It's difficult to find reasons to be optimistic about the current U.S. political situation--in which, as Greg Sargent notes in the opening pages of An Uncivil War, "our democracy and its core institutions are under serious stress at best, and face profound or even existential peril at worst." But the front end of this same sentence states that "many citizens who were previously uninterested in political participation... suddenly find themselves more actively engaged than at any other point in their lives."
Sargent, who writes a blog called "The Plum Line" for The Washington Post, is focused on this conundrum: It's absolutely tragic, he says, that it took the election of Donald Trump to wake Americans up about threats to our democracy. But now that they're woke, what should they do?
His book, due out in mid-October, just prior to the midterms, identifies Trump as a uniquely toxic figure pushing the country toward authoritarianism and the wholesale destruction of political norms. It is full of satisfying putdowns of the President, like how he has flooded the public sphere with "blustery pronouncements, grotesque exercises in misdirection, flagrant distortions, staggeringly audacious lies, openly racist provocations, and all-around political trash talk of the rankest kind." Sargent warns that the level of disinformation ushered in by Trump, aided by outside players including Russia, could have a major impact on electoral outcomes, if they haven't already.
But Sargent argues that the dangers to American democracy precede Trump and will persist after he's gone. Chief among them are the largely successful efforts by partisans to sway elections by gerrymandering districts and selectively suppressing votes. He refers to this trend as "democratic backsliding."
Sargent's analysis of these issues...