Paul Starr

Paul Starr is co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect, and professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University. A winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction and the Bancroft Prize in American history, he is the author of eight books, including Entrenchment: Wealth, Power, and the Constitution of Democratic Societies (Yale University Press, May 2019).

Recent Articles

What Joe Needs to Do

At every social gathering I’ve been to recently, conversation eventually turns to who the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee should be. So far I don’t have a candidate, but I do have criteria. The Democratic Party today is both a coalition and a movement , and the presidential nominee has to lead the movement while holding the coalition together. That candidate could come from different directions: a movement candidate who appreciated the demands of the coalition; a coalition candidate who convincingly embraced the movement; or someone in between, who artfully bridged the party’s various tendencies. So how does that apply to Joe Biden? As I see it, for Biden not only to win the election but also to be a successful president at this moment in history, he has to show that he could take up the banner of the movement that the Democratic Party has become, not just manage the coalition. To be sure, many Democrats, especially on the left, don’t trust Biden to be...

Reparations, Really?

Nati Harnik/AP Photo
Nati Harnik/AP Photo As part of her recent proposals on college tuition, Elizabeth Warren included $50 billion for historically black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions. Donald Trump and Steve Bannon must be smiling from ear to ear and celebrating their good fortune whenever they hear one of the Democratic presidential candidates endorsing a bill to establish a commission to study reparations for descendants of slaves—a proposal that everyone will take as preliminary to support for financial reparations. It's the sort of idea Trump and Bannon can work with, to expand and lock down Republican support among white voters next year. Not every idea with a moral justification has a political justification in an imperfect world. If Democrats fail to win the 2020 election, Trump will have an opportunity to bring about deeper and more durable change in his second term than in his first . For one thing, he’ll likely be able to add two more conservatives to...

Three Reasons the Democrats Have a Leadership Problem

Political parties that ought to be a strong position don’t always come up with leaders who can seize opportunities to win. Look at Britain’s Labour Party today. The ruling Conservatives have plunged the country into a crisis with Brexit and lost public confidence, but according to public opinion surveys , the voters think even less of Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn than of Theresa May and still give Conservatives an edge. Labour’s failure to produce a credible alternative should remind Democrats that their presidential nominee in 2020 could very well end up losing despite Donald Trump’s unpopularity. Although a strong candidate may emerge, the Democrats do not yet have anyone who looks well positioned to beat Trump—a problem that I think stems not so much from the individuals who are running as from the obstacles that historical change has thrown up in the party’s path back to the White House. 1) New norms and generational change. Norms and beliefs...

The Robocall Deluge Is a Case of Government Failure

If your experience has been like mine, your phone has become a lot less useful to you in recent years thanks to the surge of robocalls. The robocall epidemic has gone way beyond an annoyance; it has contaminated an entire medium of communication, cell phones as well as landlines. It’s not just that robocalls interrupt your dinner. Neighbor spoofing—the false transmission to caller ID of a number similar to your own—often makes it impossible to identify what calls are genuine. If I don’t know for sure who is calling, I generally don’t pick up. And since I assume that many other people now do the same in self-defense, I don’t call people who won’t recognize my number or aren’t expecting me to call. The phone has consequently lost much of the value it once had for everyday purposes such as contacting someone for the first time or organizing a community initiative or a political campaign. The effect on people’s willingness to answer...

2020 and the Democrats’ Theory of Change

Michael Nigro/Sipa via AP Images On March 15, 2019, thousands of students from New York City—and around the world—walked out of class to protest the lack of action to protect the earth from catastrophic climate change. This is a preview of the Spring issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . As Democrats prepare for 2020, they face a fundamental quandary. The theories of change offered by their most recent president, Barack Obama, and previous presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, have been shot to hell. I borrow the phrase “theory of change” from an article that Mark Schmitt wrote for the Prospect in December 2007 about the candidates who were vying for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. Rather than being about ideology or electability, Schmitt wrote, the nomination fight that year was about differing assumptions about politics and how to use the “levers of power” to get things done. Schmitt suggested that Obama wasn...

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