In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, many Americans questioned how to respond to the results and the deep divisions in our country exposed by the campaign. Many people of faith turned to their religious communities for guidance and support. Many looked for ways to take action. In November 2016, biblical scholar Andrea L. Weiss and graphic designer Lisa M. Weinberger teamed up to create an innovative response: a national nonpartisan campaign that used letters and social media to highlight core American values connected to our diverse religious traditions.
American Values, Religious Voices: 100 Days, 100 Letters is a collection of letters written by some of America’s most accomplished and thoughtful scholars of religion during the first 100 days of the Trump presidency. While the letters are addressed to the president, vice president, and members of the 115th Congress and Trump administration, they speak to a broad audience of Americans looking for wisdom and encouragement at this tumultuous time in our nation’s history.
This unique volume assembles the 100 letters, plus four new supplemental essays and many of the graphic illustrations that enhanced the campaign.
Published near the midway point of the Trump presidency, this book showcases a wide range of ancient sacred texts that pertain to our most pressing contemporary issues. At a time of great division in our country, this post-election project models how people of different backgrounds can listen to and learn from one another. The letters offer insight and inspiration, reminding us of the enduring values that make our nation great.
As American politics has become increasingly polarized, gridlock at the federal level has led to a greater reliance on state governments to get things done. But this arrangement depends a great deal on state cooperation, and not all state officials have chosen to cooperate. Some have opted for conflict with the federal government.
Conservative Innovators traces the activity of far-right conservatives in Kansas who have in the past decade used the powers of state-level offices to fight federal regulation on a range of topics from gun control to voting processes to Medicaid. Telling their story, Ben Merriman then expands the scope of the book to look at the tactics used by conservative state governments across the country to resist federal regulations, including coordinated lawsuits by state attorneys general, refusals to accept federal funds and spending mandates, and the creation of programs designed to restrict voting rights. Through this combination of state-initiated lawsuits and new administrative practices, these state officials weakened or halted major parts of the Obama Administration’s healthcare, environmental protection, and immigration agendas and eroded federal voting rights protections. Conservative Innovators argues that American federalism is entering a new, conflict-ridden era that will make state governments more important in American life than they have been at any time in the past century.
Democracy and Dysfunction
Sanford Levinson and Jack M. Balkin University of Chicago Press, 2019 Library of Congress KF4552.L483 2019 | Dewey Decimal 342.73
It is no longer controversial that the American political system has become deeply dysfunctional. Today, only slightly more than a quarter of Americans believe the country is heading in the right direction, while sixty-three percent believe we are on a downward slope. The top twenty words used to describe the past year include “chaotic,” “turbulent,” and “disastrous.” Donald Trump’s improbable rise to power and his 2016 Electoral College victory placed America’s political dysfunction in an especially troubling light, but given the extreme polarization of contemporary politics, the outlook would have been grim even if Hillary Clinton had won. The greatest upset in American presidential history is only a symptom of deeper problems of political culture and constitutional design.
Democracy and Dysfunction brings together two of the leading constitutional law scholars of our time, Sanford Levinson and Jack M. Balkin, in an urgently needed conversation that seeks to uncover the underlying causes of our current crisis and their meaning for American democracy. In a series of letters exchanged over a period of two years, Levinson and Balkin travel—along with the rest of the country—through the convulsions of the 2016 election and Trump’s first year in office. They disagree about the scope of the crisis and the remedy required. Levinson believes that our Constitution is fundamentally defective and argues for a new constitutional convention, while Balkin, who believes we are suffering from constitutional rot, argues that there are less radical solutions. As it becomes dangerously clear that Americans—and the world—will be living with the consequences of this pivotal period for many years to come, it is imperative that we understand how we got here—and how we might forestall the next demagogue who will seek to beguile the American public.
After the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, a large cohort of women emerged to run for office. Their efforts changed the landscape of candidates and representation. However, women are still far less likely than men to seek elective office, and face biases and obstacles in campaigns. (Women running for Congress make twice as many phone calls as men to raise the same contributions.)
The editors and contributors to Good Reasons to Run, a mix of scholars and practitioners, examine the reasons why women run—and do not run—for political office. They focus on the opportunities, policies, and structures that promote women’s candidacies. How do nonprofits help recruit and finance women as candidates? And what role does money play in women’s campaigns?
The essays in Good Reasons to Run ask not just who wants to run, but how to activate and encourage such ambition among a larger population of potential female candidates while also increasing the diversity of women running for office.
The fight over immigration reform and immigrants’ rights in the U.S. has been marked by sharp swings in both public sentiment and official enforcement. In 2006, millions of Latino immigrants joined protests for immigration reform. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a policy granting work permits and protection from deportation to undocumented immigrants who entered the country before age 16, was enacted in 2012, despite a sharp increase in deportations during the Bush and Obama administrations. The 2016 election of Donald J. Trump prompted a surge in anti-immigrant sentiment which threatened DACA and other progressive immigration policies. In Holding Fast, political scientists James McCann and Michael Jones-Correa investigate whether and how these recent shifts have affected political attitudes and civic participation among Latino immigrants.
Holding Fast draws largely from a yearlong survey of Latino immigrants, including both citizens and noncitizens, conducted before and after the 2016 election. The survey gauges immigrants’ attitudes about the direction of the country and the emotional underpinnings of their political involvement. While survey respondents expressed pessimism about the direction of the United States following the 2016 election, there was no evidence of their withdrawal from civic life. Instead, immigrants demonstrated remarkable resilience in their political engagement, and their ties to America remained robust.
McCann and Jones-Correa examine Latino immigrants’ trust in government as well as their economic concerns and fears surrounding possible deportations of family members and friends. They find that Latino immigrants who were concerned about the likelihood of deportation were more likely to express a lack of trust in government. Concerns about personal finances were less salient. Disenchantment with the U.S. government did not differ based on citizenship status, length of stay in America, or residence in immigrant-friendly states. Foreign-born Latinos who are naturalized citizens shared similar sentiments to those with fewer political rights, and immigrants in California, for example, express views similar to those in Texas.
Addressing the potential influence immigrant voters may wield in in the coming election, the authors point to signs that the turnout rate for naturalized Latino immigrant may be higher than that for Latinos born in the United States. The authors further underscore the importance of the parties' platforms and policies, noting the still-tenuous nature of Latino immigrants’ affiliations with the Democratic Party.
Holding Fast outlines the complex political situation in which Latino immigrants find themselves today. Despite well-founded feelings of anger, fear, and skepticism, in general they maintain an abiding faith in the promise of American democracy. This book provides a comprehensive account of Latino immigrants’ political opinions and a nuanced, thoughtful outlook on the future of Latino civic participation. It will be an important contribution to scholarly work on civic engagement and immigrant integration.
Throughout American history, presidents have shown a startling power to act independently of Congress and the courts. On their own initiative, presidents have taken the country to war, abolished slavery, shielded undocumented immigrants from deportation, declared a national emergency at the border, and more, leading many to decry the rise of an imperial presidency. But given the steep barriers that usually prevent Congress and the courts from formally checking unilateral power, what stops presidents from going it alone even more aggressively? The answer, Dino P. Christenson and Douglas L. Kriner argue, lies in the power of public opinion.
With robust empirical data and compelling case studies, the authors reveal the extent to which domestic public opinion limits executive might. Presidents are emboldened to pursue their own agendas when they enjoy strong public support, and constrained when they don’t, since unilateral action risks inciting political pushback, jeopardizing future initiatives, and further eroding their political capital. Although few Americans instinctively recoil against unilateralism, Congress and the courts can sway the public’s view via their criticism of unilateral policies. Thus, other branches can still check the executive branch through political means. As long as presidents are concerned with public opinion, Christenson and Kriner contend that fears of an imperial presidency are overblown.
Has American democracy’s long, ambitious run come to an end? Possibly yes. As William G. Howell and Terry M. Moe argue in this trenchant new analysis of modern politics, the United States faces a historic crisis that threatens our system of self-government—and if democracy is to be saved, the causes of the crisis must be understood and defused.
The most visible cause is Donald Trump, who has used his presidency to attack the nation’s institutions and violate its democratic norms. Yet Trump is but a symptom of causes that run much deeper: social forces like globalization, automation, and immigration that for decades have generated economic harms and cultural anxieties that our government has been wholly ineffective at addressing. Millions of Americans have grown angry and disaffected, and populist appeals have found a receptive audience. These are the drivers of Trump’s dangerous presidency. And after he leaves office, they will still be there for other populists to weaponize.
What can be done to safeguard American democracy? The disruptive forces of modernity cannot be stopped. The solution lies, instead, in having a government that can deal with them—which calls for aggressive new policies, but also for institutional reforms that enhance its capacity for effective action.
The path to progress is filled with political obstacles, including an increasingly populist, anti-government Republican Party. It is hard to be optimistic. But if the challenge is to be met, we need reforms of the presidency itself—reforms that harness the promise of presidential power for effective government, but firmly protect against the fear that it may be put to anti-democratic ends.
What does the name Trump stand for? If branding now rules over the production of value, as the coauthors of Sovereignty, Inc. argue, then Trump assumes the status of a master brand whose primary activity is the compulsive work of self-branding—such is the new sovereignty business in which, whether one belongs to his base or not, we are all “incorporated.”
Drawing on anthropology, political theory, philosophy, psychoanalysis, and theater, William Mazzarella, Eric L. Santner, and Aaron Schuster show how politics in the age of Trump functions by mobilizing a contradictory and convoluted enjoyment, an explosive mixture of drives and fantasies that eludes existing portraits of our era. The current political moment turns out to be not so much exceptional as exceptionally revealing of the constitutive tension between enjoyment and economy that has always been a key component of the social order. Santner analyzes the collective dream-work that sustains a new sort of authoritarian charisma or mana, a mana-facturing process that keeps us riveted to an excessively carnal incorporation of sovereignty. Mazzarella examines the contemporary merger of consumer brand and political brand and the cross-contamination of politics and economics, warning against all too easy laments about the corruption of politics by marketing. Schuster, focusing on the extreme theatricality and self-satirical comedy of the present, shows how authority reasserts itself at the very moment of distrust and disillusionment in the system, profiting off its supposed decline. A dazzling diagnostic of our present, Sovereignty, Inc., forces us to come to terms with our complicity in Trump’s political presence and will immediately take its place in discussions of contemporary politics.
Why is Congress mired in partisan polarization? The conventional answer is that members of Congress and their constituencies fundamentally disagree with one other along ideological lines. But Gregory Koger and Matthew J. Lebo uncover a more compelling reason that today’s political leaders devote so much time to conveying their party’s positions, even at the expense of basic government functions: Both parties want to win elections.
In Strategic Party Government, Koger and Lebo argue that Congress is now primarily a forum for partisan competition. In order to avoid losing, legislators unite behind strong party leaders, even when they do not fully agree with the policies their party is advocating. They do so in the belief that party leaders and voters will reward them for winning—or at least trying to win—these legislative contests. And as the parties present increasingly united fronts, partisan competition intensifies and pressure continues to mount for a strong party-building strategy—despite considerable disagreement within the parties.
By bringing this powerful but underappreciated force in American politics to the forefront, Koger and Lebo provide a new interpretation of the problems facing Congress that is certain to reset the agenda for legislative studies.
“It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room. . . . And we are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t.”—An anonymous senior administrative official in an op-ed published in a New York Times op-ed, September 5, 2018
Every president faces criticism and caricature. Donald Trump, however, is unique in that he is routinely characterized in ways more suitable for a toddler. What’s more, it is not just Democrats, pundits, or protestors who compare the president to a child; Trump’s staffers, subordinates, and allies on Capitol Hill also describe Trump like a small, badly behaved preschooler.
In April 2017, Daniel W. Drezner began curating every example he could find of a Trump ally describing the president like a toddler. So far, he’s collected more than one thousand tweets—a rate of more than one a day. In The Toddler-in-Chief, Drezner draws on these examples to take readers through the different dimensions of Trump’s infantile behavior, from temper tantrums to poor impulse control to the possibility that the President has had too much screen time. How much damage can really be done by a giant man-baby? Quite a lot, Drezner argues, due to the winnowing away of presidential checks and balances over the past fifty years. In these pages, Drezner follows his theme—the specific ways in which sharing some of the traits of a toddler makes a person ill-suited to the presidency—to show the lasting, deleterious impact the Trump administration will have on American foreign policy and democracy.
The “adults in the room” may not be able to rein in Trump’s toddler-like behavior, but, with the 2020 election fast approaching, the American people can think about whether they want the most powerful office turned into a poorly run political day care facility. Drezner exhorts us to elect a commander-in-chief, not a toddler-in-chief. And along the way, he shows how we must rethink the terrifying powers we have given the presidency.
This is an anthology of poems in the Age of Trump—and much more than Trump. These are poems that either embody or express a sense of empathy or outrage, both prior to and following his election, since it is empathy the president lacks and outrage he provokes.
There is an extraordinary diversity of voices here. The ninety-three poets featured include Elizabeth Alexander, Julia Alvarez, Richard Blanco, Carolyn Forché, Aracelis Girmay, Donald Hall, Juan Felipe Herrera, Yusef Komunyakaa, Naomi Shihab Nye, Marge Piercy, Robert Pinsky, Danez Smith, Patricia Smith, Brian Turner, Ocean Vuong, Bruce Weigl, and Eleanor Wilner. They speak of persecuted and scapegoated immigrants. They bear witness to violence: police brutality against African Americans, mass shootings in a school or synagogue, the rage inflicted on women everywhere. They testify to poverty: the waitress surviving on leftovers at the restaurant, the battles of a teacher in a shelter for homeless mothers, the emergency-room doctor listening to the heartbeats of his patients. There are voices of labor, in the factory and the fields. There are prophetic voices, imploring us to imagine the world we will leave behind in ruins lest we speak and act.
However, this is not merely a collection of grievances. The poets build bridges. One poet steps up to translate in Arabic at the airport; another walks through the city and sees her immigrant past in the immigrant present; another declaims a musical manifesto after the hurricane that devastated his island; another evokes a demonstration in the street, shouting in an ecstasy of defiance. The poets take back the language, resisting the demagogic corruption of words themselves. They assert our common humanity in the face of dehumanization.