Welcome to 2018 Summer Hybrid – LS 657: Challenges of Democracy
Due July 24 – For discussions at our July 24 meeting at Columbia
In our July 18 meeting, we introduced three books from which this weeks readings come. But let’s begin with an introduction to how social media in influencing the study of politics. This video is about international relations, but it applies across political science and many other fields. It is a few years old – how much is the same and how much has changed?
Charli Carpenter, Transnational Politics, i(I)nternational r(R)elations, and the Information Age – on teaching, scholarship, and Web 2.0 and 3.0 (2012) – (watch all eight minutes) – she focuses on the IR field, but it’s applicable to all social sciences – notice that this is from 2012 – what has changed / what has stayed the same since then?
Our readings for this week:
I. Ayn Rand, Anthem
The first is Ayn Rand’s Anthem. Rand, and Russian-American of the early 20th century, is most associated with the idea of objectivism, emphasizing self-reliant individualism and reason. Anthem is famously short and accessible, compared to her much longer The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Indeed, she wrote Anthem in the middle of writing The Fountainhead.
Anthem isn’t about democracy, directly – but it is much about challenges to democracy. Rand’s dystopia was influenced more by the first decades of the Soviet Union and its priority of the collective over the individual. But the themes of challenges to democracy today have some echoes in Anthem and we’ll talk about those when we meet.
II. Thomas Frank, Listen, Liberal
Our second reading this week comes from Thomas Frank, Listen, Liberal. In out meeting July 18, we discussed that Frank is a member of the media, and a liberal Democrat in good standing. His What’s the Matter with Kansas? explored what he considered the mistakes of Republican voters. But in Listen, Liberal he is a fierce critic of what he considers the Democratic Party’s betrayal of the working class in favor of the privileged, educated, urban professionals in tech and other high-paying fields.
Our primary reading from the book is this excerpt (please read). My advice is to watch him talk about it a little, first, in this seven-minute video.
He criticizes his Democratic Party for abandoning the working class of America in favor of its fetish for young coastal techies. He condemns it for adding a moral layer to success and meritocracy: the Party’s judgment that whether you are a success or not, you deserve your fate. This Democratic Party, he argues, has forced much of Middle America into Donald Trump’s siren song.
In this clip, Frank offers a short critique of the Clintons and pro-Wall Street, pro-tech deliberate, decades-long choice of the Democratic Party to shift from a party of the working class to a party of the winners class. Love this? More and longer videos – all optional – from Frank.
Two additional readings go along with this. First, we hear a lot about the “one percent” or the “0.1 percent.” But in some ways, the next group – the 9.9 percent, are especially interesting. They combine an unmistakable amount of privilege for their children with a real anxiety that their own and their children’s status is vulnerable. How do they deal with that? Richard Reeves gives one answer: dream-hoarding. (please read)
On the other hand, some argue that politics has become a battle not of left and right or black and white or rural and urban, but “between the sane and the mindlessly angry.” After Brexit and looking toward the 2016 presidential elections, a son of New York elites wants his kind to smarten up and stop “the ignorant masses.” (please read)
It goes both ways, of course – there was vast critiques of the Republican Party’s 2016 presidential nominee – by Republicans. See some of National Review’s collection of #NeverTrump outrage.
III. Mark Leibovich, This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral-Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking!-in America’s Gilded Capital
Our third reading is a more cynical (and more humorous) approach to democracy. Mark Leibovich, journalist for the New York Times and Washington Post, among others, gives it away in the subtitle of his look at Washington: This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral-Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking!-in America’s Gilded Capital. Please read the excerpt on Moodle. Who goes to a funeral “to be seen”? Do Democrats, Republicans, lobbyists, and journalists all hang out together at the same prep school soccer games and Georgetown cocktail parties? Does it matter?
A short intro to Leibovich and his book:
Ok, your turn
Maybe this is an unusual collection of readings for a course on democracy, but maybe there is some value to them in introducing a course on the challenges to democracy:
– What does it mean to live in a democracy, really?
– What is government doing, really?
– Whom do elected officials and political parties represent?
– We all know a little about the debates of the last couple of years: Establishment Hillary vs FeelTheBern – Sanders almost won the nomination even though he’s not a Democrat. Trump vs The World – a tv star defeats 16 actual Republicans for the nomination.
– Is there a role of “ordinary Americans” here anywhere?
Use these prompts or any ideas, questions, problems, etc. of your own, to write about 400-500 words – put them at the bottom of this page before class July 24. Most weeks you’ll respond here online to each other, but this week we’ll do that together in class instead. But first, please see this guidance on what makes a good post.
Meanwhile, any time before Tuesday, please discover some interesting news or analysis item and share it with us on our facebook page.
Ok, great – let’s go!