Suggested reading

On Tyranny:  Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, by Timothy Snyder

From the prologue:

The Founding Fathers tried to protect us from the threat they knew, the tyranny that overcame ancient democracy. Today, our political order faces new threats, not unlike the totalitarianism of the twentieth century. We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism.  Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.

History does not repeat, but it does instruct.  As the Founding Fathers debated our Constitution, they took instruction from the history they knew. . . As they knew, Aristotle warned that inequality brought instability, while Plato believed that demagogues exploited free speech to install themselves as tyrants.  In founding a democratic republic upon law and establishing a system of checks and balances, the Founding Fathers sought to avoid the evil that they, like the ancient philosophers, called tyranny.

Today — 2017 — the Legislative and Executive branches of our government are controlled by exactly the same forces that Plato and Aristotle warned up about:  inequality, and, a demagogue who manipulates free speech.  We are not immune from tyranny.  In this small volume, the author describes how tyranny came to Europe in the 20th Century and how it can come to us today.

Dark Money:  The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, by Jane Mayer

Why is America living in an age of profound and widening economic inequality? Why have even modest attempts to address climate change been defeated again and again? Why do hedge-fund billionaires pay a far lower tax rate than middle-class workers? In a riveting and indelible feat of reporting, Jane Mayer illuminates the history of an elite cadre of plutocrats—headed by the Kochs, the Scaifes, the Olins, and the Bradleys—who have bankrolled a systematic plan to fundamentally alter the American political system. Mayer traces a byzantine trail of billions of dollars spent by the network, revealing a staggering conglomeration of think tanks, academic institutions, media groups, courthouses, and government allies that have fallen under their sphere of influence. Drawing from hundreds of exclusive interviews, as well as extensive scrutiny of public records, private papers, and court proceedings, Mayer provides vivid portraits of the secretive figures behind the new American oligarchy and a searing look at the carefully concealed agendas steering the nation. Dark Money is an essential book for anyone who cares about the future of American democracy

RATF**KED:  The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy, by David Daley

Daley meticulously documents and describes REDMAP, a nationwide plan by Republican legislators and political operatives to draw Congressional districts and state legislative districts so as to ensure Republicans will always be elected, in spite of the fact that Democratic candidates receive the majority of votes nationwide.

Give Us the Ballot:  The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America, Ari Berman

Most Americans take for granted the right to vote – we should not.  Berman describes how the right to vote was won and how we now are in danger of losing that right.


The Republican Brain:  The Science of Why They Deny Science — and Reality
, Chris Mooney.

Bestselling author Chris Mooney uses cutting-edge research to explain the psychology behind why today’s Republicans reject reality—it’s just part of who they are.  From climate change to evolution, the rejection of settled, mainstream science among Republicans is growing, as is the denial of expert consensus on economy, American history, foreign policy, and much more.  Why do Republicans reject most things that are settled science and fact?  Why are they constantly denying factx?  Mooney’s answer will not make Republicans happy.

It’s Even Worse Than It Looks:  How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism, Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein.
Mann and Ornstein are scholars who have studied Congress for decades.   This book is the result of their analysis of the gridlock that has existed in Congress since the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in 2010.  They conclude that, while both parties seek advantages, the two parties are not equally culpable.  In fact, our political system is on the brink of collapse because the Republican Party refuses to allow anything that might help the Democrats, no matter what the cost to the nation.

Winner-Take-All Politics:  How Washington Made the Rich Richer — and Turned Its Back On The Middle Class, Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson.

Hacker and Pierson are well-regarded political scientists.  In this book they examine the two-decade-long trend of the rich becoming much more wealthy while the middle class continues to lose ground.  They conclude that the usual suspects have nothing to do with our economic problems — foreign trade, globalization, techonoligical change, increased education at the top are not the cause of our collapsing middle class.  Instead, the problem is that our own government has instituted policies that aid the wealthy and cripple middle- and low-income families.  This is no accident.  It is being done willingly and by design

The Race for What’s Left:  The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources, Michale T. Klare.

The world is facing a permanent crisis of resource depletion that causes shortages of critical material.  It’s not just oil that we are running out of — it’s also coal, uranium, copper, lithium, water, arable land, and on and on and on.  With all the planet’s easily reached resources depleted, there is now a frenzy of exploration and exploitation as governments and corporations rush to stake their claims in lands that once were judged too dangerous or too remote.  The dangers of this scramble are many but the two greatest dangers are:  (1) environmental destruction (Deepwater Horizon and the Gulf of Mexico), and, (2) military disputes as nations vie with each other for scarce resources.

The Radical Center:  The Future of American Politics, Ted Halstead and Michael Lind.
Record numbers of Americans describe themselves as “independents,” neither Democrat nor Republican.  Halstead and Lind describe why our two parties’ ideologies are no longer suited  for the modern age.  The authors describe how our nation twice dramatically remade itself:  FIRST in shifting from an agrarian to an industrial society after the Civil War, and, SECOND by adapting to the massive industrial and technical changes under the New Deal.  They argue that a third American Revolution is needed.
The Assault on Reason, Al Gore.
We live in an age when the 30-second TV commercial is the most powerful force shaping the public’s thinking.  Vice-President Gore analyzes how the politics of fear, secrecy, cronyism, and blind faith has combined with the degradation of the public sphere to create an environment hostile to reason.

God’s Politics:   Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It, Jim Wallis.
Jim Wallis is an ordained United Methodist minister.  He asks two important questions.  (1) Since when did believing in God and having moral values make you a pro-war, pro-rich Republican?  And, (2), since when did pursuing a progressive political agenda with a concern for economic justice, health care, and educational opportunity mean that you must set aside religious faith?

The Republican Noise Machine:  Right-Wing Media and How It Corrupts Democracy, David Brock.
You really need to study this book to understand how the radical right wing of the Republican Party has hijacked our public discourse.  Brock examines and reveals how what was once a gaggle of fringe groups now has become the mainstream of one of our major political parties.
Wrapped in the Flag:  A Personal History of America’s Radical Right, Claire Conner.

A narrative history of the John Birch Society by a daughter of one of the infamous ultraconservative organization’s founding fathers

Long before the rise of the Tea Party movement and the prominence of today’s religious Right, the John Birch Society, first established in 1958, championed many of the same radical causes touted by ultraconservatives today, including campaigns against abortion rights, gay rights, gun control, labor unions, environmental protections, immigrant rights, social and welfare programs, the United Nations, and even water fluoridation.

Worshipping its anti-Communist hero Joe McCarthy, the Birch Society is perhaps most notorious for its red-baiting and for accusing top politicians, including President Dwight Eisenhower, of being Communist sympathizers. It also labeled John F. Kennedy a traitor and actively worked to unseat him. The Birch Society boasted a number of notable members, including Fred Koch, father of Charles and David Koch, who are using their father’s billions to bankroll fundamentalist and right-wing movements today.

The daughter of one of the society’s first members and a national spokesman about the society, Claire Conner grew up surrounded by dedicated Birchers and was expected to abide by and espouse Birch ideals. When her parents forced her to join the society at age thirteen, she became its youngest member of the society. From an even younger age though, Conner was pressed into service for the cause her father and mother gave their lives to: the nurturing and growth of the JBS. She was expected to bring home her textbooks for close examination (her mother found traces of Communist influence even in the Catholic school curriculum), to write letters against “socialized medicine” after school, to attend her father’s fiery speeches against the United Nations, or babysit her siblings while her parents held meetings in the living room to recruit members to fight the war on Christmas or (potentially poisonous) water fluoridation. Conner was “on deck” to lend a hand when JBS notables visited, including founder Robert Welch, notorious Holocaust denier Revilo Oliver, and white supremacist Thomas Stockheimer. Even when she was old enough to quit in disgust over the actions of those men, Conner found herself sucked into campaigns against abortion rights and for ultraconservative presidential candidates like John Schmitz. It took momentous changes in her own life for Conner to finally free herself of the legacy of the John Birch Society in which she was raised.

In Wrapped in the Flag, Claire Conner offers an intimate account of the society —based on JBS records and documents, on her parents’ files and personal writing, on historical archives and contemporary accounts, and on firsthand knowledge—giving us an inside look at one of the most radical right-wing movements in US history and its lasting effects on our political discourse today.