Daily Beast columnist Tomasky (Bill Clinton, 2017, etc.) confirms what we already knew—America is polarized—and masterfully charts how it always has been that way, especially at the beginning. What we are now experiencing is pure tribalism.
In decades past, political quarrels often ran within party lines as much as between opposites, and historical conditions and social and institutional forces caused them to compromise. That is no longer the case. The Democratic Party is a diverse group coalition of interest groups, while the Republican Party is more of a single movement, believing mostly in smaller government, fiscal responsibility, and strong defense. The current administration has largely tossed much of what used to be known as “traditional values.” The author expertly sifts through American history, citing compromises, which mostly made everyone unhappy. However, there was an era of genuine bipartisanship, roughly 1945 to 1980, when we had a national consensus and people worked together; this is what Tomasky calls an aberration of civility. Even though it was not necessarily true, people believed in the “American Way of Life.” Many causal events contributed to our current political atmosphere: the religious right’s sudden activism (against desegregation, among other issues); the Ronald Reagan administration’s dedication to deregulation, especially of banks; Newt Gingrich’s toxic attack against basic standards and norms; and the savings and loan crisis. Regarding Gingrich, Tomasky writes, “forty years later, I think it’s clear that in terms of the influence he’s had on conservatism and on both the discourse and practice of politics, he has been, for better or worse, the most influential Republican of his age.” The worst of our polarization has likely flowed from the Bill Clinton impeachment and the 2000 election. Refreshingly, Tomasky also offers “A Fourteen-Point Agenda to Reduce Polarization,” which includes a host of reasonable ideas—e.g., end gerrymandering and the Senate filibuster, eliminate the Electoral College, and, intriguingly, “reduce college to three years and make year four a service year.”
Read this excellent book; it’s your civic duty.