The central argument of Fragile Democracy: A Critical Introduction to American Government is that democracy in the United States is today more of a question than a given. American democracy has become a precarious enterprise. This text is organized similarly to most American government texts. It considers the Revolutionary War and the Constitution, Federalism and the separation of powers, civil liberties and civil rights, the major branches of the federal government, the key political institutions that connect state and society in the U.S., and the major domestic and foreign policies in the United States. But it does so in such a way as to underscore the fragility of the current political order.
Some of the key thematic features of Fragile Democracy include:
- Review of the political conflicts concerning voting rights and subversion of elections.
- Analysis of the linkages between economic and political inequality.
- Consideration of the tensions between majoritarian democracy and the maintenance of civil liberties and civil rights.
- Overview of the historical dynamics through which Congress has delegated power to an increasingly powerful presidency.
- Emphasis on the ways in which major changes in American politics have been driven by reinterpretations of the Constitution.
- Analysis of powers of interest groups and plutocrats to reshape the political system.
- Exploration of race as a fundamental wedge issue in American politics.
- Recognition of the connection between different paradigms of the political economy in the United States and the emergence of distinctive governing coalitions.
- Inquiry into how power politics, liberal international orders, and informal empire have shaped the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.
This book will prompt students to consider challenges that the U.S. political system faces. Indeed, a key point here is that at the very moment when key challenges are emerging, the U.S. is experiencing escalating political polarization and diminished capacity to adapt to these challenges. More than just a recitation of facts about American government, this book offers a frank analysis of the problems that Americans face, including the ongoing crisis of democracy in the United States.
Chapter 1 Our Fragile Democracy
1. Fragile Democracy, Fragile World
2. Democracy and the Myth of the People
3. Public Goods and Democracy
4. Authoritarianism and Economic Oligarchy
Chapter 2 America’s Constitutional Bargain
1. Class Conflict in Revolutionary America
2. The Political Thought of the Framers
3. The Constitution Today
3.1 Unequal Representation in the Senate
3.2 Electoral College Distortions
3.3 Judicial Review and the Constitution
3.4 Significance of States’ Rights
3.5 Presidential Power and the Separation of Powers
Chapter 3 Federalism
1. The Era of Dual Federalism
2. Regulatory Federalism
3. Cooperative Federalism
4. The Future of Federalism
Chapter 4 Civil Liberties—How Free?
1. From Barron to the 14th Amendment
2. Market Freedoms as National Rights
3. Establishment of Religion and Religious Freedom
4. Freedom of Expression
5. Privacy Rights
6. Gun Rights
7. Protections Against Unreasonable Search and Seizure
8. The Future of Civil Liberties
Chapter 5 The Civil Rights Two Step
1. Voting Rights
2. School Integration
3. Affirmative Action
4. Gay and Trans Rights
5. Immigrant Rights
6. Police Violence
Chapter 6 The Congressional Game
1. Congressional Representation
2. Sources of Incumbent Advantage
3. Legislative Process
3.1 COVID Relief: An Illustrative Example of the Legislative Process
3.2 Head Butting Ensues
3.3 Surprise Medical Billing: A Brief Interlude
3.4 The Final Act: The American Relief Plan
Chapter 7 The Most Dangerous Branch
1. A Loaded Gun
2. Delegations of Power
3. Emergency Powers
3.1 Trump’s Border Emergency
3.2 Ukraine and Impeachment
3.3 Principals and Agents
3.4 Trump and the Department of Justice
4. The Administrative State
5. From Energetic Executive to the Arrogance of Power
Chapter 8 The Federal Judiciary
1. The Rule of Law versus the Rule of Politicians
2. The Federal Judiciary—Structure and Process
3. The Living Constitution and Originalism
4. Judicial Politics
5. The Federalist Society Take Over
6. Original Intent and Democracy
Chapter 9 Public Opinion and the Media
1. A Democratic People?
2. Formation of Public Opinion
3. Political Ideologies
4. Identity Politics
5. Media, Elites, and Public Opinion
6. Fox News
7. Social Media
Chapter 10 Parties and Elections
1. A Pluralist Democracy?
2. Electoral Politics
3. Parties and Elections
4. Splintering of the New Deal Coalition
5. The Top-Down Coalition
6. From George W. Bush to Donald Trump
7. The Post New Deal Democrats
8. The Party System Today: Cracks in the Consensus?
Chapter 11 The Interest Group Domination of Politics
1. Lucrative Investments
2. How the Game Is Played
3. Model Legislation
4. Revolving Doors
4.1 The Fossil Fuel Lobby
4.2 Wall Street-Washington Complex
4.3 The Military Industrial Complex
5. Plutocratic Powerbrokers
Chapter 12 Political Economy and Public Policy
1. Complex Freedom
2. Political Economy as Paradigm Change
3. The Era of New Deal Social Insurance
4. The Neoliberal Paradigm
5. Neoliberalism and Corporate Power
6. Neoliberalism and Free Trade
7. Beyond Neoliberalism?
8. Future of U.S. Social and Economic Policy
Chapter 13 U.S. Foreign Policy in Three Stories
1. Theory and Reality
1.1 The Realist Story
1.2 The Liberal Story
1.3 The Marxist Story
2. The Geopolitics of U.S. Foreign Policy
3. The International Liberal Order
4. U.S. Informal Empire
5. The 21st-Century World
Epilogue Notes on the Political Future
1. The Danger of Fossil Fascism
2. The Constitution v. Democracy
3. The New Supply-Side Economics
Richard W. Coughlin received a Ph.D. in Political Science from Syracuse University in 1993 and is currently Associate Professor in the Political Science department at Florida Gulf Coast University. Dr. Coughlin's published work has appeared in Political Science Education, American Political Thought, Latin American Perspectives, Crossings - the Journal of Migration and Culture, The Florida Political Chronicle, and E-International Relations.