OATs 2020: US politics presently

This week's sneak peek from our 2020 Outstanding Academic Titles list: Books about US politics at the present time.

This week’s sneak peek from our 2020 Outstanding Academic Titles list: Books about US politics at the present time.
Image of book cover

1. The lost soul of the American presidency: the decline into demagoguery and the prospects for renewal
Knott, Stephen F. University Press of Kansas, 2019

A plethora of books have been published about Trump’s presidency. Thanks to Knott (national security affairs, United States Naval War College) readers finally have a book that places the Trump Administration in historical context. Knott’s basic premise is that presidential power has gradually shifted away from its constitutional foundations and come to derive from popular consent. This change has allowed the presidency to slip into demagoguery and divided US polity into hostile, partisan camps. Knott writes that limited republican presidency envisioned by the framers of the Constitution began its metamorphosis into an office pandering to public opinion during the presidencies of Thomas Jefferson (1801–9) and Andrew Jackson (1829–37). The precipitous decline of the framers’ presidency continued with Wilson, the Roosevelts, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. It has reached a historical low during Trump’s presidency. The popularized presidency is not the unifying, dignified, magnanimous office of Washington and Lincoln. Instead, the modern presidency resorts to divisive positions based on conspiracy theories, falsehoods, disparagement of minorities, and unattainable promises to win elections and court the support of its electoral base.
View on Amazon

Book Cover image

2. Banned: immigration enforcement in the time of Trump
Wadhia, Shoba Sivaprasad. New York University, 2019

This is a timely resource on Trump’s immigration policies, which at this writing are in the news. Wadhia’s intent is to describe and advocate, but the latter is a minor note until the last chapter. In the book’s seven chapters Wadhia (law, Penn State) explains the range of discretion that can be exercised in immigration enforcement, the Trump travel bans and shift in enforcement priorities, deferred action policies, types of speedy deportation, and refugee policy. Wadhia’s explanations of rules are clear, and his citations of statutes, regulations, and executive branch documents will help readers find the original sources easily. Wadhia also draws on 21 interviews with former government officials, immigration attorneys, and individuals directly affected by the changes in immigration policy, but the interviews are more a source of commentary and examples rather than the central data source. Very accessibly written, the book will be a great resource for those with little concrete knowledge of immigration issues in the Trump era.. View on Amazon

3. Crises of democracy
Przeworski, Adam. Cambridge, 2019

As the chaotic milieu of unexpected vagaries, reckless policies, and self-destructive engagements propounded by democratic regimes increasingly engulfs the world, Przeworski (politics and economics, NYU) reexamines crises faced by democracies in the past, crises that offer lessons for democracies today. Case studies focus on former crises in Chile, France, Germany, and the US. Przeworski reveals that erosion of traditional party systems, the rise of nationalist populism, and the decline of popular support for democracy itself generally triggered these crises. Failing to learn lessons from these earlier crises, democracies have attempted to evade economic and political crises and in so doing been ensnared in complex webs of paradoxical antinomies. Przeworski laments democracy’s present reliance on voters to select governments in tandem with civil society’s expectation of institutionalized rule of law to restrain excesses of popular sovereignty. Nonetheless, he contends that it is not too late to establish an equilibrium between electoral politics and democratic regulatory institutions that is capable of ameliorating challenging conflicts and thus avoiding crises.
View on Amazon

4. The anger gap: how race shapes emotion in politics
Phoenix, Davin L. Cambridge, 2019

In his 1936 Democratic presidential nomination acceptance speech, Franklin Roosevelt stated that his opponents “are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred,” making it clear that appeals to the electorate’s emotions are not the exclusive province of demagogues. The 2016 presidential election prompted a renewed interest in mainstream politicians’ efforts to trigger voters’ emotions. In this textured study, Phoenix (Univ. of California, Irvine) explores how politicians’ appeals to emotions can change depending on the racial composition of the audience they are addressing. Phoenix identifies an unfortunate dynamic in American politics in which Democratic politicians, in particular, hesitate to appeal to African Americans’ justified anger at a political system that has ignored or acted contrary to their interests, while African Americans are reluctant to express their frustration because of the pernicious cultural caricatures of African American anger. This dynamic creates an “anger gap,” one that finds African Americans choosing resignation over mobilization, with unfortunate consequences for their voter turnout vis-à-vis that of whites.
View on Amazon

5Protest!: a history of social and political protest graphics
McQuiston, Liz. Princeton, 2019

Graphic works that protest established political, economic, and other values have a long history. That history is beautifully brought to light in McQuiston’s lavishly illustrated book. Protest! makes excellent use of the full-color large-format pages. This reviewer is unaware of another resource on the subject that combines depth of scholarship, care of reproduction, and extended timeline as this volume does. Starting with Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses (1517), picking up steam with the pamphleteers of the French Revolution, and coursing right through the tumultuous 1960s to the present day, McQuiston (a graphic artist and independent scholar) reminds the reader that protest is a graphic tradition that has always existed alongside the mainstream information channels.
View on Amazon

Sign up to receive our weekly 2020 Outstanding Academic Titles snippet list in your inbox.

Read more about Choice Outstanding Academic Titles.