Books I have read

‘Giant of the Senate’ Infuses Hope, Humor Into Our Collective Political Nightmare

Al Franken, author of Al Franken, Giant of the Senate, is currently serving his second term as U.S. Senator from Minnesota. He is a multi-talented man who entered politics in 2008 after more than 30 years as a satirical writer and comedian.

This is his seventh book.

In Giant, Franken does the impossible — he turns our current political mess into an enjoyable story — one that even offers some glimmers of hope. This is especially true in the way he ends the book — written after Trump’s inauguration and Trump’s slew of race-baiting and immigrant-hating comments. Franken tells the story of some of the Somali refugees that reside in Minnesota — showing how they easily assimilated into the various communities, bringing with them a strong desire to thrive.

But, before the Somali stories of hope (and others sprinkled throughout the book), Franken offers a very realistic view of what its like to be a U.S. Senator. He details his recount in 2008, the money-grubbing members of Congress do to remain in office, and the various tactics he used on the campaign trail to throw off the GOP tracker.

The book, though, also shows the difficulty legislators face if they truly want to do their job and legislate. One telling example was his desire, after meeting with a vet suffering from PTSD, to get more service dogs paired with veterans. Franken, after researching the concept (or as he will readily admit, reading the research provided by his staff) sponsors a bill to fund broader research. Although the bill was passed relatively quickly in his political career, the research is just now being conducted because of all the various agencies involved and some false starts when the project launched.

All Those Liars

Franken, who made a name for himself before entering politics by taking on GOP politicians, writing books making fun of Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and George W. Bush, had to put his humor on hold when he entered the Senate. And, his approach in politics, for the most part, is considerably different than his comedy. It’s more workhorse and less showboat. But, that does not mean he shies away from calling out the worst of the political bunch — like Ted Cruz and other members of the Tea Party.

He reserves some very good one-liners for them.

Big Ideas

Franken, a very well read Harvard graduate, is a deep thinker and strategist. Although Giant is an easy read, Franken does explain, in depth, some of the complicated programs — like the Affordable Care Act — with enough detail that a lay person can understand the logic of the legislation.

But one of the concepts that resonated with me was not Franken’s — but rather a writer he quotes, Jonathon Rauch.

Writing about our current political mess, Rauch states that many Americans just do not get politics and, in an effort to understand it, lump all politicians into the same class — presuming that the fault in Washington is spread out evenly between parties. Rauch calls these people ‘politiphobes.’ And, Franken, quoting Rauch writes,

They see the contentious give-and-take of politics as distasteful. Specifically they believe that obvious, commonsense solutions to the country’s problems are out there for the plucking. The reason these obvious solutions are not enacted is that politicians are corrupt, or self-interested or addicted to unnecessary partisan feuding.

But as Franken explains, folks did not come to this position without assistance — and he is more than willing to explain who created the perception.

Rated: 5 out of 5. This is a very readable — and fun to read — book. It could serve as an entry-level book to those wanting to better understand our political system.

Advertisements
Categories: Books I have read, Politics

Southern Boys Trying To Pull South Into 21st (Or At Least The 20th) Century

 

God takes a moment out of his busy schedule to remind everyone in Southern Kentucky that Hell is really, really hot.

After reading Hillbilly Elegy with its Horatio Alger slant on problem solving (just work hard and it will all work out), I started reading more books dealing with Southern, and mostly Appalachian, people to better understand my heritage. As stories posted on this site indicate, my family tree runs mostly through Appalachian America. I normally read books like Albion’s Seed and have preordered What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte since I follow her blog and respect her opinion.

So when I stumbled upon The Liberal Redneck Manifesto: Draggin’ Dixie Outta the Dark by Trae Crowder, Drew Morgan, Corey Ryan Forrester, I wasn’t sure I would like it.

I was pleasantly surprised.

Funny, With A Message

Although I’ve never heard the trio, they do comedy and are successful at it. But fairly deep into the book, I knew they were bona fide southern when one of them mentioned chocolate gravy. The (mostly) Appalachian treat was a staple in my childhood home — it is a sweet chocolate sauce with the consistency of gravy that is poured over biscuits for breakfast.

As the trio would say — it hits.

They set the tone early in the book proudly stating their love of their heritage while at the same time expressing extreme dissatisfaction — and at times hate — for the archaic thinking that has hindered Southern progress. They touch all the subjects one would expect — from religion to WIC payments. The strength of the book is it does, albeit with humor and at time ‘rough’ language, give an outsider a glimpse of the southern mindset.

Rewriting The Constitution

An early section of the book deals with the Bill of Rights, which they flip on its head, calling it the Bill of Wrongs. One amendment deals with the anti-government sentiment which runs deep and strong through the South. This sentiment was so strong during last fall’s election that I finally exited Facebook because in the virtual world, just like real life, most of my Friends were family or community members and I grew very tired of the mindset.

But in the book, I found a common spirit with the trio, who had this to say about the hypocrisy of the anti-government movement.

“If you’re gonna be antigovernment, be consistent. The police are the government. Stop pretending like government overreach is a problem everywhere but in the criminal-justice world. Also, Black Lives Matter.”

For students of American history, especially those wanting to understand how we ended up with the Orange Menace, it’s a book that provides insight from an insider — and as a bonus the reader can enjoy some dry, Southern wit.

Rated 4 out of 5. My only complaint with the book is it’s a bit shallow, but I think that’s the intent of the authors. Despite only hitting the surface on some issues, they still make their point: It’s time to grow up South and be part of a diverse society.

Favorite Anti-Trump Comment Of The Week

Colonel Morris Davis, born in North Carolina, is a retired Air Force Officer and Lawyer — and a huge Trump critic on Twitter. Since he is a critic, thin-skinned 45* blocked him. This has not stopped Davis from going after Trump with a vengeance. This week, when 45* engaged in a distraction tactic by arbitrarily Tweeting that transgenders were banned from the military, Davis called him out saying,

“I served for 25 years and never served with a Trump…pathetic for 5-Deferment @realDonaldTrump to ban anyone with patriotism he lacked.”

And commenting on Trump’s campaign stop at the Boys Scouts a day earlier, Davis said,

Aren’t vanity, narcissism, cruelty, vulgarity, bullying and self-aggrandizement @boyscouts core values? @realDonaldTrump.

Spoken like a true patriot.

Categories: American History, Appalachia, Books I have read, Understanding Trump Counties | Tags:

‘American Panic’ Takes A Long, Hard Look At Our Fears

American Panic: A History of Who Scares Us and Why by Mark Stein is a nice counterbalance to Prayer in America: A Spiritual History of Our Nation by James P. Moore Jr.

Prayer in America, which I read earlier this year, highlights our attempts at morality. American Panic zeroes in on our dark side.

I was introduced to Mark Stein’s work through a TV show, How the States Got Their Shape, based on his book of the same name. The TV show is a fast-paced look at historical events that led to each state’s creation.

For the most part it, like Prayer, is a positive look at who we are.

In American Panic, though, Stein takes us down a much different path. Relying on a large stash of historical newspapers he unveils our fears — which are seemingly endless. Despite our rhetoric of being the ‘land of the brave,’ we have feared almost every race, ethnicity and religion that does not fall under the umbrella of white, protestant, Christian.

Although the story in Panic is told in a mostly chronological order, beginning with our fear of Native Americans, it does skip back and forth at times since some of our collective fears have surfaced, and then re-surfaced.

For example, our current fear of immigrants.

But, what the book really tells is the ease in which we, as citizens, have been manipulated by politicians feeding a fear frenzy for political gain. In each of the various eras of American history we have had someone, or something, to fear. The list in the book includes: Asians, African Americans, Communists, women, homosexuals, Jews, corporations, Catholics and even the Masons.

Stein also expertly shows the formula behind the political manipulation and how faulty logic, among other tactics, is often used to ‘prove’ a panic is justified.

In the opening Stein writes,

Political panic, the irrational fear that one’s government is in danger, is by no means unique to any country. In America, it dates back to the 1692 Salem witch hunt…The panic that began in Salem commenced after seizures afflicted three girls, ages nine through twelve. When the colony’s physicians could not explain it, fear arose that sorcery was taking place in Salem and endangering its Puritan rule…

..What happened in Salem over 300 years ago continues to reverberate in the United States.

Anyone who has spent time on Twitter or Facebook, knows with certainty, that our panic lives on.

Published in 2014, the book is even more relevant today in light of the extremism and incompetence that exists in both the legislative and executive branches of the federal government.

Rated: 5 out of 5. The aspect that really sold me on the book was the wide variety of historical sources Stein used to flesh out the various panics — from college newspapers to obscure letters to the editors. Another bonus, at least for me, was Stein calling out the modern-day Tea Party as a political entity built on a foundation of fear and panic. It’s a movement that needs to fade away like the Know-Nothing Party of the 1800s (a Party that is also mentioned in the book).

Favorite Recent Anti-Trump Quote

Midwestern comedian David Letterman has never been shy about expressing what he thinks of T-Money.

“If the guy (Trump) was running Dairy Queen, he’d be gone. This guy couldn’t work at The Gap…let’s just stop whining about what a goon he is and figure out a way to take him aside and put him in a home.”

Categories: American History, Books I have read, My America | Tags: