I see what the author is getting at, but I have a bit of a problem with the phrase divisive political causes. Surely all political causes are divisive in that they challenge a consensus of the powerful. Documenting and/or protesting the resurgence of racism in America is divisive, as is any emphasis on gender politics (be that feminism, or gay rights, trans rights, etc). Commenting on the spectacular concentration of wealth in recent years is divisive, since it points out the widening gap between the ultra-wealthy and everyone else. Calling radical and reformist causes divisive seems to impugn them, suggesting that there is a virtuous consensus (of straight white men, perhaps?) which should not be too strongly challenged lest the social fabric unravel.
Well that’s an old and familiar line: if women get the vote, the Great British Empire will collapse! If child labour is outlawed, the Industrial Revolution will sputter out and fail! I’m sure we all can remember some more instances in which challenging the consensus of power was equated with undermining civilisation itself, or at least the state.
I understand, I think, the phenomenon to which the author refers: an embarrassing breakdown of both critical thinking and civility, an intensification of shallow and polarising rhetoric encouraging a flat unwillingness to compromise, in formal politics. That phenomenon in US politics has been going on for quite some time, however — possibly prior to any documentable Russian meddling or social media sway. Certainly strategic trolling can egg on participants in the game of “battling memes” and take us way past the marketplace of ideas and into fanaticism; but fanaticism also has a long and sordid history and predates the internet by several millennia.
I think author is spot-on that the goal of some of this social media gaming is to devalue the very concept of “truth.” This game was started a while back also (remember the “reality-based community” quip?). It’s undeniable that a notionally literate population no longer trusting any source of information is just as vulnerable to manipulation as any population of mediaeval peasants. PR agencies like Hill&Knowlton knew decades ago that sowing doubt and uncertainty was far more cost-effective than trying to bury facts. They still know this. It still works. Thanks NG for the thought-provoking read.