When Americans woke up on November 7, 2016, it seemed as if we were not one country, but two. There were the red states and the blue states; the pro-Trumps and the anti-Trumps; the Republicans and the Democrats. In the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s election, it seems to some that we are no longer a united nation, but the uneasy yoking of enemy camps. However, in Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974, Princeton professors Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer demonstrate that the current crisis is nothing new. Instead, it is the result of fissures that have been deepening for decades.
In the 1950s, there was an expectation that middle-class white men would be the dominant breadwinners, women would be relegated to the home, and people of color would continue to be treated as second-class citizens. However, as underrepresented groups demanded and fought for equal rights and opportunities, cracks in the status quo began to emerge—sometimes explosively. Like volcanic eruptions along a fault line, the Watts riots in LA, the Stonewall riots in New York City and the Kent State shootings were symptoms of a deeper schism. Aided by advances in technology such as the internet and cable news, along with a growing distrust of politicians in the wake of Watergate and subsequent scandals, the cracks deepened, and American opposition hardened into enmity. President Trump may very well be an accelerant of this process, but he is also a product of it.
Fault Lines started as a series of lectures by Kruse and Zelizer offered at Princeton. Judging from the resulting book, the class was no doubt a wonderful introduction to a critical era in our history. Even for those who lived through these events, Fault Lines gives brilliant context to help us understand how Americans have become so fragmented and rigid in our beliefs. Perhaps, with understanding, we can begin to soften our divisions and heal.
This article was originally published in the January 2019 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.