Review: It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism

It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of ExtremismIt’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism by Thomas E. Mann

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a writer and former journalist, I’ve always found myself interested in stories about how systems work. It’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of being a writer: I’m allowed by trade to ask people loads of questions. Because of that, I normally find myself engrossed with books such as It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, which sets off to answer the question, “Why is the American government dysfunctional.”

While the book’s authors are both knowledgable and credible (long-time) observers of the Washington phenomenon, they skim (what I consider) the most interesting details of the political machine and jump ahead to their final conclusions and analysis, which makes reading the book much like seeing only Act 3 of a play.

This isn’t to say I discount their findings. It’s clear their arguments are based upon both anecdotal observations and a rigorous (if not scientific) study of the “politics of opposition.” But the narrative decisions the authors made regarding how to tell the story left me wanting to better understand how Congress transformed from a legislative body into an obstructionist body. Moreover, I suspect their findings will fall flat on those who have right-leaning tendencies because much of their evidence is left behind the narrative.

Still, it’s contribution to the larger story of Congressional dysfunction can’t be undersold. Taken together with books such as Lawrence Lessig’s Republic, Lost (which the authors argue is a well-written critique but ultimately unrealistic in its goal), one can begin to understand the deep, underlying forces that have disrupted traditional governance — at least on a federal level — in the United States.

It’s Even Worse That It Looks reads more like a book you’d pick up after spending time with Lessig’s work than one you’d read to start trying to understand politics in modern America.

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