Rhetorical Analysis of Norman Ornstein’s Article


The United States was always characterized by a highly politicized population, which has differing opinions on numerous issues. Norman J. Ornstein’s article “Why America’s Political Divisions Will Only Get Worse” analyzes the book by Ezra Klein “Why We’re Polarized”. Both authors examine the manifestations of viewpoint discrepancies among Americans. I think that Ornstein is successful at convincing the audience of the degree of polarization despite using inappropriate arguments.

Writer’s goal

Ornstein wanted to establish whether Ezra’s writing had any valuable insight into the field of the state of society and political polarization. According to Ornstein, “We have a ton of books and many more articles and op-eds about the polarized state of our politics, our elections and our country”. Considering the plethora of information, which is produced on a daily basis due to the Internet and mass media, distinguishing between unsupported speculation and valid data is essential. Therefore, the author delves into Ezra’s book to ascertain its value.

Unstated assumptions

The article mostly provides the supportive viewpoint of Ezra’s ideas, although there are some ideas Ornstein follows without clearly articulating them. For instance, she assumes that a person’s age is relevant in delivering a persuasive argument. As the author writes in response to Klein’s professional portfolio, “that would be quite a career — but Klein is only 35 years old” (Ornstein). Not only does this utilize an ad hominem argument, but it also implies that a young person is not likely to generate qualitative content because of a lack of experience.

Another assumption that the author does not state in writing is that the political system of the United States does not have many opportunities for individual accomplishments. For example, Ornstein posits that “Trump is more a vessel for our division than the cause, and why his departure will not provide any magical cure”. The subsequent implication is that no matter how influential a political figure is, they are, in reality, not capable of standalone decision-making as the system does not allow individuals to exercise too much power.

Historical context

The article was written in January 2020, which was characterized by the unrealistic expectations of the new year. Firstly, this is the year of presidential elections in the United States, and some degree of polarization was natural. However, nobody could have predicted the scale of civil disagreements, which culminated with the sudden rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Naturally, the Americans who were already splitting ideologically were polarized even more.

Secondly, January was the time when the news about the coronavirus was starting to get viral. However, very few could foresee the scale of the incoming pandemic and the consequences on other spheres of life. At that point, the US Administration was sure of American invulnerability to the spread of the virus. Yet, as time showed, the United States became one of the most affected countries of the world, in large part due to the actions and statements of President Trump. The official denial of the severity of the threat caused further polarization in society.

Kairotic moment

It is worthy of note that both Ezra and Ornstein correctly pointed to identity politics as the reason for the current deficit of unity in the US. As Ornstein noted, “America has gone from people having overlapping and intersecting identities to where there is now a set of political mega-identities”. However, the actual turnout of events showed that racial issues were just a part of the multitude of issues causing polarization (Faris, 2). The kairotic moment would present itself later, after the social unrest, and it is still ongoing, with the elections underway.

Stylistic techniques

In order to persuade the readers that polarization is unprecedentedly high in the US, Ornstein uses repetition. For instance, when discussing identities, the author makes frequent use of the same words. She writes that “we all have many identities. We have family ones, community ones, ethnic and racial ones, religious ones, hobby-related ones and so many more” (Ornstein). This stylistic device is referred to as anaphora, and it makes the text appear more emotional.

One more technique Ornstein resorts to is its antithesis, which requires juxtaposing two different things. Its presence is evident when the author characterizes the mainstream parties: “Republicans have become more cultlike and resistant to compromise or moderation; Democrats, in contrast, have “an immune system of diversity and democracy”. Contrasting the ideologies serves as the accentuation of societal polarization in America. It also carries a subtle message of the Republicans being stuck in conservative ways to the point that the author compares it with sustaining an illness, which is another stylistic device – a metaphor.


Altogether, Norman Ornstein agrees that there is a high level of polarization in America, even though the arguments are not in line with the real causes. Whereas the author emphasizes diverse identities as the primary factor behind polarization, it is actually rooted at the core of the political system. Otherwise, Ornstein effectively argues that Ezra’s book corresponds with reality and uses metaphor, antithesis, and anaphora to convince the readers.

Works Cited

Ornstein, Norman J. “Why America’s Political Divisions Will Only Get Worse.” The New York Times. 2020, Web.

Faris, Robert, et al. “Polarization and the Pandemic: American Political Discourse, March–May 2020.” Berkman Klein Center, no. 2020-9, 2020, pp. 1-59.

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