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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

7 hours ago - Health

FDA advisory panel recommends Pfizer boosters for those 65 and older

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Key Biscayne Community Center on Aug. 24, 2021. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A key Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Friday overwhelmingly voted against recommending Pfizer vaccine booster shots for younger Americans, but unanimously recommended approving the third shots for individuals 65 and older, as well as those at high-risk of severe COVID-19.

Why it matters: While the votes are non-binding, and the FDA must still make a final decision, Friday's move pours cold water on the Biden administration's plan to begin administering boosters to most individuals who received the Pfizer vaccine later this month.

8 hours ago - World

France recalls ambassadors from U.S. and Australia over submarine deal

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L), French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (C), and French ambassador to the U.S. Philippe Etienne. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

France has taken the extraordinary step of recalling its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia after both countries blindsided their French allies with a new military pact and submarine contract, the French Foreign Ministry announced on Friday.

The backstory: While sealing an agreement with the U.S. and U.K. to acquire nuclear submarines, Australia ripped up an existing $90 billion submarine deal with France. That led senior French officials to accuse the U.S. of a "stab in the back."

Updated 8 hours ago - World

In reversal, Pentagon now says drone strike killed 10 Afghan civilians

Caskets for the dead are carried towards the gravesite as relatives and friends attend a mass funeral for members of a family that is said to have been killed in a U.S. drone airstrike, in Kabul on Aug. 30. Photo: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A U.S. drone strike launched on Aug. 29 killed 10 civilians in Afghanistan, including seven children, rather than the Islamic State extremists the Biden administration claimed it targeted, the Pentagon said Friday.

Why it matters: U.S. Central Command said at the time that officials "know" the drone strike "disrupted an imminent ISIS-K threat" to Kabul's airport, and that they were "confident we successfully hit the target."