M. Steven Fish, "Comeback: Routing Trumpism, Reclaiming the Nation, and Restoring Democracy's Edge" (Rivertowns Books, 2024)


Defeating the forces of authoritarianism is the political combat task of our age, and we must take it up with the certitude and boldness that our eminent forebears did. Rebuilding the Democrats’ appeal by reestablishing reputations for superior strength and patriotism is a challenge. But the fact that democracy’s plight is due to flaws in liberals’ leadership and messaging rather than economic crises, popular prejudices, or a faulty Constitution is good news. It means that the Democrats can turn the tables on Trumpism now.

– Introduction to Comeback (2024)

The fate of American democracy now hinges on the Democrats' ability to defeat the Republicans for the foreseeable future. But for the Democrats to win consistently, they must reestablish their credentials as fearless leaders, tough fighters, and fierce patriots.

Comeback delivers a bold new take on democracy's crisis. Many liberals think that escalating economic anxieties and cultural backlash drove voters to Trump. But a crush of data shows this thinking to be deeply flawed. It also strikes working-class voters as condescending and repellent. And while the Democrats stick to "kitchen table" issues and showing how much they care, voters care more about strength and commitment to principle than prescription drug prices.

Politics is a dominance game and a contest to capture the flag. Politicians who seem to be the strongest leaders and most passionate patriots hold the advantage. The Republicans get it. The Democrats don't.

Republicans have a high-dominance political style. They take risks, savor conflict, and use provocative language. Democrats have a low-dominance style. They're risk-averse, afraid to engage on cultural issues-and more than a little boring. Republicans hammer away at their patriotism, even as they betray the nation and shred American values. Democrats are loyal to American values but have grown squeamish about patriotism and have no national story.

Ordinary people often don't recognize themselves in the stories liberal politicians tell about them, while the authoritarians speak a language of dominance and national greatness that connects. The Democrats need a new approach to messaging. Comeback spells it out and provides a roadmap for trouncing Trumpism.

Steven Fish is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and a comparative political scientist specializing in democracy and authoritarianism, religion and politics, constitutional systems, and national legislatures. He has also taught at the University of Pennsylvania and universities in Russia, Poland, China, and Indonesia.

His previous books include: Democracy from Scratch: Opposition and Regime in the New Russian Revolution (1995); Postcommunism and the Theory of Democracy, co-authored (2001); Democracy Derailed in Russia: The Failure of Open Politics (2005); The Handbook of National Legislatures: A Global Survey (2009); and Are Muslims Distinctive? A Look at the Evidence (2011).

His latest book and the focus of the interview – Comeback: Routing Trumpism, Reclaiming the Nation, and Restoring Democracy’s Edge was published by Rivertowns Books, Irvington, N.Y. in 2024.

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