Best of the Prospect 2016

The American Prospect

Most progressives could never have imagined that 2016 would end on such a cataclysmic note. Even at the most appalling moments of a presidential campaign more bitter and divisive than any in recent memory, the depth of the democracy threat posed by a Donald Trump presidency did not fully sink in. Then came Election Day, and now the nation is waking up to the full implications of a Trump administration burdened by conflicts of interest and run by billionaires, CEOs, and doctrinaire conservatives bent on dismantling the very agencies they run.

Through it all, the Prospect has weighed in unflinchingly with stories that make sense of the economic, racial, environmental, and civil liberties challenges ahead. Here are some of our favorite stories of 2016.


Winter 2016

Grace Under Fire,” by Rachel M. Cohen

On a warm Tuesday morning in late September, Cecile Richards, the 58-year-old president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, went before Congress to defend her organization. A few months earlier, the Center for Medical Progress, an undercover anti-abortion group, had released a series of doctored videos that purported to show Planned Parenthood illegally profiting from the sale of fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood denied the accusations, but outrage spiraled furiously among conservatives. Republican officials launched state and federal investigations, while presidential candidates and members of Congress called for defunding Planned Parenthood entirely, threatening to shut down the government if their demands were not met. Read More

Vultures Over Puerto Rico,” by David Dayen

“This is a distress call from a ship of 3.5 million American citizens that have been lost at sea,” Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro García Padilla said on December 1, begging the Senate Judiciary Committee to help protect his homeland from an unspooling disaster. After issuing bonds for over a decade on everything not nailed down, Puerto Rico now carries $73 billion in debt, a sum that García Padilla had termed “not payable” in June. Successive governments have enacted punishing austerity measures to service the debt, despite a stubbornly depressed economy and poverty rates near 50 percent. Now, after defaulting on smaller loans, it’s likely that much of the $957 million due January 1 will go unpaid, bringing more chaos and suffering at the hands of Puerto Rico’s creditors. Read More

Race and Representation in the Twilight of the Obama Era,” by Derrick Z. Jackson

When Barack Obama became the first black president of the United States, I received a warning of sorts from my late great-aunt, Myrtha Overstreet. She lived to be almost 101, and when she was 98 she voted in Cleveland for Obama’s first election. She did so with a sage’s sobriety. I called her to ask her if she ever thought she would live to see a black president. She told me, “No, but now that he’s in there, he’ll be just another politician.” My great-aunt’s wariness understated what was coming. Read More.  

Black Culture and History Matter,” by Kirsten Mullen

The new National Museum of African American History and Culture occupies a prominent space on the National Mall, between the National Museum of American History at 14th Street NW and the base of the Washington Monument. When the new museum opens in September 2016, it will be America’s first national museum dedicated to the full breadth of the black experience, and the largest in terms of size, scope, aspirations, capacity, and budget. Seen from the corner of 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, the 380,000-square-foot structure, a striking sculptural bronze-colored edifice in a sea of white Indiana limestone government buildings, blocks the view of the Washington Monument—as if to declare, Before you celebrate America’s founding president, pause to reflect on the Republic’s great omission. Read More


Spring 2016

The Long March of Bernie’s Army,” by Harold Meyerson

Now that Bernie Sanders has lost most of the once-industrial Midwest to Hillary Clinton, now that it’s vanishingly likely that he’ll become the Democratic nominee, the most important period of the Sanders insurgency has finally begun. The senator from Vermont has astonished both his fiercest critics and his (relatively few) longtime fellow socialists by mobilizing millions of voters, becoming a hero to the young, and being on track, by the time this year’s primaries are done, to capture roughly 40 percent of the Democratic vote—all while running as a democratic socialist and scourge of Wall Street in this most capitalist of countries. Read More

Volkswagen’s Big Lie,” by Chris Iovenko

In September 2015, Volkswagen shocked the automotive industry and the world by admitting publicly that, since 2008, it had duped consumers and violated U.S. federal and state emission laws by using a “defeat device” or “cheatware” in its diesel automobiles. The cheatware detected when the car was being put through an emissions test cycle and made the exhaust emissions compliant only during the test. Read More

The Real Stakes in the Veepstakes,” by Paul Waldman

Sometime in July—assuming nothing derails her nomination—Hillary Clinton will announce to the country the man or woman she has selected to be her running mate. There will then ensue a flurry of biographical news stories about this newly famous politician, a passel of polls taken to gauge the public’s first impressions, and a virtual tsunami of chin-stroking and speculation about how the choice will affect the race. The more contrarian commentators will repeat some version of the disputed quote from John Nance Garner, the 32nd vice president, comparing the office to “a bucket of warm piss” (or in the more polite version, “warm spit”). Read More

Our Beleaguered Planet,” by Marcia Angell

Zika, the mosquito-borne virus that is spreading rapidly in South America and heading north toward the U.S. as summer comes, shows how a previously isolated and sporadic illness can suddenly become a frightening pandemic because of the combined effects of global warming and overpopulation. Carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, Zika apparently arose in Uganda in the 1940s and occurred only episodically until 2015, when it began to spread explosively in Brazil, mainly in densely crowded urban areas. Read More


Summer 2016

Donald Trump’s Constitution,” by Robert Kuttner

In 1952, contemplating Dwight D. Eisenhower as the next president, Harry Truman famously remarked, “He'll sit there and he'll say ‘Do this! Do that!’ and nothing will happen. Poor Ike—it won't be a bit like the army.” The comment reflected President Truman’s frustration with a balky bureaucracy and rival political power centers. Since Truman, the presidency has only grown stronger. We’ve had three bouts of serious presidential overreach under Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and the George W. Bush-Dick Cheney regime, and some nasty forays under Ronald Reagan. In each case, democracy recoiled and recovered, yet the imperial presidency keeps expanding. Read More

Confronting the Parasite Economy,” by Nick Hanauer

There are two types of businesses in America today: those that pay their workers a living wage—the real economy—and those that don’t—the parasite economy. And all of us who live and work in the real economy should be royally pissed at the way the parasite economy is sucking us dry. Here in the real economy, we solve the problems, build the things, and pay the wages that make America great. When politicians of both parties promise to attract “good jobs” to their districts or states, they’re talking about the kind of real-economy jobs that pay a decent middle-class wage—jobs that provide the income, benefits, and security necessary to participate robustly in the economy as a consumer and taxpayer. Read More

How Asian Americans Became Democrats,” by Karthick Ramakrishnan

A s a force at the ballot box, Asian Americans caught the media’s attention in 2012, when exit polls showed that they supported Barack Obama with 73 percent of their votes, a level exceeded only by African Americans. That year, Obama also won a big majority of Latinos, but his strong showing among Asian Americans was a much bigger surprise. In 1992, the majority of Asian Americans had voted for George H.W. Bush, creating the impression that as an upwardly mobile and affluent group, they would continue to vote Republican. But 20 years later, in an astounding shift, Asian Americans moved 40 points toward the Democrats in presidential elections. Read More

Is This the Year of the Latino Voter?” by Eliza Newlin Carney

Miami residents of all ages streamed by the hundreds to Marlins Park on a recent spring Saturday, but they weren’t there for a baseball game. True, the event opened with members of the crowd rising to place their hands over their hearts. But instead of singing the national anthem, the group of stadium-goers who kicked off the festivities that March 19 were reciting the Oath of Allegiance that marks the naturalization ceremony for U.S. citizenship. And the 1,600 people standing in line in the stadium loggia weren’t waiting for hot dogs. They were immigrants with green cards waiting patiently for help filling out the paperwork to apply for naturalization themselves. Read More

Trump and the Racial Politics of the South,” by Kevin O’Leary

For decades, Donald Trump has been known as a narcissistic, bombastic New York businessman who craves the media spotlight. However, if you unpack the dynamics of his support as a politician, Trump’s stunningly successful run to the top of the Republican ticket is less New York chutzpah and more Southern demagogue. Trump’s appeal to disaffected whites, especially working-class white men, evokes the racial politics of the white South. Read More

Blue Cities Battle Red States,” by Abby Rapoport

When Denton, Texas, passed a fracking ban in November 2014, it was national news. The story seemed out of a movie, a David-and-Goliath tale in which a scrappy band of citizens goes up against big industry and wins. Located in the heart of oil and gas territory, the town is hardly a liberal bastion; its state representative is a staunch conservative, and among its biggest annual events is the North Texas State Fair and Rodeo. Read More


Fall 2016

Trump’s Riches and the Real-Estate Tax Racket,” by Justin Miller

When Mitt Romney released his tax returns in 2012, the average American got a rare inside look at how the wealthiest avoid taxes. Americans learned how private equity and hedge fund managers get huge tax breaks, such as the carried-interest loophole that allows ordinary income to be treated as capital gains. Now, Donald Trump has created an uproar by being the first presidential candidate since Richard Nixon to refuse to release his tax returns. He claims, implausibly, that he can’t do so because he is under an IRS audit. Many speculate that there’s a different reason—Romney has even blasted him, saying his returns would show a “bombshell of unusual size.” Read More

Race and the Tragedy of Quota-Based Policing,” by Shaun Ossei-Owusu

Criminal justice reform divides into two seemingly irreconcilable camps: Black Lives Matter versus blue lives matter. On one side are racial minorities—often led by women—and allied whites who acknowledge that having black or brown skin can be a death-dealing hazard. These individuals are exasperated about lethal police violence and the resultant lack of accountability. On the other side are cops and their apologists. They reject the idea of police bias, are bewildered at the energy minorities spend protesting police brutality (as opposed to in-group violence), and argue that the only kind of “reform” necessary should tilt toward police. Read More

Rethinking School Discipline,” by Rachel M. Cohen

On a Friday morning in early September, all the middle school students at Hampstead Hill Academy, a pre-K–8 school in Baltimore, filed into the gym. The Ravens were playing on Sunday, which meant that students could take a day off from wearing their navy-blue collared uniforms if they wanted to dress in purple in support of the city’s football team. The roughly 240 students sat on the gym floor, forming a big circle. Each week, all sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders come together for this half-hour event—to formally recognize the good deeds of their peers and teachers, to offer apologies to those they had wronged, and to share upcoming personal announcements. Read More


Winter 2017 Magazine Preview

Who Are We Americans Now?” by Paul Starr

“That’s not who we are,” Barack Obama often says when appealing to Americans to oppose illiberal policies such as torturing prisoners, barring immigrants on the basis of their religion, and denying entry to refugees. But now that Americans have elected a president who has called for precisely those policies, Obama’s confidence about who we are may seem misplaced. Questions about the defining values of our common nationality have haunted us before at critical moments in American history, and now they do again: In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, what does it mean to be an American? Will Trump and Republican rule change not just how the world sees us but our self-understanding? Read More

The Rise of Populist Nationalism in Europe and the United States,” by John Shattuck

The election of Donald Trump shows what happens when democracy misfires. It echoes recent developments in Europe, most notably in Hungary and Poland, where elected leaders are attacking democratic pluralism, minority rights, and civil liberties, keeping the forms of democracy without the substance. The same trends are proceeding in France, the Netherlands, the U.K., and other European democracies where far-right parties under the banner of populist nationalism are pursuing racist and xenophobic objectives. Read More

Civil Rights Déjà Vu, Only Worse,” by Samuel R. Bagenstos

In my first job as a practicing lawyer, I served from 1994 to 1997 as a career attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. The division, staffed by hundreds of committed lawyers and other professionals, has long played a key role in making good on our nation’s promise of equality under the law. Established in 1957, it was at the center of the civil-rights struggle of the 1960s. Its attorneys had a major hand in drafting, defending, and enforcing the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and its cases successfully desegregated schools and neighborhoods throughout the United States. The Civil Rights Division has always represented the best of what government can do. Read More


Best of the Web

As Maine Goes,” by Gabrielle Gurley

Anthony Marple, director of Maine’s $2.6 billion Medicaid program, was called into an abrupt meeting just a week after Governor Paul LePage took office in January 2011. There, Marple was fired and ordered to leave immediately. He asked to send out a few emails cancelling some speaking engagements. Sorry, he was told, his state email account had already been closed. Marple was a widely respected public official. His sin? The day before his firing, he had testified before the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee that Medicaid spending from the state’s general fund had been virtually flat or decreasing in each of the years since 2006, despite increasing enrollments due to the recession. This contradicted LePage’s campaign narrative of runaway state spending by the “bloated establishment in Augusta." So Marple had to go. Read More

Transportation Secretary Foxx Moves to Heal Scars of Urban Renewal,” by Sam Ross-Brown

Pittsburgh’s Hill District has been at the nexus of African American cultural and economic life for decades. As the Great Migration kicked off after World War I, the neighborhood became a destination for blacks escaping the inequality and violence of the Jim Crow South. Beginning in the 1920s, the area became known as “Little Harlem” and “the Crossroads of the World” for the eclectic jazz clubs and theaters that were essential stops for superstars like Earl Hines, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne. It was also home to one of the most prosperous African American communities in the country, boasting dozens of black-owned businesses. Read More

Spectrum Auction Gives Billions to Billionaires,” by J.H. Snider

Imagine you own a house that stands in the way of a huge interstate highway that the government desperately wants to build. If you are an ordinary citizen, the government will use eminent domain to seize your land, because otherwise you might block the highway’s development and use your leverage to bargain for a huge premium over your property’s worth. Now imagine you’re a powerful special interest—say, a TV broadcasting company—that also has something that the government wants. But instead of seizing your valuable asset, as it would do if you were a homeowner, the government grants you something economists call “holdout power.” This allows you to block the highway and then negotiate a huge windfall for yourself. Read More

Catastrophe,” by Harold Meyerson

It wasn’t James Comey who did her in. It sure wasn’t Jill Stein or Gary Johnson. It was her husband. No, not because of Bill Clinton’s personal financial dealings or sexual behavior. Because of his economic policy, which was the establishment economic policy. NAFTA. Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China. Signing financial legislation that crucially omitted any regulation of derivatives. Last night, the Rust Belt—whose rust buildup Bill Clinton signally contributed to by signing deals that offshored millions of decent-paying jobs—revolted. Read More

Showdown at Standing Stone Camp,” by Jason Mark

As a seasoned Beltway lawyer and lobbyist representing Native peoples, Tara Houska is no stranger to public conflicts. A member of the Couchiching First Nation and Ojibwe tribe, Houska represents tribal interests on Capitol Hill on a range of land-use and environmental issues. But when she saw a Facebook post in mid-July from a Standing Rock Sioux member named LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, Houska knew she had to act fast. An oil conduit known as the Dakota Access Pipeline was threatening traditional Native American burial sites, and if it ruptured, would pollute the Missouri River. Allard was putting out a call for people to take action on the North Dakota banks of the Missouri River. Read More

President Trump and the Triumph of Private Capital,” by Adele M. Stan

Charles Koch and Donald Trump may not much care for each other, but they share a common interest: a megalomaniacal desire for global power exercised through the unimpeded flow of private capital. That would explain why, despite Koch’s one-time description of a choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as being as appealing as making a choice between having a heart attack or cancer, the Trump administration is expected to be stacked with members of the donor network helmed by Charles and his brother, David, and several veterans of Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held corporation in the United States. Read More

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