Mark Danner

Present at the Apocalypse: Writing About Our Damaged Politics

Present at the Apocalypse

Writing About Our Damaged Politics

Journalism 298, Mondays 9 am–12 pm

Mark Danner


The apocalyptic has become the commonplace in writing on American politics. That we face the fall of democracy, that the United States’ “unique experiment” may be coming to an end — these have become the daily tropes of our political commentary. This course will attempt to grasp this striking moment of political crisis, in which a pandemic has combined with a racial reckoning and a climate crisis to strain the institutions we have long come to take for granted as singularly resilient and competent. We will attempt to understand the moment, in part by reading and studying the best that is being written and produced by political journalists — and, in some cases, by studying the best that has been written during other crises — and to come to grips with the singular problem of how to report on it accurately and powerfully. The course will be taught in seminar style with a good deal of reading.


Class Requirements This seminar will be a mixture of lecture, class discussion and workshops/assignments, backed up by selected readings. The most important requirements are that students


*Attend all class sessions

*Keep up with reading and writing assignments

*Participate in discussions

*Do one presentation on a problem of contemporary American politics

*Devise, pitch, and complete a work of political reporting and/or commentary


A student’s record of attendance and participation in class discussion, together with the quality of his or her writing, will determine the success of our class and contribute the better part of the grade.


Schedule Note that classes will meet Mondays at 9 am via Zoom, until otherwise noted.


Reading Our primary reading will draw largely from a number of books of political reporting, classic and contemporary. I strongly urge you to obtain these books in your own copies and in the edition specified, either from local bookstores or from online suppliers, so that you will be able to highlight and annotate them.

Tracking the News A significant part of the class will be given over to tracking and discussing political reporting as it takes shape around ongoing political conflicts. Following these events closely in various publications, beginning with the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other newspapers and websites, and getting to know the work of the leading contemporary political correspondents and commentators, is essential. Even if you are not a habitual newspaper reader, you must become one for this class.

Presentations Each student will make a presentation in class on a major theme of our contemporary politics. Use of multimedia and social media during the presentation is strongly encouraged. Students will present throughout the semester.

Project The project will take up a major issue or event in contemporary politics and report or comment on it. We will be discussing these projects extensively in class sessions and in individual meetings. Note that your pitch is due for your project no later than February 22.

Writing To bolster the clarity and vigor of your prose, I strongly suggest studying two works: George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language,” which can be readily found online, and Strunk and White’s little manual, The Elements of Style.

Office Hours I will count on meeting with each of you individually at least once during the course of the term. We will make these appointments on an ad hoc basis. I am best reached via email, at My office is North Gate 32. My writing, speaking and other information can be found at my website,

Grading Students will be graded on their preparedness and their participation in class, the strength of their presentations and the quality of their written work, as follows:


Attendance            25 percent

Participation          25 percent

Presentation          25 percent

Project                   25 percent


Note that regular attendance is vital. Those who miss multiple classes will not do well in this course.

Films During the semester we hope to be screening a number of films that bear closely on the subject of politics and political conflict.

Syllabus and Texts Note the list of assignments and books below will certainly change during the semester. Many books we will read in excerpt, not in full. As the semester progresses some articles will replace books or supplement them.


Required Texts

Stacey Abrams, Our Time Is Now (Holt, 2020)

Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels, Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government (Princeton, 2017)

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness (New Press, 2020 [2010])

Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power (One World, 2018)

Martin Gurri, The Revolt of the Public (Stripe, 2018)

Arlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers in their Own Land (California, 2016)

Ezra Klein, Why We’re Polarized (Simon & Schuster, 2020)

Michael Lewis, The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy (Norton, 2019)

Jane Mayer, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Radical Right (Anchor, 2017)

Mary L. Trump, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man (Simon & Schuster, 2020)

James Poniewozik, Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television and the Fracturing of America (Liveright, 2019)

Elizabeth Warren, This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class (Metropolitan, 2017)



D.A. Pennybaker, The War Room

Alan Pakula, All the President’s Men

Franklin J. Schaffner, The Best Man

Michael Ritchie, The Candidate

Spike Lee, Malcolm X

Gus van Sant, Milk

Mike Nichols, Primary Colors

John Frankenheimer, Seven Days in May

Alexander Payne, Election




Class notes by Freddy Brewster


January 25Present at the Apocalypse: Introduction

Writing about politics in 2021. Politics as a death match. The dysfunctional political system. What Trump showed us. Minority as majority. The current world of political journalism. Objectivity: the eclipse of the old model. The Fox News model becomes universalized. The plan of the course. Beginning with the contemporary. Our reading list. Projects and writing. The presentation.


Required: Mark Danner, “Be Ready to Fight,” New York Review of Books, February 12, 2021

Jonathan Chait, “Republicans Have Decided Not to Rethink Anything,” New York       Magazine, January 22, 2021.


Class Notes:

  • Check out Kanopy for movies listed on the course syllabus if you do not have access to them in some other format.
  • A lot of America’s current tensions stem from deep racial resentment and a shifting of political power that began in the 1960s.
  • Pay attention to Georgia and other southern states for the fight of political power in the future — in particular Stacey Abrams.
  • Read news stories from a variety of outlets and a variety of reporters (mentioned in class were Wapo, NYT, WSJ, Politico, The Intercept, Peter Baker, Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, Olivia Nuzzi, George Monbiot, Ta Nehisi Coates, etc.).
  • Come to class each week prepared to discuss one piece of news that you found interesting and try to figure out why or why not you like certain reporters/outlets.
  • Look up what it means for the Senate to be in “regular order.”
  • History + Geography = Present


February 1 –

Required readings/viewings:

  • Ezra Klein, Why We’re Polarized (Simon & Schuster, 2020)
  • Alan Pakula, All the President’s Men (Warner Bros., 1976)
  • One news story from the past week to discuss
    • For news pieces, look for articles that are: 1) good; 2) has a finger on the pulse of the political winds; 3) interesting. This process teaches us to weed out the bad pieces and trains our eyes to pick out the newsiest of the news.

Class notes:

  • Uniquely unprecedented times
    • Pandemic, economic recession, racial justice era, climate change, new administration finding its feet, impeachment.
  • What will fill the post-Trump journalistic landscape?
    • “There is a significant Trump vacuum,” Prof. Danner.
    • Marjorie Taylor Greene, extremists
  • Negative partisanship is currently what is driving the news and not necessarily the most newsworthy events.
    • Clicks and ratings have come to dictate the news.
  • The Filibuster
    • grew to prominence during the Civil Rights Era when senators used it to block legislation.
    • The Clinton era also saw a dramatic increase.
    • Escalated even more recently
  • America does not have a majoritarian system.
    • Democratic senators represent 41 million more people than the Republicans.
    • filibuster needing 60 votes to overcome a block.
    • Set up that way “to prevent the unwashed masses from seizing power.”
  • Rise of the mass media
    • Started sometime in the late 18th century with the printing press and papers were very partisan; America is heading towards this again.
    • The modern thought of “objectivity” came in the late 19th century when papers started to try and reach as many people as they could instead of a targeted group.
  • Chatroom ethics are a gray area for reporting
    • requires creative thinking to navigate it
    • If quoting directly or identifying someone, you need to reach out to them directly for comment.


Class story picks


February 8 –

Required readings/viewings:


Class Notes:

  • One of the greatest tasks of the current news movement is to notice the revolutionary trends of our time.
    • Impeachment
      • Twice
      • Incitement and sedition
    • Racial Justice
    • Economic woes
  • Political arc
    • attempts by political parties to shape the narrative
    • One of the necessities of good political journalism is to recognize the arcs and how they differ from the norm
  • Impeachment
    • Republicans claim it is a non-story and a political exercise
      • Outcome was predetermined — 17 Republicans not in favor of conviction
    • Democrats
      • Trump needs to be held accountable
      • This is outside of politics and represents who we are
      • Trying to paint Republicans as the party of Marjorie Taylor Greene
    • Coverage
      • All major news outlets are currently just highlighting the defense’s narrative
      • Expect a piece from the Impeachment managers in the future
      • Danner thinks impeachment is being slightly undercovered
    • In order to write independently you have to shed political lines
    • Pivotal points for each party
      • Republicans need to reckon how and why the insurrection happened
      • Democrats need to focus on COVID and the economy
    • Mary Trump book
      • Captures something about Trump as a psychological phenomenon
      • Fred Trump Sr. formed DJT’s psychological foundation
      • DJT seems lazy and unwilling to develop a coherent political plan
      • Trump is an American archetype and in a way, American society has to believe in his back story because is a myth we tell ourselves


February 15 – President’s Day (Tuesday 2/16)

Required readings/viewings:

  • Michael Ritchie, The Candidate
  • Arlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers in their Own Land (California, 2016)
  • Watch and read as much impeachment coverage as you can.
  • Mark Danner, The Con He Rode in On, -emailed


Class Notes:

  • Impeachment
    • The story is out of the media cycle already
    • 6 happened because Trump crossed all non-violent routes
    • How do you write a piece of news that is still relevant weeks after impeachment happened
      • Results of Trumpism
      • The future of the Republican party
      • What does it mean that he was acquited?
    • McConnell
      • What does his vote mean?
        • indicted but didn’t vote for conviction
        • Piece of cynicism and hypocrisy
      • Use the 14th amendment?
        • Untried
        • Unclear it would work
      • What worked?
        • Who was the audience for the presented evidence?
          • Senators and the public
            • Tried to make it personal for the senators
            • They were all victims that day
          • Tried to put on a case that would actually sway votes
        • The defense
          • Putting a pig in a tuxedo and bringing it to the ball
          • Trump-like lawyers
            • Bullies and showmen
          • Didn’t matter what they did because the votes were never there for conviction
          • Political what-aboutism
        • Why witnesses?
          • McCarthy call
          • Managers wanted Jaime Herrra-Butler’s account on the record
            • She overheard the McCarthy call to Trump
          • Biden Admin got nervous about the trial stretching on for a long time
        • Should the Democrats have pursued impeachment?
          • Did it take away from other causes?
          • Does it give Trump the ability to side step other failures?
          • It was good for accountability
          • Kind of had to do it for the historical record
        • Republican Party
          • Divided party
            • The radicals and the respectables
              • The Populists
                • Trump supporters
                • can’t be totally denounced because the energy it has
                • motivated voters
                • usually corralled by hot-button issues
              • Donor class
                • Romney, et. al
              • McConnell’s speech and no-vote is a message to both sides of the divided party
            • It is surprising that we don’t have a clear answer as to how this insurrection happened
              • Probably due to incompetence
              • Trump loyalists in DoD
              • DHS had to have seen the posts but decided not to act on them
              • It can’t be possible that the US government didn’t see the signs
              • Were the reinforcements delayed?
              • Was there concern about the National Guard being used in a coup?
              • “I’m astonished there hasn’t been more digging into this,” Prof. Danner

Class story picks


February 22 –

Required readings/viewings:

  • Edit your colleague’s piece
  • Finish reading Martin Gurri’s Revolt of the Public
  • Finish the Fifth Column podcast episode with Martin Gurri
  • Watch Primary Colors
  • Select and distribute your “piece of the week”


Class notes:

  • News cycle of the past week has largely focused on the wintry conditions in Texas
    • It is a story of deep human interest
    • Weather stories are an archetype of journalism
      • People suffering with the weather is a constant story in journalism
    • Political aspects of Texas story
      • Texas is the ultimate Red state
      • Prides itself on deregulation
      • Tries to rival California in political culture
      • The conservative embodiment of the ideal model
      • Energy sector is very unique
        • The only state not connected to the national grid
      • Has a long history of independence
        • a nationalist vibe that puts the identity of Texan first
      • Deregulation began in the late 1990s with Bush
      • In California at the time there were rolling blackouts and the word across the country was “California just didn’t work” because of a lack of energy supply
      • California’s issues back then actually had ties to Texas and the corruption within Enron
      • Texas has a radical take on regulation and essentially believes the market has incentives to self regulate
        • Reagan mindset to its core
      • Griddy electric company
        • Massive bills
        • Rates heavily dependent on supply and demand
        • Regulation would stop massive spikes in bills
      • General mindset is the government to get out of the way
      • Former mayor Tim Boyd is the epitome of Texas ideology
    • Journalism is about telling complicated stories in a comprehensive way
      • When a story is too complicated it becomes prey for politicization, thus clear direct writing is key
    • Some of the Texas stories are great examples of how politicians is the news to create the political arc
      • Reporters are reporting while politicians take it and spin it to their agenda
    • Arlie Hochschild visited class to discuss her book Strangers in their own land
      • Race is central but the whole story of the Tea Party is about examining Trump and conservative mindset
      • Old racism
        • Segregation, overt, Southern Cops, etc.
      • New racism
        • Envy of Blacks
        • Coverage in mass media while White issues are ignored
        • More Blacks faces in media
        • Shocked by the rise of Black betterment
          • “They see a Black middle and it is a sort of class/race envy.”
        • “There is a crisis for white men. I am doing interviews in Pikeville, KY and there isn’t one that doesn’t include OxyContin or heroin or diseases of despair. They are in a crisis.”
          • Can’t go back to prior jobs and there is no way forward
        • Why support for Trump?
          • Bring labor back to the “forgotten areas”
          • Keep immigrants out
            • Believe this will keep the economic footing for the areas
            • Racism
          • There is a bubble that the Left is participating in that won’t allows them to build interracial class coalitions

Class story picks




February 25 — First assignment due

Analytical piece on the impeachment trial (750-1,000 words).


March 1 –

Required readings/viewings:

  • Revised draft of op-ed piece due Saturday Feb. 27
  • Start Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy
  • Watch Spike Lee’s Malcolm X


Class notes-

  • Tips from Prof. Danner for editing pieces
    • Start with compliments and analysis
    • Reiterate what you think the piece is about
    • Start broad about what is strong about the piece
    • Get into the actual edits
    • Sketch out what the piece could be
    • Try to compare the original piece to the edited and proposed piece to get synthesis
    • Illicit trust and comradeship in the project
    • Say you have suggestions and not changes
    • Point out their strengths
  • Gurri
    • Thesis of book is essentially that a scarcity of information centralizes power around the elites
    • A lot of power leads to the power shifting into the hands of the public
    • Politicians and the elites have lost the authority of narrative control
    • Things to consider
      • What are the moral undertones of Gurri’s argument?
      • Is he right?
      • What is Biden doing to address this?

Class story picks


March 8 –

Required readings/viewings:


Class notes:

  • Pay attention to the infrastructure and voting rights bills in the tailspin of the Covid relief bill
  • Two budget reconciliation processes because Trump didn’t use one last year.
  • Reconciliation is strictly budget issues that can pass by a simple majority
  • Parliamentarian said the $15 min. wage is not a part of the budget process
    • Could have been fired or disregarded
  • Second Reconciliation process will probably be infrastructure
  • Voting rights bill needs to be passed soon, ahead of the ‘22 elections
    • White House party usually loses seats in the midterm elections
  • Democrats are pushing more voter registration and popular ideas
  • There is a direct attempt to put money in the hands of voters and a communication process behind it
  • Obama was bad at telling voters what he did for them
    • Obamacare passed but was unpopular
  • ARP — Covid relief bill — is the biggest social welfare program since the ‘60s
  • Class exercise:
    • How would you spread the message about the $1,400 checks if you were in the Biden Admin?
      • Kamala should be out front more and put on TV shows
      • Dominate the news cycle with town halls and visits to child care centers
    • Your counterparts in government are planning messages carefully and your job as a reporter is to cover it in a creative way.
    • The best thing about the Trump Admin was their ability to dominate the news cycle
  • Midterms are crucial for Democrats if they want to get things done.
  • Trump ran as a Republican that protected entitlements and protected workers
    • Very atypical of a Republican
    • But as president he largely looked after himself
  • A lot of Trump’s appeal was that he spoke to the people who were “left behind”
    • Raising the min. wage would be a way for Biden to give a nod to the same people
  • JFK won in large part because of his glamour and in a weird way so did Trump
  • First major defeat for Biden was the $15 min. wage
    • Seven or eight Democrats voted against it
  • Romney’s proposed family bill in the past was very unique because it is a bill that shows family support from the Republican side
  • Biden so far is left of Clinton and Obama
  • Infrastructure is a great chance to get more money to people and get them jobs

Class story picks


March 15 –

Required readings/viewings:

  • Read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness
  • Watch Last Days of Solitary by Frontline


Class notes:

  • Post-Journalism by Gurri
    • the taking on of partisan views by the MSM
    • Can be problematic
    • “A moment of decision making that extends to Trump and journalists’ decision to call him explicitly on his lies,” Danner.
    • An advocacy role by the press — atypical of the past
    • Gurri says it is a mistake that leads to a lack of credibility
  • Coates
    • The racial reckoning of today in American journalism extends to the Obama era and to Coates himself
    • Eight Years… is a series of essays from The Atlantic
    • He is a blogger turned columnist
      • One of the first
      • Fits in the Gurri theory of the revolt rising up to established areas
    • He really represents the Obama era and his rise is linked with Obama’s
    • Brings out themes of racial consciousness or a lack thereof
    • The Atlantic is a pillar of American magazine journalism, one of the oldest in the country
    • The blogosphere started about 20 years ago
    • Coates’s career arc is attainable by the students in the course
    • His book is a collection of essays with updated introductions that put them into today’s context, how they fit into Coates’s life and his career arc.
    • The book is essentially a long diary
    • Coates is influenced by James Baldwin and hip hop music. He shows this in his writing and explores how they have affected him
    • Cosby piece
      • Describes the Pound Cake speech and Cosby himself
      • He saw him speak, interviewed him
      • Places currents of Black thought into current context
      • The story is about the struggle over the “negro problem” and how Blacks and politicians fit into it.
      • Black conservative figures are appealing to the Heritage Foundation folks but they get rejected when they lean into their black identity
        • Malcolm X had very conservative values, but was hated because he was unapologetically Black
        • Cosby is apologetically Black
      • Difference between Cosby and Malcolm X is how they viewed White people’s opinions of them
        • Cosby’s critique was about Black people themselves and not the systems that enact upon them
        • Malcolm X critiqued the system and not the people
      • He is essentially Black people to White people by placing Black figures into historical and intellectual context
      • Civil War piece
        • Non-Blacks don’t see the reality of America because they largely don’t see how it directly affected them.
        • Black history is left out of Civil War history
      • Reparations
        • The New Deal largely left out Blacks and only really passed because of Jim Crow laws and the fact that the New Deal did little to tear them down
        • The amount of money for reparations is not the point of the piece. It is to start the public conversation and to show how Blacks have routinely been left out of policy
      • “When you’re trying to be a journalist with a voice, you have to develop it. There is a barrier between what you want to do and what you can do. Coates explains how to overcome that,” Prof. Danner
      • Three waves of progressivism in American History
        • Monopolies and the Progressive movement against them
        • FDR and the New Deal — racially restrictive
        • LBJ and the Great Society — tried to amend the failures of the New Deal
      • We are possibly entering into a next wave due to the Biden Admin and the ARP

Class story picks


March 22 –  Spring Recess (No Class)


March 29 –

         Required readings/viewings:

  • Elizabeth Warren, This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class
  • Watch Biden’s Press Conference
  • Gus van Sant, Milk
  • Analysis Paper #2 due next class


Class notes:

  • Infrastructure Bill is on par with the New Deal and Great Society legislation
    • Danner called it a “Quiet Revolution” and a “dramatic increase in spending”
  • Infrastructure Bill
    • Politicians need money for reelection and like infrastructure projects. Politicians bring money to their district which pays builders who donate money back to politicians.
    • Two parts
      • Actual infrastructure: highways, sewers, airports
        • “The bread and butter of politics,” Prof. Danner
        • Will need 60 votes without filibuster reform
      • Reconciliation, economic changes and Democratic desires
        • Green energy projects
          • Unique because it has widespread bipartisan support for the young voters of each party
        • Higher taxes on the rich
      • Since the 1980s, taxes have been reduced on the wealthy, particularly those who make $1 million and up
        • The start of hedge fund loopholes
      • Part of Biden’s plan to bring in more taxes is to step up IRS enforcement
        • Danner: “What is going to be done with [tax reform] will be underreported on, but will be the most revolutionary. This is going to be the most dramatic change since the 80s.”
      • Elizabeth Warren’s two percent wealth tax is the most radical and probably will not happen
        • 2% is A LOT of money for the ultra wealthy
        • Wealth tax is a tax on savings and wealth not on income
        • Similar in regulations to property taxes
        • If passed, it would be truly revolutionary, aking to FDR era New Deal policy
        • Bezos alone would pay around $3.5 billion a year
        • Estate tax is similar but it has essentially been eviscerated
      • Biden won the presidency, but Bernie and Warren’s ideas are what is dominating ideology
      • How did we get here?
        • Trump era allowed for the impossible to be possible
        • Covid
          • highlighted the people who have things versus the people who do not
        • Social media
          • Twitter and celebrity backlash
        • The revolt of the public
          • People are tired of the elites
          • Trump’s election
          • Rise of Sanders
          • BLM
          • Antifa
          • 6 insurrection
            • “Political violence strips bare the body to reveal the true structures of society. It shows who is struggling and who isnt,” Prof. Danner
          • Biden v. Obama
            • Both started during an age of urgency
              • Economic crisis of 2008, lingering wars in the Middle East
              • Economic crisis due to covid, mass political unrest and the still lingering wars in the Middle East
            • Both inherited deeply impact economies that were hemorrhaging jobs
            • Both talked about the need for bipartisan support
            • Their responses have been very different
              • Obama spent weeks negotiating with Republicans
              • Biden put forth the bill, Republicans low-balled, Biden urged the Democrats to go ahead and pass it without any further input
              • Biden stimulus targeted people
              • Obama stimulus targeted institutions
            • Democrats’ response to the revolt of the public has been more programs and stimulus
            • Republicans’ response was more law enforcement and voting restrictions
            • BLM is in the spotlight this week with the Chauvin trial
            • The Nixon administration took the NY Rockefeller Drug Laws and made them national in the 1970s
              • Very draconian policy
            • Nixon’s Southern Strategy was a direct rebuke of the Great Society
            • The Republicans controlled the South for the next five decades
            • Georgia going Democrat in 2020 was revolutionary
              • “It is a fucking revolution and that is why this shit (Kemp’s voting restriction bill) is going on in Georgia. It is all about race. America hinges on the pivot of America’s treatment of races,” Prof. Danner
              • Brian Kemp, GA governor, signed a voting restriction bill in front of a painting of a plantation surrounded by White men as a Black, female state senator was arrested for knocking on the door. She was charged with a felony.
            • Michelle Alexander book
              • Slavery ended but systems of opression remain
              • Clinton was a “Third way” Democrat
                • Budget focused
                • law and order
                • tough on crime
                • neoliberal
              • States are largely to blame for an increase in prisons
                • They emulated the federal system
                • Spent more on prisons than schools
              • Alexander’s book is not a book of journalism because it is making a direct argument, lacks first hand reporting and furthers an argument without ever really proving it
              • She is more documenting a new concept in prisons
              • Argues that mass incarceration is not just being imprisoned but it is a system that controls a person’s entire life
                • loss of jobs
                • loss of voting rights
                • Housing and federal benefits stripped

Class story picks


April 5 –

Required readings/viewings:


Class notes:

  • We are living in a very unique time in history
  • Have to go back to LBJ-era to find a similar moment in terms of political ambitions
    • The Great Society
  • New Deal politics lasted from the 1930s to ~1980 (FDR to Carter)
    • Marked by big government spending and philosophy that government intervention should help the average the person
      • Social Security, welfare, regulation of the commons
    • Robert Reich said the current government should operate the way it did from 1945 through the early 1970s
      • GI Bill and expanded access to higher education
      • Federal Housing Authority
      • New Deal era politics without the racism
    • Powell Memo
      • Lewis Powell was a corporate lawyer that became SCOTUS justice.
      • Said that America should be run by corporations and free of government interference.
      • Resulted in more lobbying
      • Advised corporations to exert their power over politicians
      • Billions of dollars spent in lobbying
      • Corporate voices tend to be much louder than the average citizen because of donations
      • NRA, Big Ag, Banks, etc.
    • Prop 13 in California
      • radically changed the way the state operates
      • other states adopted similar measures
      • localized property taxes
      • capped property taxes
      • said funds must stay within the county and added to state general fund
    • Glass-Steagall
      • Limited bank interactions
      • Guaranteed deposits
      • Said commercial banks can not operate in the stock market
      • Done away with under the Clinton Administration
    • Current era of political ideology started under Reagan
      • Trickle down economic
      • Tax cuts for the wealthy
      • Limited government intervention in the market
      • Trickle down was supposed to increase incentives for corporations to pay employees more, but that didn’t happen
    • Reagan era actually ushered in massive deficits
      • 10s of billions to 100s of billions
      • Caused Reagan to sign a tax increase to make up for the loss of taxes
    • Reagan era ushered in the largest degree of inequality since the Gilded Age
      • Social mobility was at an all time low
      • Policies resulted in a concentration of wealth
      • Middle class incomes stagnated
      • Top 10% wealth exploded
    • Trump was the apotheosis of the end game of Reagan politics
      • cut corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%
        • Biden wants to raise back to 28%
      • Reduced top rate taxes
        • anyone over ~$150,000 pays a similar rate as someone making ~$10 million
      • The American economy is based on the idea of a strong middle class and right now that is being gutted
      • Fordism
        • Started by Henry Ford who said if his cars were too expensive then his employees couldn’t buy them.
        • Therefore, he paid his employees better and cars sold more
      • Economists have been predicting the value of the dollar to drop since the Reagan era, but that hasn’t happened.
        • No inflation because no minimum wage increase
      • Why are the wealthy getting so much money right now?
        • No unions
        • Minimal regulations
      • Height of the New Deal policies
        • Mid-1960s
        • 35% of the economy was unionized
          • this allowed for contract negotiations
        • Unions had an effect throughout the economy that raised wages
        • Today only 7-11% of economy is unionized
      • Reagan and the Air Traffic Controllers Strike
        • Fired all striking workers
        • Signal to corporate America to crush unions
        • Production and manufacturing jobs moved to states with few unions
        • Didn’t enforce union policy
      • Biden policies
        • If a wealth tax is being entertained and discussed then that would be a massive change
        • Checks to people is a radical shift in government and it is a sign that the government is actually aware of the populace
        • His spent pretty much his entire life in politics and all of a sudden he is starting to sound moderately progressive
        • The moderate wing of the Democratic party is afraid of what will happen if they don’t adopt progressive policies

Class story picks


April 12 –

Required readings/viewings:

Class notes:

  • The Battle of Algiers
    • One of the most profound films ever made about politics and political struggle
    • Ground breaking in it way to document the way to start an uprising
      • It is essentially a how-to guide
      • showed a top down structure where one person recruits two others
      • This allows for a network to be made, but not one where the top is identifiable
        • Al qaeda uses this
      • The CIA showed the video during the War on Terror years as a training document
      • Danner was in Baghdad during the invasion in the early 2000s taking sniper fire and had a recollection of the film after experiencing a sense of deja vu
      • Doesn’t use professional actors — except for one
      • Post-WWII was marked with anticolonial revolts
      • The film is a precursor to the Islamic movements of today
      • “Terrorism” was used as a moral pushback
        • Terrorism is always a political act, it is a way to get political gains through violence
        • Used effectively and exploited
        • American Revolution figures used similar tactics
        • Used as a way to spark revolution
          • Al qaeda used this to get the US to invade Afghanistan
        • 9/11 was used to dumb down the public in terms of terrorism
          • was viewed as an attack on our “freedoms”
        • During this time period the Vietnam War was picking up
        • Main character achieves political consciousness while imprisoned
        • Algeria was a biracial country with a white overclass
        • Leaderless revolutions were brought to the current mindset because of ISIS
        • Aftermath of the Capitol Insurrection leads to a crisis of legitimacy where a chunk of the population no longer believes in government.
      • The Report
        • For the real report, CIA refused to allow interviews and then criticized the report by saying no one was interviewed for it
        • Only the executive summary was published, the report itself has not been released
        • Gina Haspel, a director of the torture program, was promoted to CIA head
      • Zero Dark Thirty
        • funded and written by the CIA
        • Painted an understanding of picture of torture
        • not based on real events
        • Feinstein walked out of the showing
      • Stacey Abrams
        • New American majority consists of POC, younger people and progressives
          • Should rightfully be in power but are left out due to voting access, gerrymandering, and disproportional representation
        • Swing voters are usually white
        • Unlikely voters are usually black, poor or marginalized
        • Pandemic altered voting because ballots were mailed and more people voted

Class story picks


April 19 –

Required readings/viewings:


Class notes:

  • We are in a strangely depressing and revolutionary moment and Monbiot has tapped into that
  • We are at the end of one political study and the beginning of another
  • Carter really started the neoliberal order after the crash in the late 70s
  • Stagflation
    • Growth stagnated and inflation rose rapidly
    • A panicky time that along with the Iran crisis, lost Carter reelection
  • Reagan is the supreme neoliberal
  • Neoliberalism
    • deregulation is key
    • markets will sort out inequality
    • Globalization is good
  • FDR was a great president for market regulation
  • Monbiot and Gurri books both highlighted the rise of populism
  • Biden’s shift left is out of a fear of populism
  • Populism is in short a rejection of the powered elite; i.e those who run society
  • Clinton/Trump
    • Clinton acted that the election was granted to her
    • Trump tapped into a deep rot and blamed it on the elites
    • Clinton is the epitome of the elites
  • Biden is “milquetoast ruthless.”
    • Ruthless in governing
    • Willing to buck elite mindset at times
    • His approach to power is that of a cranky old man
      • impatient, will listen, but ultimately wants his way
    • Trump was an artist of manipulating fear and emotion
    • Monbiot identified two “stories”
      • Social democracy
        • 1930-1980
        • regulations, government runs society, markets are controlled, people see tangible benefits from government
        • Three acts
          • Teddy Roosevelt and Progressivism
          • FDR and New Deal
          • LBJ and Great Society and Civil Rights
        • Neoliberalism
          • 1980-present
          • We don’t know if this era is ending or not, but there is a push for something else
          • says the essence of human nature is competition and greed
            • Monbiot disagrees with this and claims humans are altruistic and and cooperation
          • Privatization
            • water, parking meters in Chicago, etc.
          • The French called the 30 years post-WWII the “Thirty Glorious Years”
          • What should be a part of the commons?
            • Class: The internet, health care, power
          • Neoliberalism defines our lives in a narrow way and doesn’t take into account our very survival.
            • We will consume ourselves to death
          • Monbiot says American politics is a plutocracy and not a democracy
            • Many popular bills are never enacted
            • First-past-the-post voting
              • Winner take all style
            • Monbiot advocates for proportional representation
              • used a lot in Europe
            • Monbiot highlights the successes of Bernie Sanders’ campaigns and tactics but misses to highlight how and why Sanders lost in the 2020 primary
            • In the 2020 primary, Sanders lost the battle to Biden, but won the war of ideology and the future of the party.

Class story picks


April 26 –

Required readings/viewings:

Class notes:

  • Jakarta Method
    • A unique book written by a man who is a working reporter
    • Covered a very underreported on area
    • Danner was on a panel many years ago that was about the Intelligence Communities and someone stood up and demanded that the CIA take responsibility for the anticommunist genocide in Indonesia. This is what first brought the massacre to the attention of Prof. Danner
      • Went on to publish a sidebar in Harpers about the massacre
    • Highlights the lesser known roles of the CIA during the Cold War
    • “It’s a striking book,” Prof. Danner said. “It conceptualizes the Cold War in a new way.”
    • It is not a history book per se, but it argues a point of view
      • The framing and the CIA’s role is the most striking
    • The strength of the book is also its weakness
      • Covers the whole Cold War
      • Somewhat reductive
      • Looks at something in a very new way
      • “It looks at something in a new way. It’s both illuminating and true, but it leaves out things that complicates its arguments.
        • Korean War for example: “Fighting erupted at the border,” Bevins wrote. While this is true, but fighting erupted because the North invade the South
      • Glosses over the killings of the Indonesian generals
    • The end of the Cold War was largely viewed to be when the Berlin Wall came down, but this book argues that it ended much, much sooner by squashing the Third World Movement
    • The book is revisionist because of who it focuses on
    • Looks at the system of neoliberalism and not necessarily just the Cold War, it is unique because of this
    • Should have looked at Cuba a bit more and not be so reductive


  • Third World Movement
    • Former colonial states that banded together to reject Western and Soviet/Chinese influence
    • Underdeveloped areas where the US and USSR fought for influences
  • Truman Doctrine
    • The policy of the US is to stop USSR influence
    • Established capitalism as the best economic system
  • The Jakarta Method assumes a different standpoint that centers colonized groups
  • The Colonial World
    • Commonwealth, France, Spain, Portugal
      • Ran a 400 year period of subjugation, extraction of resources and slavery
    • Reduction and revisionism can at times take agency away from the Third World Movement
      • The peoples of these countries also made decisions aside from Western influence
    • Post-WWII was the beginning of a post-colonial world
    • As long as there are foreign interests in countries, there will essentially be colonies
      • The way the US operates
    • What was the main point of the Cold War?
      • According to Bevins it was fought in the Third World and it was a fight for the control of their resources
    • The Cold War is easy to propagandize
      • Capitalism v. Communism
      • Freedom v. managed controlled
    • Indonesia in the 50s and 60s
      • Dutch tried to maintain control after losing influence in Japan
      • US had influence via its ambassadors
        • Controlled the mindset of the military generals
        • Controlled the military because they have the ability to overthrow the country
      • The US trained 1000s of officers in the US
      • Rich people and capitalists also loved the US influence
      • The US exploited the influence of the rich and drove a wedge between them and the poor who tended to be communists. Also exploited the fear that the rich will lose their money and lands
        • Bevins should have highlighted this more
      • During the genocide the communists were painted at witches, assassins and torturers
    • All of the US propaganda about democracy is BS, the US prefers dictators
    • Book argues that the US cared more about nationalism than communism
    • Indonesian massacre of communists allowed the US to lose in Vietnam
      • It was the largest country in that area at the time
    • Book highlights how the CIA was largely inept when it came to penetrating the USSR or Eastern Bloc countries


  • The Act of Killing
    • Shows the subtleness of current US influence when it comes to culture and malls and entertainment
    • Shows what the massacre produced
    • The victory of the Cold War was changing how a certain class of people lived
  • Capitalism and slavery
    • the elite moneyed few were afraid of the masses
    • much like the Haitian uprising
    • The capitalists were horrified of the communist in Indonesia
      • The communists did not arm themselves with guns because of their numbers and because they didn’t think the army would will everyone
    • Communism can be voted in by the people and this scared and annoyed those in power at the US government
      • Henry Kissinger: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people.”
    • The Cold War mindset centers on the containment theory
    • The desire for credibility and to be taken serious also drove US foreign policy
      • Still a young country that is just only a world leader
    • The inability to admit defeat is why we stated in Vietnam for so long, and more recently Afghanistan
    • Nationalism is a mindset that America is only now beginning to understand
    • Modernization Theory
    • Central America is unstable due to massive income inequality
      • Hard to stabilize it because of US moneyed interests
    • The point of view of the book is not new, but the person arguing it is new. It has a lefitst ideology and is written by someone who does not have the burden of the Cold War lingering over him. It is a judgement of history and looks at the results of what happened
    • Indonesia is unique because the people who did the massacre are still alive and in power
    • The Act of Killing
      • a movie that follows around a former soldier in the communist genocide and he shows the filmmaker where and how he killed the communists.
      • He highlights it the killings in an oblivious and gory detail
    • Burn!
      • About the 1840s
      • A period of developed colonialism
      • Shot in 1969 during the Vietnam era
      • The imagery in the film is based on news coverage of the Vietnam War
        • Civilians killed
        • Burned villages
      • Pontecorvo was a leftist and a proud leftist
      • Brando’s character’s shift highlights the the shifting role of economic interests
    • We as reporters try to capture grand narratives and they are bolstered by the people we talk to.
      • If you only talk to elites, you get elite mindset
      • Op-ed writers rarely talk to people on the ground, but to solely elites
      • Narrative arcs are hard to break and the institutional points of view are hard to get rid of
        • “That’s how you get promoted,” Prof. Danner.
      • Where Chomsky and Herman failed in Manufacturing Consent is understanding how newsroom operate
        • promotions they sort of got right
        • deadlines they missed
        • social status they got right
        • Missed on the fact too that people just need a job and don’t want to stir the water
      • The roles of the CIA
        • Propaganda
        • Lists of communists to kill
        • Pressure
        • Weapons
        • Money
      • Great credit to Bevins to center the voices of the people subjected to US/USSR relations

Class story picks


May 3 –

Class notes:

  • Final class was held at Prof. Danner’s house. All attendants were vaccinated and outdoors
  • Manchurian Candidate
    • The Senator Iselin character is based on Joe McCarthy, the senator that led the infamous anticommunist trials in the 50s and 60s
    • The film is a cultural phenomenon about paranoia and trends throughout society
      • similar to our current times in the sense of right/left paranoia
    • Biden
      • His current policies are more classically liberal than they are progressive
      • His address to Congress was historic
        • Laid out plans to complete the liberal project
          • Great Society, New Deal, etc.
          • However, he isn’t really going that far
        • Something very traditionally liberal about the speech
          • Emphasized child care, community college, health care, the basics of society
          • Biden is “left” because of history
          • Nixon started the EPA and OSHA because of Dems in Congress and his lack of concern for domestic policy
        • Unique speaker
          • informal
          • restricted vocabulary
          • Trump’s was similar, only at a 5th or 6th grade level, but it is highly effective and easy for people to follow
        • Trying to redefine bipartisanship
          • Says Republican voters support what he is proposing
          • focuses on the basics of society and bettering people’s lives
        • 7/10 Republicans say Biden is illegitimate
          • possibly sympathetic to violence
          • Biden’s policy changes, the little there have been, are tyrannical in their eyes
          • The loyalty oath in the GOP depends on whether or not you buy into the Big Lie and who voted for impeachment
        • Will Biden’s plans work?
          • Depends on Infrastructure
          • Depends on political violence
          • Non-economic bills probably won’t pass
        • We are in a state of incipient insurrection
          • The US theory of leaderless rebellion is to create chaos against the state
        • Working class
          • Black and POC votes Democratic
          • White votes Republican
        • Terms and phrases like POC, communities of color and Defund the police are coming from the managerial class. Common people don’t use these terms
        • Twilight of Democracy
          • The book is about the intellectual elite
          • The message of the book is geared towards the moderate Right. The book is really about why did the moderate Right shift to authoritarian tendencies
          • Argues two systems run society
            • merit
            • loyalty
          • It is a book about the ability of intellectuals to compromise their beliefs
          • Strongmen bring simplicity to complex issues
            • The Wall
            • Simple solutions undermine the elite
          • Tips for foreign reporting
            • Before you go
              • Line up 20 contacts or a list of people you need to talk to
              • 20 publications that would be interested in publishing the piece
              • A cheap place to live
              • About four months’ worth of living expenses