The original edition of this book was published in 2006, when George W. Bush was in office. As suggested by the subsequent changes of master of the White House to Barack Obama and then to Donald Trump, American politics has swung wildly over the years to date. The Bush administration, which had enjoyed an approval rating of 90% at one point, failed in the postwar occupation and administration of Iraq and eventually the approval rating dropped below 30%. In 2008, for the first time in its history, the United States elected a black American, a member of an ethnic minority, as its president. In post-financial crisis America, he worked to revive the U.S. economy and provide universal health insurance coverage. Then, in 2016, Donald Trump, a complete outsider to American politics, was elected president. This book has been fortunate to have reached its third edition.
As such, American politics has undergone drastic changes on its surface. However, the U.S. presidential system, which is based on the strict separation of powers among the three branches of government, remains firmly intact. Likewise, the two-party system dominated by the Democratic and Republican parties was not shaken to its foundations. This book seeks to understand the principles and fundamentals of American politics that transcend short-term changes, rather than the changes themselves.
Before delving into discussions on the dynamism of American democracy, a political process (Part II), governing structure (Part III), and issues and policies (Part IV), the book presents the macroscopic characteristics of American politics as Part I, which comprises two chapters—i.e., “Nation and People of America” and the “United States as a Superpower and Globalization”—and attempts to carve out some distinctive aspects of American politics. For instance, the United States as a superpower is explained by focusing on each of its dimensions, i.e., as an economic power, as a trade power, as a military power, and as a cultural power. Without a chapter providing such explanations, extremely important and fundamental characteristics of American politics would be overlooked.
The following points also constitute part of the distinctive features of this book:
In explaining the judicial system, the book discusses the roles and characteristics of not only federal but also state judicial branches, in particular, expounding on judicial elections practiced in many states. A chapter on local autonomy and the federal system discusses how state governments compete with each other to attract business investments. A chapter on minorities covers not only blacks but also Hispanics, Jews, and Arabian Muslims. A chapter on diplomacy touches on the positioning of Japan as an ally.
Also, in chapters on the presidential system, Congress, and political parties, those readers who are not experts on American politics would certainly encounter unexpected truths about American politics. For instance, they would find the following facts: i) presidential powers are subject strict limitations; ii) Congress is extremely powerful (both legislative and budgetary bills are prepared by Congress); iii) political parties do not have a position equivalent to that of party head in Japan; and iv) state law provisions governing political parties prohibit party leaders to unilaterally select candidates for elections and winners in primary elections are automatically selected as candidates. For experts on American politics, these are part of the commonsense knowledge. However, those readers who are not experts may be little aware of these facts despite their importance.
Overall, the book quite intentionally looks at American politics from a comparative perspective, which is probably unsurprising because it is intended for Japanese readers. We hope that readers will have more than expected encounters with the unknown.
(Written by Fumiaki Kubo, Professor of Graduate Schools for Law and Politics / 2018)