A leftist wonders why we're so polarized
No, I did not go out and seek this reading material. A "progressive" friend gave it to me. It was left over from a bulk purchase she made for a class she taught on (ahem) critical thinking. The book was written in 2019 and first published in 2020, while Trump was still president, and could be considered one of those election year "inspirations," intended to push a useful narrative.
Right there in the introduction is an emphasis on Hillary's winning the popular vote in 2016. This comes back later, when Klein implies the looming obsolescence of the Electoral College, let alone the Senate. He goes so far as to endorse the National Interstate Electoral Vote Compact, where member-states pledge to assign their electors to the winner of the national popular vote, thus sidestepping the Constitution.
What went unmentioned, which was included in Jonathan Allen's and Amie Parnes's Shattered, is that Hillary ran a particularly lazy campaign, taking several states for granted. Trump, on the other hand, targeted many of the same places and strenuously appealed to their blue-collar nature.
Early on, Klein repeats the well known fallacy that Trump's success in 2016 was seriously helped by Russian interference. Much of the book's first half is a compilation of polling data and social psychology, establishing that people tend to coalesce into groups. Birds of a feather, don't you know?
He does get interesting when he talks about the effect of primary elections taking the place of backroom dealing to choose nominees. Making the process public diminished the traditional role of the parties. Unmentioned is that the turning point was the Nixon-McGovern election of 1972. The rise of primaries is also what really put much more emphasis on political fundraising, since there had to be almost twice as much campaigning. Klein's point is that primaries also contributed to polarization. There was thus more interest in a candidate's personal ideology than his party identity.
He goes so far as to say leftists are more open-minded because they get their information from many more sources than folks on the right. He stays away from the overwhelming dominance of the media by advocates of leftist agendas. Conservatives simply have fewer places to find simpatico news and commentary. Gee, could the various schools of "journalism" be purposefully molding the minds of their graduates?
The folks at Pew reported back in 2016 that the more college educated someone is, the more leftist he's likely to be. It doesn't take a lot of effort to realize that this is a result of the left's conquest of academe. Colleges are, by far, largely involved in political indoctrination, and the products of this process are walking around everywhere.
Klein even falsely accuses the Right of being monochromatic. The flight of various minorities away from the Democrat party was already well underway while he was writing the book. He also shows a lack of historical depth. Never mentioned is Nixon's Southern Strategy, which seriously enhanced our political polarization by replacing Southern Democrats with Republicans and thus putting the levers of party seniority and power into the hands of inner-city machine Democrats. He also makes a big pitch for proportional representation of the House of Representatives, meaning that the electoral pie should be carved up into proper percentages, which would then allow candidates from some splinter parties to achieve office. This is done without any mention that such a condition was used by Adolf Hitler to seize control over Weimar Germany. Ironically, Israel is bedeviled by the same practice.
At the end, Klein makes a pitch for shifting political focus from national to local, where individuals can have more influence. I'm kind of inclined to agree, but again, historical context is missing. Prior to the Civil War, the nation was mostly in the hands of the governors of the several states. Shortly after the dawn of the 20th century, radio networks pulled the focus to New York and D.C. And then came Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal.
All in all, other than pointing his finger at primary elections, he never really answers the title's question: why are we polarized? He mostly just describes the polarization. My takeaway can only be that Mr. Klein and his colleagues are trapped in a bubble, where they continuously reinforce each other's questionable view of reality.
My friend gave me another book that was left over from her class: Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World by Fareed Zakaria. I haven't read it, but I'm willing to guess that one of the lessons is that the world needs stronger, more authoritarian central governments, to better control behavior that otherwise may be dangerous to our collective well-being.
Image: MSNBC via YouTube.