"Dana Nelson argues provocatively—and persuasively—that the mythological status accorded the presidency is drowning our democracy. The remedy will not come from Washington. It starts with people rediscovering—then reclaiming—their birthright as active citizens, restoring meaning to the sacred idea of self-government." —William Greider of The Nation magazine, author of The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to a Moral Economy
"If democratic practice is going to flourish in the United States, the American people are going to have to roll up their sleeves and take on the hard work of self-governance. Dana Nelson offers an astute historical analysis of how the presidency, far from advancing this goal, has actually impeded it. Highly recommended." —David Bollier, author of Silent Theft and Brand Name Bullies
"At a time when ‘leadership’ is deemed the cure for every ill—from decreasing corporate profits to increasing civic dysfunction—Dana Nelson tells us this remedy is more snake oil than good medicine. Bad For Democracy is the much-needed reminder that self-government is a do-it-yourself endeavor, and Nelson sets a standard for civic life that was promised in the country’s founding, but never achieved. This book comes at exactly the right moment." —Bill Bishop, author of The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart
Throughout our history, Americans have been simultaneously inspired and seduced by the American presidency and concerned about the misuse of presidential power—from the time of Lincoln, Wilson, and FDR to Nixon, Reagan, and George W. Bush—as a grave threat to the United States. In Bad for Democracy, Dana D. Nelson goes beyond blaming particular presidents for jeopardizing the delicate balance of the Constitution to argue that it is the office of the presidency itself that endangers the great American experiment.
The emotional impulse to see the president as a hero, Nelson contends, has ceded our ability to practice government by the people and for the people. She shows that exercising democratic rights has become idealized as—and woefully limited to—the act of voting for the president.
This urgent book reveals the futility of placing all of our hopes for the future in the American president and encourages citizens to create a politics of deliberation, action, and agency. Arguing for a return of the balance of power—both symbolically and in practice—to all the branches of government, Nelson ultimately calls on Americans to change our own course and imagine a democracy that we, the people, lead together.