American Poison: How Racial Hostility Destroyed Our Promise

Knopf. Mar. 2020. 272p. ISBN 9780451494887. $26.95. SOC SCI
America’s social contract is shattered, and there’s likely no putting the pieces back together, according to this fierce, incisive analysis of why we are a deeply divided nation. New York Times journalist Porter (The Price of Everything) describes over a century of mounting resistance to government, and to the safety net it offers, on the part of working-class white citizens (whose own livelihoods would be greatly improved by a stronger welfare system), because of ingrained fear of the other and demographic change. Porter considers racial animus to be the primary driving force of our social dysfunction; the root cause of the polarization that has made bipartisanship and civil discourse all but impossible. Porter brings his own experience as a longtime observer of American economy and society to this sobering study, showing how fear and resentment have been driving forces in politics. In glimmers of hope, he notes that younger generations are accustomed to diversity, and that integrated neighborhoods and schools have proven beneficial to all. But, he notes, many young adults hold similar views as their elders, and several schools have re-segregated.
VERDICT Bleak, but perhaps inspirational, this challenging critique is recommended for policymakers and readers concerned about civic engagement.

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