Book Notes: Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein

*Book notes are a chapter by chapter summary of each key point. To read the Why We’re Polarized book review click here.*

Introduction: What Didn’t Happen

Klein begins by describing the anomaly of Trump’s election, augmenting the title of Hillary Clinton’s unique book for a presidential loser. Several factors led to Trump going from a loss to a win within the rundown to election day (Comey letter, emails, sexism), but the better question is why was Trump close enough to win. Larry Bartels says that 2016 makes perfect sense when compared with previous elections and assuming similar demographic voting patterns and party partisanship. The evidence suggests as much.

This book is described as being about systems, not people as individual actors. Stories of political actors are moving, and common in news, but are less useful in understanding the broader picture. Things can succeed by their own logic even when failing what people assume their goal to be i.e. rational actors can act in understandable ways to create a dysfunctional system as a cohesive unit. Two “forms of knowledge” are best used in combination to understand American politics: 1) first hand accounts from political actors and 2) analyses by political scientists looking at the system as a whole. The “logic of polarization” is the primary driver of political action and produces a feedback loop of political institutions appealing to polarized public who polarizes, further continuing the cycle.

Additionally, identity is key to understanding polarization, particularly political identity. Identity politics has been captured by people legitimizing minority groups for acting under its supposed unique influence there. All politics is influenced by identity politics, including Christian, guns rights, abortion, etc.. The interaction between politics and identity is difficult to describe and zero-sum when viewed as a contest between identity groups.

Chapter 1: How Democrats Became Liberals and Republicans Became Conservatives

Since 1864, Republicans and Democrats have dominated American politics, but the parties themselves have shifted dramatically and repeatedly since then. In 1950 APSA (American Political Science Association) published a report admonishing the parties to differentiate in order to create a more polarized party system that would give voters a better understanding of what their vote meant. Political parties, as extremely broad choices, could be hard to distinguish from one another. Some, including Dewey and Nixon disagreed with the APSA report saying that the Republican and Democratic parties similarities offered great strength in allowing continuity of action even as people shift who they vote for. Robert Kennedy thought that there were already so many divisions (race, class, etc.) that horizontal party polarization would be dangerous.

Intra-party division, it was thought would get addressed through suppression or compromise, while inter-party division would get met out via conflict. Barry Goldwater’s candidacy explored the idea of mapping ideological difference onto party lines (as a conservative Republican), but he had to fight his party in the convention to do it, and was criticized mightily after his loss. Up to the Carter-Ford election, only a slight majority thought Republicans were more conservative and 30% said there was no ideological difference at all between the parties.

While in the past split ticket voting was relatively common (correlation between Democratic House vote and presidential vote was .54 between 1972 and 1980 and had risen to .97 by 2018). Now independents are more predictable voters than strong partisans of the past and our views of the opposite parties have fallen dramatically. While independents have risen, negative partisanship has ballooned, meaning both sides dislike the other much more than they did.

Partisan is a pejorative word, and partisanship was warned against by Washington and many others. We trust centrists and independents more than partisans and yet the logic of partisanship makes perfect sense, especially as differences grow, which they have in surveys (eg. share of democrats thinking poor people have it easy from gov’t help has shrunk dramatically since 1994, but stayed relatively similar among Republicans). This means that from a purely rational perspective, the other party is more of a “threat to your vision of a good society” than it used to be. Presidents of the past did many things that are anathema in today’s parties (eg. Reagan tax raising, Clinton’s passage of NAFTA and immigration views). Medicare, a profound gov’t expansion received bipartisan support in the 1960s, and both parties used to be a home for Pro-Life and Pro-Choice candidates alike. Now parties represent an obvious choice between two visions and threaten the opposition much more. So, Klein asks, what changed?

Chapter 2: The Dixiecrat Dilemma

In 1957, relatively weak Civil Rights legislation was filibustered by Sen Strom Thurmond, who spoke for over 24 hours, the longest in history. Yet it was ineffective and broke a promise built on compromises between southerners and northerners, as a stunt for Thurmond to appease segregationists. He was one of the most conservative Senators of his time, yet was a Democrat until after 1964 with the Civil Rights bill passed by LBJ. This lies in the fact that the Southern Democrats was a patrimonial mess of different ideologies unified in promoting southern causes against the rest of the country and maintaining white supremacy. They staged coups, lynched blacks, and engaged in incredible corruption to maintain power.

In the 1940s southern Senators bragged about using lynching as a tool to maintain power, and were protected by other Democrats and shatter black political ambition and ability to vote. The corruption removed Republican ambitions in an attempt to maintain Confederate political hierarchies, pairing transactionalism with white supremacy. The national Democratic party, eager to pass bills with their support ignored much of this, and through the New Deal era ignored Civil Rights legislation to pass the programs expanding government.

Southern democrats made the majority of the total Democratic House and Senate for much of the early 20th Century and controlled vital committee assignments well into the mid and late 20th. However as prominent Democrats(eg. Truman, LBJ) came to embrace civil rights and desegregation, the pact was broken. This to some extent was natural, due to progressive worrying about black poverty, and Republicans by contrast worrying about too many federal actions in general (including those to end poverty). Still, the mantle of Civil Rights could have gone to Republicans, as they actually made a majority of the legislators voting yea on the 1964 bill. But Goldwater shaped the view of Republicans being against Civil Rights.

What is Polarization? Klein argues that it is largely sorting (a version of polarization). Sorting is simply an alignment of certain parties (or other groups) by certain issues or identities. The polarization of issues and identities feeds of one another, but is still separate from extremism (eg. Medicare, a radical increase in gov’t health spending got votes from both Republicans and Democrats while Obamacare, a less extreme policy tried by a Republican Mitt Romney got no Republican votes when introduced by Democrats – how extreme the bill was matters less now, even when polarization is way up).

The mid 20th Century was a low point for polarization but a high one for extremism playing out in the mainstream (assassinations, riots, segregation, authoritarianism in the South). Now, in a polarized environment so-called-moderates are usually more extreme than liberals or conservatives, simply because they’re unsorted but hold select extreme views. Now, we have sorted but not necessarily more extreme than in the past.

Another effect of the Civil Rights legislation was the expansion of non-whites as a consistent block of Democrat voters, which didn’t occur in the Republican party. Sorting has also occurred over religion, with Democrats becoming much more secular (polarization over race and religion is a warning sign for increased hostility identified in How Democracies Die, by Levitsky and Ziblatt).

But the sorting has occurred on the geographic level too, with fewer, but higher population, counties voting Democrat, and more counties overall becoming landslide (where one side winning big) counties. People are continuing to move in ways that fit their preferences, and live with people “like them”. This is increasing the sorting by geography, and amplifying divides in politics. Where B. Clinton won almost half of all 3100 US counties, H. Clinton won fewer than 500, still winning the popular vote and winning areas representing 64% of US GDP.

This movement can be explained by personality psychology (and the Big Five personality traits openness, neuroticism, extroversion, conscientiousness and agreeableness), where people high in openness are more likely to be Democrats, and high conscientious folks more likely Republicans. This can play out all over the place, including food, where Whole Foods tends to attract high-openness individuals (often Democrats) and Cracker Barrel specializes in homey foods attracting high conscientious individuals. Democrats represent 78% of districts with Whole Foods and only 27% with Cracker Barrels). Ideas sort people too. “Hope” and “Change” bring along high-openness people, while more fearful people, or those emphasizing tradition and security, might see it as a threat.

While these psychologies might have been evenly split by party in the 1960s, and perhaps early 1990s, now the divide is clear (at least among white voters) where fixed (resistant to or fearful of change) and fluid (opposite) voters are both strongly sorted by party.

Chapter 3: Your Brain on Groups

In 1970, Henri Tajfel published a paper showing that our loyalties and prejudices were not rational but deeply emotional and instinctively tribal. Identity was what had motivated the genocidal impulses in the Holocaust he survived by pretending to be French rather than Jewish. He studied groups of boys divided on arbitrary lines (first counting clusters of dots and then later random splitting). They were given money to allocate among their respective groups. Even when it meant getting less money to their own group overall, the boys always emphasized giving more money to their group than the opposing group. He concluded that “Discriminatory intergroup behavior cannot be fully understood if it is considered solely in terms of ‘objective’ conflict of interests.” But this is not just a phenomenon among boys.

While Klein is not a sports fan, though he has tried, sports riots suggest that sports is fascinatingly tribal. People burn their cities when their teams win and certain rivalries provide meaning to people like little else does (eg. To Hate Like this is to Be Happy Forever). This is perfectly understandable from an evolutionary perspective: humans would die quickly without their group in nature, and even now loneliness creates real measurable physiological health problems and induces immense stress on us. We need groups to survive

We have also created social structures that radically exceed what we were evolved for. This has forced us to reprogram ourselves into thinking we are still living in small groups by attracting ourselves to sports teams and nation-states that give us camaraderie.

Politics is driven by similar group identities. Strength of partisan identity creates rivalry and increases in negative partisanship, which further causes us to act politically (donating money, voting consistently, etc.). Identity even trumps self interest, and explains why working class people will vote for Republicans who support cutting taxes on the rich. Negative partisanship further explains why candidates can be extremely popular when running against opponents and fall apart in primary elections (eg. O’Rourke in 2018 vs 2020).

Obama in 2004 made a historic speech in which he tried to make an impassioned case for unity. Our common identities, our American identity, is strong, and fundamentally stronger than all that divides us. Identity, which can be stronger or weaker, can emerge from countless angles, but the problem with Obama’s view, to Klein, is that the non-political identities are too weak to supplant political identity. Our political identity has become a proxy for many other things: religion, race, gender, neighborhood. This stacking of identities creates a mega-identity that is hard to break free of and creates more partisanship. After QB Kaepernick started kneeling during the anthem, even the NFL was not able to avoid becoming polarizing and its favorability among Trump supporters fell drastically.

Our identities can be bridges as well as moats that make it easier or harder to support or agree with certain people. A white, Christian, male, Democrat might find George W. Bush less threatening than a secular, black, lesbian, who might see Bush as “a genuine danger to her life”, and act accordingly. In fact, civil wars are much more likely when ethnicity intersects with another fundamental identity like religion. However, our conservative or liberal identities do less to predict our liberal or conservative views than how much we align with the views of the Republicans or Democrats in power.

Political identities have become an expression of our political hostility. We don’t want our children to marry people from the opposite party, and we are more likely to care about the party when picking the best resume than GPA or discriminatory variables such as race! We find it socially acceptable to disgrace others or discriminate based on party.

Chapter 4: The Press Secretary in Your Mind

The individual mandate was originally proposed in 1989 as a conservative alternative to the single payer system supported by Democrats. It was supported by a large bipartisan group of senators in the late 2000s. Yet when it was adopted by Obamacare it immediately became disliked by Republicans. This occurred with Cap and Trade and other policies. For many policies, politicians support them in theory, but oppose them when the other side proposes them. While the Enlightenment view might suggest people are rationally coming to a different view or rationally calculating that they must lie for political reasons, group identity makes much more sense of this behavior.

We cannot reason properly in groups without becoming swayed by what the group says, as Soloman Asch’s famous experiments demonstrate (where if people in a group see that others say that certain lines are the longest, they go with the group even when it is clearly not true). Additionally, whether we support policies is much more modulated by whether or not it is the Democratic or Republican position than what the actual policy says; even if the subjects are students with an interest in the underlying policy: welfare in one case). This makes sense, as we have to outsource our thinking to the group, to avoid being overwhelmed. A “more information” hypothesis suggests that giving people better information will allow them to make better policy decisions. But as Kahan demonstrates, people given a political math problem were much less likely to get the right answer than if it was a neutral math problem, and the partisan people also good math were affected the most. That is, partisans use what reasoning they have precisely to get the wrong answer because it must align with their politics.

This is demonstrated all over the place, in conspiracies who use facts and figures as well as Climate Science denialists. Of course in politics we see this too: informed Republicans and Democrats in the Clinton and Reagan years respectively, thought the economy got worse, when it got better. To Kahan this makes sense: why would we expect rational people to go against the people they have respect for and lose credibility, when the alternative is making a mistake or ignoring certain evidence.

The individual mandate, when passed through Obamacare, was thought to be impossible to bring down in courts, as case law post 1937 would all support it. But Republican appointed judges repeatedly ruled against it. When the Supreme Court ruled it was constitutional, few changed their mind about it. This sort of reasoning makes sense from the press secretary view of reasoning. No matter how bad a policy, our rational mind will come up with reasons to justify it (from Haidt’s Righteous Mind). We are all impacted by the phenomenon of motivated reasoning. Truth matters less to us than identity.

Chapter 5: Demographic Threat

America is changing fast, as represented by the demographic support of the Obama and Trump candidacies, between which, white Christians became a minority. Soon America will be a racially majority-minority country and is shifting as we speak; becoming populated by more immigrants, secular folks, and college educated women. As James Baldwin states, the presence of a stranger makes “you the stranger, less to stranger than to yourself.”

However, demographic change shapes political behavior. Learning that whites will become a minority group makes whites more conservative as does hearing Spanish spoken in public settings. The Obama (racially diverse) coalition represented a shift away from the power of white voters. Yet voters and the political power are not representative of the current demographic state. White rural voters hold much more power based on the structure of the House districts, Senate, and electoral college. This is happening even as culture and business moves forward to appeal to a younger diverse population. The dialogue of Rush Limbaugh, O’Reilly, and other popular conservative commentators have consistently been fearful of this demographic change.

A sense of racial solidarity grows when a group feels under threat, and white identity is a political force among a meaningful percentage of voters worried about losing power. Identity alters how we perceive things such as the economy. Rich Republicans were less satisfied with the economy than Democrats in the lowest income quintile during the Obama presidency. This flipped months into Trump’s presidency. One reason right wing populists have been succeeding globally is the influence of migration, and economic anxiety does not explain our political divide well by itself.

Issues of political correctness have become political hotspots because they are questions about who has the power to control discourse, and this power is shifting, and causing more discomfort among groups used to having the discourse designed around their comforts. This is articulated through Bret Stephens, a NY Times columnist, objecting on Twitter to language used against him, and sought to punish those who would insult him online (eg. a professor joked about him being a bedbug in the Times office and Stephens sent the message to the professor’s University Dean). Past columnists might have been removed from the direct line of communicative attack Twitter and social media offers, but not today.

Certain changes rooted in a demographic shift can be seen in comparing how B. Clinton’s immigration platform is similar to Trump’s, and radically different than H. Clinton’s. The Democratic party has had to grow concern for its Black and Latino base, and a “great awokening” has occurred among its college-educated, often white, supporters, who are further to the left than much of the rest of the party. Attempts to diversify leadership gets called identity politics, but much of it is an attempt to shift away from white identity politics of the past. This process is changing the way campaigns run (Sanders was more race-conscious in 2020), but still creating a meaningful feeling of loss among people who feel the power is being lost by a new diverse coalition.

Interlude

The first half of the book, Klein says, was an attempt to show the natural, psychologically normal, ways in which American politics has become polarized. The civil rights era prompted a collapse of the Dixiecrat portion of the Democratic Party, and ushered in a sorting of the two parties by certain identity groups which have stacked on top of one another. But polarization is not only in the past and is still going on. 

Chapter 6: The Media Divide beyond Left-Right

People largely follow politics as a hobby, so journalists have to compete with literally everyone else on and off the internet drawing their attention. While certain theorists thought the internet would create more informed voters, the internet drastically increased distractions at the same time. At the same time, research by Markus Prior showed that how much people were interested in consuming political information better predicted their political knowledge than their level of schooling. All this suggests that the divide between the polarization in interest vs. no interest in politics is a feeder of political polarization in the internet age; where what you want can be fed by content targeted specifically for you. 

The modern opinionated press is actually a return to that found in the past: in 1870 only 13% of daily newspapers were independent from a political party. The market used to incentivize broader readership when a newspaper could dominate a market. When choices expand, people can pick the angle they want, and so “to be interested in politics is to choose a side.” 

The level of inter-party animus is growing quicker than demographic differences. This can be explained by the fact that more partisan media consumption creates a more stereotypical understanding of the other party. This occurs as Nielson numbers for TV and Chartbeat for online news media incentivizes journalists to seek higher ratings, often through polarizing content, further continuing the cycle.

Online entities capitalize on using identities to draw attention to their content (eg. Buzzfeed articles: only 90 kids will understand X). The internet is made for grouping identities, not simply interests. However, identities are malleable and can be strengthened or weakened (eg. the youtube algorithm is notorious for creating rabbit holes to more extreme content, leading to more extreme identities).

There leads to an echo chamber theory of polarization expressed by Obama. Paying people on Twitter to follow people of the other side, however, did not make them more moderate, and actually made conservatives more polarized. This could be because most political media isn’t designed for persuasion (Ross Douthat is the exception, not the rule). Forcing people to watch certain political media can polarize them in the opposite direction (Johnson, Arceneaux study). Politicians and the politically engaged are siloed into polarized informational media-ecosystems and are forced into specific actions based on that (eg. Fox News prompting Republicans into gov’t shutdowns). 

Those who pay the most attention and have the most power drive politics. These are the most polarized people. This is driven by the media choosing what is newsworthy based on ratings (eg. CNN helping Trump by giving him lots of attention early on; more than other front runners of the past or present). Newsworthiness is some combination of important, new, outrageous, conflict-oriented, secret, and interesting. What fits this category is contagious, and social media virality can lead to next day news (eg. Covington kids video)

Chapter 7: Post-Persuasion Elections

Modern politics has seen the end of the persuadable voter, meaning base mobilization has become more important. (eg. the Bush victory in the 2004 election and further in the Obama and Trump victories). The choices have become much clearer, illustrated by comparing H. Clinton vs Trump and B. Clinton vs H.W. Bush. 

We have entered the age of weak parties and strong partisanship (Julia Azari); where someone as hated by party elites and other candidates as Trump was, can end up winning a nomination (which was impossible 50 years ago).  The convention system used to keep demagogues out, but parties have now lost the legitimacy to wield power, and primaries have become more threatening (eg. Eric Cantor’s loss). 

Now, politicians get rewarded for disrespect aimed at the opposite party, as is demonstrated by Joe Wilson calling Obama a liar during an Obama speech and greatly increasing his fundraising and national presence as a result. Campaign finance has exacerbated this, by not reducing the amount of money getting into the system, but shifting where it goes. More money is given to individual candidates and 3rd parties than the relatively moderate parties themselves. Parties, meanwhile, prize moderation in general, even in safe seats.

Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign led the way in online donations, but the campaign was too optimistic about the consequences of this. Small donor contributions have increased by more than 10x since 2000 to 566,000 in 2016 and have also fueled the rise of countless populist, extremist, and contrarian voices. Furthermore, elections have been nationalized (Senators drive turnout better than Governors), and money can come in from anywhere in the country.

There are two broad tracks that money follows as it flows into politics. 1) large donations going to PACs seen as an investment to pass or influence less known bills or provisions in bills that benefit certain business interests or specific projects of large donors 2) small donations used as identity expression to assist politicians that they resonate with. Because most legislation isn’t heard of, there is a vast space for transactional politics which does not make it into the mainstream polarized political discussion that impacts every well known bill. But, so long as politics runs on private donations, there is a persistent problem of different donors wanting radically different things. 

Many predicted that Trump’s polarizing candidacy would follow in Goldwater’s and McGovern’s tradition of these candidates losing. But partisanship, and particularly negative partisanship against Clinton was enough to lead Trump to win. Extreme candidates drive turnout in the opposing party. Even Nat’l Review, which published an Against Trump issue, came around to supporting him over a Democrat that opposes most of the issues they believed in. However, Trump opens a way for a disciplined demagogue, a more nefarious threat.

Chapter 8: When Bipartisanship Becomes Irrational

After Scalia, a figure widely popular among conservatives, Obama nominated Merrick Garland in an attempt to compromise with them. Orrin Hatch had said he was a great pick in 2010, but in 2016 Republican Senators did not even hold a hearing for him. This was an unprecedented maneuver for McConnell that paid off when Trump won. 

Juan Linz’s critique of America’s political system from 1990, free of the reverence Americans give the founding documents, said having a president elected independently from the legislature was extremely problematic: when different parties win these respective elections who gets to speak for the majority? When tried elsewhere, the system often fails, and wasn’t tried in the countries America reformed after WWII (Germany, Italy, Japan).

Yet the system, which seemed to function when parties were diffuse, is breaking down. McConnell could be said to have used democratic legitimacy from the 2014 election to block Obama’s (elected in 2012) Supreme Court nomination. The lack of ideological mixing in parties is making gov’t dysfunctional. 

The way American gov’t used to operate, often with politicians trying to strike deals that benefit the place they represent (eg. Bill Nelson, Democratic Sen from Nebraska, getting a better deal on Obamacare, but getting butchered in conservative news and not running for reelection in 2012) is breaking down as politics is nationalized. People now identify more as Americans than with their state (since 1968) and national news is growing, fueling nationalized politics, which further fuels a more partisan politics. The conception of behind the scenes dealmaking among the parties is more often thought of as a corrupt or ideologically compromised practice. 

Another cause of polarization is due to less competition. Most of American politics has seen the dominance of one party (Republicans from late 19th Century until 1930s and Democrats until the late 20th Century). Shifts in political power used to not be speculated on by the Nytimes every election. With a dominant majority, both sides don’t have to worry about who will become the majority party, and can focus on governing instead. Close competition breeds lack of cooperation by the minority, as they don’t want to build the case for reelection of the majority party.

America is unique in that shared power and obstruction are more available. The filibuster, which accidentally originated following a speech by Aaron Burr in 1805 in which shifting Senate rules removed the ability to cut off debate. Ending a filibuster was made possible with first a ⅔ majority, and then a 60 vote majority in 1975. However this was exceedingly rare until the 2010s under Obama’s presidency. 

Crisis looms with the the debt ceiling, which if not raised, can cause a financial collapse when the US actually defaults on its debt, blowing up the value of Treasury bonds. US debt has been downgraded by Standard and Poors after the Tea Party demanded spending cuts in order to raise the ceiling. Even with both sides acting rationally, in terms of demanding their interests be met, threats lurk.

Chapter 9: The Difference between Democrats and Republicans

Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann, two widely respected, bipartisan journalists, published It’s Worse Than It Looks in 2012, claiming the Republican Party had become ideologically extreme and conflict oriented to a much greater extent than the Democrats. Despite the criticism, the 2016 election, if nothing else, suggested that their thesis was correct after Trump’s nomination. To further illustrate this, Republicans forced two Speakers of the House out in the 2010s, while Democrats maintained their leadership from 2006. 

This is partly due to the fact that Democrats are a much more diverse party and have to work harder to maintain their coalition. Conservatism, when measured, seems to be a measure of agreement with leaders of the conservative mantle more so than certain ideological commitments. Liberals trusted and followed a wide variety of media sources while conservatives followed few (47% Fox News). Conservative media ecosystem, furthermore, is not rooted in objective journalism, and constantly suggests the other side is unbalanced in its reporting or is now: “fake news”. 

Republicans can rely on partisan media, because they don’t need to rely on the majority of votes to win the Senate, White House and (with gerrymandering) the House. The Republican strategy encourages partisanship while the Democrats doesn’t. This manifests at the highest level, where conservatives, such as AG Bill Barr, preach apocalyptic doom about impending progressive control of life. 

This works because the Republican voter has more power in American electoral politics, but can feel it slipping as the country changes demographically. Their voters want their party to become more conservative, while Democratic voters want their party more moderate. 

Chapter 10: Managing Polarization – and Ourselves

Polarization isn’t inherently a problem, and worse problems can exist with a non-polarized system (eg. 1960s assassinations and riots). Furthermore, polarization is logical, and incentive driven within political systems. However, it is still problematic in our institution, and there are certain measures that can lessen its harm (despite this not being a book primarily about solutions, or even wanting to discuss them much at all because it is harder to fix than describe a problem). 

We should:

  • Bombproof our political systems by removing things such as the debt ceiling, automating budgeting processes, and introducing economic stabilizers (like unemployment insurance) that kick in during recessions.
  • Democratize the country by removing the electoral college (perhaps via the Nat’l Interstate Popular Vote Compact), introducing proportional representation in the House of Representatives, opening room for more parties, removing the filibuster, providing statehood for DC and Puerto Rico (Republicans can liberalize and compete even there eg. Larry Hogan). If this doesn’t happen, there will be a growing legitimacy crisis as parties can win consistently without winning the majority of votes. 
  • Balance the power between parties rather than between states (the founders thought about balance of state power and designed the constitution for this). Our conflicts, and partisanship is not defined by state but by party. Perhaps allow for 5 non-partisan judges on the Supreme Court, picked unanimously by 5 liberals and 5 conservative picked judges (Daniel Epps and Ganesh Sitaraman).

Beyond these, we as individuals should become mindful and aware of our identities and strengthen the ones we actually want to have. We should rediscover a politics of place, and follow local and state issues where we can have much more impact and feel more connected. Only 557 out of the 500,000 elected officials are national. Finally, we should understand that the past in so many ways was worse, even when polarization between the parties was much reduced. Jim Crow existed in times of low polarization, and as polarization has increased we have become much more democratic as a nation. Today’s political institutions are a great improvement on those of the past, no matter how much Trump’s outbursts seem to matter.

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