Thursday, November 18, 2021

Mary E. Stuckey's "Deplorable: The Worst Presidential Campaigns from Jefferson to Trump"

Mary E. Stuckey Mary E. Stuckey is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Communication at Penn State University. Her many books include Voting Deliberatively: FDR and the 1936 Presidential Campaign.

Stuckey applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Deplorable: The Worst Presidential Campaigns from Jefferson to Trump, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Deplorable: The Worst Presidential Campaigns from Jefferson to Trump is delightfully revealing of the book itself. It’s the first page of a chapter on the 1924 election and describes the chaos of the 1924 Democratic convention in Madison Square Garden, as the delegates fought for sixteen days and cast 103 ballots before they could decide on their presidential nominee. The convention was so nasty that people thought it was evidence that democracy had ceased to function.

And that’s what’s true of the rest of the book—all of these deplorable campaigns were examples of democracy at its worst. I use the examples of three early elections (1800, 1840, and 1852) to set the stage for a discussion of how and why presidential elections can go bad (by which I mean that they can be too personal, too trivial, and too likely to ignore important matters) and why. In the book as a whole, I show that we tend to get deplorable elections when the political system is weak, when the economy is bad, when candidates exploit fear of immigrants and rely on racism. This rhetoric is iterative—it shows up more at some times than others—and cumulative—if one candidate relies on exclusionary language, it often goes away for a time, but if a series of candidates do so, it builds force and power. And this, I think, explains where we are today. So it’s a book about our current political moment that relies on history to make the case about why our politics are so ugly and what, if anything, we can do about it.
Learn more about Deplorable at the Penn State University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue