It often seems today that American society is coming apart. Our political, racial, and religious divisions seem ever more bitter and our capacity for goodwill and compromise ever more weak. Of course, this may only be a matter of perspective. Things might not be so bleak, or unusual. American society has been near fracture before. We had a civil war, in case people have forgotten. I heard someone say the other day that no one has ever accused a sitting president of treason before now; the person must never have heard of George Washington. And things looked awfully ominous in the 1960s. Perhaps our divisions only seem more pronounced than they have been . Perhaps, if we took a proper, historical view, today’s fissures wouldn’t be as worrying.
Well, a new book released today from Yale University Press maintains that we are right to be very worried, that our political, racial and religious divisions really are new and more bitter. The book is The Great Alignment: Race, Party Transformation, and the Rise of Donald Trump, by political scientist Alan I. Abramowitz (Emory). Readers can decide for themselves. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Alan I. Abramowitz has emerged as a leading spokesman for the view that our current political divide is not confined to a small group of elites and activists but a key feature of the American social and cultural landscape. The polarization of the political and media elites, he argues, arose and persists because it accurately reflects the state of American society. Here, he goes further: the polarization is unique in modern U.S. history. Today’s party divide reflects an unprecedented alignment of many different divides: racial and ethnic, religious, ideological, and geographic. Abramowitz shows how the partisan alignment arose out of the breakup of the old New Deal coalition; introduces the most important difference between our current era and past eras, the rise of “negative partisanship”; explains how this phenomenon paved the way for the Trump presidency; and examines why our polarization could even grow deeper. This statistically based analysis shows that racial anxiety is by far a better predictor of support for Donald Trump than any other factor, including economic discontent.