United States Politics: Money, Culture, Power - POIR 3920
Welcome to United States Politics: Money, Culture, Power. US politics is today, as in much of its past, dominated by money and the power that money can buy. US cultural life is also preoccupied with money, in ways that profoundly affect the distribution of political power. Proceeding from these premises, this unit explores the relationship between money, culture and power in contemporary US politics. We pay particular attention to the 2016 and 2020 Presidential elections and their repercussions, Topics covered include elections, campaigns and campaign financing; political parties in US politics; social inequalities of race, class, gender and sexual preference; political emotions, the media and post-truth politics; religion and the formulation of dominant political ideas; and the politics of the Alt- Right. These topics will be covered in a weekly, online two hour lectures, and a weekly one hour tutorial.
You will enhance your prospects of doing well in this unit by:
• Listening to and reviewing all lectures
• Making regular verbal contributions to the Discussion Board
• doing all the required reading and at least some of the supplementary reading (while also taking notes from these readings)
• regularly reading US news and media sources
• Conscientiously preparing for each assessment task
Lecture Outlines and Required Reading
Week One: Introduction: Money, Culture, Power and US Exceptionalism
An enduring feature of American political life is the belief in US exceptionalism – the idea that the United Stated is a unique polity that embodies liberty and democracy in a way that is or should be a beacon for the rest of the world. In this week, we explore the origins of American exceptionalism, and discuss the ways in which it relates to the organizing themes of this unit - money, culture, power.
Readings: No required reading for this week, though students are encouraged to start reading for the following week.
Week Two: Explaining the 2016 and 2020 US Elections
The 2016 Presidential election stunned the world with the unexpected election of Donald Trump. This was despite polling that consistently predicted a Clinton victory, and despite Trump receiving nearly 3 million fewer votes than Clinton. This lecture explains how and why this occurred. We discuss the reasons the polls were so wrong, before analysing the electoral college system that enabled the candidate with fewer votes to win. This is followed by a detailed examination of Trump's winning electoral coalition and path to victory. We then do for the 2020 presidential election what we did for 2016. All of this is linked to a broader discussion of continuity and change in US party politics and political culture, which anticipates content explored in subsequent lectures.
Ruth Igienik, Scott Keeter and Hannah Hartig, 'Behind Biden’s 2020 Victory An examination of the 2020 electorate, based on validated voters,' The Pew Research Center (2021), https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2021/06/30/behind-bidens-2020-victory/
Rob Griffin, Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin, ‘Voter Trends in 2016: A Final Examination,’ Center for American Progress (2017), No pagination.
John Sides, Michael Tesler and Lynn Vavreck, ‘The 2016 U.S. Election: How Trump Lost and Won,’ Journal of Democracy Vol. 28, 2 (2017), Pp. 34-44.
Emily Ekins, 'Five Types of Trump Voters: Who They Are and What The Believe,' Center for American Progress (2017) No Pagination.
Week Three: Elections, Campaigns and Campaign Financing
This lecture demystifies the US electoral system and key campaigning issues with which it is entwined. As well as outlining the mechanics of electoral processes for Congress and for the Presidency, we discuss the main techniques of voter identification and mobilization. We conclude by focusing on the vexed question of money in US politics and electoral funding. Can elections and political office be bought?
Thomas Stratman, 'Campaign Finance: A Review and an Assessment of the State of the Literature' in Roger D. Congleton, Bernard N. Grofman, and Stefan Voigt (eds), Oxford Handbook of Public Choice (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019), pp. 1-28.
Denis W. Johnson, Campaigning in the Twenty-First Century: Activism, Big Data, and Dark Money (New York: Routledge, 2016) pp. 77-92.
Jane Meyer, Dark Money: How a Secretive Group of Billionaires is Trying to Buy Political control in the US (Melbourne: Scribe, 2016), pp. 1-26.
Week Four: The Republican Party
The American two Party system emerged in the nineteenth century, and endures to this day, though in a very different form. We here discuss the emergence of the modern Republican Party and the subsequent changes in its politics and its key constituencies. How did the party of Lincoln become the Party of Trump? To answer this question, we pay particular attention to the transformations of the GOP since 1964, and the shift in its power base from the Mid-West and North East to the South and South West, as it has become more politically conservative.
Ezra Klein, 'How Democrats Became Liberals and Republicans Became Conservatives', in Ezra Klein, Why We're Polarized (London: Profile Books 2020), pp. 1-18.
Steven Levinsky and Daniel Ziblatt, 'The Great Republican Abdication,' in Steven Levinsky and Daniel Ziblatt, How Democracies Die: What History Reveals About Our Future (New York: Penguin/Random House, 2018), pp. 53-71.
Alan Ware, 'Donald Trump's Hyjacking of the Republican Party in Historical Perspective,' The Political Quarterly, Vol. 87: 3 (2016), pp. 406-414.
Charles J. Sykes, How the Right Lost Its Mind (London: Biteback Publishing, 2017), pp. 3-18.
Matthew C. MacWilliams, 'Who Decides When the Party Doesn't? Authoritarian Voters and the Rise of Trump,' Political Science and Politics, Vol 49:4 (2016) pp. 716-721.
Week Five: The Democratic Party
The Democratic Party was once the champion of white supremacy, slavery and segregation in the South. In the 1930s it emerged as the party of the New Deal for American workers and, in the 1960s, the party advancing civil rights and the 'Great Society'. Today, it is unclear what the Democratic Party stands for and for whom it stands. In this lecture we examine how the party of Roosevelt became the Party of Clinton(s), and explore the contradictions between its centrist and left factions. we also consider its chances in the 2020 election.
John Nichols, 'The Party that Lost Its Way,' in John Nichols, The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party (London: Verso, 2020), pp. 155-2017.
Thomas Frank, Listen, Liberal: or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (Melbourne: Scribe, 2016), pp. 217-245.
Timothy Shenk, 'The Next Democratic Party,' Dissent, Vol 64: 1 (2017), pp. 12-15.
Lance Selfa, The Democrats: A Critical History (2nd edn) (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2012), pp. 63-85.
Week Six: Post-Racial or Most-Racial?
After Barack Obama won the Presidency in 2008, many pundits declared the dawn of a post racial America. This proved to be a false dawn. People of colour continue to be disadvantaged in many areas of social and political life, and structural racism persists in an era of supposed colour blindness. In the first of three weeks that focus on the centrality of race in US politics, we begin exploring the origins and contemporary manifestations of these inequities.
Stephanie L. Canizales and Jody Agius Vallejo, 'Latinos and Racism in the Trump Era,' Daedalus (2021), 150 (2), pp. 150-164.
Brian F. Schaffner, Mathew Macwilliams and Tatishe Nteta, ‘Understanding White Polarization in the 2016 Vote for the President: The Sobering Role of Racism and Sexism’, Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 133: 1 (2018), pp. 9-34.
Carol Anderson, One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Our Democracy (New York: Bloomsbury, 2018), pp. 72-95.
Week Seven: The New Jim Crow: Race, Incarceration and (in)Justice
Since the early 1970s, the politics of law and order has become a pervasive US preoccupation. This has been manifested in spiraling rates of incarceration, and a militarization of US policing. The weight of this shift has fallen disproportionately on African Americans males, who are now imprisoned in record numbers. This week we examine why.
Bouke Klein Teeselink and Georgios Melios, 'Weather to Protest:The Effect of Black Lives Matter Protests on the 2020 Presidential Election,' (2021), Available at SSRN: http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3809877
Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: The New York Press, 2012), pp. 97-139.
Loic Wacqant, 'Class, Race and Hyperincarceration in Revanchist America,' Socialism and Democracy, 28:3 (2014), pp. 35-56.
Week Eight: Race, Class and the Destruction of the Welfare State
Continuing where we left off last week, we deepen our exploration of the connection between race inequality, class inequality, and the destruction of the welfare state since the 1970s. The US never had the developed welfare states that prevailed in Northern Europe, Scandinavia and Australasia, but it did nonetheless develop welfare systems that gave a modicum of social security to the less fortunate. These have been systematically dismantled by both Republican and Democratic administrations, over a period of several decades, with disastrous consequences for disadvantaged people regardless of ethnic background. We examine why.
Christopher Faricy, 'Partisanship, Class, and Attitudes towards the Divided Welfare State,' The Forum, Vol. 15: 1: (2017), pp. 111–126.
Hana E. Brown, 'Racialized Conflict and Policy Spillover Effects: The Role of Race in the Contemporary U.S. Welfare State,' American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 119: 2 (2013), pp. pp. 394-443.
Week Nine: Political Emotions in the Age of Post-Truth Politics
Political science has historically been wedded to a rational actor view of political preferences, behaviour and voting. This approach is being increasingly discredited, as social scientists begin to appreciate that reason and rationality are frequently trumped by passions and emotions in politics, as contemporary developments in the US so clearly demonstrate. In the first of two lectures, we begin exploring the ways in which human emotions are collectivized and deployed for political purposes. We will be paying particular attention to the ways that emotions like fear, anger, humiliation, hate and love are used instrumentally by politicians to mobilize supporters, as Trump so successfully did in the Republican primaries and Presidential election.
Lloyd Cox and Steve Wood, '"Got Him" Revenge, Emotions and the Killing of Osama Bin Laden', Review of International Studies, Vol. 43: 1 (2017), pp. 112–129.
Paula Ionide, The Emotional Politics of Racism: How Feelings Trump Facts in an Era of Colorblindness (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015), pp. 1-26.
Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, 'Public Displays of Disaffection: The Emotional Politics of Donald Trump', in Pablo J. Boczkowski and Zizi Papacharissi (eds) Trump and the Media (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2018), pp. 79-86.
Week Ten: Political Emotions, Media and Social Media
Emotional contagion, which was discussed in the previous lecture, is today transmitted via traditional and social media. Without necessarily knowing it, significant constituencies take their emotional cues from what they see, hear and read in mass and social media. This week we examine the changing role of media and social media in US politics. The emphasis will be on the broader relationship between politics and social media, money and the cult of celebrity that seems to now pervade so many aspects of US cultural and political life. We examine the deeper structural and cultural forces that shape these developments, and discuss the growing political polarization that they encourage.
Michael Kimmel, Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era (New York: Nation Books, 2017), pp. 31-68.
Cass R. Sunstein, #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017), pp. 59-97.
Week Eleven: The Religious Right
Despite the formal, constitutional separation between church and state in the US, religion plays a more important role in US politics than in any other comparable western state. We explore why this is and analyse how it is manifested. We pay particular attention to the influence that the Religious Right has exercised over the contemporary Republican Party, and ask how their values can be reconciled with a Trump Presidency.
Ceri Hughes, The God Card: Strategic Employment of Religious Language in U.S. Presidential Discourse,' International Journal of Communication 13(2019), pp. 528–549.
Nicholas T. Davis, 'Religion and Partisan-Ideological Sorting, 1984–2016' Social Science Quarterly (2018), https://doi.org/10.1111/ssqu.12508
Travis Gettys, 'Former Evangelical Republican warns the religious right's support of Trump will harm Christianity' Salon.com (2019) https://www.salon.com/2019/07/08/former-evangelicalrepublican- warns-the-religious-rights-support-of-trump-will-harm-christianity_partner/
Week Twelve: The Alt-Right and Authoritarianism in the Age of Trump
In recent years, US politics has seen the growth of what many commentators have labelled the Alt-Right. This broad label encompasses various political tendencies and organizations that are to the right of the Republican Party and traditional conservatives. Such groups include a rogues' gallery of white supremacists, Neo-Confederates, conspiracy theorists, Anti-Semites, Neo-Nazis, militia organizations and men's rights groups. Worryingly, their resentments and hatreds are being increasingly mainstreamed and tolerated, if not encouraged, by establishment Conservatives. In this lecture we examine the sources of this renewed vigor on the Far-Right, and discuss its relationship to Trump and the Republican Party more generally.
George Hawley, The Alt-Right: What Everyone Needs to Know (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019), pp. 4-30.
Karen Stenner and Jonathon Haidt, 'Authoritarianism is Not a Momentary Madness, But an Eternal Dynamic Within Liberal Democracies' in Cass R. Sunstein (ed) Can it Happen Here: Authoritarianism in America (New York: Harper Collins, 2018), pp. 175-220.
Week Thirteen: The United States and China
In this final week, we explore the intensifying rivalry between the United States and China, in its economic, political and military dimensions. We will try and examine this unfolding dynamic in the context of the domestic politics that constrains state leaders in bother countries. We end by summarizing the unit and preparing for the exam. Students will also find the following resources useful.
• Political Science Quarterly
• Political Perspectives
• The Nation
• Presidential Studies Quarterly
• American Historical Review
• American Political Science Review
• American Journal of Political Science
• Diplomatic History
• Foreign Affairs
• Foreign Policy
• International Organization
• International Security
• International Studies Quarterly
• International Studies Review
• Journal of Cold War History
• Journal of Conflict Resolution
• Journal of Politics
• Security Studies
• The National Interest
• World Politics
• Http://meria.biu.ac.il/research-g/us-policy.html [Internet Resources on American Foreign Policy]
• www.gwu.edu/ [see link on ‘national security archive’]