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About this book

A new fifth edition of a well-established and popular introduction to all aspects of life in the US, fully updated to take into account the latest key domestic and international developments. Making use of a wide range of data and illustrative material, this cutting-edge analysis looks back on the accomplishments of Obama, discusses the first year of Trump, and reconsiders the role of US in a changing world. This is a natural choice for any module convenor seeking a broad and up-to-date text which provides an overview of a country that continues to provide fascination for many students. It is essential reading for those taking modules on contemporary America across degree programmes in American Studies and Civilization, English Studies, History, Sociology and Politics.

Table of Contents

1. History

Abstract
Donald Trump is sometimes described as being “post-literate” and “ahistorical.” He has long endorsed a technique he calls “truthful hyperbole” and which he defines as “an innocent form of exaggeration.” He uses the word “fake” to dismiss stories or issues with which he disagrees. His advisors openly offer “alternative facts” to support his statements. This is disturbing and disorienting.
Russell Duncan, Joe Goddard

2. Land and People

Abstract
The United States has a diverse and expansive population and geography. In 1790, the first US Census counted 3,929,214 people on 891,364 square miles (2,308,622 sq. km) of land. By 2017, with 325 million people and a total area of 3,794,100 square miles (9,826,675 sq. km), the US is the third-largest country in population and in land size. The continental distance is immense. Between New York City and San Francisco it is 3,200 miles (5,200 km), about the same distance as from New York to London. Alaska alone covers 586,412 square miles (1,518,807 sq. km) and is 2,300 miles (3,700 km) long.
Russell Duncan, Joe Goddard

3. Government

Abstract
Although Americans disagree over how strong government should be, they expect leadership in a crisis. Accepting her 2016 nomination by the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton remarked that Americans were facing many challenges, and they were anxious and sought reassurance from their leaders. Clinton offered a collaborative and consensual promise of “steady leadership.” Republican candidate and political novice Donald Trump, meanwhile, offered a more strident, traditional, paternal, and confrontational leadership style, with a more direct and contractual conception of politics. Trump openly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian governance. While Americans are traditionally leery of power concentrations, voters elected Trump and placed him in a position of great strength by voting for Republican Party majorities in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Russell Duncan, Joe Goddard

4. The Political System

Abstract
Trump Triumphs and TRUMP TRIUMPHS. The respective headlines of the Washington Post and New York Times were nearly identical on 9 November 2016, but, of course, the all-caps headline differs significantly in emphasis and meaning. Still, both reflected the surprise and the warning many felt as Donald John Trump and his campaign slogan to “Make America Great Again” won the White House (WP, 2016b; NYT, 2016b). Only a handful of prognosticators in the political and media establishments predicted this outcome. The Trump camp also admitted its surprise at the outcome. The inexperienced novice had slain the political master.
Russell Duncan, Joe Goddard

5. Society

Abstract
American society split openly in 2016 as populists exposed class differences that led in unexpected directions. Donald Trump appealed to the rural white “forgotten man” working class as an un-owned and unfettered champion who could bring back their jobs, respect, and pride in being white. These populists spoke of a war against men and believed that American society had drifted too far to the multicultural liberalism of civil rights issues on full display in the black body of President Obama and the female body of Hillary Clinton. Issues of gender and race link to class in myriad ways. Other populists, who might share the economic class dimension of the Trump populists, but who lived in big cities and preferred stronger governmental and institutional guarantees, nearly captured the Democratic Party for an avowed socialist turned democratic socialist. Bernie Sanders wanted to use the Danish welfare state and tax system models to remake American society. Rather than pushing for laissez-faire capitalism, the word “socialism” was embraced as a model for a caring community and a virtuous citizenry wanting a redistribution of wealth. The expanding inequality in America offered proof that capitalism had gone astray (Stiglitz, 2015). The 2016 presidential campaign highlighted the discontent as many voters drifted either toward authoritarian populism (and maybe fascism) or democratic populism in the form of socialism.
Russell Duncan, Joe Goddard

6. Religion, Education, and Social Policy

Abstract
“Now is the greatest time to be alive,” wrote Barack Obama in a November 2016 article in Wired Magazine which considered his eight-year legacy at the nation’s helm. Obama continued, “if you had to choose any time in the course of human history to be alive, you’d choose this one. Right here in America, right now” (Obama, 2016a). Crime, poverty, and teen pregnancies were down, while education and workforce participation rates for women and minorities were up. With belief, rational intelligence, and compassion driving dramatic and continuing advances in medical science, not least in the battle to beat cancer, the future looked bright. Obama’s Baptist faith presented no barriers for a strong belief in scientific and technological progress. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton disagreed, in different ways. Trump’s solutions for a failed America needing decisive, certainly paternal, and perhaps also authoritarian direction, were based on his claims that crime was increasing, faith and education systems had broken down, and that programs like Obamacare strangled the free market.
Russell Duncan, Joe Goddard

7. Culture, Media, Sports

Abstract
A collective American culture is sometimes difficult to define even if the contours are discussed in every chapter in Contemporary United States. Culture involves shared traditions and activities established over time and recognized by the collection of citizens of the nation-state, or by subcultural groupings. Beliefs and ideas, common knowledge, and values of a society in a particular time period inform culture. Time matters because, as literature professor Christopher Bixby explains, American culture is “shape-shifting” and “always in the making” (Bixby, 2006: 11). American culture is simultaneously centripetal and centrifugal as it pulls inward toward a core meaning and expands outward to bring in multiple meanings. American culture is an over-arching term covering a multitude of cultures and subcultures, at times similar one to the other, and at other times so estranged or peculiar that are they are Manichean at best, and from a galaxy far far away, at least. There is not a single source or recipe because American culture pulls from the global diaspora. There are multiple meanings and complex “blended” interdependencies.
Russell Duncan, Joe Goddard

8. The Economy

Abstract
For a generation, the US economy has been shifting from industry to information and services and has tightly integrated into the global marketplace of products, investment, and labor. The US economy is currently inseparable from the global economy, despite nationalist political currents that might wish it different. In 2017, the world had emerged somewhat shakily from the worst economic slowdown since the Great Depression of the 1930s. America, meanwhile, recovered faster than most developed nations, and Americans saw median incomes climb at a stronger rate than in a decade. Yet the memory of the “Great Recession” remained vivid. Banks had failed, nations still teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, popular protests arose, and many millions of people at home and abroad remain outside the labor market. Growing economic integration, global instability, and rising nationalism combined to threaten security, peace, and the domestic political order. Although the American economy has improved markedly since 2008, growth remained halting – especially in the industrial heartlands – and perhaps forty million Americans subsisted below the poverty line (USCB, 2016b).
Russell Duncan, Joe Goddard

9. Global Politics

Abstract
In 2017, the widespread anxiety of a world in disarray increased dramatically with the inauguration of Donald Trump. The international system that had been in place since World War II was clearly outdated and moves toward cosmopolitanism had failed many workers in many nations. Nationalism loudly and rapidly returned to the world stage after seven decades of deeper global integration. Patriotic politicians everywhere recognized the growing discontent toward governing structures domestic and foreign. These jingoists stood firmly for putting the interests of their people and their countries first. In the West, the fears of barbarians at the gates were dark. Rising right-wing parties and election victories increased international tensions by questioning alliances, agreements, regional organizations, and international institutions. The enemy was identified as global cosmopolitanism, which, ironically, was the same enemy named by Islamic jihadists, Xi Jinping, and Vladimir Putin. Political scientist Robert Kagan predicted that with the declining support for internationalism, the old order would collapse in the space of three to fifteen years, suddenly, with the coming of World War III (Kagan, 2017). He was not the only one predicting wars of one size or another as many political scientists believed an epoch was ending.
Russell Duncan, Joe Goddard

10. Prospects

Abstract
Just nine days before his presidency ended, Barack Obama stood at a podium in Chicago and gave his farewell address to the nation. He acknowledged the swing in the pendulum of power and declared that while the nation was “not a fragile thing,” the people must always be vigilant (Obama, 2017). He spoke of diversity and unity: “Democracy does not require uniformity. But democracy does require a basic degree of solidarity” (ibid.). The president was not referring simply to the bonds among Americans. Solidarity for him – a lawyer and a former university professor of constitutional law – involved the obligation to participate in protecting a system of government that was one with the ideas and rules framed by the Constitution of the United States. This solidarity was the glue between “We, the People” and the government. Obama warned that solidarity can be imperilled. “Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted,” he said. The outgoing president worried that the present era was one of those times and he offered a solution: “Show up. Dive in. Stay at it. Sometimes you’ll win. Sometimes you’ll lose” (ibid.). Then he addressed himself directly to the younger generations and their future prospects: Let me tell you, this generation coming up – unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic – I’ve seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair, and just, and inclusive America.
Russell Duncan, Joe Goddard
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