A cogent and dispiriting contribution to the growing number of analyses of the ailing American democracy.

LET THEM EAT TWEETS

HOW THE RIGHT RULES IN AN AGE OF EXTREME INEQUALITY

How the Republicans’ embrace of economic elites threatens democracy.

Political scientists Hacker (Yale) and Pierson (Univ. of California, Berkeley) synthesize many scholarly studies and journalists’ reports to mount a compelling, though not groundbreaking, argument that what they call “plutocratic populism”—reactionary economic priorities and right-wing cultural and racial appeals—dominates the Republican Party, undermining democracy. Although Donald Trump is an exemplar of this stance, the authors maintain that Republicans bowed to the ultrawealthy long before the 2016 election. They cite, for example, the 2001 tax cuts, which benefited the rich far more than the middle class and “were sharply at odds with what the majority of voters thought the nation’s budget priorities should be.” Republicans blatantly covet backing from wealthy supporters, with Mike Pence selected as vice president partly to satisfy evangelicals, partly because of his close ties to big donors, notably the Koch brothers. Over several generations, the party’s loyalty to the wealthy caused a shift to cultural issues and outrage in order to attract voters. “The early specialists in outrage-stoking,” the authors assert, “were the Christian right and the NRA,” which both were fueled by “racial backlash.” Increasingly, Republicans have fostered a campaign of “resentment, racialization and rigging” in their pursuit of white voters. In the 2018 midterm elections, however, the party’s losses caused it to shift to “a third option”: to “make voters’ voices less relevant” by turning election rules and redistricting “into finely honed partisan weapons.” Democracy itself is a problem for Republicans “because it threatens the property and power of powerful minorities.” The interests of those wealthy minorities, the authors warn, “diverge from those of their fellow citizens,” making them “more apprehensive about democracy.” The authors are cautiously optimistic that shifting demographics may weaken Republicans’ power, but only Trump’s “decisive electoral defeat” will possibly “motivate a fundamental rethinking of the party’s priorities.”

A cogent and dispiriting contribution to the growing number of analyses of the ailing American democracy.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63149-684-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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