What to read before midterm: Seven books that explain American politics

On November 8, as in any election season, voters will be asked to consider issues such as inflation, crime and gas prices. Fighting for their attention is a loaded cultural debate at the end Raw vs. Wade And what should children learn at school? But this is not a normal midterm cycle: Few US elections in recent memory have been threatened by the specter of political violence and democratic disintegration like this. Last week, a man attacked Nancy Pelosi’s husband with a hammer at the couple’s San Francisco home; Donald Trump’s false claim to be the legitimate winner of the 2020 presidential election continues to cast a shadow over the integrity of the democratic process; Hundreds of candidates who deny the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s election will appear on the ballot.

before the midterm elections, Atlantic Staff and contributors offer reading suggestions for what seem to be unprecedented times. Some of their selections are historical works. Others lie in the field of theory; Some deal with the systems of other countries. But each contains wisdom or insight into a central question: How do we understand the state of American politics today?

Princeton University Press

Spin DictatorBy Sergei Guriev and Daniel Triesman

At first glance, Spin Dictator It may not seem relevant to the US election. The book describes new forms of dictatorship based not on fear or terror, but on the manipulation of the media and the undermining of democratic institutions. To create a mass following, these new dictators pit one part of society against another, exacerbating polarization and mutual distrust. Rather than creating an old-fashioned, top-down character cult, they borrow from the entertainment world to build their popularity, relying on their followers to create memes and merchandise that celebrate them. Gurev and Triesman’s examples are from places like Russia, Venezuela, Singapore, and Kazakhstan, but it’s possible that they’ve been writing about some American politicians as well. American voters will find it helpful to read this book and then ask themselves whether any of the candidates in their local Senate or governor race have explicitly adopted the language and tactics originally devised by modern autocrats. Anne Applebaum

Reform era cover

era of reformBy Richard Hofstadter

History cannot fully explain the present or predict the future, but it can help us understand patterns of contemporary politics and possible paths into the future. In 1955, Hofstadter, one of the great American historians of the twentieth century, published era of reform– The political and social history of the years 1890 to 1940, the period of populism, progressivism, and the New Deal. Rapid technological change, monopoly of power, deep inequality, endemic corruption, mass immigration, national demagogues, the transformation of both political parties, repeated efforts to reform, repeated bouts of backlash: perhaps no other era is quite like ours. Hofstadter is adept at analyzing the genres that seem familiar to us today – the progressive urban crusaders, the small-town plot theorist. He was a liberal who sympathized with a passion for progress while diagnosing his illiberal ideas and impulses without emotion. The frenetic morals of that age seem to be far from the cynicism that paralyzes us. But reading Hofstadter will remind you that reform and reaction not only follow each other, but also coexist in the same moment; Nor the last word. Americans have always dreamed of a better country, and some have already made it so. – George Packer

Cover of One Mighty and Irresistible Tide
WW Norton & Co.

One irresistible tideBy Jia Lin Yang

Our broken immigration system has been a favorite topic of Republicans on the trunk during the midterm election cycle. But many voters struggle to understand how Congress for decades has failed to fix it, especially when the fate of the Dreamers—people brought to the United States illegally as children—has remained unresolved for more than 10 years, and nothing prevents a future president from reviving the use of family separation. as an operational tactic. One irresistible tide It offers some helpful explanations by tracing another fraught period in history. Yang who heads New York timesThe National Bureau, provides a vivid glimpse into key figures, such as New York Congressman Emmanuel Celler, in the 40-year battle to abolish racial quotas that were signed in 1924. Celler’s ongoing battle finally ended in 1965, during the Civil Rights Movement. It makes an implicit argument that the moment some seem to be waiting for in Congress today — a moment when global consensus can be established, system reform does not involve political risks — will never come, and that challenging fear-mongering rhetoric about immigrants remains important. since when. – Caitlin Dickerson

Devil's Deal cover
penguin press

Devil’s DealWritten by Joshua Green

How did extremism move from the outer edge of our discourse to the center of our politics? In the last days before another existential election, I revisit Devil’s Deal. Green, former senior editor at Atlantic OceanHe was among the first journalists to recognize the unique threat that Steve Bannon posed to the future of the American experience. Devil’s Deal It tells the story of Bannon’s journey from Goldman Sachs into the inner workings of then-candidate Donald Trump’s head. It also illustrates the many ways influential money moves around right-wing circles and shapes our democracy. Some critics accused Green of exaggerating Bannon’s influence, but five years after the book was published, Bannon has neither gone nor forgotten. Although he eventually served less than a year in the Trump White House, he eventually received a presidential pardon. Last month, he was sentenced to four months in prison for a Different Offense – defying a subpoena from the Jan. 6 commission. Meanwhile, his old boss appears to be preparing to take back the White House. – John Hendrickson

public opinion cover
free press

general opinionby Walter Lippmann

One of the best things you can say about the classic 1922 film Liebmann is also one of the worst you can say about this moment: general opinionAt 100, it has never been more relevant. Produced in the aftermath of World War I, Lippmann’s Study of the Human Mind and Body Politics analyzes the impact of the new mass media system—on government, the news, and “the images in our heads.” He applies the lessons of psychology, then an emerging field, to electoral politics. He warns of how easily propaganda, that elusive weapon of war, can become cliched. The book created a perpetual lexicon: Liebmann penned Stereotype as a category of thought. Discuss media and “pseudo-environments” long before other thinkers expanded the concepts; He noted the overall power of narrative for decades before postmodernists emulated this idea. general opinion He saturates so thoroughly political discourse that his ideas, today, may seem obvious. In fact, they are ominous. Democracy is the work of manifested minds. How are things going when the “pictures in our heads” are muddled with lies? – Megan Garber

Crabgrass Frontier cover
attributed to him

Crabgrass Frontierby Kenneth T. Jackson

Jackson worked in 1985, Crabgrass FrontierBeloved by urban historians, it highlights how telling urban geography of America really is. Jackson writes that before 1815, the suburbs were exactly that – the most remote part of the city, “in every way below the heart.” Over the next two centuries, a reversal of fortunes would make single-family homes in peripheral communities crucial to the American Dream. This change reflects and promotes a new way of life – where work, home and play have been separated from one another; Where privacy and the core family became paramount; and where races and classes were physically separated. The political ramifications are still evident in the stark differences in the quality of public services in cities and suburbs. Established low-density home ownership was the primary driver of segregation that continues to define American life. before important elections, Crabgrass Frontier It is a powerful reminder that what was built in one era is shaped in the next. We live in a present built by people who never imagined our lives. As the nation faces an inflection point — a staggering housing shortage, a dearth of renewable energy and mass transit infrastructure, all in the face of the climate emergency — what policymakers build today will determine the fate of our grandchildren. Jerusalem dmasas

cover of The Man Who Ran Washington

The man who ran WashingtonWritten by Peter Becker and Susan Glaser

James Baker is no longer a strong player in Washington. The former secretary of state’s influence reached its zenith during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush, two leaders abandoned by Trump’s wing of the Republican Party. However, reporters Baker (unrelated) and Glaser showed that Baker, despite thinking of himself above the fight, is not far from his place in Donald Trump’s Republican Party after all. Baker, now 92, wants to be remembered as a statesman, not a campaigner. But his most enduring legacy may be his contributions to a party whose zeal to win dominance and possession at almost any cost has outstripped his commitment to ideology and principles. The authors cleverly frame Baker’s story about his late-life struggle over whether to vote for Trump, a man he clearly can’t stand personally or politically. But Baker, clinging to the hope that even in his late 80s he might still be close to Washington, he eventually opted for party loyalty. It now seems more like a prelude to our charged political moment than a throwback to a more subtle moment. – Russell Berman

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