Opinion: The one political priority that could unite a divided America

Julian Zelizer

Editor’s Note: Julian Zelizer, a CNN political analyst, is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author and editor of 25 books, including the New York Times best-seller, “Myth America: Historians Take on the Biggest Lies and Legends About Our Past” (Basic Books). Follow him on Twitter @julianzelizer. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.


We live in unstable times. Although most Americans were hoping for tranquility after the turmoil of the pandemic and the turbulence of the Trump presidency, life remains rocky and unpredictable.

President Joe Biden has faced some enormously difficult issues since he entered office. Russia unleashed a fierce war against Ukraine, with the US allocating substantial resources to support Kyiv. The economy has been struggling, with experts repeatedly warning of a potential recession. Although job growth remains robust, inflation has continued to be a problem, causing many Americans to feel the pinch on everything from the cost of buying groceries to heating their homes.

The Federal Reserve has raised interest rates to address inflation, which has in turn caused huge swings in the stock market and a slowdown in the housing market. It has also played a role in the recent collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, which rattled confidence around the world and led the US government to intervene to stem the spreading financial panic.

And then there is the chaos and vitriol generated by the ongoing culture war debates, particularly those over school curricula about race and identity and efforts to curtail transgender rights; these have raised the temperature (and for some, deep fear) in communities across the country.

It’s perhaps not surprising that Americans say they are pessimistic about the future. In January, a Gallup poll found that 90% of Americans expected 2023 to be a year of political conflict, 85% forecast discord overseas and roughly 80% predicted economic problems and higher taxes in the US.

Barring a dramatic shift, the 2024 presidential election will take place within this ominous context. While some Americans spend their days screaming at their screens out of political frustration, I’d wager that what most people want is to be…

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