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About this book

In this state-of-the-art textbook, a distinguished team of established experts and rising scholars discuss the legacy of the Obama years and the impact of the unexpected Trump presidential victory of 2016. Carrying on the tradition set by its predecessors of incisive, authoritative and up-to-date coverage, this eighth volume explores the policy dilemmas faced by the Trump administration, as well as the doubts over the efficiency of America’s key political institutions, its policy-making processes and the operation of its democracy.

Carefully balancing contemporary topics with in-depth analysis of their underlying processes and historical roots, this is essential reading for all students and researchers in the field of American government and politics. Moreover, as issues such as race, religion, and law and order become ever more politicized, it will be highly valuable for those interested in American society more generally.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction: The Trump Effect

Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 US presidential election sent shock waves not just through the American political system but through the governments of the country’s allies. His triumph represented more than a change of party from the Democrats, who had held the White House since 2008, and the defeat by an outsider of the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, who had been widely expected to win. It seemed to signal a reversal of many assumptions of American foreign and domestic policy and a disruption of continuity not just with the Obama years but with much of America’s post-war politics. It brought to power an individual whose personality, temperament and style were very different from the norm and whose campaign rhetoric and moral values appeared deeply offensive to many observers. The election outcome also handed executive power to someone whose expertise in government was at best limited. Trump had run explicitly as an outsider pledging to bring a business approach to policy-making and to ‘drain the swamp’ of an allegedly corrupt and failing political system. His attacks on the media and his claim to represent the ‘real people’ against the establishment, although reminiscent of a long tradition of populism in American politics, suggested a highly personal, even authoritarian, approach to politics (Kazin, 1995).
Gillian Peele, Christopher J. Bailey, Bruce E. Cain, B. Guy Peters, Jon Herbert

Chapter 2. Race, Ethnicity and Immigration

When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, his status as the first black president was celebrated as the culmination of a progressive advance toward political equality for African Americans in the United States. In one assessment, Dewey Clayton wrote that Obama had managed ‘to transcend race’ (Clayton, 2010). Denis Nordin credited Obama with pursuing a ‘race-free strategy’ (Nordin, 2012). Niambi Carter and Pearl Ford Dowe described Obama as having a ‘deracialized’ message ‘void of a pursuit of racial group interests’ (Carter and Dowe, 2015). Yet, over Obama’s presidency, commentators were continually perplexed by the incongruity of an African American president amidst stark and, in some cases, increasing racial divisions in American society.
Gillian Peele, Richard Johnson

Chapter 3. Religion and American Politics

Among the many intriguing aspects of Donald Trump’s presidency is the role of religion in shaping its personnel and agenda. During the 2016 presidential election campaign Trump secured the strong support of the religious right and, in an understanding which many critics regarded as entirely strategic, promised to fulfill a number of key pledges on the religious right’s agenda. How far President Trump will in fact implement those promises remains to be seen; but even in the early stages of his presidency the religious right is mostly pleased with his actions on abortion, key choices for his cabinet such as Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services. (Price was forced to resign in September 2017 as a result of excessive expenditure on private plane travel, although the failure to secure the repeal of Obamacare had already damaged his political reputation.) The successful nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court also appeared likely to please the religious right. And in choosing Mike Pence as his vice-president, Trump brought to the heart of his administration a politician with an extremely conservative religious world view. All of these decisions likely reassured those not initially convinced of Trump’s own religious sincerity or moral suitability for the presidency. White evangelicals responded favorably to Trump, voting for him overwhelmingly in the election and endorsing his first actions in the White House. In February 2017, for example, it was reported that three-quarters of white evangelical Protestants supported Trump’s executive orders restricting travel to the US from some predominantly Muslim countries (Smith, 2017a).
Gillian Peele

Chapter 4. The 2016 Elections

The Huffington Post christened it ‘the anger election’ (Seaquist, 2016). A few months later, Time magazine decided ‘American anger is out of control’ (Kluger, 2016), and post-election, former President Bill Clinton lamented, ‘[Trump] doesn’t know much. One thing he does know is how to get angry, white men to vote for him’ (Nelson, 2016). Such pronouncements saturated coverage of the 2016 election, calcifying into conventional wisdom in the wake of Donald Trump’s unexpected victory. According to the media, anger among white, working-class voters was the driver of the year’s election results. In what follows, we take issue with this conventional wisdom. Although anger was undoubtedly one component of the 2016 electoral outcome, we believe that others provide a more convincing explanation. In particular, we will argue that partisan identification and partisan voting trends can account for the minor variance between 2016’s electoral outcome and the 2012 presidential election. In so doing, we will assert that the 2016 presidential campaign was not all that different from the 2012 contest, in that both were characterized by high degrees of partisan loyalty, a moderate Democratic advantage in partisan identification, and a substantial Republican lead among Independent voters. Along the way, we will touch on the recent failures of economic voting models to predict elections, changes in American attitudes toward government over the past 15 years, and the implications of 2016 for future American elections. We begin, however, by considering the media’s anger hypothesis and acknowledging the notable but limited role of anger in the 2016 election.
Gillian Peele, David Brady, Brett Parker

Chapter 5. Political Parties

The United States’ major political parties have traditionally been outliers in many aspects relative to the centralized, disciplined, and ideological major political parties of other Western liberal democracies. Much of this divergence has been attributed to the separation of powers in the US Constitution and peculiar factors in American political development. In recent decades, however, American parties have come to more closely resemble their counterparts in other liberal democracies, with more ideological cohesion within party ranks, unprecedented levels of legislative party unity, a growing role for national party organizations, and increasing polarization between the parties. Another aspect of this convergence has been the emergence of a new American party leadership elite or ‘establishment’ in both parties that has played a pivotal role in presidential nominating politics since 1980. The establishment in each major party came under severe challenge in the 2016 presidential nominating process, however, and in the case of the Republican Party the party elite was defeated by a rank political outsider – Donald Trump – who later went on the win the presidency. This chapter examines the role of party elites in American history and the circumstances in which leadership structures and the composition of party elites may be subject to change, with a specific focus on the 2016 presidential campaign.
Gillian Peele, Nicol Rae

Chapter 6. Interest Groups and Political Money

Organized interests in the United States play a significant role in financing elections, particularly legislative elections. In the past decade, interest group activity has intensified to an entirely new level. No longer are groups simply making contributions to candidates but they are also financing independent and expensive campaigns in support of favored candidates. This behavior comes in the wake of political reforms that hampered the ability of party committees to finance elections. Filling a gap left by the parties, a relatively small subset of groups now spend money directly on advertisements and mobilizing voters. In the most competitive contests in 2016 for seats to the House and Senate, non-party organizations doubled and tripled the amounts spent by candidates. This is unprecedented in American elections. The organizations are closely allied with the two major parties, representing ideological interests and ‘shadow’ parties encouraged by party leaders. Additionally, in the 2016 presidential contest almost every candidate in both parties had a surrogate campaign running ads on their behalf, paid for by extremely wealthy liberal or conservative donors and their associated organizations.
Gillian Peele, J Raymond, La Raja

Chapter 7. The Presidency

In more ways than one, the 2016 American presidential election was truly unprecedented. After an unexpectedly protracted and bruising primary battle with Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton became the first woman ever to win the nomination of a major political party. On the Republican side, from a crowded field hailed by many pundits as the GOP’s deepest bench in generations, emerged victorious a political neophyte: the brash business tycoon, reality TV star, and Democrat-turned-Republican, Donald J. Trump. As the primaries gave way to the general election campaign, Clinton struggled to shake allegations concerning her use of a private email server while at the State Department and charges of ‘pay to play’ favors for large donors to the Clinton Foundation. At the same time, Trump was dogged by his own series of self-inflicted wounds, from his incendiary remarks about Latinos, Muslims, and women, to multiple allegations of sexual assault, to his public war of words with a Gold Star Family (the Khans had lost their son Humayun while he served in the US Army in Iraq). Ultimately, the 2016 race earned the dubious distinction of featuring the two most disliked candidates in the history of modern survey research (Collins, 2016). When Americans finally headed to the polls on November 8, they rendered a split verdict. For the second time in the last five elections, the candidate who received the most votes failed to win the presidency. Trump’s narrow victories in traditionally Democratic Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin gave him a comfortable margin in the Electoral College, despite losing the national popular vote to Clinton by almost three million votes.
Gillian Peele, Douglas L. Kriner

Chapter 8. Congress

In a mid-1990s cinematic spoof of inter-planetary alien invasions of earth called Mars Attacks, the Martian leader asks Jack Nicholson, playing the American president, to address the US Congress as a gesture of good will. The Martian leader instead zaps all the members of Congress. Nicholson turns to his general and says: ‘We still have two out of three institutions functioning.’ Jack Nicholson’s comments now seem remarkably prescient. In this chapter we illustrate how Congress has been altered from the standard perspective of a generation ago, why it has become less relevant as a legislating body, less likely to find means of compromise, less likely to function as a transformative institution and more apt to operate as an arena for intensified party conflict. We also discuss some of the consequences of this transformation both for public policy-making and for public confidence in Congress itself. It is especially notable that Congress by virtue of its political paralysis has been defaulting power to both the executive and to the judiciary. The balance of power between executive and legislature is a familiar concern and it is one where the executive often seems able to assert its ascendancy. For, as Douglas Kriner points out earlier in this book, presidents do have substantial, but limited advantages, in acting when Congress fails to. Perhaps overlooked in the gridlock that has so often characterized the inter-branch relationship of the last few decades – and also that between the Senate and the House – and in the resultant tendency of presidents to flex their executive authority muscles, is that the courts often end up deciding who is exercising authority legitimately.
Gillian Peele, Joel D. Aberbach, Bert A. Rockman

Chapter 9. The Supreme Court

One of Donald Trump’s first acts as president was the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to be the 118th justice of the US Supreme Court, confirmed by a near party-line vote in the Senate (only three of 48 Democrats voted to confirm) on April 7, 2017. The seat he filled had been left open by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia more than a year earlier on February 13, 2016. President Obama had nominated Merrick Garland, the respected chief judge of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals to fill Scalia’s seat, but Republicans in the Senate refused to act on that nomination. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell argued that the seat should be held open to allow the next president, whose election was nearly eight months away, to make the appointment. McConnell’s gambit paid off, keeping a Democratic president from replacing the Court’s leading conservative voice, one appointed by Ronald Reagan 30 years earlier. It also left the Court functioning for over a year with just eight justices, deadlocked on important cases, and catapulted it to the forefront of the 2016 presidential campaign. And, while both presidential candidates made it a centerpiece of stump speeches, it was especially crucial to Trump’s effort to woo skeptical conservative voters and may well have made the difference in his election. Indeed, in an unprecedented move to assure conservatives, then candidate Trump produced a list of 21 potential Court nominees from which he said he would select if he were elected. Exit polls showed that 21 percent of Americans ranked the Supreme Court as the ‘most important factor’ in the election, and 56 percent of these voters went for Trump. Overall, 62 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of Republicans considered the Court a ‘very important’ factor in making their vote choice for president (Pew, 2016a).
Gillian Peele, Cornell W. Clayton, Michael F. Salamone

Chapter 10. States and Cities

State and city politics lack the glamour of national politics. When people outside the United States think of American politics, they think of Washington DC and what happens there. They focus on presidents, occasionally Congress and, from time to time, the Supreme Court. Very few think of state and local politics. Arguably, in spite of the lip service they pay to federalism, the same is true of Americans; many fewer Americans vote in state elections than in the presidential election and the vast majority of Americans would be unable to name their state assembly-person or state senators. States and cities are, however, demonstrably important actors. Even today, the government officials citizens encounter are far more likely to be state and local rather than federal; of the 22 million Americans who work in government of all types, state and local governments employ 19.3 million (Jessie and Tarleton, 2014). It is easy but incorrect to assume that the important decisions are made in Washington, the more mundane in state capitols or city halls with little room for political controversy. Even considering the old saying that there was no Democratic or Republican way to collect the rubbish: in an era in which privatization has been a hot issue, this is no longer quite correct. As we shall see, states and cities make decisions with great consequences for individuals and society.
Gillian Peele, Graham Wilson

Chapter 11. Economic Policy

To the extent that the presidential campaign of 2016 dealt with policy issues, economic policy was a central concern. This is almost always true – one of the clichés about presidential elections is ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ – but during this election the framing of the economic issues was somewhat different. Both for the campaign of Donald Trump and the campaign of Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Party nomination, the issue was framed in a much more populist manner than has been common in recent elections. The issues raised were not so much on levels of economic growth or even average levels of unemployment, but more on restoring jobs for former industrial workers and others who believed that they had lost out to globalization. Further, there was an emphasis on punishing Wall Street for its past (and perhaps present) misdeeds.
Gillian Peele, B. Guy Peters

Chapter 12. Environment Policy

On June 22, 2016 President Obama signed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. Named after the late senator from New Jersey who had campaigned for over a decade to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA), the Lautenberg Act gave the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) new authority to regulate thousands of chemicals used to make everyday products. The law mandated safety reviews for chemicals already in use, required safety findings for new chemicals before they could be used, replaced the cost-benefit safety standard in TSCA with a health-based standard, required the protection of vulnerable populations like children and pregnant women, set judicially enforceable deadlines for action, and enhanced transparency by limiting the ability of manufacturers to hide behind claims of confidentiality. ‘[T]his is a big deal. This is a good law. It is an important law’, Obama explained when signing the Act. He might have added that it is also a very rare law. No reauthorization of a major environmental statute had occurred since 1996, and Obama’s efforts to get Congress to act on issues such as climate change had collapsed early in his presidency. Passage of the Lautenberg Act can be explained as the product of a ‘perfect storm’ which blew away the obstacles that had dogged environmental law-making for two decades (Goode and Guillen, 2016). First, environmental groups, manufacturers, and legislators from both parties agreed that the EPA had a responsibility to protect the public from toxic chemicals and had been unable to do so using the existing law.
Christopher J. Bailey

Chapter 13. The Politics of Social Policy

The Obama Presidency was one that was marked by contrasting pressures in the field of social policy. The 2008 financial crisis and subsequent recession created demands to expand the social welfare safety net to protect the vulnerable, but his time in office also saw calls for austerity and less government expenditure to reduce deficit spending and the overall debt. As a Democratic president who enjoyed Democratic majorities in the 111th Congress (2009–2010) and who had been elected on the promise to bring about major change, the initial two years of the Obama Presidency saw more emphasis on the former of these conflicting priorities. Most famously, or infamously, depending on one’s perspective, this resulted in the passage in 2010 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), or Affordable Care Act (ACA) for short. The ACA was the most significant public policy overhaul of the US health care system since at least the mid-1960s, but prior to the ACA, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) had been enacted. The ARRA was presented as a series of measures meant to stimulate the economy out of recession rather than as a piece of social welfare legislation, but part of its strategy was to ease eligibility requirements for some existing social welfare programs and sometimes to increase benefit levels. From the start of the 112th Congress (2011–2012), however, the political and policy dynamic changed as the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives, partially at least as a consequence of a backlash against health care reform (Saldin, 2010). The Republicans’ emphasis was very much on the second of the competing priorities mentioned above, as they demanded austerity to rein in what they deemed to be overspending. They also continued their broader ideological protest against Big Government overreach. The GOP were unable to enact their own agenda or repeal the ACA, but their opposition to expanded benefits did mean that some of the time-limited measures in ARRA were not extended, despite the White House’s preferences, thus limiting the administration’s capacity to entrench policy change.
Gillian Peele, Alex Waddan, Daniel Béland

Chapter 14. Crime, Law and Order

For four decades, the promises of politicians to be ‘tough on crime’ underpinned US criminal justice policy. Across law enforcement, the courts and the corrections system, governments responded to criminal behavior with an aggressive approach largely based on a deterrence principle: that allocating harsh punishments to those who fell foul of the law would discourage both reoffending and those tempted to offend. This approach, though, involved a key contradiction: politicians declared their belief in deterrence, while most criminologists argued that such a principle would not work. The latter’s doubts have been borne out by experience. Flaws in the ‘tough on crime’ paradigm led many to question its efficacy and generated a reform movement that developed from the beginning of the 2000s. Particularly, conservatives questioned their presumptions and a new, ‘smart on crime’ alternative emerged. The new approach led to a series of reforms at state and federal level and appeared to indicate a clear direction of travel in policy that could lead to radical, long-term change. The election of Donald Trump seems to mark a stopping point in that reform process, at least at the federal level. Espousing a classic ‘tough on crime’ approach, Trump’s portrayal of an apocalyptic US in the grip of a new crime wave was a staple of his presidential campaign. As his administration began, most of his actions in the area of criminal justice policy represented moves toward harsher penalties for criminals and greater rates of incarceration. The ‘smart on crime’ approach was largely rejected out of hand.
Gillian Peele, Jon Herbert

Chapter 15. Foreign and Security Policy

For the seven decades between World War II and the 2016 US election, American presidents of both parties largely shared a commitment to the promotion of an international order grounded in security partnerships, open markets, liberal values, and cooperation on common challenges. This commitment was evident in efforts by many US presidents to establish and strengthen security alliances, reduce barriers to trade, support democratic governance, and seek multilateral agreements to address shared problems such as nuclear proliferation and climate change. To be sure, American foreign policy also featured many unilateral acts and bouts of realpolitik during this period. But on the whole, as the political scientist G. John Ikenberry has observed, the United States was ‘the major champion and sponsor of the liberal international project’ (Ikenberry, 2009). Barack Obama’s foreign policy fitted well within this tradition of liberal internationalism. Consider the following examples. As Iran developed technology that could lead to the production of nuclear weapons, Obama led an effort to impose multilateral sanctions on Iran and then negotiated a multilateral agreement in which Iran accepted significant constraints on its nuclear activities. When China became more assertive in the South China Sea, Obama increased US military ties to countries in Southeast Asia that felt threatened by China’s actions.
Jordan Tama

Chapter 16. Reforming American Democracy: Paving the Way for Trump

Before the invention of GPS, navigating an unfamiliar area without a road map was stressful. The prospect of getting lost made people anxious. After the 2016 election, many Americans, but especially Democrats, felt similarly lost, navigating a new political landscape without the familiar contours of the past to guide them. Few thought that Donald Trump could win, and even fewer had any firm idea what to expect once he got into office. The fact that so many seasoned observers never took Trump seriously until he actually won testifies to how truly ‘disruptive’ his candidacy was. Trump not only defied most polling prognostications, but also many long-held expectations about what it meant to be ‘qualified’ to hold the highest office in the US. Typically, the more experienced, better-financed establishment candidates easily defeated the unconventional, often deluded, fringe personalities who periodically threw their hats into the ring, so to speak. But not this time: the usual advantages were not enough to prevent the most unconventional candidate in recent memory, Donald Trump, from becoming president. Many of the reasons for this have been amply discussed in earlier chapters of this volume, ranging from tactical errors by the Clinton campaign team to the underlying feelings of discontent that drive a so-called ‘change election’. But beyond these factors, is there also an institutional story behind Trump’s victory? Has America become more susceptible to neo-populism as a consequence of recent trends and current features of the American electoral system? There are reasons to believe that it has.
Bruce E. Cain
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