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By the People: Debating American Government, Brief Edition, 4th Edition
By the People: Debating American Government, Brief Fourth Edition, reflects the dynamism of American government and politics with superior teaching and learning tools that prepare students to ENGAGE, THINK, and DEBATE now more than ever before.
Using a storytelling approach that weaves commentary together with historical context, By the People: Debating American Government explores the themes and ideas that drive the great debates in American government and politics. It introduces students to big questions like “Who governs?” “How does our system of government work?” “What does government do?” and “Who are we?” By challenging students with these questions, the text encourages them to think about, engage with, and debate the merits of U.S. government and politics.
At first, they came in small numbers: one child, two children, a few huddled together. Then a surge: In the spring and summer of 2014, more than 63,000 unaccompanied minors crossed the Mexican border into the United States. The exhausted children—mostly from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador —faced poverty and violence at home. Their exodus was a humanitarian tragedy. But it was also a political problem.
Conservative critics of the Barack Obama administration slammed the White House for not acting sooner to stem the tide and for being “soft on immigration.” Donald Trump launched his long-shot presidential bid, a year later, with a tough attack on undocumented migrants. From the left, another set of voices condemned the president for not providing services to children whose families were so desperate they would send them alone across dangerous ground to an uncertain destiny. Whatever course the administration took, it faced angry rebukes.
As partisans traded insults and pundits criticized the government’s mistakes, something remarkable happened: Americans of all backgrounds—urban and rural, churched and secular, liberal and conservative—came together to help the children. College students and local residents joined to hand out medical kits and food packets. Lawyers flew in to offer free legal assistance in securing asylum. Church leaders created makeshift shelters and organized short-term housing among the congregants. One bishop in San Antonio, Texas, said the crisis had deepened his prayer life. This is a classic story that runs right through American history: People pull together in the face of troubled times.
Help or Clash?
That’s the United States in a nutshell. People pitch in. This is a nation of joiners and helpers and activists. It always has been. Visitors in the nineteenth century were astonished by the nation’s civic spirit. To this day Americans form book groups, organize car washes to raise money for good causes, stack sandbags during floods, send checks to the Red Cross, support the military, and insist that the government help those who need help. “We are inevitably our brother’s keeper because we are our brother’s brother,” wrote Martin Luther King. “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
But that’s only one side of the story. Stream a news show and what do you see? Fights! A few years ago, one of us (Jim) was about to go on a news show to discuss the fallout after singer Janet Jackson inadvertently (and very briefly) went X-rated during the Super Bowl halftime show. Jim was scheduled alongside another commentator who was very agitated about Jackson’s behavior and believed that it signaled the decline of America. Jim told the producer that, after exploring our different views, it would be great if we could find some common ground. No way, retorted the producer, who explained her ideal closing shot: You’ll be shouting over each other on a split screen while the host coolly ends the segment by saying, “We’ll have to leave it there for now, but feelings run high and we’ll be hearing a lot more on this topic.” Unfortunately, searching for common ground does not draw an audience like people screaming onscreen.
The producer was demonstrating another side of America: rugged individualists who push their own views and self-interests. Individualism is also an all-American story. Its origins lie in a frontier culture that expected everyone to watch out for themselves. This is the America that resents anyone—especially the government—telling people what to do.
Which is the real America? They both are. Sometimes this is a land of cooperation, sometimes a nation of competition. American politics, as you will see, reflects both views.
By the People?
We picked the book’s title—By the People—because Lincoln’s phrase raises the deepest question in American politics: Who has the power? Or to put it more pointedly, do the people rule in this day and age? Democracy is a constant struggle; it is an aspiration, a wish, a quest. In every chapter we’ll ask how well Americans are living up to Lincoln’s ideal. Does the new media (Chapter 9) or the contemporary Congress (Chapter 13) or the bureaucracy (Chapter 15) or state government (Chapter 4) support or subvert government by the people? We’ll present the details—and let you decide whether we
should press for reform or leave things alone.
We’ll be straight with you: We won’t pretend there was a golden age in some imaginary past. After all, the United States has been home to political machines that enthusiastically stole votes, maintains an Electoral College designed to distort the people’s vote for president, and governs through an elaborate system of checks and balances that blunts the popular will. (Again, you’ll soon see two sides to each of these features of American government.) At the same time, you’ll read about bold popular movements and unexpected electoral surges that changed the face of the nation. In many ways, these are
the most exciting moments in American history. They spring up at unexpected times, inspiring ordinary people to achieve great things. Does Donald Trump’s election signify such a surge? Or are the protest movements that have sprung up the larger agent of change? Read on and you’ll be able to answer those questions—and many more.
Who Are We?
Here’s Jim’s very first political memory: My parents were watching TV, and as soon as I walked into the room I could see that my mother was trying hard not to cry. “What’s going on?” I asked my parents nervously. My dad—a proud Republican who had fought in World War II—said, “Well, the U.S.had a racial problem, but that man there, he’s going to get us past it.” “That man there” was Martin Luther King Jr., giving one of the most famous speeches in American history: “I have a dream,” said King, that “my four little children will one day live in a country where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” My mother had been born in Poland and her near tears reflected pride in her new nation—and the uplifting aspirations of that August day.
Both of us grew up thinking about the dream—and about the nation that dreams it. America is constantly changing, constantly new. In every chapter we’ll ask the same question: Who are we? We’ll explore a lot of different answers.
Four themes are especially important in this book. Race touches everything in the United States, from the Constitution (Chapter 3) to our political parties (Chapter 11). The nation rose up out of both freedom and slavery; race quickly became one of the great crucibles of American liberty. Likewise, immigration includes some of history’s saddest passages involving the mistreatment of recent arrivals. And yet we are a nation of immigrants that continues to welcome the world’s “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”—the famous words long associated with the Statue of Liberty. More than a fifth of all the emigrants around the globe come to the United States every year. Race and immigration are tied up in another powerful topic: gender and sexuality. From women in Congress to same-sex marriage, from teen pregnancy to abortion, we’ll show how negotiating an answer to “Who are we?” always puts an emphasis on questions of gender and sexuality. Finally, we’re especially interested in American generations, and more specifically the attitudes and contributions of today’s young people, the millennial generation. If you’re one of them, the future belongs to you. This book is an owner’s manual for the government that you’re going to inherit. We’ll have much to say about you as we go along. The most important thing about all these categories is not their history, or the ways they’ve influenced voting behavior, or how the courts treat them—although we’ll cover all those topics. Rather, what matters most about American politics are the opportunities to get involved. As you’ll see, groups and individuals can and do make a difference in a nation that is always evolving. We hope our book inspires you to actively participate in making the American future