Politics and Current Events

5 Questions with Michelle Oyakawa, Coauthor of “Prisms of the People”

May 6, 2021
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Grassroots organizing and collective action have always been fundamental to American democracy but have been burgeoning since the 2016 election, as people struggle to make their voices heard in this moment of societal upheaval. In Prisms of the People, Hahrie Han, Elizabeth McKenna, and Michelle Oyakawa show how the power of successful movements most often is rooted in their ability to act as  “prisms of the people,” turning participation into political power just as prisms transform white light into rainbows. Understanding the organizational design choices that shape the people, their leaders, and their strategies can help us understand how grassroots groups achieve their goals. We asked Michelle Oyakawa a few questions about the book. How did you become interested in grassroots organizing and collective action? What led you to write about it? Each of us came to this work by engaging directly with organizations that engage people in public life and agitate for change. Participating in organizing and witnessing the promise it holds for both personal and political transformation inspired us to further investigate and understand how people can come together to build power for themselves and their communities. We are motivated by hope and resistance against cynicism and despair. . . .

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The Making of a Magazine: A Dialogue with the Team Behind “The Point”

December 1, 2020
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The Making of a Magazine: A Dialogue with the Team Behind “The Point”

Highlighting the first decade of Chicago-based philosophical magazine The Point, The Opening of the American Mind brings together responses to some of the most significant events and issues of the last ten years. We spoke with some of The Point’s team to hear more about the new book, their current work, and how this whole project got started. To learn more about The Point, check out their website: https://thepointmag.com/ First of all, could you each say what your roles are at The Point? Jonny Thakkar: I am one of the editors. This involves a mixture of tasks. Sometimes I’m the lead editor on a piece, in charge of communication with an author, and other times I’m supporting the lead editor of a piece by giving line edits or a second opinion. I have to be on the lookout for potential writers and also for themes and topics that we might want to cover in some way. Finally, I’m also involved in strategic decisions regarding the development of the magazine and its place in the cultural landscape. Anastasia Berg: Like Jonny, I’m also an editor. I solicit and edit pieces for the print magazine and our website and am involved in . . .

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What We Can Learn from Election Day 2020

November 4, 2020
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While it may be a while before we learn the final results of Election Day 2020, there is still much that gleaned from the returns to date. Four of our political science authors share their initial takeaways from the outcome so far. Michelle Oyakawa, coauthor of Prisms of the People: Power & Organizing in Twenty-First-Century America From the 1980s forward, the United States government has been increasingly controlled by corporations and the super-rich, who have used their power to institute policies that serve their interests. This has resulted in a highly unstable economy and society, where most workers, through no fault of their own, are unable to forge a secure, decent quality of life. This is not the fault of Republicans or Democrats alone, both parties’ leaders are subservient to super wealthy donors. No matter who ultimately wins the presidential election, the US government will face a crisis of legitimacy driven by the basic realities of extreme inequality, an out-of-control pandemic, and escalating ecological crises because of unchecked climate change. The answers for how to solve these huge problems will not come from researchers in think tanks, academics, pundits on cable news, or members of the existing political establishment. Elites . . .

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Town Hall: Political Scientists Look Toward the Presidential Debates

September 25, 2020
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With the first presidential debate rapidly approaching, many questions are zipping through voters’ minds. What is the most important topic for them this election? How will they even manage to vote safely during a pandemic? And, if they could, what question would they ask at a town hall debate? We reached out to three of our political science authors to find out which question they would like to ask the candidates. Hahrie Han, coauthor of Prisms of the People: Power and Organizing in the Twenty-First Century One of the greatest challenges in contemporary politics is the broken link between people and government. Even though democracy is supposed to be “of, by, and for” the people, what we find is that government is often unresponsive both to public opinion and people’s activism. How do the candidates think about their own accountability to the public? I would ask, “Elected officials often seem to use people as props instead of being willing to enter into a true relationship of mutual accountability. At best, elected officials treat the public merely as data points for information and input. What mechanisms would you create to ensure that the people affected by the policies you proposed had . . .

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Four Questions with Joshua Gunn, author of “Political Perversion”

September 23, 2020
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As election season progresses, we spoke with Joshua Gunn, author of Political Perversion: Rhetorical Aberration in the Time of Trumpeteering. Below, he discusses political rhetoric, structural perversion, public affect, and what Trump (and his Twitter) reveals about American culture. First of all, what got you started on writing this book? Political Perversion originally started as an essay I was writing on the television series, American Horror Story. For a couple of years after the show debuted, I was trying to make sense of why horror television series were turning to perverse scenarios (explicit S&M), perverse villains (Hannibal), and perverse anti-heroes in prime time (Dexter). We have long been used to perversity in cinema—right down to the basic voyeurism of staring at actors in the dark. As a fan of horror, however, this newer prime-time perversity, intended for viewing in more intimate spaces, says something about cultural shifts.   So, after researching the way perversion was discussed in various fields and in popular parlance, I started writing about horror TV around the same time that Trump announced his candidacy. I was watching one of the Republican presidential candidate debates (the one that ultimately orbited around a penis-size repartee), and then it . . .

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Talking political science with Assistant Editorial Director Charles Myers

August 28, 2020
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Acquiring Editor Chuck Myers

Alas, as in so many other ways, these are not normal times. The APSA will be virtual, as will our booth. But we didn’t want you all to miss getting to hobnob with Chuck, so our Marketing Director, Levi Stahl, conducted the following brief interview with him. Enjoy the interview, and then click through to our Virtual APSA to get the latest, best books in the field for 40% off with free shipping. And we’ll look forward to seeing you in person at next year’s APSA! You’ve been acquiring books in political science for . . . let’s just say that a goodly number of presidential administrations have come and gone and you’ve still had your shoulder to the wheel. But that doesn’t mean that everybody knows your background. Can you give us a rundown of your publishing career and how you ended up here at Chicago? I’ve had a couple of different careers including time in Washington working in the Senate and in the Justice Department in what now seems like a different country. I’ve been interested in politics since I was a child and used to go with my mother, who was our local judge of elections, to . . .

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What Does Patriotism Mean in America Today?

July 2, 2020
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July 4th generally conjures images of barbeques, fireworks, and large, billowing flags. But due to large protests against police brutality, concerns of COVID, and an upcoming election that symbolizes both fear and hope for many, the holiday this year looks very different. This Independence Day, instead of a celebration of patriotism, we wanted to dedicate some time to reflecting on it. We invited three of our political science authors to answer the following questions: What does patriotism mean in America today? Given that definition, should Americans be patriotic today? Below are their thoughtful responses. LaFleur Stephens-Dougan author of Race to the Bottom: How Racial Appeals Work in American Politics Reflecting on what patriotism means to me so close to the celebration of our nation’s Independence Day is a weighty endeavor.  In my opinion, patriotism in the United States is fraught with contradiction, especially for Black Americans. Black Americans have made countless contributions to the United States, a country they love, but are still engaged in a centuries-old struggle for economic, political, and social equality.  As the child of Black immigrants, who came to this country voluntarily, I am acutely aware of the sacrifices that African Americans have made on behalf . . .

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Price V. Fishback on Werner Troesken’s “The Pox of Liberty” and Our Current Tradeoffs between Quarantines and Economic Freedom

April 21, 2020
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Economist and Press author Price V. Fishback shared with us recently his thoughts on a previous Press book that speaks to our current situation and looks at the political and economic history of how the US government has responded to other pandemics. The current crisis has brought into focus the tradeoffs between quarantines and economic freedom.  For an excellent book about the history of these tradeoffs in the United States, read Werner Troesken’s The Pox of Liberty:  How the Constitution Left Americans Rich, Free, and Prone to Infection (University of Chicago Press, 2015). Werner traces the history of how governments at all levels of the American federal system dealt with three deadly and recurring diseases:  smallpox, yellow fever, and typhoid. All of the issues the world is facing today to avoid horrid deaths are discussed in Werner’s book:  inadequate testing, the absence of vaccines, attempts to develop vaccines, tradeoffs between economic losses and quarantines, the uncertainties that the disease might return in the future, and inadequate medical facilities.  The situations developed in the nineteenth-century societies when there were much higher death rates, lower incomes, and at best rudimentary medical care.  In his preface, Werner says that he started out trying to . . .

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Voting by Mail? Read an Excerpt from “Democracy in America?: What Has Gone Wrong and What We Can Do About It”

March 31, 2020
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Voting by Mail? Read an Excerpt from “Democracy in America?: What Has Gone Wrong and What We Can Do About It”

With fears of COVID-19 keeping some away from in-person polling areas, is it time for all elections to be held by mail? Would this increase overall voter turnout even during times that aren’t faced with a pandemic? Could it make voter turnout more representative? In Democracy in America?: What Has Gone Wrong and What We Can Do About It Benjamin I. Page and Martin Gilens examine how, even though mail-in voting can increase turnout in currently registered voters, it is not enough on its own to handle low, and often unrepresentative, voter turnout. REFORMS TO FACILITATE VOTING. It is easy to come up with reforms that would lower individuals’ costs of voting and thereby increase voter turnout. The best single reform would be universal, government-administered registration, about which we will have more to say in a moment. Short of universal registration, we could at least allow same-day registration at polling places when people show up to vote. Online registration and registration updating were shown in the 2012 California election to increase the number of voters, especially among young people. After more (preferably all) Americans are registered, we could make it much easier to vote by holding elections on a holiday . . .

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A Political Playlist Just in Time for the Presidential Primaries

February 2, 2020
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We know that many of you will be turning your attention to the Iowa Caucus on February 3rd as the 2020 Presidental Primaries get underway. And if you’re like us, you’re going to need a distraction from the stress and uncertainty of it all–and we have just the ticket! Peter La Chapelle, author of I’d Fight the World: A Political History of Old-Time, Hillbilly, and Country Music, has put together the ultimate playlist, which captures the deep bonds between country music and American politics since the very beginning. Long before the United States had presidents from the world of movies and reality TV, we had scores of politicians with connections to country music from the nineteenth-century rise of fiddler-politicians to more recent figures like Pappy O’Daniel, Roy Acuff, and Rob Quist. These performers and politicians both rode and resisted cultural waves: some advocated for the poor and dispossessed, and others voiced religious and racial anger, but they all walked the line between exploiting their celebrity and righteously taking on the world. While putting together this playlist, Peter has tried to use songs by the original artists themselves, but in cases where those weren’t available, he first tried to find a . . .

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