You Can’t Fight Polarization Until You Understand It

A Review of
Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity (Author: Lilliana Mason)

Lilliana Mason uses extensive social psychology research to explain how today’s polarization works. The two parties have become heavily “sorted”, and victory for the “team” eclipses attention to actual issues. She concludes:

The social sorting of American partisans has changed the electorate into a group of voters who are relatively unresponsive to changing information or real national problems. The voting booths are increasingly occupied by those who fiercely want their side to win and consider the other party to be disastrous.

And there are real effects:

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Getting People to Be Responsible Citizens

A review of
Attention Deficit Democracy: The Paradox of Civic Engagement
(Author: Ben Berger)

The aim of expanding civic engagement has typically been promoted in top-down fashion. Ben Berger chides academics about this, and he advocates a more realistic view of citizens’ attention as well as more pragmatic strategies. The requisite framework is to observe citizens’ tastes, to find ways to get them to pay attention to political issues; and, when attention is secured, to mobilize their energy. Within this framework, he proposes three general solutions.

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Alternatives to our “Zombie Democracy”

A Review of
How Democracy Ends (Author: David Runciman)

David Runciman is a bit scornful and pessimistic about contemporary democracy, though not without good reason. And he is Head of the Department of Politics and International Studies at Cambridge University, so his new book How Democracy Ends is no mere journalist’s screed. Thankfully, he does not believe that US democracy is about to be overthrown by coup or fascism (a thesis that has helped other recent authors sell a lot of books.) Rather, he foresees democracy as ineffectively bumbling on, in a kind of “half-life” democracy that could continue existing for a long time.

Runciman does admit to risks of what he refers to as “executive aggrandizement,” where public passivity enables an elected strongman to chip away at democracy by bullying democratic institutions, while still paying lip service to democracy. (Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan is an example that comes to mind.) Of our current passivity, Runciman writes:

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