Kenan Malik in The Guardian:
Nations today seem divided down the middle on critical issues – whether Catalonia over independence, Britain over Brexit or America over Donald Trump. This is not just a western phenomenon. A week ago, Cyril Ramaphosa won the election for the ANC leadership by the narrowest of margins – 2,440 votes to his opponent Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s 2,261. Earlier this year, the referendum called by the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to extend his powers approved the measures by 51% to 49%. Every electorate seems divided and uncertain.
Many see in such polarised nations societies that no longer possess a sense of common values and so have little material with which to bind themselves together. The consequences, many fear, are more unstable societies with governments that lack authority among large sections of the electorate and a political system open to exploitation by extremists, especially far-right extremists.
From a historical perspective, though, contemporary polarisation does not seem particularly acute. Go back a generation. Is Britain more polarised now than it was in 1984, at the height of the miners’ strike? Today, newspapers might describe judges, of whose decisions they disapprove, as “enemies of the people”. Then, it was government ministers who called striking miners “the enemy within”. The full force of the state – from the police to propaganda – was mobilised to crush the strike, leading to mass invasions of mining communities, bloody confrontations, as at Orgreave, tens of thousands arrested and a Britain far more divided and embittered than it is today.