The fact that it obscures the actual political conflict is the feature, not the bug of the “polarization” narrative – A Manifesto, Part II
This is such an important piece to place these claims in their historical context. So much of what people believe is based on the stories they have heard or have created for themselves. The worst and most unfounded belief systems are completely ahistorical. A deeper analysis of the history will always complicate simplistic narratives like polarization.
In all my years I have never seen any observer or commenter come to the United States and be able to see with such clarity what is happening in our politics. Thomas Zimmer also has the unique ability to see into our own pundits blind spots and point out what they are missing - and he does it all without the projection that ails most who comment on another country's politics. Thank you Thomas for seeing us (and our problems) as clearly as any non-American has since Alexis De Tocqueville.
What used to be a critical view is now a “polarizing” one. To be polarizing is to contribute to “the problem of polarization.” If you’re part of the problem, you can’t be taken seriously.
So critics are silenced and obstacles to minority rule are removed, one by one.
So here's my take . . .
I think that Thomas Zimmer has written a apologia for those who consider themselves as politically "Left," cherry-picking facts and instances that allow those who consider themselves as politically "Left" to see themselves as blameless of the social tensions that define our era. It's not the people tearing down statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson that are 'radical.'' It's not the students at campuses across America rioting in the streets in order to cancel speakers who might say something they don't like. It's not men competing in women's sports. It's not re-writing history (1619 Project) to sooth the consciences of an aggreived minority.
No, No, No. These things are not "polarizing" at all. They stand on the right side of history and are merely expressing what is obviously right and true to all. ("All" being those who see things "correctly.")
No. It's not us. We are as pure as the driven snow and are just standing up for Truth and Justice. To characterize "Speaking Truth to Power" as somehow "polarizing" is a perversion of the term.
"It is the OTHER, that's the problem. Not us! And believing such is not at all polarizing. Honestly, how could it be? It's just telling it like it is. It's the OTHER people that are polorizing. It's the Right that's radical and anti-democratic. It's the Right that causing all the problems."
Thomas Zimmer is singing you lullabyes and telling you, "Don't worry, you're all good children and will surely go to Heaven." Tucker Carlson does the same thing for his audience as well.
Seeing evil in the OTHER innoculates the seer from the evil. Tucker's audience believes that, and if you have read Thomas Zimmer with approval then you believe it too.
And now, to Zimmer's reply that this is "rightwing propaganda fabrications."
(Honestly, I'm almost embarrassed for him.)
And calling someone offering a good faith (and apparently accurate, according to CNN) critique of his narrative an "absolute doofus?"
. . . not at all polarizing
I've been saying some version of this for years so thanks for writing it down. The unity of white supremacists in the "old days" is not something to look back on with nostalgia. Time for true democracy!
This is something that badly needed to be written. Thank you.
Thank you for providing a lens and a framework for much needed discourse
That's a fascinating tweet from Ben Shapiro. (“If you want to de-polarize American society, begin with a simple task: say publicly that someone you totally disagree with…is a nice human being and people should give them a read or listen.”) If one assumes he is speaking to "the libs" and simply forgetting (how embarrassing!) to consider whether the identical message should apply to his own "conservative" side, a possible reply would be: "u first." But I think these performers of extremism don't merely forget to root out their own hypocrisy. They're being hypocritical on purpose, performatively. It's part of their act. So they don't need it pointed out to them. Ben Shapiro here, I think, is mimicking the discourse of those who perceive themselves as "reasonable centrists," and he's attempting to defuse the popularly lauded value of de-polarized civility by showing it has no power over him. I hear him saying "mi mi mi mi mi," opening and closing his hand like a talking duck, imitating Joe-Biden voice, making a joke out of the thing he's never gonna do.
Will your podcast be back soon?
Completely wrong, but thanks for playing.
Brillliant, as usual. Note, too, the disingenuous (at best) and misleading (as by Shapiro) use of "disagree." If X says that Democrats want to groom all children and force them to switch sexes, and Y says they don't, the two don't "disagree." X is either delusional, deeply stupid, or consciously lying. The issue is not a matter of opinion.
One question: How much are journalists' insistence on polarization a function of the preferences of their corporate owners? The Republican Party is turning fascist before our (and everyone's) eyes. How much are the owners--family; shareholders; institutions--of the NY Times loath to acknowledge that, because it threatens their status quo?
"Polarization" implies that there are two equally legitimate points of view, which is not the case. We have one "side," the Democrats, who have dug in their heels as the sane, reasonable people willing to work with the unhinged, authoritarian/fascist "other side," who are mainly a cult that worships a fat, orange faced old criminal who regularly threatens people and seems to be slip-sliding away into dementia, claiming he ran for president against George Bush and Barack Obama.
Author never mentions “Republican”. But a major political party has gone insane and irrational.
Speak out about it!
Because the idea of a consensus speaker in this context is absurd.
> We should see the polarization narrative’s rise to dominance in the context of an ongoing search for unity in the wake of the fracturing of the white elite consensus in the 1960s.
Much of this essay is excellent. You do a great job explaining the how the incentives of both the mainstream commentariate and the reactionary fever swamp lead them to broadly decry "polarization" without doing any analysis of the underlying fact patterns. That said, this sentence, and the paragraph that surrounds it, are missing a great deal of necessary support. If you're going to claim that the polarization narrative is truly a cover for shadowy "elites" to reassert their dominance after having been dethroned by the proletariat in the 1960s, you're going to need to provide some evidence that those "elites" actually exist as a coherent faction across the 20th century. And if this *isn't* a conspiracy theory, well, why does it sound so much like one?
Ultimately, a coherent "elite" faction trying to reassert or rebuild itself just isn't necessary. You've done a good job explaining the motives of the commentariate and the reactionary provocateurs in promoting the polarization narrative; all that's left is to explain why major figures in the Democratic Party go along with it. And the answer, I think, is pretty simple, and doesn't require the sort of conspiracy-adjacent rhetoric you're leaning into with this part of the essay.
Fundamentally, it's about leverage. The same coalitional factors that make the Democratic Party resistant to the kind of radicalization the Republican Party has undergone over the last 70-ish years also mean that, if a voter already agrees that the Republican Party is entirely or even principally responsible for the division they like to lament, that voter is locked into the Democratic coalition. The marginal voters are the ones who are convinced that polarization is bad but for whatever reason can't decide who's at fault.
And because our electoral system only permits voters to name their favorite candidate, there's no incentive to distinguish between opponents. Saying "Gary Johnson is kind of silly, and I disagree with Evan McMullen on a lot of policy positions, but Donald Trump is a straight up fascist" doesn't help anyone who's actually running against all of them in the same election, because the only way for a candidate to improve their standing in the results is to convince voters to pick them over *every* alternative. Under this structure, helping voters understand the differences among your opponents is at best pointless, because even if you fully succeed, your voters can only say "this guy", and never "especially not *that* guy".
Those two factors - the absence of alternatives for voters with specific preferences, and the inability to differentiate between negative preferences at the ballot box - are fully sufficient to explain the "empty unity" candidate. No elite cabal is necessary.
I hope every journalist and political scientist reads it. Thank you Thomas, for this view from 30,000 feet. Much needed.