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There are numerous reasons American politics went off the rails, but there are at least six seminal events in the past 24 years that steered us here.

Be smart: Politics is growing more personal, polarized and pugnacious. This dynamic is particularly acute on the right. This will likely get worse before it gets better as the trends outlined below continue unabated.

Expand chart
Reproduced from a Pew Research Political Polarization report; Graphic: Axios Visuals
  1. Newt Gingrich, in the early 1990s, weaponized warfare politics in a methodical and sustained way. In tactics and rhetoric, Gingrich ushered in a good-versus-evil style that persists today.
  2. Fox News, created in 1996, televised and monetized this hard-edged combat politics. This created the template for MSNBC to do the same on the left, giving both sides a place to fuel and fund rage 24/7. CNN soon went all politics, all day, making governance a show in need of drama.
  3. Facebook and later Twitter socialized rage and argument. Now every nut with an opinion could find fans and followers to cheer/egg him or her on. This happened as the middle in politics was officially purged from Congress.
  4. John McCain picking Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008, celebritized rage politics. Until that moment, Republicans typically picked conventional, next-in-line candidates. Palin, made for cable and social media, was the precursor to Trump.
  5. Facebook, starting in 2015, algorithm-ized rage. The more emotion you felt and sought, the more the news-feed machine pumped at you. With no one looking, fake news was born and metastasizing.
  6. Twitter + Trump, starting in 2016, habitualized and radicalized the moment-by-moment rage and reaction of politicians, voters and the media. This created more froth and more fog and resulted in a spike of people who don't believe real news, much less the fake news pulsing through the system.

The bottom line: Now all of this has been institutionalized. No wonder people don't trust, like or believe politicians — or often each other.

Fun fact: A Pew poll on partisanship found Republicans and Democrats no longer even want to live near each other.

  • 75% of conservatives want to live where "houses are larger and farther apart, but schools, stores, and restaurants are several miles away."
  • 75% percent of liberals want to live where "houses are smaller and closer to each other, but schools, stores, and restaurants are within walking distance."

Go deeper: This 2016 piece in The Atlantic smartly offers other causes of dysfunctional politics/governance.

Go deeper

Senate Armed Services chair dismisses Trump threat to veto defense bill

Sen. Jim Inhofe. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters Wednesday that he plans to move ahead with a crucial defense-spending bill without provisions that would eliminate tech industry protections, defying a veto threat from President Trump.

Why it matters: Inhofe's public rebuke signals that the Senate could have enough Republican backing to override a potential veto from Trump, who has demanded that the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Scoop: Uber in talks to sell air taxi business to Joby

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Uber is in advanced talks to sell its Uber Elevate unit to Joby Aviation, Axios has learned from multiple sources. A deal could be announced later this month.

Between the lines: Uber Elevate was formed to develop a network of self-driving air taxis, but to date has been most notable for its annual conference devoted to the nascent industry.

Setting the Biden-era cybersecurity agenda

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Biden administration will face a wide array of cybersecurity challenges but can take meaningful action in at least five key areas, concludes a new report by the Aspen Cybersecurity Group.

Why it matters: Cybersecurity policy is a rare refuge from Washington's hyperpartisan dysfunction, as shown by the recent work of the bipartisan Cyberspace Solarium Commission. President-elect Joe Biden should have a real opportunity to make progress on shoring up the nation's cybersecurity and cyber capabilities without bumping up against a likely Republican-controlled Senate.