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US politics

America is polarised in a way we’re not

A protester in Washington DC last weekend. Eric Lee/Bloomberg/Getty

For all the talk of political polarisation as a “global problem”, says Simon Kuper in the Financial Times, it is in fact uniquely American. Donald Trump’s poll ratings “barely budged” during his presidency, and supporters dismissed scandal after scandal as “fake news”. But when Boris Johnson turned out to have played “party host” over lockdown, his supporters fled and his ratings tanked. Today’s polarised US is more like Turkey or India than western Europe. Many Republicans, for example, believe “God supports their party” and fear their tribe is under “existential threat”. In a recent survey most of them agreed that the “American way of life” was so imperilled they may have to use force to save it. “They have enough firearms.”

Western Europe is tamer. Most citizens aren’t terribly interested in politics and don’t stay angry for long. Most Leavers celebrated Brexit less like a revolution and more like a football match: “You lost, get over it!” Nobody thinks God wanted Britain to leave the EU. In fact, people think less and less about the issue altogether – last year, Britons googled Aston Villa Football Club more than Brexit. But because international debate is largely driven by a self-obsessed anglophone media, we discuss American problems as if they afflict everyone, when really American polarisation, filter bubbles and economic inequality are unusually bad. Instead of worrying, we should recognise the US as a special case, “and make plans to cope should its democracy collapse”.

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