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

Who Are We Americans Now?

And who will we become under Trump?

Rypson/iStock by Getty
This article appears in the Winter 2017 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . “That’s not who we are,” Barack Obama often says when appealing to Americans to oppose illiberal policies such as torturing prisoners, barring immigrants on the basis of their religion, and denying entry to refugees. But now that Americans have elected a president who has called for precisely those policies, Obama’s confidence about who we are may seem misplaced. Questions about the defining values of our common nationality have haunted us before at critical moments in American history, and now they do again: In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, what does it mean to be an American? Will Trump and Republican rule change not just how the world sees us but our self-understanding? National elections create a picture of a people, and they send a signal about changes the voters want. The picture and the signal may be distorted and subject to interpretation, but...

When an Election Damages Democracy

American democracy faces the risk of systemic harm in 2016.

Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx via AP
This article, written in September, appears under the title "When Elections Fail" in the Fall 2016 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . One of the great advantages of liberal democracy is the potential for self-correction. If an election works out badly, the next one offers an opportunity to make a better choice, and in the meantime constitutional guarantees keep the winners from abusing their power. But sometimes elections fail so disastrously as to threaten irremediable damage to a society’s foundations. The United States faces that risk this year. Systemically damaging election failure can happen in several ways. Elections may be rigged or manipulated and, even when they haven’t been, the suspicion that they have may impair a new government’s legitimacy and create a constitutional crisis. Elections can fail when they put strongmen in power who have no respect for constitutional norms and threaten democratic institutions. They can fail when the...

What Is Hillary Clinton’s Agenda?

She’s had so much to say on so many issues that voters may not know what she wants to accomplish.

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
This article appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . It is misleading, some observers have rightly pointed out, to treat the 2016 election as a contest between two candidates who are equally serious about policy. Donald Trump has been on both sides of many issues, contradicting himself from one day to the next. On occasion, he has given a speech written by advisers on a subject like energy where he seemed as surprised by the text as the audience was. He has a core of symbolically important positions on such issues as immigration, but otherwise his views are murky. Much of what he says about foreign or domestic problems is all impulse and no thought, so when his impulse momentarily changes, his positions change too. For Hillary Clinton, however, substance actually does matter. Her seriousness defines her. We have not reached the stage of gender equality when a woman candidate for president could get away with being as subject to changing...

Trump’s Nomination Will Shake Confidence in American Democracy

We already had reasons to worry about democracy. Now we have one more.

(Photo: Sipa USA via AP/Monica Jorge)
With his victory in Indiana yesterday, Donald Trump is now, as he claims, the “presumptive” Republican presidential nominee. Although the polls indicate he’ll likely lose to Hillary Clinton, the election is half a year away, and a lot can happen in between. The consequences of Trump’s becoming president would be momentous for both America and the world. It would change forever the way we think about democracy—and the way the world thinks about America. In fact, his nomination alone will have a deep impact even if he ultimately loses. A major-party nomination legitimizes a candidate’s views as worthy of fair consideration. As a “birther” doubting Barack Obama’s citizenship, Trump could be treated as a crank. In the early stages of the primary campaign, his statements about Mexicans and Muslims could be regarded as the wild fulminations of a candidate who would surely be rejected by his party in the end. When his followers attacked...

The Strange Silence about Sanders’s Tax Proposals

Bernie Sanders has proposed tax increases that ought to give Democrats pause, but hardly anyone is talking about them.

AP Photo/Brennan Linsley
One of the regular patterns in public opinion polling is that approval for proposed programs is higher if a survey question omits any reference to the cost in higher taxes. The same phenomenon has probably also been at work in the Democratic primary race this year. Bernie Sanders has been calling for the federal government to pay for free health care, free college tuition, and other programs, but neither Hillary Clinton nor the media have focused much attention on the tax implications. If Sanders were to become the Democratic presidential candidate, the silence surrounding the tax issue would surely end. Republicans may be holding fire on Sanders’s proposed taxes in the confident expectation that they could use them against his candidacy in the general election. That’s all the more reason Democrats themselves should want to get the issue out on the table now. The gulf separating the tax proposals of presidential candidates this year—between Republicans and Democrats...

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