Election 2020: From Halloween to Amazon book reviews, politics is everywhere

Jen Lancaster’s new memoir is about anxiety, but Amazon’s top review has nothing to do with the book.

Instead, a reviewer from Seattle, Washington, gives “Welcome to the United States of Anxiety” one star – the lowest rating – due to what it perceives to be the author’s political views. Although the reviewer admits they haven’t read the book, more than 1,422 Amazon browsers said they found the review “helpful”.

Call it the United States of animosity, where less than three weeks before a controversial election, politics seeps into every aspect of life, even those unrelated to politics. The acrimony has seeped into the decorations kids will pass by on Halloween, influenced decisions about what people read and where they shop, and even surfaced in an online knitting forum.

“It’s as if our choices of entertainment, our choices of where we shop, where we eat, what we read, have become deeply imbued with political beliefs,” said John Sarrouf, co-executive director of the non-profit community building association. Essential Partners, based in Boston. “I’ve heard people say, ‘I don’t want to walk down this street because there’s a big Trump sign. They don’t even want to look at it.

For Lancaster, best-selling author of 15 other books, it was shocking to see a malicious review that she says doesn’t even reflect her current personal views. The review said Lancaster loved conservative author Ann Coulter, based on something Lancaster published in 2006. “But in 2006 I also loved chunky locks and platform sandals,” she said. said, adding that his political views had also evolved since then.

Although the global nature of politics seems novel, historians say it’s actually a throwback to an earlier era when political campaigning was the country’s main form of entertainment. And some social scientists say that an obsession with politics is better than its antithesis, apathy.

But others hope the focus on political divisions will end after the votes are counted next month.

“It should be possible to say, for example, that I enjoyed golfing today, without Democrats and Republicans immediately saying, ‘That awful president also plays golf,'” Charles Lipson wrote. , professor emeritus of political science at the University of Chicago. for a real clear policy.

Jen Lancaster, author of ‘Welcome to the United States of Anxiety’ and 15 other books, poses for a photo in New York.

Deplorable knitters

Lancaster, 52, best known for comedic hits such as ‘Bitter is the Next Black’ and ‘Such a Pretty Fat’, said until recently she had held fairly conservative political views throughout her career , and openly, until about 2007. .

“Politics is really important to me; I was a political science major at Purdue,” she said, adding that she supported the late GOP Sen. John McCain when he ran for president in 2008 at a time when others authors spoke out against it.

“But then my whole management team said, ‘You’re not going to have a career if you keep saying anything about being conservative. So I kept my mouth shut.

In her new book, she says she no longer identifies with a political party. “If I identify with anything, it’s being an American, which is why I despise how badly we’ve splintered as a country. The divisions between us aren’t new, but the ways in which we the treats are. We have lost the social norm of civility,” Lancaster wrote.

Adrienne Martini, a member of the Otsego County Council of Representatives in Oneonta, New York, wrote a book about her candidacy experience, “someone has to do it.” But before being a politician, she was a knitter and, like others, turned her hobby into politics by knitting. pink hats that women wore during a march on Washington in 2017.

“They’re super easy to knit and made me feel like I was ‘doing something’ after the 2016 election. The big political thing knitting right now is the ‘dissident’ collar (a nod to fiery Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wore lace collars), but it doesn’t quite move me in the same way,” Martini said.

The knitters have also done things in support of President Donald Trump, like a pattern for a hat that read “Build the Wall,” designed by an anonymous woman who calls herself the “Deplorable knitter.“On her website, she said she and her husband support ‘our president, our troops and our God. If any of these things offend you, this is probably not the place for you.

Her support for the president was deemed offensive by the online knitting community Ravelry, which banned her and anyone promoting Trump and his policies from the platform. The resulting fury caused MIT Technology Review to write about “the increased politicization of the online knitting world”.

But Martini said she wasn’t surprised or even particularly troubled by the division among knitters.

“My feeling is that politics is the water we all swim in every moment of every day. We’re just more aware of how wet that water is right now and how many of us are drowning rather than swimming. Knitting is just one more way for people to make their preferences known,” she said.

“Everyone is an authority”

Ellen Fitzpatrick, a history professor at the University of New Hampshire who specializes in presidential campaigns, said the current high level of engagement in politics is due in part to the pandemic, but amplified exponentially by the use widespread social media.

“Everybody’s an authority these days,” she said. “There’s a huge explosion of opportunities for people to participate in these ways; whether they are constructive or not is another question.

But what appears to be a new level of engagement is actually a throwback to an earlier period in history, she said.

In the 19th century, fewer Americans could vote; women and many blacks were ineligible, for example. “But there was an extremely high level of enthusiasm and engagement from those who could vote. It was a form of entertainment; it was a way to socialize with each other. There would be these huge torchlight parades and outdoor lectures. Politics was entertainment; it was sporty. It filled a lot of needs in the culture,” Fitzpatrick said.

During this period, however, people identified more with political parties than with individuals, and in the early 20th century reforms were instituted (to include the secret ballot and the primary process) that made parties less powerful, and voter turnout, which once was as high as 80%, began to fall and interest in elections waned and never returned to 19th century levels.

“Paradoxically, the number of eligible voters is growing over the course of the 20th century, but voter enthusiasm seems to be declining,” Fitzpatrick said. “What’s happening today, there seems to be a high level of engagement, but whether that translates into a vote or not remains to be seen.”

There are, however, new developments today, she noted, including the exuberance of individual candidates rather than political parties and their platforms. “

“And politics infects everything now. This deep division is a worrying development because it seems so full of anger. The anonymity of some of these platforms allows people to say things they wouldn’t say to someone else in person. I think there’s a hateful rhetoric and a divisiveness that’s a very lamentable thing that we’ve seen in recent years.

“Not just our political identities”

Lipson of the University of Chicago said political divisions in America are deep and the greatest since the Great Depression and possibly since 1860. Equally troubling is that while in the past people from parties different politicians still found areas on which they could agree, now they rarely do.

“Parties are more ideological than they have been since the 1930s,” he said. “Instead of having transverse cleavages socially, we have cleavages which reinforce each other. We always cut the pie on the same middle slice. And we do this without strong trust in social and governmental institutions,” Lipson said.

“If you asked in the early 1960s, ‘Do you think the government generally tries to do the right thing?’, 70% would say yes; now the number is around 20%,” he said. “We have deep social divides, parties trying to drive us apart, activists within those parties, all dealing with each other in an environment of very low trust. This is a recipe for real trouble.

Lancaster, the Chicago author, said the problem is people telling others what they should think and why they should think it. “If you want to make a compelling case, the best thing you can do is talk about your personal experience on any topic,” she said.

But, she said, “It’s such an ugly political season that I also don’t think not talking about politics is the right decision. I think what we have to do is try to foster mutual understanding or we’re going to have a civil war.

Sarrouf, co-author of “Essential Partners”Guide to conversations across the red-blue divideechoed Lancaster’s remarks, saying people can learn a “constructive conversation cycle” that they can use whenever they’re in a conversation that turns acrimonious.

Research has shown that people’s minds are rarely changed by street signs, but they can be changed in thoughtful conversation in which both parties listen deeply and ask sincere questions. “Be that positive deviation from the growing norm,” Sarrouf said.

Furthermore, he advises people to quickly suppress physical manifestations of division immediately after the election. “If it’s important to put a sign in your yard, it’s important to take it down when it’s finished,” Sarrouf said.

“I think it’s important to remember that we are not just one thing. The person down the street isn’t just a Democrat who voted for Biden; he was the person who brought a bouquet of flowers when my mother passed away,” he said. “Or, Trump’s person is also the person who picks up trash in the kids’ play area so it’s a clean place for the kids to play. We are not just our political identities.

Alycia R. Lindley