Princeton professor predicts second Gilded Age due to heightened partisan divisions

Matt Karp, an associate professor of history at Princeton University, said the rise of identity-based partisan politics could be leading to a second Gilded Age, a time in which society was largely defined by culture wars.

“This is a period, roughly from the end of Reconstruction at the close of the Civil War era into the 20th century, of high-turnout elections, intense hyper motivated electorates, two equally matched parties – Democrats and Republicans – and two coalitions that are voting almost entirely based on a mix of geographic, cultural, ethnic and racial identity,” he told Hill.TV.

Karp, who is also a contributing editor at Jacobin, said in the 1880s and 1890s, someone would have about an 80 percent chance of guessing a person’s political identity based on their individual characteristics.

He said because of the intense focus on partisanship and defeating the other side, politicians during that period did not address economic exploitation and equality, despite it being a major issue.

“Both sides accused each other of being tools of the ruling class. And they were both right because the ruling class was, as usual, ambidextrous and the working class was, as usual, as is in our era, divided between these two parties,” Karp said.

He said many voters are locked into whichever team they are on, allowing some politicians to be able to “shoot somebody dead in Main Street” and still win an election, an apparent reference to former President Trump once saying he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York and not lose any voters.

Karp said fear and hatred of the other side has prevented much of a crossover in voting even in more extreme circumstances, like the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

“The fear and the hate for the other guy has prevented a reckoning like that and blocks the possibility of a different kind of transformative politics,” Karp said.