Review: The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart, by Bill Bishop

I never took a course in political science. In high school, we were required to take a semester of American Government, and a year of American History. Unfortunately, as I've mentioned before (in a previous review or two) classes have their limits. Even in college, there's only so much history you can study and actually learn in the course of a semester.

Having lived through the past few (increasingly controversial) elections, however, has definitely given me a decent amount of schooling in voter demographics and in the growing rift between the Republican and Democratic parties.

This rift is brilliantly illustrated by Bill Bishop in his book, The Big Sort which details the way in which both parties have reinforced themselves over the last few years, creating two extremes, with little to no middle ground. Most of us are partisan these days, living in shrinking communities with specific homogeneous interests, driving ourselves away from those whose opinions differ even in the slightest, nurturing our political and moral certainties and severing us from the coinciding concepts of tolerance and compromise. While Bishop's personal feelings are obviously skewed towards the liberal end of things, the book saves neither party from its due censure. And he does it without relying too heavily on numbers and statistics which will be forgotten at the turn of a page.

The facts are clear: neither party is willing to budge. And with the introduction of ultra-extreme party offshoots like The Tea Party, there seems little hope for mending the gap of beliefs in America. The ultra-conservative only drink tea with other ultra-conservatives, engendering a whirlpool of hate and ill-feeling toward anyone with a liberal bone in their body. And the ultra-liberal only interact with other ultra-liberals, creating an equally frightening force of hate and fear from conservatives. We all think we're right with pretty much no room for debate. In a world like this, where anyone who is an "other" is a fool or a sham, how is bipartisanship ever to be regained?

America seems to be on a path towards destruction. We can't see the light at the end of the tunnel because there is no light there, the only light seems to be at the center, in moderation. I will never agree with a lot of what the Republican party believes. But I do believe in compromise. I also believe that Glenn Beck is a fool, and I believe that he is one of the tools the conservatives are using to drive a deeper wedge between the parties. But if we want tolerance, if we want compassion and solidity as a nation, and if we want an end to this rift we all need to move towards the middle, even if it means compromising with those whom we consider "rubes, fools and hate-mongers." To get tolerance, you need to give it.

Bishop has a great quote at the end of his afterword to the 2009 edition of the book: "The message people living in a democracy must understand, more than any other message, is that there are Americans who aren't just like you. They don't live like you, they don't have families like yours, and they don't think like you. They may not live in your neighborhood, but this is their country, too." What this book has done, for me at least, is not convert me to a conservative or even reinforced my liberal standing: it has made me willing to listen. I may not side with conservatives and I may disagree with 90% of their rationale, but I think it's important that we all hear each other out and understand where the differences are, and how to bridge the gaps that currently separate us.


  1. This book has convinced you to open your ears and mind and listen to the point of view of other people who are not of your mindset?? Where do I go to get the author, Bill Bishop, on the list of nominations for the Noble Peace Prize?

    Bring the book to Florida next month. I'll read it and then we'll get a few others to read it and so on . . . .


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