The APG Richard E. Neustadt Book Prize, 2018

The American Politics Group of the Political Studies Association is pleased to invite entries for the 2018 Richard E. Neustadt Book Prize, the top prize devoted to US politics in the UK.

The prize of £400 will be presented to the best book in the field of US government and politics (including political history and foreign policy) published in the calendar year 2017, and authored by an academic permanently employed at a UK university.

The prize winner will be announced at the APG annual colloquium held at the Eccles Centre (British Library) on 9th November 2018.

Entrants for the prize should arrange for four (4) copies of their book to be sent to the Chair of the American Politics Group at the following address:

Dr Andrew Wroe

School of Politics and IR

Rutherford College

University of Kent

Canterbury, CT2 7NX

United Kingdom

Closing date is Monday 11 June 2018






The American Politics Group of the Political Studies Association Inaugural Postgraduate and Early Career Network Conference


'The American Moment: Past, Present and Future'

Call for Papers

The American Politics Group (APG) is pleased to announce its call for papers for its inaugural Postgraduate and Early Career Network Conference, 'The American Moment: Past, Present and Future.' The University of Reading will host the Conference on 4 July 2018.

There is a broad conference theme, which can be approached in various ways. Papers could, for example, take a long-term historical perspective when reflecting on the first year of the Trump presidency. We will also be happy to receive proposals that consider subjects and material beyond this particular theme. Papers or panel proposals that examine contemporary US political institutions or processes, foreign policy issues and/or political history are invited. The conference organisers would also welcome papers that address comparative themes or relevant theoretical or methodological issues.

The APG is a diverse group of scholars. As such, we will not consider panels that consist solely of male presenters.

Proposals (no more than 150 words for single papers, 300 words for panels) should be sent to Dafydd Townley ( by no later than 30 April 2018.

This conference has been made possible thanks to the generosity of the Political Studies Association (PSA) through its 'Pushing the Boundaries' program. As part of the PSA, the APG is the leading scholarly association for the study of US politics in the UK and also has members in continental Europe and the USA.

Any enquiries regarding the APG's PGR conference should be directed to the organiser, Dafydd Townley (







CFP - Measuring (the quality of) Leadership


Warsaw, June 12-13, 2018

Organizers: Leadership Studies Division at the American Studies Center of the University of Warsaw; Collegium Civitas and Polish Association of Political Studies Leadership Section and Methodology Sections;

People talk about strong or weak, good or bad leadership, yet we often leave such qualitative judgments unsubstantiated. In the academe we aspire to build methodologies which allow for solid measures to support qualitative statements. Having specific measures of leadership allows for comparisons in leadership studies. The goal of our conference is to search for the answers to the following questions:

  • By what methods can leadership be studied best? Can leadership be measured effectively?
  • What are our reference points when we want to define the quality of leadership: imagination or reality? comparison with the past or current situation? Personalities or circumstances?
  • What research methods are appropriate, from what fields of study may they come? How to draw conclusions from studies done by diverse methods?
  • Can effectiveness of leadership be predicted? When we have measures of leadership does it help us study how leadership emerges, lasts, evolves or ends?


By posing such (and the like) questions we wish to gain insight to the already existing or just conceived METHODS OF STUDYING AND MEASURING leadership - contemporary and historical cases. We are seeking methods which will allow us to "harden" often intuitive and casual judgments as to the quality of leadership.

We are extending this invitation to all scholars who have decided to focus their attention on leadership. By no means we are limiting our call to political scientists. On the contrary, we are confident that efficient and practical methods of leadership studies can be developed at the juncture of various fields of study: sociology, history, psychology, management. We are interested in studies of leadership in various areas of public life: politics, administration, non-governmental organizations, or business. We invite scholars at different stages of advancement of their academic careers.

When selecting papers for the conference we will focus on the methods of studying and measuring leadership. We hope that our conference will become a good forum for all kind of scholars at all stages of their research who would like to share and discuss results of their work with likeminded colleagues.

We are planning to publish (online or paper) the texts which get a positive recommendation after blind peer review. The post-conference publication will be a well-focused set of texts so we are asking the participants to explain in their conference submissions how they define leadership and how they propose to study/measure it. The proposals should be no longer than 800 characters, submitted in word or pdf format. We are asking the prospective participants to include a brief biographical note which describes their fields of research interest. It will help us prepare a rich and coherent program.


  • Conference dates: June 12-13, 2018 (Tuesday-Wednesday)
  • Presentation proposals should be submitted (via the link mentioned below) by March 31, 2018
  • Information about presentation acceptance will be available by April 15, 2018
  • Conference fee: 500PLN, (PTNP members 400PLN), foreign participants Euro 130. Doctoral students pay 200PLN
  • Conference fee should be paid by May 10, 2018
  • Conference language: English and Polish
  • Text should be submitted for publication by July 31, 2018
  • Publication of texts is expected in December 2018


Proposals and all correspondence should be directed to this address:







American Political History Symposium 2018: Call for Papers

'Did Liberalism Fail in the United States after 1945? Identity and Conflict from Truman to Trump.'

The University of Glasgow, June 1, 2018

We are delighted to request paper and panel proposals for our symposium at the University of Glasgow on June 1, 2018. This one-day event focuses on the supposed failure of liberalism after 1945 by exploring the meanings of 'identity' in contemporary US political history, examining the processes of identity formation and tracing the lineage of identity contestation through to the 2016 election. After the rights-consciousness of various groups was awakened by the drive for civil rights in the 1960s, the emergence of 'identity politics' - which stresses strong collective identities as the basis of political action - increasingly determined the shape and structure of voting coalitions in ensuing decades. After the 2016 election, a number of political commentators suggested that the failure of the Democratic Party and liberalism more generally was directly tied to its affiliation to so-called identity politics. We hope to use this symposium to explore this further and offer new understandings of liberalism and conservatism through an examination of their relationship with identity politics during the post-war period.

Papers are welcomed on all topics related to this focus on identity and concerning the political history of the United States, post-1945, more generally. This could include (but not limited to):

▪ Gender and sexuality

▪ Policy history

▪ Race and racism

▪ Presidential and Congressional history

▪ Elections

▪ Liberalism and/or Conservatism

▪ The dynamics of contemporary American politics under Trump

Plenary Speaker Competition: In order to foster unique forms of engagement, we are turning the plenary speaker position into a competition, geared predominately toward PGRs and ECRs (although we do welcome proposals from established academics and independent scholars). Alongside the experience gained, the awardee will also be gifted a modest prize by the organisers. The plenary will last 1 hour (40 minute lecture; 20 minute Q&A).

Individual paper proposals and three-person panel proposals are equally welcomed. In order to address issues of representation and inclusion, panels composed entirely of male presenters will not be considered.

Please submit a 200-300-word abstract of the proposed paper to the organisers, Dr Joe Ryan-Hume and Dr Mark McLay, at ( by 2nd March 2018. Should you wish to enter the competition to be our plenary speaker, please send a brief CV (no more than two pages) as well as no more than 800-words on your proposed plenary.

This event is generously supported by BAAS and the University of Glasgow's History Department.





How Donald Trump put an end to the GOP's Southern strategy

By Laura Ellyn Smith January 10

Laura Ellyn Smith is a Ph.D. candidate and graduate instructor at the University of Mississippi, Arch Dalrymple III Department of History.

Donald Trump is tossing out the Republican Party's "Southern strategy."

The Southern strategy required the subtle art of racial coding: appealing to white Southern racism without alienating white suburbanites who recoiled at overt racial language. But time and again, President Trump has opted for the bullhorn rather than the dog whistle, regularly hurling racially loaded bromides and insults.

There's his nickname for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, "Pocahontas," which he most recently wielded in the Oval Office during a ceremony to honor Navajo World War II veterans. Trump made the comment in the shadow of a portrait of President Andrew Jackson, who committed genocide against Native Americans by forcing the passage and implementation of the Indian Removal Act.

Then there was Trump's recent visit to the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant invited the president on a private tour of the new museum. Civil rights leaders declined to attend the museum's opening, with Rep. John Lewis describing Trump's attendance as a "mockery." In Trump's remarks at the museum, he called Gov. Bryant - who earlier this year proclaimed April to be Confederate Heritage Month - a "great governor."

Trump's attack on political correctness - which is a term that, for him, applies as much to the GOP's coded language as to the inclusive language pioneered by the left - has profound consequences for politics that go beyond rhetoric, threatening to have an impact on policies such as immigration to the detriment of "dreamers" and race relations as a whole.

The strategy of using racially coded language is a relatively modern invention in American politics, where for much of the nation's history, overtly racial rhetoric thrived. In the antebellum era between 1820 and 1860, Southern politicians shifted from the Founding Fathers' acceptance of slavery as a "necessary evil" to actively promoting slavery as a "positive good," part of a defensive reaction to perceived threats to slavery. Throughout the antebellum era, politicians wielded horribly bigoted rhetoric against African Americans and Native Americans.

This unambiguously racialized rhetoric continued to be used by angry Southern segregationists for the next 100 years, most infamously by George Wallace and Strom Thurmond. The latter's disgust at the Democratic Party's support for civil rights legislation led him to switch parties and become a Republican. It was only once this rhetoric became a political hindrance that the transition to more coded language occurred.

During the height of the civil rights movement, the Republican Party adopted twin Southern and suburban strategies, spearheaded by Richard Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign. Both strategies relied on appealing to whites who felt threatened by the civil rights movement in one way or another, but suburban voters recoiled at the overt race baiting of politicians like Wallace and Thurmond. Understanding this, Republicans developed a racially coded language that conveyed racialized messages without being blatantly racist - things like vocally opposing "forced busing" of schoolchildren rather than "school integration."

Perhaps the most memorable coded phrase was Ronald Reagan's references to the "welfare queen." He used this controversial phrase to depict single African American mothers as not only reliant on government handouts but also as determined abusers of the system, driving around in Cadillacs while the white working class struggled to make ends meet. The "welfare queen" trope served two purposes: to attack Great Society programs and to stoke racial animus.

Such racially coded rhetoric was effective at shoring up the unwillingness of many white voters to sacrifice to right past wrongs, especially for programs that appeared to aid black Americans more than white ones. This tactic created a unified base of white Republican voters across class and regional lines.

Instead of pioneering a new form of political communication, Trump is resurrecting the blatant racial rhetoric of the past. Nor is Trump alone in doing so. There's also former Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, who revealed during the campaign that he believed that America was last great before the emancipation of African Americans from slavery. In fact, Trump and Moore share a use of racial rhetoric and policy: Moore's blatant references to "reds and yellows" - a reference to Native Americans and people of Asian descent - and his opposition to Muslim Americans serving in Congress are comparable to Trump's description of Mexicans as "rapists" and his desire to ban Muslims from the country.

Trump's rhetoric, combined with his support of a candidate who freely employed racial rhetoric, may become a watershed moment for the Republican Party. Republicans can no longer hide behind racially coded language: Their racial politics are now out in the open, dividing the party over whether to follow its president or follow demographic statistics that show an increasingly diverse American population.

Either way, the Southern strategy appears to be dead. Perhaps that's for the best. The country needs to reckon with the racism undergirding its politics. Trump has ensured the issue cannot be ignored.







The Center for Political History at Lebanon Valley College awards the Sally & Morris Lasky Prize to the best book published each year on American political history.  This year's winner, for the best book published in 2016, is Richard Ryerson for John Adams's Republic.  

The runners-up, out of more than 100 books submitted, were: Corey Books for Liberty Power; Stephen D. Engle for Gathering to Sve a Nation; Thomas Ingersoll for The Loyalist Problem; and Eric Schickler for Racial Realignment.

If you have, or know anyone who has, published a book during 2017 on American political history (broadly conceived), make sure that the press knows to submit it for the prize competition when letters of invitation go out in April.


As a reminder, the Center's 2nd annual conference on American political history will be held in Annville, PA on June 8-9, 2018. If you would like to attend, deliver a paper, act as chair or commentor, or propose an entire panel, the deadline is January 15. At this point all that is needed are names, affiliations, and email addresses of participants, and tentative titles of papers. Contact Dr. Jim Broussard, History Dept., Lebanon Valley College, Annville PA 17003:, (717) 507-5171.








The forty-fourth annual conference of the American Politics Group of the Political Studies Association will be held at St Anne's Colege, Oxford University (UK) from Thursday 4th to Saturday 6th January 2018. The keynote speaker will be Professor Marc J. Hetherington (Vanderbilt University).

To purchase tickets, please click on the following link:




A very special LIVE episode with host Adam Quinn and regular co-hosts Christalla Yakinthou and Scott Lucas discussing the election of Donald Trump, one year on.

This week the podcast is LIVE at Muirhead Tower at the University of Birmingham. Special guests Clodagh Harrington (De Montfort University) and Luca Trenta (Swansea University) join our regular panel to analyse what has changed since Donald Trump recorded a surprising victory over Hillary Clinton. Fake News, controversial turnarounds and general incompetence are all talking points this week. Our number of the week round also features alongside some detailed critiques of the Trump administration's foreign policy.

Produced by Conor McKenna in association with the University of Birmingham's Alumni Impact Fund. Find out more:…pact-fund.aspx

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 American Politics Colloquium

What's current in US Politics? What effect has the election of Donald Trump had on the political landscape? International experts will discuss these and other questions in the American Politics Group colloquium at the British Library. This day-long event is ideal for academics, postgraduate students, researchers and teachers.

Speakers include:

  • Professor George Edwards (Texas A&M University) on the Trump Presidency
  • Professor Angelia Wilson (University of Manchester; Chair of the Political Studies Association), on Trump and the Christian Right
  • Professor Jason Reifler (University of Exeter), Dr Maria Ryan (University of Nottingham), and Professor Scott Lucas (University of Birmingham) on US Foreign Policy
  • Former Members of Congress Sam Farr (D-CA, 1993-2017) and Dan Benishek (R-MI, 2011-2017) share their insights.

Two registration categories are available:

£25, includes lunch and all refreshments throughout the day

£10, includes refreshments in the two tea breaks only, no lunch




Royal Holloway, University of London 

Department of Politics & International Relations

Fully funded PhD Studentship on public policy development in the Centre of International Public Policy at Royal Holloway, University of London


The Centre of International Public Policy (CIPP) is a world leading academic research centre based within the Department of Politics and International Relations at Royal Holloway, University of London. We are currently offering a fully-funded PhD Studentship for three years from September 2018. The successful candidate will be supervised by Dr Ursula Hackett and Prof Andreas Goldthau and will sit within and be supported by CIPP. He or she will benefit from our wide-ranging expertise in political science, international political economy, and public policy, and will be expected to become part of our research community.

We invite applicants to submit a 2000 word proposal within the field of public policy making in the US, UK or other advanced democracies. Rising polarization, citizen alienation and the growth of privatized forms of governance and regulation animate the study of the design and transformation of public policies on the national and transnational level. Questions a PhD project could address may include:

? Under what conditions do public policies pass or fail?

? How do the coalitions advancing policies form and do they differ significantly across different policy areas?

? Why and how are policies transformed over time?

? What role do policy regimes play in this context?

Proposals may examine policy structure or compare policymaking procedures across several policy domains. Comparative proposals are welcomed though not required. Proposals may be qualitative or quantitative in nature with a preference for mixed-methods design.

Applicants should have a background in political science, public policy or a closely related discipline.


? Applicants should have completed a Master's degree (or equivalent from a university outside the United Kingdom) in a relevant subject by the start date.

Funding Details:

? Starts September 2018 (with the possibility of a January 2019 start date)

? Three-year award

? HEU fee waiver worth approximately £4,195 and maintenance of approximately £16,553 p.a. (2017-18 figures; 2018-19 figures to be confirmed).

? Access to departmental research and training allowance.

How to apply:

To apply for this studentship please email Ursula Hackett ( and Andreas Goldthau ( including:

(a) A brief cover letter outlining why you are applying for the Public Policy Development Studentship.

(b) A proposal (max 2000 words) outlining the project and how it relates to public policymaking. Include research question, context, methodology, and proposed thesis structure and timeline.

(c) A curriculum vitae.

(d) Contact details (email and postal addresses) for two academic referees.

Please provide your referees with a copy of your research proposal so that they are able to comment specifically on your suitability to pursue the course of study you have described.

Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed.

Application Deadline:

1 st December 2017

Further Enquiries:

Ursula Hackett ( and Andreas Goldthau (








Professor Lane Crothers has been named the Managing Editor for a new journal, Populism, published through Brill. The first call for papers has gone out. Author guidelines, etc., are at journal is intended to be trans-disciplinary and there is no necessary focus on American politics.





Candidate Trump attacked Obama's executive orders. President Trump loves executive orders

By Andrew Rudalevige

As he campaigned for the presidency, Donald Trump argued that Barack Obama's frequent use of unilateral administrative tools made Obama a weak leader. "We have a president that can't get anything done," Trump told an interviewer in January 2016, "so he just keeps signing executive orders all over the place."

That spring he added,

I want to not use too many executive orders, folks. … Obama, because he couldn't get anybody to agree with him, he starts signing them like they're butter. So I want to do away with executive orders for the most part.

Fast forward to a White House news release marking President Trump's first 100 days in office. It claimed that Trump had "accomplished more in his first 100 days than any other President since Franklin Roosevelt." The proof? He had signed more executive orders in that period than any of Roosevelt's other successors.

[Most of Trump's executive orders aren't actually executive orders. Here's why that matters.]

And while Republicans fiercely criticized Obama for pledging to use his "pen and his phone" to get around legislative gridlock, this week - using his phone - Trump touted his pen. The president tweeted: 'Since Congress can't get its act together on HealthCare, I will be using the power of the pen to give great HealthCare to many people - FAST'

Indeed, last week gave us many examples of President Trump's wallow in the buttery goodness known as "the administrative presidency." Atop the executive order promising great health care came a directive to cease cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurance companies as well as new rules allowing more entities to opt out of providing contraception coverage for their employees; these followed numerous prior HHS efforts to undercut Affordable Care Act markets. And the week's directives went far beyond the ACA, ranging from the treatment of transgender people to environmental regulations to the international agreement aimed at reining in Iran's nuclear program.

In light of Trump's past pronouncements, it is tempting to simply shout "Hypocrisy!" and move on. It is certainly telling that Trump's turn to unilateralism, unlike his predecessors', comes when both chambers of Congress are run by his own party. Using executive orders as a substitute for legislation is far more common in divided government.

But in fact presidents of all parties, policy preferences and personality types have strong institutional incentives to embrace administrative tactics. As Richard Nathan wrote nearly 35 years ago, "in a complex, technologically complex society in which the role of government is pervasive, much of what we would define as policy-making is done through the execution of laws in the management process." So presidents have developed a wide range of tools to execute those laws, well beyond executive orders themselves. Further, partisan polarization and divided government makes new legislation harder to obtain.

Thus, presidents have both opportunity and motive to seek unilateral solutions to policy problems. As George W. Bush put it in 2004, 'I got a little frustrated in Washington because I couldn't get the bill passed out of the Congress. They were arguing process. … Congress wouldn't act, so I signed an executive order - that means I did it on my own.'

Doing it "on my own" - and doing it fast, even "FAST" - is very tempting to presidents of all stripes.

But some executive action can evaporate with the next executive - or be challenged in the courts

But even as Trump's directives shape policy implementation, they also show the potential fragility of administrative action. As Peter Baker recently noted, Trump's use of executive power has often been directed at undoing President Obama's.

The ease of that undoing varies by the kind of action. Regulations can only be rescinded when an agency can make a strong substantive case for doing so, meaning that while announcing the end of Obama's Clean Power Plan is easy, actually repealing or replacing it will take time and sustained effort.

By contrast, executive orders can be reversed by subsequent executive orders - for instance, in shifting the rules for government contracting. And where statutes have been interpreted to yield certain policy results, they can be reinterpreted to yield others. The latest Trump executive order on the Affordable Care Act, encouraging federal agencies to expand insurance options not subject to ACA requirements, may run up againststatutory language limiting their ability to do as much as promised. Any resulting rules changes will almost certainly wind up in court.

Indeed, Trump claimed illegality as the reason he reversed both the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and halted CSR payments. His September statement on DACA emphasized its threat to "the core tenets that sustain our Republic," claiming that "virtually all other top legal experts have advised that the program is unlawful and unconstitutional." And the Justice Department delivered a legal opinionstating that CSR payments could not be made because they had not been appropriated by Congress.

The Trump administration's reading of the law might well be correct in these cases; the CSR opinion, notably, is buttressed by a 2016 federal district court decision. It's worth noting, though, that no small number of "top legal experts" have in fact taken opposite positions on both matters. The district court's CSR ruling was under appeal - and in other cases President Trump has certainly not treated the rulings of individual judges as sacrosanct. Nor has he renounced aggressive interpretations of statute in other arenas. As usual, what counts as "faithful" execution of the law is at least in part a function of competing policy preferences.

And that means it's not just presidents who like the use of executive power. Others gladly encourage it, so long as it serves their own policy goals. As the DACA and CSR debates indicate, for instance, many in Congress are happy with the substance of such policies - and also happy to avoid accountability for supporting them.

The upshot is that Trump's new love of executive action has managed mostly to put legislators on the spot. This is ironic, but not inappropriate: It is indeed Congress's responsibility to resolve statutory ambiguity and define the boundaries of executive discretion. This is a job legislators have long shirked - but as they do so, they might find their institutional prerogatives melting away. Like butter.

Andrew Rudalevige is Thomas Brackett Reed Professor of Government at Bowdoin College. He specializes in the study of American political institutions, primarily the presidency and the interbranch relations, with a recent focus on presidential management of the executive branch.





Five ways Donald Trump is rolling back the

Obama years - or trying to


In the absence of any clear ideology associated with Donald Trump's US presidency, it does seem he has at least one obvious priority that transcends the hype and spin: he is determined to undo his predecessor's legacy.

Trump's efforts to "repeal and replace" have had mixed success, just as Obama's efforts to build that legacy in the first place were stymied by the 2010 Republican takeover of the House of Representatives. Obama did push executive branch authority to its limits - most notably when it came to the diplomatic thaw with Cuba - but relying on administrative powers to bring about change was a second-best way of building a robust legacy.

Eight months into his term, Trump has added no major legislative achievements to his name, but he too has used executive powers to chip away at the achievements of his predecessor. Here are some examples of where his administration has tried to roll things back so far.


As a candidate Trump broke with conservative orthodoxy on some key social policy issues, notably in his support for the government-run Medicare and social security programmes. But he joined with Republicans to vociferously denounce Obama's signature domestic policy achievement, the Affordable Care Act, better known as "Obamacare".

Through 2017 congressional Republicans advanced various proposals and the House passed the American HealthCare Act in May, only for this bill to die a death in the Senate. The GOP's narrow 52-48 majority means there is little room for internal party dissent, giving some voice to the few remaining moderates. The final week in September brought the year's last-ditch effort at repeal, since the Senate's arcane rules dictate that the use of the "reconciliation" process, which would preclude any Democratic filibuster of reform, ended on September 30.

Trade and tarriffs

Trump has consistently attacked trade deals that he claims are bad for American workers. Through the campaign he lambasted the North American Free Trade Agreement, which dates back to the George H W Bush and Clinton presidencies, and suggested that the US might impose significant new tariffs on Chinese imports. He was also scornful of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a deal the Obama administration had negotiated with 11 other countries and which encompasses almost 40% of the world's economy. Here Trump promptly fulfilled his promise and withdrew the US from the agreement, which had yet to come into effect. Regarding other deals while Trump's rhetoric remained fiery, he has mainly instructed that they be reviewed rather than revoked.

Funding family planning overseas

On his first day in office Trump signed a memorandum reinstating the so-called Mexico City policy, which prevents federal funding from going to NGOs that perform or promote abortion as a means for family planning as part of their work. In May, Trump had announced that it would expand the range of activities that would be prohibited under what critics call the "global gag" rule. The US would save around US$500m a year and Trump scores a win with his socially conservative base, while the number of abortions carried out in Sub-Saharan Africa and other areas is likely to rise, rather than fall. While the funding ban does not affect American women directly, it sends a clear message to them that their president is sympathetic to those who oppose female reproductive autonomy.

Transgender Americans in the armed forces

In August 2017 the president reinstated a ban on transgender recruits signing up to the US Army, and a ban on the military paying for any related medical expenses or surgery. Responsibility for the decisions on what to do regarding the thousands of currently serving transgender army members was left to the generals.

Again, this presidential memo was a direct reaction to an Obama-era initiative. It remains a political flashpoint, and as of September 2017 a six-month delay in implementation has been put in place. Those in favour of the ban decry the notion of the army being used as a forum for "social experiment" while others argue that a person's qualification and suitability for military service should be the only criteria that matters. Chelsea Manning responded to the ban by stating that the armed forces "have always been a social experiment just as much as a fighting force".

Gun rights

Speaking to the BBC in the summer of 2015, President Obama noted that his biggest regret as president was the failure to make any headway on gun control. In truth it was only after the Sandy Hook massacre, in which 20 primary school children and their six teachers were gunned down, that he made the issue a top priority. Despite sustained efforts to get Congress on board, his efforts were fruitless, and he was forced to resort to executive action in January 2016. This had symbolic and some substantial value, and if nothing else demonstrated he was prepared to take on the gun lobby. Trump, on the other hand, embraced the gun lobby as a candidate, which rewarded him by donating US$30m to his campaign. That investment began to pay off when President Trump, on February 28 2017, signed a bill that undid one of Obama's measures to strengthen background checks.

Even in the aftermath of Las Vegas, the biggest mass shooting in modern America, little is likely to change. With 59 dead and hundreds injured, there might seem an opening for political dialogue on the widespread access to weapons of war, but opponents of more regulation will protest against "politicising the issue". Trump and the Republican party will remain wedded to a culture promoting gun rights, emphatically reinforced by power of the National Rifle Association. Presidential thoughts and prayers, rather than actions, will have to suffice.









HOTCUS 2018 Annual Conference: Call for Papers

Madingley Conference Centre, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, 13-15 June 2018

Plenary Speaker: Brooke L. Blower (Boston University, editor of Modern American History)

Historians of the Twentieth Century United States (HOTCUS) is delighted to request paper and panel proposals for our 2018 annual conference. The 2018 conference is hosted by the University of Cambridge and will take place at the Madingley Conference Centre, a short distance from the city itself.

Papers from members or non-members are welcomed on all topics concerning the history of the United States - broadly conceived - from 1890 to the present. The committee welcomes proposals for papers and panels covering all aspects of US history, including (but not limited to):

· Citizenship, immigration, and migration

· Cultural and intellectual history

· Economic history

· Gender and sexuality

· Native American history

· Political and policy history

· Race and racism

· Religion

· Science and technology

· Urban history

· US foreign relations

Individual paper proposals and three-person panel proposals are equally welcomed. In order to address issues of representation and inclusion, panels composed entirely of male presenters will not be considered.





We are thrilled to announce the winner of the APG 2017 Richard E Neustadt book prize is Dr Mark Shanahan (Reading University) Eisenhower at the Dawn of the Space Age: Sputniks, Rockets and Helping Hands (Lexington Books, 2017) We very much look forward to congratulating Mark in person at the APG colloquium on November 10 where he will receive plaudits and a cheque!

'Eisenhower at the Dawn of the Space Age' is a fine and original work focusing on the space politics of the Eisenhower administration. Shanahan creates a subtle and nuanced portrait of Eisenhower as policymaker, suggesting Eisenhower was both more consistent in his space policy and more capable of driving the agenda than previous work has suggested. In doing so, he expands on the existing school of Eisenhower revisionism.However the implications of the book extend beyond that, it suggests. the existence at the helm of the nascent space institutions of a close-knit policy community which had developed its own consensus. This consensus, Shanahan argues, proved remarkably resilient to outside pressure, initially even being continued under Kennedy. Shanhan also strongly suggests space policy under Eisenhower was better thought out, more thoughtful and constructive than was its successor under Kennedy. This is a seminal work that would be consulted by scholars of both the Eisenhower administration and Space policy for years to come.'



PSA Annual International Conference 2018 - Call for Papers and Panel Proposals

Cardiff City Hall

26 - 28 March 2018 #PSA18


The PSA is now accepting paper and panel proposals for its 68th Annual International Conference on topics relating to the theme of 'Politics of Our Times: Asking the Difficult Questions', as well as on other issues spanning the entire range of political studies.

For submission procedure details and timelines please click here.

The academic convenors of the conference are based in the School of Law and Politics, Cardiff University and are: Dr Branwen Gruffydd Jones, Head of Politics and International Relations; Dr Jonathan Kirkup, Lecturer in Politics; and Dr Ian Stafford, Senior Lecturer in Politics.

We look foward to receiving your proposals and welcoming you to Cardiff next March.

Best wishes,

Avnish Patel, Events and Marketing Manager, PSA






The Third Way: new perspectives on the Blair-Clinton era, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK, Saturday 24 March 2018

CALL FOR PAPERS - deadline for proposals, Friday 13 October 2017

It is now over a decade since Tony Blair left office, and twenty five years since Bill Clinton won the US presidency. In light of recent political developments (Donald Trump and Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders) this conference affords an opportunity for political scientists and historians to consider the Third Way with analytical distance, but also to explore the lessons it offers for the current political landscape. Although centred on the Anglo-American Third Way, this conference welcomes contributions on its other variations, including in Europe and Australia.

The Labour History Research Unit at Anglia Ruskin hosts a range of events and conferences on the history of the Labour Party and wider labour movement. We intend this conference to lead to a major publication - as with previous conferences on the 1929-31 Labour Government, Labour and the First World War, and Labour and the left in the 1980s (all published in edited volume form by Manchester University Press).

Please send abstracts (max. 250 words) by Friday 13 October 2017 to







Walking Dead: The Republican Effort to Repeal Obamacare

By Alex Waddan and Daniel Béland 


Repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which is also known as Obamacare, had been a mantra of Republicans ever since its passage in March 2010. The Tea Party drew much of its energy from its opposition to the ACA and Republican candidates had reiterated their commitment to undoing the law in each subsequent election cycle. This paid dividends for the party in the 2010 mid-term elections, but the re-election of President Obama in 2012 seemed to ensure that the ACA would continue its rollout, which was always scheduled to be a prolonged process, as he would be able to block efforts by congressional Republicans to repeal the law. Nevertheless, continuing, and effective, Republican opposition to the ACA was illustrated by efforts to obstruct implementation at the state level; for example, at the start of 2017, 19 states still refused extra federal funding to expand their Medicaid programmes to cover low-income, uninsured Americans. This level of resistance to Medicaid expansion, which generally occurs in Republican-controlled states, was made possible by a June 2012 Supreme Court decision that upheld most components of the ACA but forbid the federal government to punish states that refused to expand the programme. Furthermore, in January 2016, Obama was forced to use the presidential veto to block a bill passed by the Republican controlled chambers of Congress that would have repealed large parts of the ACA.

The 2016 presidential election cycle demonstrated once again that promising to "repeal Obamacare" was catnip to Republican candidates and the party's base. And, although candidate Trump did break with some aspects of conservative orthodoxy when promising that he would not cut the Medicare or Social Security programmes, he was fully onboard with the anti-ACA rhetoric. Thus, Trump's unexpected victory in November 2016 meant that Republicans, enjoying unified government in Washington DC as they now controlled the White House and both the House and the Senate, could now fulfill their longstanding promise. Doing so, however, turned out to be much more complicated than anticipated.

In early May 2017, the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act. This occurred after an abbreviated, yet still tortuous, process, with the initial proposals withdrawn from consideration ahead of a floor vote due to opposition from all Democrats, but more decisively by moderate Republicans and conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus. Eventually the last group were satisfied by changes to the bill meaning that the AHCA garnered sufficient support to pass the House. That was followed by a rather presumptive White House ceremony, of the sort normally reserved for when a President actually gets to sign a bill passed by both House and Senate. Expectations were high that such a moment would come, but ominously for Republicans, while AHCA did repeal important parts of the ACA, few thought that it was a coherent model for reform and the hope was that Senate would put together a more comprehensible package.

Republican Senate leaders, in their desire to craft a bill quickly, chose to bypass so-called "regular order", thereby significantly truncating the legislative process and relying on a Republican only taskforce to develop a bill. They also chose to push the bill through the "reconciliation" process, thus negating the possibility of a filibuster, meaning that they would need only 50 votes since they could rely on the casting vote of Vice President Pence. Yet, even after tilting the playing field, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, renowned for his party management, could not muster enough votes. The final blow came when, in late July 2017, the Senate voted down so-called "skinny repeal". Few thought this a satisfactory way forward, but it was advanced by the leadership on the same, kicking the can down the road, logic used to justify the passage of the AHCA in the House. Only this time a House - Senate Conference Committee was expected to come up with a coherent plan to save the day. In the end, just over six months into Trump's presidency, the Senate repeal effort failed.

Although the debate on the future of the ACA is by no means over, this recent failure leads to an obvious question: why, after seven years of deriding Obamacare, were Republicans unable to undo the law when in an institutional position to do so? A cynic might suggest that they never expected to have to fulfill their promise, especially as the 2016 campaign unfolded and the prospect of a Trump presidency seemed remote, leaving them confounded when faced with delivering on their rhetoric. Yet, there were plans in the conservative eco-system on how to move forward on health care reform, so unpreparedness is not a sufficient explanation. It is the case, however, that the party had never come together over any particular plan, reflecting how the US health care system is extraordinarily complex, a fact that President Trump discovered, apparently to his, though no-one else's, surprise.

In this context, while the ACA was consistently underwater in polling during Obama's presidency, the law did have features that were popular, and Republican lawmakers struggled with crafting plans that would keep those legacies in place, but simultaneously repeal other parts of the ACA that effectively supported them. In particular, Republicans committed themselves to maintaining the ACA's principle that individuals with pre-existing conditions should have access to affordable health insurance. The reality that this principle required spreading the cost of risk to healthy people, however, proved problematic when Republicans were also promising to reduce the insurance premiums for the healthy. More generally, as the ACA had been implemented, the numbers of uninsured Americans had dropped considerably. The manner in which that drop was largely attributable to the ACA became ever more apparent as each of the Republican plans put forward in Congress were scored by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office as likely to leave over 20 million more Americans uninsured.

Furthermore, it is important to acknowledge the ever present difficulty of getting any major reform through the US legislative maze, even when one party controls both Congress and occupies the White House. In 2017, the Republicans stumbled in the Senate where they had only a 52-48 majority. McConnell made no effort to reach out to Democrats, which put a premium on his ability to corral his caucus. Yet, while the well-documented trend of partisan polarization in the US had seen the Republicans become a considerably more conservative force, there turned out to remain some moderate Republican voices in Congress worried about the consequences of taking insurance away from millions of Americans. On the final vote on skinny repeal, most of the attention focused on Senator John McCain from Arizona, returning to the Senate after a diagnosis of a severe form of brain cancer, and his vote against. In fact, the more consistent voices of opposition to the leadership had come from Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Finally, it is worth reflecting on the role of President Trump. He had promised prompt repeal of the ACA upon taking office, and his frustration was clear in the summer as he lashed out as the congressional efforts stalled, including a side swipe at McCain in an extraordinary August 15 impromptu press conference on the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, during which he apparently equated Nazis and KKK supporters with those protesting against them. Yet for all the presidential bluster, it was very clear that Trump had minimal grasp of the policy detail, which undermined his capacity to make a public case for why Republican plans for reform were a good idea and diminished his ability to sway the likes of Collins and Murkowski.

From a Republican perspective, one distinctly unintended consequence of their actions was to boost the popularity of the ACA. Yet, supporters of the ACA should remain wary. First, the Republican reform effort may look like the walking dead, but zombies can do harm to the living. To switch monster analogies, it maybe that Republicans try again to build a Frankenstein repeal bill if they make the calculation that it is more politically damaging to break their seven year promise than to enact something that might be very unpopular. Second, the ACA, particularly with regard to functioning of the individual insurance markets, needs the federal and state governments to take a pro-active role in encouraging households to enroll and pressuring insurers to offer plans where returns are likely to be low. Trump has regularly declared that he is happy for the ACA to implode and for Democrats to take the blame. As it is, he is likely both underestimating the resilience of the law and misjudging the political fall-out should people become even more disgruntled with their health care. But politics, bravado, and bluster aside, the administration does have the capacity to undermine the implementation of the law and leave many more Americans exposed to both economic and health risk should they need medical care.

Daniel Béland is Professor and Canada Research Chair in Public Policy at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Saskatchewan. Alex Waddan is an Associate Professor in American politics at the University of Leicester.





American Politics Group of the Political Studies Association Annual Conference 2018

Call for Papers

The forty-fourth annual conference of the American Politics Group of the Political Studies Association will be held at St Anne's College, University of Oxford from Thursday 4 to Saturday 6 January 2018. The keynote speaker will be Professor Marc J. Hetherington (Vanderbilt University)

There is a broad conference theme: "The US Constitutional and Political Order: Challenges and Constraints". This can be approached in various ways, and we will also be happy to receive proposals considering subjects and material beyond this particular theme. For example, papers or panel proposals examining contemporary US political institutions or processes, foreign policy issues or political history are invited. The conference organizers would also welcome papers addressing comparative themes or relevant theoretical or methodological issues. Proposals (no more than 150 words for single papers, 300 words for panels) should be sent to Dr Clodagh Harrington ( by no later than 20 October 2017.

The APG is the leading scholarly association for the study of US politics in the UK and also has members in continental Europe and the USA. 

Full details of the conference will also be posted on the website. In the meantime any enquiries should be directed to Clodagh Harrington.

Dr Clodagh Harrington

Chair of the American Politics Group





Edward Orsborn Professor of US Politics and Political History, and Director of the Rothermere American Institute

The University of Oxford is seeking to appoint an outstanding academic and leader to the Edward Orsborn Professorship and Directorship of the Rothermere American Institute.

The successful candidate will be a scholar with an outstanding international reputation in the field of US Politics and Political History since independence and demonstrable leadership ability at a senior level. They will provide the intellectual vision and strategic leadership for the Rothermere American Institute, and develop its activities as a major international centre for research and teaching in American history, culture and politics. They will offer teaching in US politics and/or political history at both undergraduate and graduate level.

The post is offered in association with University College.

Deadline for applications is 12.00 noon on Friday 29 September 2017.

Applications are particularly welcome from women and black and minority ethnic candidates, who are under-represented in academic posts in Oxford.

For further details, please see




New Directions in American Philanthropy

Sheffield Hallam University

14-15 September 2017

Meaning, literally, "love of all mankind", the historian Lawrence J. Friedman has framed philanthropy as 'a collective form of charitable giving.' In the nearly two centuries since Alexis De Tocqueville's observation that the United States is a 'nation of joiners,' volunteerism and philanthropy have played a significant role in America's domestic and international history. For some, such as the scholar Olivier Zunz, philanthropy is 'part of the American progressive tradition.' Yet despite good intentions, the history of American philanthropy is not without controversy. Indeed, the political scientist Inderjeet Parmar, acknowledging that 'it is difficult to believe that philanthropy…could possibly be malignant,' has argued that it has not always been either an effective tool or a force for positive change.

The purpose of this workshop is to engage in this debate concerning the positive and negative aspects of American philanthropy. It is hoped that the research presented will both challenge and further our understanding of the role of charity and philanthropy in American history. From small Church groups and missionary efforts to secular organisations and multi-million dollar foundations, research papers covering any aspect of the history of philanthropy in America will be encouraged. Possible topics for 20-30 minute papers include, but are not limited to:

· Philanthropy in the early Republic

· Civil War and Reconstruction era philanthropy

· Women and philanthropy; women philanthropists

· African-American, Asian-American and Native-American philanthropists and philanthropy

· Philanthropy, philanthropists and the US economy

· The Big 3: Ford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller

· Beyond the Big 3: the history of other American foundations

· Philanthropy and American foreign relations

· Religious and secular philanthropy

· Charity and philanthropy in contemporary America

The keynote lecture will be delivered by Professor Inderjeet Parmar (City University London).

Proposals of no more than 250 words for papers should be sent to Dr Ben Offiler ( by 7 June 2017.

Full panel proposals are welcome although all-male panels will not be considered. All submissions should include the name of the presenter, their institution, email address, a short profile, and the title of the proposed presentation. Panel proposals should include a brief outline of the panel in addition to individual abstracts for each paper. Proposals from postgraduate and early-career researchers are encouraged.

Thanks to a grant provided by the Economic History Society a limited number of bursaries will be made available to support attendance by PGRs and ECRs. Priority will be given to speakers without access to institutional support. Please indicate in your additional information if you would like to apply for a bursary and whether you have access to institutional support, giving an estimate of potential travel and/or accommodation costs.

Symposium registration will open in June 2017.



Trump 100 Days Event, University of Reading, May 2017

On Tuesday, 2 May the Monroe Group at the University of Reading hosted a one-day conference to mark the first 100 days of Donald Trump's presidency. As well as recognising this milestone, the event also marked the launch of this research network. Comprised of figures from Reading's Politics Department and its Department of History, the Monroe Group is dedicated to the study of history and politics in the Americas. The Reading Vice Chancellor's Endowment Fund, as well as the British Association of American Studies generously sponsored the event.

The first event of the day was the keynote address by Professor Andrew Rudalevige of Bowdoin College (Maine, United States). Reviewing the first 100 days of Trump's presidency, Rudalevige argued that the incumbent President has achieved short-term tangible results of little substance. In the case of his foreign policy, for example, Trump's tough rhetoric belies that little action he has taken. Explaining this, Rudalevige speculates that Trump is hamstring by a combination of the legacy of his predecessors and naivety on what the role of a politician entails.

Following on from this fascinating, insightful keynote was the first panel of the day, which placed Trump's first 100 days in historical perspective. Dr Mark Shanahan (Reading) began proceedings by comparing Dwight D. Eisenhower with Trump. Professors Mark White (QMUL) and Iwan Morgan (UCL) followed, exploring the differences and similarities between Trump and John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan respectively. After the lunch break, the second panel explored the origins and motives behind Trump's political thinking, as well as his impact on minorities in the United States. Dr Eddie Ashbee (Copenhagen Business School) placed the Trump administration in the context of the recent populist surge across the US and the wider western world. Richard Johnson (Nuffield College, Oxford), similarly, explained why so many white Midwest voters, who are typically Democrat voters, opted for Trump in November 2016. Professor Kevern Verney, finally, analysed the incumbent President's approach to Mexican immigration, most notably his notorious proposal to erect a wall across the US-Mexico border.


The Third Panel of the day explored President Trump's domestic policy. Professor Lee Marsden (University of East Anglia) explored the current White House administration's ties with Alt Right figures. Likewise, Dr Clodagh Harrington (DeMontfort University) speculated on the fate of reproductive rights during the Trump Presidency. Following on from this, Dr Alex Waddan (Leicester University) undertook a broad overview of President Trump's social policy. 

The one-day event culminated with a foreign policy roundtable, involving Dr Jacob Parakilas (Chatham House), Dr Maria Ryan (Nottingham), Darius Wainwright (Reading) and Dr Mara Oliva (Reading). The participants all discussed aspects of Donald Trump's foreign policy to date, as well as speculating on future directions the incumbent President's diplomacy will take.


Firing Comey was legal. That doesn't mean it was a good idea

By Andrew Rudalevige May 10

In the immediate aftermath of President Trump's decision to fire FBI director James B. Comey, what do we know? Three quick points:

It's legal. According to a series of Supreme Court decisions interpreting "the executive power," presidents generally have the authority to remove any political appointee in a "line" agency at will, although Congress can protect appointees serving in independent regulatory commissions. Under certain circumstances, prosecutors can fall under the second category - for instance, the Supreme Court's 1988 Morrison v. Olson decision held that Congress could constitutionally create an office of independent counsel and make its occupant very hard to fire. But FBI directors are part of the Justice Department hierarchy. While they are appointed to a 10-year term, they clearly serve at the pleasure of the president.

[Read the letters from the White House and the attorney general about Comey's firing]

Both provisions are the unintended legacy of J. Edgar Hoover, who led the Bureau of Investigation and then its successor organization, the FBI, for nearly 50 years - from 1924 to his death in 1972. Reacting to Hoover's long and controversial tenure - and to some agency actions during the Watergate scandal - Congress put a provision in the Crime Control Act of 1976 that limited the FBI director's term to 10 years. (As of 1968, Congress had already put into law a requirement that the Senate must confirm any of Hoover's then-speculative successors.)

The 1976 act also prevents reappointment of an incumbent, though this was waived in 2011 when Robert Mueller's term as director was extended for two years by special statute. He left in 2013, and was succeeded by Comey, who was confirmed by a 93-1 vote of the Senate on July 29 of that year.

As a useful Congressional Research Service report observes, "There are no statutory conditions on the President's authority to remove the FBI Director." But it's fair to say that the point of the fixed term is to impose political constraints on that authority. Indeed, only one sitting FBI director has been fired by a president - William Sessions, by Bill Clinton, in July 1993. Sessions, however, was under fire for a number of ethical violations, including pressuring the government to pay for improvements at his house and for his wife's travel expenses. Comey's firing offense, in theory, is to have mishandled the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private server for her State Department email correspondence.

It's not Watergate, exactly. My Facebook feed is suddenly full of pictures of Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor appointed by Attorney General Elliot Richardson to investigate Watergate. Richardson himself had been appointed to replace Richard Kleindienst, who resigned as attorney general in part because his personal relationships with those accused of wrongdoing in Watergate made it difficult for him to serve as an impartial prosecutor. Richardson, in turn, was pressured by the Senate during his confirmation proceedings to commit to an independent investigation of the matter. He agreed - and after "numerous" (perhaps more than a dozen) candidates for the position had declined the role, Richardson appointed Cox, who had served as solicitor general in the Kennedy administration.

[Republican reactions to the firing of FBI Director Comey, ranked]

When Cox resisted President Nixon's efforts to retain control of the White House tapes that would eventually doom his presidency, Nixon demanded that Richardson fire him. Instead, Richardson resigned, as did his deputy William Ruckelshaus; third-in-command Robert Bork eventually carried out the order, arguing that legally it was the president's prerogative to dismiss his subordinates. (As a result, Cox's successor, Leon Jaworski, demanded and received explicit independence from the president in the form of a customized regulation, something that allowed him to successfully sue Nixon for the tapes' release a few months later.)

One can see the parallels. Cox's firing set off a public firestorm, seemingly confirming that Nixon feared what his investigation might reveal. The fact that Trump's letter removing Comey spends a full paragraph praising himself for not being under investigation seems likewise to protest too much.

But Cox was normatively, if not statutorily, far more independent of the president than was Comey. He had been appointed, with Nixon's grudging acquiescence, to do what he was then fired for. And while in 1973 the attorney general and deputy attorney general strongly objected to Cox's dismissal - to the point of resigning - in the present case those officials are on the other side of the matter. Arguments that this simply measures a moral chasm between Richardson and Ruckelshaus versus Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein are complicated by Democrats' own condemnation of Comey's behavior during the 2016 campaign, the very behavior cited as the rationale for his firing.

Still …

That doesn't make it a good idea. Nixon suspected immediately that Cox - given his Democratic background - would go on a partisan crusade. Comey briefly endeared himself to Democrats in the famous 2004 "hospital room" showdown with the Bush White House, when he refused (temporarily) to sign off on the administration's efforts to skirt the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

But his 2016 decisions regarding the Clinton investigation were widely praised by candidate Trump and then-Sen. Jeff Sessions. Their complaints about him then were not that he had wandered too far from Justice Department supervision but that he had not demanded to "lock her up" vigorously enough. And so the timing and rationale of Trump's decision, with Comey fired for the supposed due process violations Trump and Sessions previously lauded, seems far more convenient than principled.

Examined more broadly, an important result arose from Hoover's dubious tenure and from the Watergate era: a norm and expectation that the FBI should always pursue its investigations independently, even - or especially - when the executive office itself has been suspected of corruption. Comey's firing does violence to that norm, putting the bureau right back in the political firing line. Benjamin Wittes and Susan Hennessey put it this way on Lawfare:

There is no question that the President has the legal authority to remove the FBI director. But there's also no question that removing the FBI Director in the midst of a high-stakes investigation of Russian influence in the inner circle of the President's campaign and White House is a horrifying breach of every expectation we have of the relationship between the White House and federal law enforcement.

Any exercise of presidential power is a matter of both law and political calculation. And firing Comey seems likely to strengthen, rather than defuse, demands for investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia. Members of Congress are already calling for the appointment of an independent prosecutor to oversee that investigation. Suspicions that Comey's firing was an attempt to muzzle the FBI will surely complicate the confirmation hearings of any new director.

Trump has the formal authority to act in this case. But as Richard Neustadt long ago observed, the exercise of the power to command often masks political weakness.


By Sacking FBI Director Comey, Trump Has Pushed His Government Deeper Into a Legitimacy Crisis


James Comey's firing is a timely reminder that Donald Trump is unpredictable, difficult to read and dismissive of the norms associated with his office.

By dismissing FBI director James Comey, US President Donald Trump has not only underlined the unprecedented unpredictability of his leadership, but has also plunged into deeper crisis the very system of government and party politics of the country. Not only is the president's justification for firing Comey highly implausible - Trump says Comey erred in his investigations of the Hillary Clinton email saga during the election campaign - but its timing, as the FBI's probe into the Trump administration/campaign's connections with Russia gathers momentum, raises suspicions among even loyal congressional Republicans that the president has something to hide.

Comparisons with President Richard Nixon's sacking of Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox may be premature but have already been made by opposition politicians and historians. Cox was sacked when he subpoenaed White House tapes related to the Watergate burglaries. Whether or not the Trump-Russia 'affair' warrants such a comparison remains to be seen - but the optics are deeply suspicious.

More broadly, this crisis comes after a series of others that have seen historically low approval ratings for the Trump presidency - hovering around 40% at a time when newly-elected chief executives normally enjoy a honeymoon period. But so divisive is the president's style, values, language, policies and approach to leadership that there is almost no middle ground in attitudes to the maverick commander-in-chief.

Republican voters still love him - giving him 96% approval in recent polls - but hardly anyone else does. And Republican donors are reportedly concerned as there are so few 'wins' to boast of as even the Obamacare repeal by the House of Representatives has created such a backlash that the Senate - which must also pass the Bill but has a very small GOP majority - has effectively disowned it and is to start again from scratch.

But the severity of the master message of the Trump administration - foreigners not wanted - and increased raids on 'illegal immigrants' in the US has seen the number of migrants illegally attempting to cross the Mexican border into the US plummeting to around 11,000 since Trump's inauguration - a dramatic fall of 70%. This, and the confirmation of the conservative Neill Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, appears to be Trump's only achievements - much celebrated by his supporters.

Pew polls show that a very small percentage of Americans believe that the US government serves their interests - both before and after Trump's triumph in November 2016. The legitimacy crisis of the American elite, which Trump promised to reverse, continues as the two parties play politics while the problems of unemployment, low wages, massive income and wealth inequality, indebtedness and economic anxiety go unaddressed.

But firing off 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles, dropping the 'mother of all bombs' on Afghanistan, escalating military tensions with China and North Korea, and praising NATO gained Trump accolades from the foreign policy establishment, including its neoconservative stalwarts like Paul Wolfowitz. "Trump just became president," declared CNN's Fareed Zakaria.

But the establishment still retains a degree of scepticism about Trump's newly-discovered globalist credentials. The pressure over alleged links with Russia appears designed to maintain leverage on an unpredictable and unreliable leader - up to this point, there is precious little of a democratic principle at stake about this affair, unlike Watergate.

The Comey firing is a timely reminder that this president remains unpredictable, difficult to read and dismissive of the norms associated with his office. Any suggestion that Trump's presidency has been 'normalised' has been torpedoed by his own lack of normality.

The Trump administration's explanation for firing Comey sounds highly implausible, given that they had a very long time to do something about his handling of the Clinton email investigation and had previously lauded Comey as a principled and independent public servant. That he was addressing FBI employees at the Los Angeles office when he saw live TV reports of his ouster - as opposed to via Twitter - merely underlines the unorthodox style of Trump.

To be sure, Comey's critical error, of misleading a Senate committee, appears to warrant an official reprimand but is hardly worthy of dismissal. Whatever the intent, the timing of his removal is extremely suspicious, given that the FBI's investigation into Trump's links with Russia appears to be gathering some pace. As Republican loyalist Senator Richard Burr, leading the committee investigating Trump-Russia links, said: "I am troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey's termination. I have found Director Comey to be a public servant of the highest order, and his dismissal further confuses an already difficult investigation by the Committee."

If we look at previous presidents, Trump's actions and issues - including firing the FBI director - are like nothing we have seen before.

Nothing in history compares to what we have seen over the past year - from the election campaign itself and Trump's racially and discriminatory language, open courting of the fascist right, to his sackings in office, ill-thought out tweets, wild accusations, misinformation, mendacity and outright legislative and administrative incompetence. The one comparison that comes to mind is not encouraging for Trump - the sacking of Cox, who was investigating the Watergate scandal that brought Nixon down.

But at a deeper level, the court politics of the Trump regime do signal some (hyper)normality: that under the cover of standing for the people against the establishment, Trump has appointed a cabinet of billionaires, empowered warmongering generals to launch unrestrained military attacks without a care for civilian casualties or international law and freed energy, pharmaceutical and financial corporations from basic regulation to protect workers and consumers. This is the normal business of an American government in the era of 'small' government and low taxes for the rich.

This is nothing less than hyper-market-driven power married with unbridled militarism. All the rest is political theatre while the system itself haemorrhages popular legitimacy.

Inderjeet Parmar is professor of international politics at City University of London and a columnist at The Wire. His twitter handle is @USEmpire




The Richard E. Neustadt Book Prize, 2017

The American Politics Group of the PSA is pleased to invite entries for the 2017 Richard E. Neustadt Book Prize, the top prize devoted to US politics in the UK.

The prize of £400 will be presented to the best book in the field of US government and politics (including political history and foreign policy) published in the calendar year 2016, and authored by an academic permanently employed at a UK university.

The prize winner will be announced at the APG annual colloquium held at the Eccles Centre (British Library) on November 10 2017.

Previous prize winners include Professor Donald Ratcliffe of the Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford, Professor Steven Casey of the London School of Economics, Professor Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones of the University of Edinburgh, Dr Andrew Preston of the University of Cambridge, Professor Alan Ware and Stephen Tuck, both of the University of Oxford and Professor Iwan Morgan of University College London.

Entrants for the prize should arrange for four (4) copies of their book to be sent to:

Dr Clodagh Harrington

Dept of Politics and Public Policy

De Montfort University

The Gateway

Leicester LE1 9BH


Closing date is 26 May 2017.