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  • Sheri Rivlin Allan Rivlin

The Wall Street Journal hates our book

Making the case that you should read it.

By Sheri Rivlin and Allan Rivlin

We are choosing to see Wall Street Journal Opinion Page writer Barton Swain’s completely negative review of Divided We Fall, Why Consensus Matters as a most persuasive case for why you should read it. It is an understatement to say he misses the point of the book. But in the review, after admitting he had trouble following a sentence, he interprets the sentence as having the exact opposite of its meaning.

Quoting the review, “It is, [Alice Rivlin] writes in a confusing series of negatives, ‘not clear whether the Republicans who do not define themselves as racists and who believe in democracy, the Constitution, and the rule of law will continue to support the party if it opposes these values.’ In other words: Republicans are basically all racists.”

We are not saying Republicans are all racist; we are saying there are many Republicans who are not racist. We are not saying all Republicans would suspend the Constitution and reject the rule of law; we are saying there are many Republicans that support democracy and respect the outcome of elections. The question is what these Republicans will do if the Republican Party is being led by Donald Trump and his followers that have made truth denialism, election denialism, and opposition to “wokeness” and other appeals to white-Christian nationalism a central element of their culture war politics. As Swain notes, the book devotes a chapter to the political science scholarship of researchers seeking to understand the decline of American politics into hyper-partisan warfare, increasing asymmetrical polarization, and negative partisan affect. [There are a lot of buzzwords in that sentence, but they are all explained in chapter 10.] The chapter includes research from Liliana Mason of Maryland University and Johns Hopkins University and others that demonstrate the link between Donald Trump’s appeal and his anti-black, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and homophobic rhetoric. Swain rejects but does not refute or engage any of this scholarship.

It is not our intention to embarrass Barton Swain with his own words, but he did include the following in his review. “[The left’s] willingness to stage sit-ins in the House of Representatives … finds no parallel on the right.” Is it possible to say this without also believing that Antifa and the FBI were the instigators behind the January 6th, 2021 Capitol insurrection?

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