Home National Politics Thomas Zimmer NAILS It: “‘Polarization’…obscures what the key challenge is – the...

Thomas Zimmer NAILS It: “‘Polarization’…obscures what the key challenge is – the anti-democratic radicalization of the Right”

"Polarization" framing "feeds a nostalgia that is being weaponized by reactionaries, and it allows the Right to deflect and completely distort the picture."

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See below for two brilliant threads by Georgetown University historian Thomas Zimmer on how “Polarization” Is Not the Problem. It Obscures the Problem.” As Zimmer brilliantly writes (bolding added for emphasis):

  • “‘Polarization’ not only obscures what the key challenge is – the anti-democratic radicalization of the Right and the threat of authoritarian minority rule – but also transports a misleading idea of America’s recent past and how we got to where we are now.”
  • “It is true that in many areas, the gap between ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ is very wide, and has been widening. But where that’s the case, it has often been almost entirely a function of conservatives moving sharply to the Right, and the Right being extreme by international standards.”
  • “Most importantly, the ‘polarization’ narrative completely obscures the fact that on the central issue that is at the core of the political conflict, the two parties, and Left and Right more generally, are very much not the same – that issue is democracy.
  • Republicans are willing to abandon and overthrow democracy because they consider it a threat to traditional hierarchies and their vision of what ‘real’ (read: white Christian patriarchal) America should be. Many of them are embracing authoritarianism. Democrats… are not.”
  • “One party is dominated by a white reactionary minority that is rapidly radicalizing against democracy and will no longer accept the principle of majoritarian rule; the other thinks democracy and constitutional government should be upheld. That’s not ‘polarization.’”
  • “As a historical paradigm, ‘polarization’ tends to mythologize past eras of “consensus” and supposed unity. But in U.S. history, political and social ‘consensus’ was usually based on a cross-partisan agreement to leave a discriminatory social order intact.”
  • “The era of ‘polarization’ began when the white male elite consensus that had dominated both parties and society started to fracture. In many ways, ‘polarization’ is the price U.S. society has had to pay for real progress towards multiracial pluralistic democracy.”
  • “As a master narrative of what is wrong with America, ‘polarization’ is not just analytically inept – it is highly misleading. It feeds a nostalgia that is being weaponized by reactionaries, and it allows the Right to deflect and completely distort the picture.”
  • “Once you’ve convinced yourself that the country is coming apart, you might decide it’s ultimately preferable to lend your support to those who promise to turn the clock back rather than to the ‘radical Left’ – even if it means you’ll have to hold your nose while doing so.”
  • “American democracy was stable whenever and as long as it didn’t interfere with a political, social, and cultural order in which white Christians – and white Christian men, in particular – got to be on top and got to define what did and what did not count as ‘real America.'”


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