A scrupulously reasonable and analytically rigorous account of a historically significant election.

DO WE HAVE A CENTER?

2016, 2020, AND THE CHALLENGE OF THE TRUMP PRESIDENCY

A writer offers an analysis of the 2016 American presidential election, the meaning of Donald Trump’s victory, and a way forward to a less divisive brand of political discourse. 

Frank (Law and the Gay Rights Story, 2014, etc.) begins his provocative study with a conventional observation. The contemporary political landscape resembles a “battle between two feudal armies,” an irresolvable war between mutually exclusive ideologies espoused by camps that wouldn’t deign to break bread with their adversaries across the aisle. But, the author avers, that polarization didn’t commence with Trump’s ascendancy to the presidency. And neither this problem nor his election is widely understood. Frank rejects the oft-repeated narrative that Trump leveraged “white racial anxiety” into votes. While he certainly exploited racial tensions to his political benefit, the reasons for his appeal are both more complex and numerous. First, Trump had the advantage of running against a notably uncharismatic candidate who presided over an incompetently managed campaign—Hillary Clinton lacked both a stirring “grand vision” and a real sense of the electorate’s demands. In addition, Trump tapped into a profound wellspring of civic frustration that included an exhaustion with military adventurism, crony corporatism, and elite privilege. The author anticipates that Trump will be an “extremely formidable candidate” in 2020. But Frank sketches a path forward for Democrats to an electoral victory, and for the country as a whole out of the weeds of bottomless partisanship, a genuinely centrist comportment based on a “willingness to consider all the possible ways to attack a problem without pre-conceived biases against one set of solutions because of their source.” The author provides an intellectual model of the very centrism he advocates. While he candidly declares his own political allegiances—he’s a Democrat hoping that the president loses in 2020—he sympathetically assesses those who supported Trump, and provides a lucid account of their motivations. In addition, his analysis of the shortcomings of Clinton’s campaign is similarly astute: “It was as if the Clinton campaign did not even see Pennsylvania as a real place where real people lived in a variety of settings. Rather, for her campaign the state was simply a statistical aggregation of voters and since her voters were primarily in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, that’s where she went.” His anatomy of the principal causes of the nation’s combative partisanship—he largely attributes its rise to the emergence of uncommonly emotional issues—is less persuasive. There have been issues of deep moral and existential exigencies over the course of the nation’s entire history. But Frank’s study as a whole is a valuable one. While he expresses alarm at the damage Trump may be inflicting on the nation’s political institutions, he hopefully extols the resilience of America’s federalist system. In fact, he avoids even a hint of melodramatic fatalism: “We have every reason to be smart. We have no reason to despair.”

A scrupulously reasonable and analytically rigorous account of a historically significant election. 

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-578-54105-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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