Two Princeton history professors have set out to answer a question much of the population has been asking since November, 2016: What happened? Kevin Kruse and Julian Zelizer, both specialists in 20th century American political history, take a long view in seeking answers in “Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974,” published in January by W.W. Norton.

Kruse and Zelizer posit that while the election of Donald Trump was shocking, the societal changes and divisions that led there — what they call “fault lines” — had been forming since the 1970s.

“The sources of division are not entirely obvious,” the authors write in their introduction. “Indeed, as we will show, during the past four decades, the country actually seemed to be coming together in some significant ways. In the marketplace, in the spread of social norms and in the propagation of popular culture, disparate parts of the nation were becoming less and less dissimilar. For all the talk of a deeply divided nation, pollsters found that many issues that were contentious in the political arena, such as LGBTQ rights and women’s rights, were much less so outside the confines of Washington, DC.”

But, they continue, “the forces of division were persistent and powerful, often rooted in institutional forces that moved the nation in destructive directions. The rebellions and discord of the 1960s led to widespread disillusionment and cynicism about the viability, or even the value, of national consensus and unity. As the country moved on from the tumultuous decade, national leaders rebuilt institutions that privileged division, competing views, and fragmentation.”

Kruse and Zelizer discuss and sign their book on Thursday, February 28, at 4:30 p.m. in Room 101 of Princeton University’s Friend Center at the corner of William and Olden streets.

This article was originally published in the February 2019 Princeton Echo.