Writing about a Party System under Duress and in Dispute

Writing about a Party System under Duress and in Dispute

By Seth Masket, University of Denver and Hans Noel, Georgetown University

In late September 2013, W. W. Norton & Company sent us a contract to write a textbook on American political parties. A week later, as we discussed deadlines and advance copies and tried to figure out a writing routine, the Federal Government began a 16-day shutdown, motivated in large part by congressional Republicans seeking to defund the Affordable Care Act. At the time, there was no reason for us to view these two events as even remotely related. Yet, our efforts to draft Political Parties (Masket and Noel 2021) would be defined by contentious and divisive moments in the history of America’s political parties. We were attempting to describe a system that was in the midst of not only a drastic transformation but also, arguably, its own collapse.

Our contract called for a finished product by 2016. In fact, the textbook would not appear in print until five years after that. To be sure, many textbook projects run behind and at least part of our delays were because we were busier than we expected with other projects. However, the dramatic shifts in the very political system we sought to describe surely did not help. Two types of changes in the real world affected our thinking about the textbook. The first was simply the surprising developments in American politics. Few observers expected Donald Trump to win the 2016 Republican nomination, much less the presidency. How he governed afterward was not the way most presidents have approached the office. However, the more significant second change has been the way that shared understandings about our political system, both empirical and normative, have become politicized. This required us to adapt our writing style, proving facts that have long been recognized as true and distinguishing between what should and should not be open for dispute in a democracy.

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