A cogent, timely warning about the fragility of American democracy.

THE AGENDA

HOW A REPUBLICAN SUPREME COURT IS RESHAPING AMERICA

A biting critique of the current Supreme Court.

Lawyer Millhiser, a senior correspondent at Vox and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, argues persuasively that the Supreme Court, with its 6-3 Republican majority, “is potentially an existential threat to the Democratic Party’s national ambitions—and, more importantly, to liberal democracy in the United States.” With Congress increasingly partisan and dysfunctional, the author asserts that the court has exerted decisive policy changes: dismantling campaign finance law and weakening the Voting Rights Act, the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, laws shielding workers from sexual and racial harassment, public sector unions’ ability to raise funds, and Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Along with examining the judicial backgrounds of the Republican-appointed judges, Millhiser looks closely at salient cases in four areas that reveal the court’s conservative bias: voting rights, limitations on federal power, expression of religion, and the right to sue. As for voting, the author clearly shows how the court’s decisions work against the election of Democrats by allowing redistricting laws that favor Republicans, thereby transforming legislative elections “into little more than a formality in many states.” Limiting federal regulatory power also favors a conservative agenda, for example, impeding the government in addressing climate change. “This fight over the federal government’s power to address a slow-moving catastrophe,” Millhiser writes, “is just one battle in a many-front war over federal agencies’ power to regulate.” In addition, court decisions regarding religion have opened the possibility that business owners may claim religious objections to following anti-discrimination laws or even paying taxes. Because judges have “no democratic legitimacy,” the responsibility to shape policy must lie with Congress. Deferring to the court “means placing unchecked power in the hands of men and women who serve for life, and who may be no less partisan than the people who can be voted out of office if they use their power irresponsibly.”

A cogent, timely warning about the fragility of American democracy.

Pub Date: March 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-73442-076-0

Page Count: 142

Publisher: Columbia Global Reports

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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