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American Government

American Government
Stories of a Nation

Third Edition

December 2020 | 640 pages | CQ Press

“The main strength of this book is that it presents a ‘human’ side to American Government that challenges students to think critically while still presenting the ‘teaching’ side with objectives, self-tests, and chapter reviews.”
—Kathleen Barrett, University of West Georgia

In the Third Edition of American Government: Stories of a Nation, author Scott F. Abernathy tunes in to the voices of all Americans, showing how our diverse ideas shape the way we participate and behave, the laws we live by, and the challenges we face. From the Constitutional Convention to the 2020 presidential election, each chapter features rich, personal narratives that illustrate how the American political system is the product of strategies, calculations, and miscalculations of countless individuals. It focuses on real people, the actions they take, the struggles they face, and how their choices influence outcomes. The key concepts are memorable because they are tied to real politics, where students see political action and political choices shaping how institutions advance or impede the fulfillment of fundamental ideas. Participation is at the heart of this groundbreaking new text, with ample background on how we participate and why. Not only will all students see themselves reflected in the pages, but they will come to understand that they, too, are strategic players in American politics, with voices that matter.

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Measure Results, Track Success: SAGE Course Outcomes
About the Author
Chapter 1. American Political Stories: Claiming Rights, Demanding to Be Heard
Standing Rock: Water Protectors Claim Their Rights and Freedoms in North Dakota

American Political Culture Is Built on a Set of Shared Ideas

Politics and Political Action Set the Stage for Revolution

The Structure of Institutions Affects How Citizens Participate

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” Links the Challenge against Racial Segregation to Core American Ideals

Conclusion: The American Experiment Continues, and You Are Part of It

Chapter 2. The Constitution of the United States: A New Vision of Representative Government
James Madison Plans for a Republic That Will Last

The Confederal System Made Coordination between the States Difficult

Delegates Reach a Compromise at the Constitutional Convention

Delegates Work Out Details of the New Government

Federalists and Anti-Federalists Argue over Ratification

Conclusion: The Motives of the Framers and the Effects of the Constitution Are Still Being Debated

Chapter 3. Federalism: The Changing Boundaries between the Nation and the States
Marijuana Policy Today Reveals Tensions between State and Federal Law

The Constitution Divides Power between the Nation and the States

For Much of American History, the Boundaries between the Nation and the States Were Sharper Than They Are Today

President Franklin Roosevelt’s Response to the Great Depression Reshapes American Federalism

Modern American Federalism Remains Cooperative but Faces Challenges

Conclusion: The Evolution of Federalism Continues

Chapter 4. Civil Liberties: Building and Defending Fences
Cell Phone Tracking Capability Challenges the Boundary between Public and Private

The Bill of Rights Establishes Protections for Americans’ Civil Liberties

The First Amendment’s First Two Protections Both Involve Religion

The First Amendment Also Protects Expression: Speech, Press, Assembly, and Petitioning the Government

The Constitution Also Protects Individuals Involved with the Criminal Justice System

The Ninth and Tenth Amendments Help Shape Freedoms in the Nation and across the States

Conclusion: Civil Liberties Involve Fences Still under Construction

Chapter 5. Civil Rights: How Equal Is Equal?
Protesters Act to Secure Rights for Americans with Disabilities

Civil Rights Amendments Emerge from the Civil War—but Provide Limited Protection in Practice

Challenges to Legal Segregation Achieve Successes but Face Resistance

American Women Work to Secure Their Civil Rights

Americans Confront Overlapping Forms of Discrimination

Conclusion: Have Americans’ Civil Rights Been Secured?

Chapter 6. Political Participation: Carry That Weight
Acting against Campus Sexual Violence Involves Many Forms of Political Participation

Political Participation Can Take Many Forms

The Decision to Vote or Not Vote Involves Many Factors

#MeToo Highlights the Possibilities and Challenges of Digital Political Participation

Are Young Adult Americans Really Disconnected from the Political Process?

Conclusion: Americans Are Continually Tasked with Carrying the Weight of Self-Governance

Chapter 7. Public Opinion: How Are Americans’ Voices Measured, and Do They Matter?
Public Opinion May Be Moved by Important Events Like Ferguson

Public Opinion Is the Sum Total of Individual Beliefs and Attitudes

Public Opinion Is Transmitted and Measured in Several Ways

Political Socialization and Political Ideology Shape Public Opinion

Ferguson and the Effects of Public Opinion on Democratic Representation

Conclusion: How Meaningful Is Public Opinion?

Chapter 8. The Media: Truth, Trust, and Power
Can a Foreign Government Use the American Media to Influence a Presidential Election?

The Evolution of American Media Shows That Issues of Power and Trustworthiness Are Not New

Questions of Bias Challenge Americans’ Trust in the Media’s Objectivity

Media Ownership and Content Are Subject to Regulation

Did the Media Convince Americans That They Were Being Invaded by Martians?

Conclusion: Debates about the Power of the Media Continue

Chapter 9. Political Parties: The Insurgents versus the Establishment
Bernie Sanders Challenges the Democratic Party to Become More Progressive, Twice

Parties Act to Identify, Support, and Nominate Candidates for Elected Office

Parties Strive to Get Voters to Identify with Them

Donald Trump Takes on the Establishment, First from the Inside, Then from the Outside

Political Polarization, Gridlock, and Two-Party Dominance Are the Defining Features of Parties in Government Today

Conclusion: How Will the Parties Respond?

Chapter 10. Campaigns and Elections: Candidates and Voters in a Time of Uncertainty and Change
Elections from the Candidate’s Point of View: A New Member of Congress Campaigns in Uncertain Times

The Rules Governing National Elections Shape the Transmission of Americans’ Preferences into Laws and Policies

The Details of Congressional Elections Differ by State, but Many of the Rules Are the Same

Presidential Elections Have Many Stages and Moving Parts

The 2020 Elections

Conclusion: Party Control Changes, Though Against a Familiar Background

Chapter 11. Interest Groups and Social Movements: Collective Action, Power, and Representation
A Housing Bubble Bursts, and Interest Groups Pop Up

Americans Face Challenges in Acting Collectively in a Representative Democracy

Interest Groups Vary by Type and Tactic

Occupy Wall Street Illustrates the Struggles, Successes, and Failures of Social Movements

Social Movements Employ Different Tactics from Interest Groups to Make Change and Educate

Conclusion: The Challenges of Organizing in American Political Life Continue

Chapter 12. Congress: Representation, Organization, and Legislation
Two “Years of the Woman” Highlight the Promise and Challenge of More Inclusive Representation in Congress

The Constitution Defines Congress’s Shape and Powers

Congress Is Organized around Formal and Informal Rules

The Legislative Process Is Complex by Design

Members Represent Constituents in How They Act and Who They Are

Conclusion: Representation Remains Complex, but the Landscape Continues to Change

Chapter 13. The American Presidency: Individuals, Institutions, and Power
In This Corner . . . Donald J. Trump: The President as Prizefighter in Chief

The Constitution Outlines the Powers of the American Presidency and Places Limits on Those Powers

Institutions and Other Informal Sources of Power Shape the Modern Executive Branch

Presidents Have Pushed the Limits of Their Power to Preserve National Security

The President Has Several Tools For Unilateral Action

Conclusion: The Paradoxes of the Presidency Continue

Chapter 14. The Federal Bureaucracy: Putting the Nation’s Laws into Effect
Federal Bureaucratic Action Consists of Many Actors and Evolves over Time

Theories of Bureaucratic Organization Focus on Rules, People, and Tasks

The Bureaucracy Has Developed in Response to Demands and Crises

A Functioning Bureaucracy Depends upon Effective Organization

The Bureaucracy Is Constrained by Oversight and Reform

Conclusion: What Does a “Good” Bureaucracy Look Like?

Chapter 15. The Federal Judiciary: Politics, Power, and the “Least Dangerous” Branch
The Politics of Supreme Court Confirmations Place Nominees on “Trial”

The Constitution Casts the Judiciary as a Unique but Weaker Branch

The “Trial” of John Marshall Establishes the Principle of Judicial Review

The American Legal System Is Defined by Federalism

Judicial Review Raises Questions of Constitutional Interpretation and Judicial Decision Making

Conclusion: The Trial of the Supreme Court Continues

Chapter 16. Domestic Public Policy: The Politics of Promoting the General Welfare
American Education Policy about School Choice Involves Both Politics and Markets

There Is Nothing Tidy about the Domestic Policymaking Process

Educational Reform Today Takes a Variety of Types

Health Care Policy Has Evolved since the Great Society

Education and Health Care Are Only Two of Many Areas of Domestic Policy

Social Insurance Programs Assist Vulnerable Americans

Conclusion: Domestic Policy Is about Democratic Representation

Chapter 17. Economic Policy: Representing Americans’ Financial Interests
The Problem of Student Debt Threatens the Financial Health of Student Borrowers and the National Economy

Student Debt Helps to Shape the Agenda of Presidential Politics

Fiscal Policy Guides the Economy through Decisions on Spending and Taxation

Economic Policymaking during Uncertain Times: Congress Responds to COVID-19

Conclusion: Can Economic Policy Solve the Student Debt Problem?

Chapter 18. Foreign Policy: Advancing American Interests in an Uncertain and Changing World
Major Shifts in Global Political and Economic Power Shape American Foreign Policy Today

U.S. Foreign Policy Has Changed over Time

American Foreign Policy is Formulated by Many Actors and Organizations

Immigration Connects Foreign Policy to Domestic Policy

Conclusion: The Story of American Politics Continues



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Student Study Site

The open-access Student Study Site makes it easy for students to maximize their study time, anywhere, anytime. It offers flashcards that strengthen understanding of key terms and concepts, as well as learning objectives that reinforce the most important material.

“The main strength of this book is that it presents a ‘human’ side to American Government that challenges students to think critically while still presenting the ‘teaching’ side with objectives, self-tests, and chapter reviews.” 

Kathleen Barrett
University of West Georgia