the political system they perceive. The rest of the country then has to choose from more polarized options, and that in turn polarizes them — remember, the larger the difference between the parties, the more compelling it becomes for even the uninterested to choose a side.
“Journalists are hardly immune to these forces. We become more polarized, and more polarizing, when we start spending our time in polarizing environments. I have seen it in myself, and I have watched it in others: when we’re going for retweets, or when our main form of audience feedback is coming from partisan junkies on social media, it subtly but importantly warps our news judgement. It changes who we cover and what stories we chase. And when we cover politics in a more polarized way, anticipating or absorbing the tastes of a more polarized audience, we create a more polarized political reality.”

“Journalism academics have always known that newsworthiness, as the American press defines it, isn’t a system with any coherence to it. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s just a list of factors that occasionally come together to produce news. There’s no real logic to it, other than it’s a list of things that can make something news. The advantage of it is that it leaves maximum leeway for editors to say, ‘This is news,’ and, ‘That’s not news,’ and so it’s news if a journalist decides it’s news.”

After the insights there was an attempt to figure out how to bridge the gap, but he didn’t like his recommendations so of course no one else will. We will continue down this highly polarized, emotional and passionate path for many years to come unless someone steps up and breaks us away from this two party system.

And I don’t see that happening.
Then again, maybe the Millennials and the the GenZ’rs have it in them to break tradition. I can certainly dream.


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