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Power Politics: Trump and the Assault on American Democracy, Darrell M. West

Reviewed by Philip Rocco
 

Donald Trump's victory in the 2016 presidential election produced a boom in a new subgenre of nonfiction: the “democratic backsliding” book. Trump's actions in office, culminating in the 6 January Capitol insurrection, have rightly given this subgenre staying power in the nonfiction market. At their best, these books—written for a general audience by a diverse cast of academics, journalists, and pundits—are earnest efforts to analyze the illiberal mood in American politics Trump represents, as well as the conditions under which a mood might become something more like a qualitative shift in regime type. At their worst, they offer little more than a jolt to the amygdala via chin-stroking, “could it happen here” essays.

Darrell M. West's Power Politics: Trump and the Assault on American Democracy lands somewhere between these two extremes. The book is equal parts scholarship and memoir. Since 2008, West has directed the Brookings Institution's Governance Studies program. From this vantage point, he has experienced firsthand how changes in civil-society institutions—think tanks, universities, and the media—have helped to eat away at democratic values in the United States. In one of the book's most riveting passages, West describes how, following accusations from the Trump administration th

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