The Outrageous Barriers to Democracy in America

The publisher of Harper’s Magazine presents “an able, witty, and suitably pissed-off guide” (Bookforum) to American politics. (Previously published as Why You Can't Be President: The Outrageous Barriers to Democracy in America.)

Barack Obama swept into the White House in January 2009, seemingly floating high above the crude realities of contemporary American political life. Old-fashioned landmarks—party loyalty, ideology, campaign fundraising, patronage, corruption, even race—seemed hopelessly outdated as points of reference for understanding what was trumpeted as a new phenomenon in the nation’s civic history.

But years after President Obama’s election, elite interests in America remain triumphant. Nearly all measures of inequality continue to rise. And barriers to entry to our political process have reached nearly insurmountable heights.

Looking closely at Congress, elections, and money in politics, and sparing neither side of the political spectrum, Mac­Arthur delivers a devastating exposé of the entrenched interests and elites that make change in America—even by a supposedly progressive president—so arduous. What, Mac­Arthur asks, could change this system?

John R. MacArthur is the author of several books. He is the president and publisher of Harper's Magazine, and a columnist for The Providence Journal and Le Devoir.