Ezra Klein poses for a headshot. Klein spoke at the 2022 Kenner Lecture on toxic polarization. (Courtesy of Ezra Klein)

Ezra Klein gives 2022 Kenner Lecture addressing toxic polarization


Journalist Ezra Klein delivered the 2022 Kenner Lecture on Cultural Understanding, titled “What We Can Do About Toxic Polarization” via Zoom on Feb. 8.

Klein, New York Times columnist, co-founder of Vox, host of The Ezra Klein Show and author of “Why We’re Polarized” discussed the negative effects party conflict has on America’s political climate and government. 

Established in 1997 by Jeffrey L. Kenner, ‘65, ‘66, the annual event is an endowed lecture series of the College of Arts and Sciences, bringing speakers including Madeleine Albright and Nicholas Kristof to campus. According to Lehigh’s website, the lecture often brings speakers to campus who challenge widely held beliefs and perspectives. 

In the lecture, Klein said polarization is something that is not necessarily bad, but rather can become bad when no action is taken.

The Kenner Lecture with Ezra Klein took place over zoom on Feb. 8. The topic of the lecture was Toxic Polarization. (courtesy of Brianna Banful)

Throughout the hour-long engagement, Klein brought up the topic of “ricochet legislation.” This is legislation that is approved immediately after a nationwide event, and Klein explained how this is one of the ways American society allows toxic polarization to continue.

Klein further described how toxic polarization prevents the country from progressing and making real change.

“It’s too hard to change anything,” Klein said during the lecture. “If somebody passes major legislation and it’s terrible, it should be repealed. It shouldn’t be impossible to do–that’s crazy.”

However, Klein expressed that he does not believe no change will occur, due to his belief that American history presents a constant pattern of change in demographics.

Many students, faculty members and other interested individuals were in attendance. 

Evy Rahmey, ‘23, attended the lecture and said she enjoyed it and hopes the event has a strong impact on campus conversations.

“Lehigh has a range of students with a range of political opinions,” Rahmey said. “We deserve to be able to engage in healthy debate more. So, I think lectures like the one Klein delivered will be able to facilitate that.”

The Kenner Lecture with Ezra Klein took place over zoom on Feb. 8. The topic of the lecture was Toxic Polarization. (courtesy of Brianna Banful)

Ruben Mogaburo-Kessler, ‘24, shared in Rahmey’s sentiment. He attended the event and said it is a Lehigh student’s responsibility to have a holistic view of the world, regardless of individual beliefs and focuses.

He said he thinks Klein’s lecture was a good way to foster curiosity in students about the different perspectives that exist on social issues.

“Attending the seminar reminded me of the importance of listening to people even if you do not agree with them,” Mogaburo-Kessler said. “Much like the topic of the seminar suggests, people are currently drawn apart by various lines of belief and culture. Going off of this, I try to separate belief from behavior, meaning that whether everyone is on the same page or not, there is a universal standard for how we treat others regardless of any differences.” 

Rahmey agreed and said the lecture inspired her to not only become more informed, but properly informed about what is happening in the government. 

Klein concluded his talk with some hope that, despite his doubts, things will change. 

“I’d like to see things change,” Klein said. “I am not totally optimistic, but you never know. I’ve been surprised before.”

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