Stress Test: How Donald Trump Threatens American Democracy
Books about politics are often hagiographies of former politicians or scholarly tomes useful as door jambs. Thankfully, William Cooper, in Stress Test: How Donald Trump Threatens American Democracy, presents a slim, cogent volume for readers interested in American politics. Cooper, an attorney and columnist whose writings have appeared in over a hundred publications globally, compiles approximately forty of those previously published columns into nine chapters that address the American political tragedy.
Cooper argues that the American system of democracy underwent a severe stress test during Donald Trump’s presidency. Four areas, including fidelity to the constitution, respect for the rule of law, commitment to rational government, and election security were, and remain, under attack. How these areas survived the stress is the subject of the columns, which, for the most part, are compelling and accurate analyses of how the nation’s democracy responded.
Cooper’s examination of the roles that cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias, and “myside” bias have had in distorting the polity and its institutions constitutes the most important aspect of the volume. Voters, when confronted with cognitive dissonance, seek out information and conspiracy theories that override dissonance and confirm their opinions. They seek out narratives that confirm their biases and discard opposing facts. They engage in “myside” bias and seek out alternate facts that amplify their preexisting beliefs. Four years of alternative facts, Trump’s attack on the norms of American government and institutions, and the election “Big Lie” have resulted in a divided polity living in separate realities.
The reader will enjoy Cooper’s real-time analyses of the major events of the past several years. The two impeachments, the role of the Supreme Court in Trump’s legal issues, the fear that Trump would not leave office if he lost, and the election “Big Lie” are all examined in real time. Cooper weaves the columns into a comprehensive whole that carries his “stress test” thesis forward.
However, not all of Cooper’s columns stand the test of time. He argues that there was a partisan over-reaction to the Trump presidency, which resulted in the fear of a Trump dictatorship. That may be so; however, recent events have not diminished the fact that America democracy remains in an existential struggle with the forces of authoritarianism. The Supreme Court’s potential Roe v Wade ruling destroying fifty years of precedent, along with inroads made by Trump supporters in seizing local election apparatuses, belie that alleged over-reaction.
Yet, the book remains an excellent short historical and predictive account of where America stands today and how recent history will inform its future. It is a quick and valuable analysis of the state of American politics.
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