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Archive for the 'The 2016 Election and Beyond' Category

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Post-Fascism

Left-Wing Melancholia

This post is part of an ongoing series in which Columbia University Press authors look at the implications of the result of the 2016 presidential election. Today, Enzo Traverso, author of Left-Wing Melancholia: Marxism, History, and Memory, argues that labelling Donald Trump a fascist is unhelpful, as “interpreting him through old categories [cannot] help us to understand the novelty he embodies”:

Post-Fascism
By Enzo Traverso

Is Donald Trump a fascist? Answering this question, frequently put in both Europe and the US, means speculating about what fascism would look like in the twenty-first century. Historical comparisons allow us to sketch analogies rather than homologies, and Trump is as far from classical fascism as Occupy Wall Street, los Indignados, and La nuit debout are from twentieth-century communism. This is a historical analogy, not a genealogy.

A few months ago, Robert O. Paxton, one of the most important historians of European fascism, ironically (and pertinently) affirmed that Trump probably never read any single book on Mussolini or Hitler. In other words, speaking of Trump’s fascism is not a matter of establishing a historical continuity. He does not come from this political tradition and this distinguishes him from most European far-right movements that come from this matrix, sometimes proudly claiming it—mostly in Central Europe—and sometimes trying to achieve respectability rejecting or distancing it, like the Front National of Marine Le Pen in France.

During his electoral campaign, Trump revealed many fascist traits: a charismatic conception of politics, authoritarianism, hatred for pluralism, nationalism, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, and a populist style that considers citizens only as a crowd to mesmerize and mislead. His campaign reproduced some features of fascist anti-Semitism, which defined a mythical, ethnically homogeneous national community by opposing it to its enemies: for the Nazis this was the Jews, but Trump enlarged the spectrum, including Blacks, Latinos, Muslims, and non-White immigrants. In Trump’s rhetoric, the “Establishment” reproduced the old anti-Semitic cliché of a virtuous community rooted in land and tradition opposed to the anonymous, corrupted, intellectual, and cosmopolitan metropolis. (more…)

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

Trump’s Strange Loves

Reconstructing Strangelove

This post is part of an ongoing series in which Columbia University Press authors look at the implications of the result of the 2016 presidential election. In this post, Mick Broderick, author of Reconstructing Strangelove: Inside Stanley Kubrick’s “Nightmare Comedy”, discusses how Dr. Strangelove is and has been used in US politics:

Trump’s Strange Loves
By Mick Broderick

There has been much consternation recently concerning President Trump’s access to the American nuclear arsenal, the missile control codes (carried in the briefcase-sized “football”) and his personal authorization card (the “biscuit”). As newly anointed Commander-in-Chief, Donald Trump now wields near-apocalyptic power, literally at his fingertips. Throughout his appointed four-year term he can at any time – to invoke Robert Oppenheimer and the Bhagavad Gita – “become death, the destroyer of worlds.” Only a few minutes from committing to such action nearly a thousand nuclear weapons stationed on high alert could be unleashed and no one is legally empowered to stop him.

In reality, this is business as usual; same as it ever was. Trump’s supreme authority is constitutionally entrenched, with the continuity of executive power stemming back decades. What has changed, however, is the new President’s predilection for impulsively tweeting on foreign policy matters, amongst other things, into the wee hours. Now in office Trump continues to fire-off intemperate remarks at his whim and those missives are instantly accessible across the globe. When Ronald Reagan quipped before a radio broadcast during a microphone test in 1984 that he had just “signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever … we begin bombing in 5 minutes”, it was quite sometime before the audio was leaked to the public. Imagine the effect of a tweet from President Trump along similar lines, without the (comic) inflection of the spoken word or the corresponding audible guffaws from nearby presidential staff. Although largely symbolic given the Republican control of the Executive and both Congressional houses, moves are now underway by Democrats to curb any Presidential nuclear first strike order, by mandating that Congress must first declare war. Earlier, Trump had ranted at the Republican Congressional leadership to “Go nuclear!” against his Democrat rivals. (more…)

Friday, January 6th, 2017

The Disaster of Half-Education

Death and Mastery

“[W]hen I help formulate the institutional statement that condemns x, or sign a petition to defend y, or go to a rally with a clever sign for z, what am I doing? Perhaps, in all or some of these activities, I am displaying agency – I, as an independent decision-maker, am doing something. But perhaps I am also mobilizing my half-education toward the maintenance of incomprehension and false projection.” — Benjamin Fong

This post is part of an ongoing series in which Columbia University Press authors look at the implications of the result of the 2016 presidential election. In this post, Benjamin Y. Fong, author of Death and Mastery: Psychoanalytic Drive Theory and the Subject of Late Capitalism, looks at the tendencies of Horkheimer and Adorno’s “new anthropological type” and sees causes for concern in the wake of the 2016 election:

The Disaster of Half-Education
By Benjamin Y. Fong

My first book, Death and Mastery: Psychoanalytic Drive Theory and the Subject of Late Capitalism, was published by Columbia University Press on election day 2016. It is above all an attempt to use psychoanalytic theory, like the original members of the Frankfurt School, to make sense of the tendencies of what Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno called “the new anthropological type.” At times, they described this new kind of capitalist subject as an actual psychological type very reminiscent of the Left’s stereotyped Trump supporter: this type rigidly adheres to conventional values; bears a submissive, uncritical attitude toward idealized moral authorities of the ingroup; has a tendency to be on the lookout for, and to condemn, reject, and punish people who violate conventional values; is opposed to the tender-minded; has a disposition to believe that wild and dangerous things go on in the world; etc. (See Peter E. Gordon, “The Authoritarian Personality Revisited: Reading Adorno in the Age of Trump”). It’s all quite spooky.

At other times, however, the new anthropological type was for them less an actual type of person and more an emergent set of tendencies in thinking brought on by the birth of what they called “the culture industry.” Loosely defined, the culture industry refers to the forms of media (film, television, radio) invented and propagated in the first part of the twentieth century. Many commentators on the work of the Frankfurt School believe that their views of the culture industry are dated, trapped in the Fordist-Keynesian era of mass production and consumption, but I have a difficult time understanding this line of thought. That we watch Emma Stone instead of Greta Garbo, that our kids know the new Disney characters instead of the old ones, that we’re all constantly looking at screens instead of reserving a few hours after work for them – none of this adds up to any qualitative break. No doubt the invention of the internet and the forms of social media that go along with it demand an updating of the culture industry thesis, but it’s hard to see how they don’t reinforce the ability of mass media institutions to categorize and cater to commodity consumers. (more…)

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

What the Election of President Trump May Mean for Mental Health Policy

Losing Tim

This is part of an ongoing series of posts in which Columbia University Press authors look at the implications of the result of the 2016 presidential election. In this post, Paul Gionfriddo, author of Losing Tim: How Our Health and Education Systems Failed My Son with Schizophrenia, discusses how mental health policy will be affected by a Trump presidency:

What the Election of President Trump May Mean for Mental Health Policy
By Paul Gionfriddo

The election of Donald Trump as President will influence mental health services in America. We just don’t know how.

We have generated significant positive momentum for mental health system reform during the past two years. The federal government has begun to lay a new foundation for a modern, community-based system of mental health services.

This has been no small feat. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings, federal policymakers initially could come to no consensus about how they should respond. Some argued for more deep-end services for individuals who were a danger to themselves or others. Others wanted stricter gun control laws to keep weapons out of the hands of most people with serious mental health conditions.

The earliest ideas did not consider the bigger picture – that mental illnesses are most frequently diseases of childhood, and seldom manifest in violent or dangerous acts.

Losing Tim helped change those perceptions. Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA), the leading House proponent of mental health reform legislation, cited the narrative as one of the reasons he changed his approach in the legislation he authored. And Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) tweeted that his companion Senate proposal was “for the countless people like Tim” who, he argued, deserve a mental health system that works.

My own organization, Mental Health America, made prevention, early intervention, integrated services, and recovery the pillars of our work. We argued that by applying a “danger to self or others” standard as a trigger to treatment for mental illnesses, we made them the only chronic diseases that we wait until Stage 4 to treat – and then often inappropriately through incarceration.

We argued that we needed to act sooner to help children and young adults, and developed a multi-faceted educational campaign promoting early identification and intervention built around the hashtag “B4Stage4.”

The established mental health advocacy community organized itself around a common set of the principles we shared and around the more comprehensive legislative proposals that evolved. The House and Senate bills gained bipartisan traction and momentum. As election day came, we were poised to celebrate the Lame Duck session passage of the most significant federal mental health legislation since President Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Centers Act back in 1963, and to build on this in 2017.

Now there is a sense of uncertainty about what will come next.

I do not believe that there will be a seismic shift in the mental health policy landscape in the coming years that will undermine the progress we have made.

For one thing, the President-elect experienced the death of his older brother Freddy at the age of 43 from a substance use disorder, and knows first-hand the toll behavioral illnesses take on families. For another, Vice President-elect Mike Pence worked to improve mental health services in his state during his time as Governor of Indiana.

Also, the newly elected Congress looks very much like the Congress that came before it, with many strong proponents of mental health reform remaining in positions of leadership and influence. Finally, the advocacy community was prepared to continue to work together no matter what the election outcome.

Still, there are many issues that surfaced during the campaign that may have a profound effect on people with mental illnesses.

One is the move to amend the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

ACA made mental health benefits “essential health benefits” that had to be covered by all insurers. It also enabled the expansion of Medicaid to support single adults with chronic diseases, including mental illnesses. In requiring insurers to offer coverage despite pre-existing conditions, it also made sure that when children with serious mental illnesses became adults, they did not become uninsured.

President-elect Trump has said that he favors retention of the pre-existing condition provision. But if the essential health benefits are changed or insurers can pay out less for those with pre-existing conditions, it could take the teeth out of that commitment.

President-elect Trump also proposed block-granting Medicaid. This would not be hard, because the federal Medicaid program is already fifty different state Medicaid programs operated under a common set of federal rules. If the payments were bundled and some of those rules were left in place, that could be a good thing.

States might use the flexibility they are granted to innovate to cover housing, employment supports, and peer support services that people with mental illnesses need.

However, if dollars are reduced when they are blocked together – as happened in the 1980s and led in part to the inadequate state systems of care that persist today – then people will get less access to services and supports, not more.

President-elect Trump has also said that he will be “tough on crime.” People in jail and prison are significantly more likely to have mental health and substance use disorders than people who are not incarcerated. If being tough on crime means putting more people with mental illnesses into the criminal justice system, then that would just accelerate the revolving door of hospitalization, frequent incarceration, and chronic homelessness that characterizes our system today.

Meanwhile, several more states also legalized marijuana for either medical or recreational use. Marijuana has often been called a gateway drug. For many people with serious mental illnesses, it is a gateway to jail.

As state policies become friendlier to people who self-medicate, they could mitigate tougher federal sanctions.

This is why we must be vigilant. It will take some time for everything to sort itself out.

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

The Future of the Affordable Care Act

Health Care as a Right of Citizenship

“I also do not believe that in historical terms the ACA will be seen as anything more than a politically pragmatic and necessary step toward the evolution of a social right to health care for all Americans.” — Gunnar Almgren

This is the first of a series of posts in which Columbia University Press authors look at the implications of the result of the 2016 presidential election. In this post, Gunnar Almgren, author of Health Care as a Right of Citizenship: The Continuing Evolution of Reform, looks at the future of the Affordable Care Act, perhaps better known as ObamaCare, under a Trump presidency:

The Future of the Affordable Care Act
By Gunnar Almgren

President-Elect Donald Trump described the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as a “total disaster,” yet many analysts would argue the opposite. In terms of its central aim of dramatically reducing the number of Americans without health insurance, the ACA has been a resounding policy success, and even surpassed the projections of the Congressional Budget Office (Congressional Budget Office, Insurance Coverage Provisions of the Affordable Care Act, April 2014, www.cbo.gov/publication/45231).

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in absence of the ACA, the numbers of Americans without health insurance coverage would have risen by 2015 to 54 million, or nearly two times the number of uninsured we actually have today. Further, the CBO now predicts that the ACA’s net costs to the federal government over the next decade will be $104 billion less than originally projected.

Nonetheless, it remains clear that with the election of Trump, and GOP majority support in both houses of Congress the ACA, in name if not in its most fundamental provisions, is in deep jeopardy. With this in mind, let’s consider the ACA in historical terms and then also in terms of the political economy of health care.

From the historical perspective, there are two plausible narratives that might emerge. The first narrative will define the ACA as a poorly conceived and ultimately failed expansion of the welfare state, akin to mainstream history’s appraisal of the Lyndon Johnson administration’s Great Society and War on Poverty social experiments of the 1960s. The second narrative, and in my opinion the more likely one, is that the ACA’s historical significance will not lie in its largely successful expansion of health care entitlements and insurance subsidies to millions of Americans, but rather in its affirmation by act of Congress of the idea that comprehensive health care must be available to all as a social right of citizenship. While previous acts of Congress sought to incrementally expand public and private health care insurance to the aged, poor, and the disabled, the ACA is unique in its embracement of universal health insurance coverage to all citizens as an explicit policy aim.

Although the conservative Congresses that followed the 2010 passage of the ACA have since endeavored to repeal it (and the hard right results of the 2016 elections might seem to guarantee such a repeal) what matters is that the mainstream American public now views access to affordable health care as crucial function of just and effective governance, and any proposed alternative to the ACA must be reconciled with that expectation. However the ACA might be redefined, repackaged , or even diminished–neither the key health care industry stakeholders (in particular the pharmaceutical , health insurance and hospital industries) nor the American public will tolerate a return to the 2009 pre-ACA regime of a failing employment-based insurance system, 49.6 million uninsured Americans, and an epidemic of safety-net hospital closures. Political rhetoric is one thing; economic and political reality is another.

While there are several reasons to predict the ACA’s survival, the penultimate reason in my view is the absence of a coherent conservative alternative that will not propel the nation toward the next catastrophic health insurance coverage crisis – a crisis that could result in truly radical health care reform that is an anathema to conservatism, namely universal social insurance for health care. It is this thought that keeps health insurance industry executives and investors awake at night. It should also be noted that under the ACA, the private health insurance industry on the whole has thrived –as happens when private industry markets are expanded by public fund subsidies.

In sum, I don’t share the view that the political resurgence of the GOP is synonymous with the demise of the ACA’s core provisions. Within two days of his election, Trump was already walking back from his campaign promise to repeal the ACA and now speaks in qualified and modest language about preserving such core provisions as retaining expanded insurance coverage to young adults and eliminating pre-existing condition protections.

I also do not believe that in historical terms the ACA will be seen as anything more than a politically pragmatic and necessary step toward the evolution of a social right to health care for all Americans. In the end, the basic policy strategy and structure of that ACA are substantially inadequate to such a task, both because of its inability to achieve universal health insurance coverage and because its substantive health- care provisions fall short of the equity and equality of opportunity requisites of political democracy. Such a platform can only built upon both social insurance for comprehensive health care and the resurgence of a national agenda to meaningfully reduce child poverty. These are the commitments that make a nation great.