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POWER POLITICS

TRUMP AND THE ASSAULT ON AMERICAN DEMOCRACY

Liberal-minded students of politics will find West’s arguments persuasive and his case well presented.

A think-tanker’s view of the post-Trumpian rubble.

“The United States faces extraordinary problems of polarization, extremism, and radicalization, which make it difficult to safeguard our democratic system and deal with important policy issues.” So writes West, vice president of the governance studies program at the Brookings Institution. Sadly, there’s nothing novel about this observation, but the author is well equipped to observe from his position, where a battery of political scientists studies events and trends. Naturally, they are dismissed and loathed by the MAGA crowd and its allied media. When one Brookings fellow identified the chief culprit as Trump and the authoritarian cult of personality he had built around himself, right-wingers howled even as some of West’s longtime friends on the right “complained about the capital city’s ‘cockroaches’ and said it was time to use the popular bug-killer Raid to get rid of political adversaries.” It all makes for a dangerous moment indeed, requiring long-needed reforms: among many others, abolishing the “antiquated Electoral College,” stopping gerrymandering, and quashing campaign finance rules that privilege the haves over the have-nots. Moreover, West suggests, many institutions in civil society, such as universities, must be overhauled in order to remove dark money. The author attempts to be evenhanded, noting that social media amplifies misinformation by both left and right even as the loudest voices emanate from the right. He also calls for self-policing that falls short of self-censorship, while stronger matters (here he recalls Leon Wieseltier) face a hitherto unexplored “challenge of delivering justice to those with complaints while also protecting the procedural rights of the accused.” Overall, West’s prescriptions are reasonable, but given a time when gerrymandering, fascism, and extreme partisanship are some of the defining features of the political landscapes, most seem unlikely to be enacted.

Liberal-minded students of politics will find West’s arguments persuasive and his case well presented.

Pub Date: June 28, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-8157-3959-3

Page Count: 220

Publisher: Brookings Institution Press

Review Posted Online: April 25, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2022

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WHAT THIS COMEDIAN SAID WILL SHOCK YOU

Maher calls out idiocy wherever he sees it, with a comedic delivery that veers between a stiletto and a sledgehammer.

The comedian argues that the arts of moderation and common sense must be reinvigorated.

Some people are born snarky, some become snarky, and some have snarkiness thrust upon them. Judging from this book, Maher—host of HBO’s Real Time program and author of The New New Rules and When You Ride Alone, You Ride With bin Laden—is all three. As a comedian, he has a great deal of leeway to make fun of people in politics, and he often delivers hilarious swipes with a deadpan face. The author describes himself as a traditional liberal, with a disdain for Republicans (especially the MAGA variety) and a belief in free speech and personal freedom. He claims that he has stayed much the same for more than 20 years, while the left, he argues, has marched toward intolerance. He sees an addiction to extremism on both sides of the aisle, which fosters the belief that anyone who disagrees with you must be an enemy to be destroyed. However, Maher has always displayed his own streaks of extremism, and his scorched-earth takedowns eventually become problematic. The author has something nasty to say about everyone, it seems, and the sarcastic tone starts after more than 300 pages. As has been the case throughout his career, Maher is best taken in small doses. The book is worth reading for the author’s often spot-on skewering of inept politicians and celebrities, but it might be advisable to occasionally dip into it rather than read the whole thing in one sitting. Some parts of the text are hilarious, but others are merely insulting. Maher is undeniably talented, but some restraint would have produced a better book.

Maher calls out idiocy wherever he sees it, with a comedic delivery that veers between a stiletto and a sledgehammer.

Pub Date: May 21, 2024

ISBN: 9781668051351

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

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BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

From the Pocket Change Collective series

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

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Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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