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McCourt School of Public Policy

Polarized America: Origins and Remedies

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About the course

American politics and voters are currently at the highest stage of polarization since the Civil War. As a result of the heightened state of the partisan divide, conflict between -- as well as within -- the branches of our government, including within the political parties themselves, has resulted in near gridlock on all but the most urgent of legislative issues. Meanwhile, the resolution of many policies on which there is broad public consensus -- from gun policy to entitlement reform to campaign finance reform to comprehensive immigration policy – remains seemingly gridlocked. Not surprisingly, public confidence in our political leaders and our political institutions remains at historically low levels.

This class will explore the historical origins of contemporary polarization and partisanship, reaching back over 200 years to the concept and design of the United States government, and following through decades of political, cultural, technological and legal changes that have resulted in our current combative political environment.

Guiding Course Questions

Throughout the course, students will answer:

  • What are the historical antecedents for the emergence of deep partisan disagreements?
  • What issues, developments or actions fueled the growth in polarization?
  • What can we as a nation do to find the common ground necessary to address longstanding challenges?

Who should attend

This course may be of particular interest to individuals looking to better understand the historical causes and remedies of today's polarized environment.

Trust the experts

John Lawrence

John E. S. Lawrence  is an adjunct professor of international affairs. He consults regularly for governments, the United Nations, and Bretton Woods organizations, as well as for bilateral development agencies. He has worked in more than fifty countries in all world regions. From 1988 to 1998 Pr...


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