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Book Summaries Part 4

Citing a book is one of the most impressive things you can do in an extemp speech. Beyond presenting an opportunity to cite distinguished scholars, books typically hold complex political, social, and economic theories that add sophistication to your speeches. Below is a list of a few books you may want to cite in your next speech. 

Citing a book is one of the most impressive things you can do in an extemp speech. Beyond presenting an opportunity to cite distinguished scholars, books typically hold complex political, social, and economic theories that add sophistication to your speeches. Below is a list of a few books you may want to cite in your next speech. 

All of the books on this list offer different perspectives on the role identity plays in politics.   Like with all political science books, the conclusions these books reach should be treated as an opinion worth of consideration rather than an irrefutable truth.  The purpose of this article is to point you in the direction of some interesting books you could cite in a future speech, not promote a certain ideology.  Here are links for part 1, part 2, and part 3 of this series. 

Book #1: Why We are Polarized by Ezra Klein

This is one of the best books for domestic extempers I have come across. A summary doesn’t really do it justice and I would encourage you to read it. 

Author qualification: Ezra Klien is a well known journalist and co-founder of the explanatory news source Vox.  He runs a podcast and has written columns for well known newspapers.  

Summary:

  • In the past, the Democrats and Republicans were very similar ideologically, which made splitting tickets common.  Since then, the parties’ views have diverged, mostly because of sorting (example: Democrats have more consistently liberal beliefs) rather than an increase in extremeness of individual beliefs.  
  • People of color are becoming more numerous in America. This triggered a backlash from white Americans who feel like their dominant position is being threatened that helped Trump win the presidency. 
  • Partisanship is growing stronger, but parties themselves have grown weaker and less able to prevent an extreme candidate or demagogue from getting the party nomination 
  • The more different the parties, the more people viewed the other party as a threat because they have little in common.  This increases the incentive for politicians to engage in partisan behavior rather than follow the norms the American political system is dependent on.  
  • In the past, most people got news from local newspapers that aimed to please most people by being moderate.  The rise of online news allowed people to choose their news source and sources became more ideologically extreme to match what their audiences wanted to hear. 
  • Small donations are polarizating because donors are more excited about donating to an extreme candidat.  Large institutional donations are corrupting because corporations donate to a candidate who furthers their interests.  
  • Having two competitive parties in the United States makes politics more deadlocked because if the minority party can block the policy of the majority, they can meaningfully improve their chances of getting elected. 
  • Racial, geographic, religious, and physiological traits have become stronger predictors of party affiliation.  The Democrats are a more diverse coalition, which makes them more moderate than the Republicans, but less united 
  • The power of political party elites has been declining, leading to an increase in democracy and a higher chance that demagogues will get the nomination for president 

Book #2: Political Tribes by Amy Chua 

This book explains the role identity plays in several conflicts and political systems.  The analysis is straightforward and it’s a pretty fast read.  

Author qualifications: Amy Chua is a law professor at Yale.  She has written five books, mostly on politics.

Summary:

  • The United States is the only major power that is a super-group (a nation where multiple different groups and ethnicities all identify as being that nationality).  Because of this, Americans tend to assume that other nations will have a strong national identity to unite them when they don’t, leading to foreign policy blunders. 
    • Before the Iraq war, the Shia majority was subject to oppression.  The US thought that Iraqis would overcome ethnic rivalry once democracy was introduced, but in reality the Shia majority elected a government that was oppressive to Sunni.  ISIS formed partly due to Iraqi Sunnis’ anger about oppression.
  • Some societies have an ethnic minority that is politically, economically, and/or culturally dominant.  Chua calls these groups market dominant minorities and they tend to be resented
  • The US saw conflicts during the Cold War period through an ideological, capitalist versus communist lens even though ethnicity also played a significant role.  
    • Ethnic Chinese were a market dominant minority in Vietnam who made up the majority of the wealthy capitalists communists wanted to topple.  This is part of the reason it was hard to persuade members of the Viet Cong to be capitalist. 
    • The US provided weapons to the Mujahideen because they were fighting the Soviets.  They ignored this group’s Pashtun nationalism and the Taliban that originated from the Mujahideen overthrew a government that they viewed as being too anti-Pashtun. 
  • Terrorists tend to be ordinary individuals that are part of groups that are extreme.  Most terrorists are members of  ethnic groups that tend to be relatively poor in the nations they come from.
  • Americans, especially white Americans, are very divided by social class.  Working class individuals are very underrepresented in Congress and political life in general.  Much of the left tends to ignore this divide, leading to a backlash from white Americans. 

Book #3: Divided We Fall by David French

This book is very similar to Why We Are Polarized, but less dense and leans right instead of left. 

Author qualifications: David French was a fellow at the National Review Institute and wrote for the National Review for four years.  He is currently a senior editor for The Dispatch. 

Summery:

  • The main reason why people vote for the party they do is hatred of the other party.  This is called negative polarization.  
  • So long as freedom of speech and assembly are respected, faction in American political society is inevitable.  Therefore, a political system that recognizes and accommodates factions is needed.
  • People have become increasingly sorted by ideology into geographical areas, making some areas have a lot of liberals and some areas have a lot of conservatives.  This creates filter bubbles that prevent people from seeing opposing views and makes the beliefs of those in the group more extreme. 
  • The Overton window refers to what is considered acceptable discourse.  In today’s world, there are two Overton windows, one for the left and one for the right and neither side wants to tolerate the other’s discourse. As a result, free speech is under attack, both on college campuses and in the wider world.
  • French predicts a possibility of the United States breaking apart into multiple countries with more homogeneous political leanings.  This would lead to the end of the US-led liberal international order.
  • Increased federal government power at the expense of state government power is making the problems caused by polarization worse because in the federal government people from very liberal states must compromise with people from very conservative states. What each side wants is incompatible with the other side’s desires.  
  • The problems caused by polarization can be mitigated by tolerating the views of the other party.  Giving state governments more power would also help deal with deadlock because states tend to be more ideologically homogeneous and so compromise is easier.

Book #4: Identity Crisis by John Sides, Michael Tesler, and Lynn Vavreck

This is a book on the trends that lead to Trump’s 2016 election victory.  It goes into more depth than you should in a speech, but is still interesting and useful.

Author’s Qualifications: 

John Sides is a political science professor at George Washington University.  Michael Tesler is an associate political science professor at UCI and Lynn Vavreck is a professor of American Politics and Public Policy at UCLA.

Summery:

  • People often think Trump won because of voter anger, but voters were no more angry in 2016 than previous years.  Trump was better able to tap into the reservoir of anger that already existed, though. 
  • In the past, voters’ views of the economy predicted how they felt about the party in power.  Under the Obama administration, this stopped being true.  At the same time, race became a stronger determiner of partisanship and whites without college degrees became more consistently Republican (the diploma divide)
  • Many white Trump voters who were angry about the economy were mostly angry about other ethnic groups threatening their economic position. 
  • Normally, party elites decide who to endorse during the primaries.  During the Republican primary that preceded the 2016 election, the Republican party elite weren’t able to agree on a candidate due to the large field and divide between moderates and strong conservatives, making it harder for people to figure out who to vote for. 
  • The Republican elite wanted the party to be more racially inclusive and where fiscally conservative, but the Republican voters largely didn’t want that.  Donald Trump expressed relatively fiscally liberal and racially conservative views that were closer to many Republican voters and did well because of it 
  • The news media focused a lot on Trump during the 2016 election and even though much of this coverage was negative, it made him more widely known and popular
  • Parties have become too weak to prevent demagogues from getting the nomination and partisanship is so strong that people will vote for a demagogue if they are from their party.  
  • There was likely some Russian interference, but it probably didn’t determine the presidency 
  • Trump performed more poorly than many analysts projected a Republican candidate would perform.  They call this the “Trump Tax”.
  • Hillary Clinton being a woman didn’t lead more women to support her more, but it did lead to some men not wanting to vote for her.
  • People who voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary were just as liberal as those who voted for Clinton, but they were more skeptical of the party

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