Yes, Be Very Worried Over Growing Polarization

Victor Davis Hanson // Hoover Institution

My Hoover Institution colleague Morris Fiorina has recently written that I am unduly pessimistic in my appraisals of a currently divided America. He cited two essays I wrote, one a Tribune Media Services syndicated column, the other a National Reviewonline essay. Both were published before the recent national hysteria over Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

In those essays, I had indicated that the polarization within the United States is growing ominous. Given relatively new force-multipliers—such as the asymmetrical consequences of globalization, the rise of social media and instant global communications, red-blue-state geographical self-selection, the Obama and Trump presidencies, and massive illegal immigration—I suggested that we may be on a dangerous trajectory. In my view, the resulting escalation could exceed the factional differences that were ultimately resolved peacefully in the 1930s and 1960s, and instead might approach those of 1860–61.

Before answering Fiorina’s counter-arguments that I am too gloomy, I first would like to address, sine ira et studio, a few of his initial assumptions. First, he locates our disagreement in my own supposed role as an “active combatant in today’s political wars.” And thus, apparently, my “impressions” should be placed in just that partisan and politicized context. In contrast, Fiorina is self-described as a “data guy” and a “noncombatant.” I take that to mean that the disinterested social scientist Fiorina can better assure us of “grounds for feeling much more sanguine about the state of our country.”

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