Books I have read

‘Party Politics’ Reminds Us Why The Masses Cannot Be Trusted With Democracy

Published in 1980 Party Politics: Why We Have Poor Presidents by Leonard Lurie provides a strong argument why our Two Party political system does not work — and, according to the author, was never the intent of the Founding Fathers.

The book begins with why the Founding Fathers were opposed to a political party approach of governance and ends with suggestions on how to get back to a more democratic system of electing our presidents.

Those chapters are for people who enjoy political theory — the nuts and bolts of political machination — but it’s the chapters squeezed between the theories that more people will enjoy. These chapters are crammed full of succinct political analysis for each president from George Washington to Richard Nixon.

And, the chapters have enough sass, rumor, gossip and history to pull in even the casual reader.

Image Over Substance

With the exception of a few presidents, the author is not impressed with those we’ve elected. He is even less impressed with the political machinery that placed them in office. So even a president as popular as Dwight D. Eisenhower fails under Lurie’s microscopic examination. He notes Eisenhower’s political indifference, wasted opportunities, obsession with golf and the president’s inability to take on Party powers to remove Richard Nixon from his ticket. Lurie also notes,

Eisenhower represented the replacement of substance with image — the president as a symbol, the presidency as a reward. The party philosophy of winning at any cost had resulted in mere popularity becoming a qualification for nomination.

A feeling that resonates today with the current administration.

I’m Gonna Be President

By the end of first chapter, it’s apparent that Lurie is well read and very knowledgeable. His command of U.S. political history is stunning. But, just as impressive as the obscure historical nuggets he pens are the quotes Lurie uses to open the chapters. For example, this quote from famed ACLU Lawyer Clarence Darrow:

When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become president. I’m beginning to believe.

As one reads, it does become obvious that few things have changed in the political scene — at least as far as the mechanics. One reoccurring theme is voter apathy. In the race against Republican Warren Harding and Democrat James Cox voter were so uninterested that less than 50 percent of them participated. A phenomenon repeated multiple times both before, and after, that election. But, as Lurie notes, this is not without some advantages.

Republican leaders had come to rely on the fact that vast numbers of voters saw little reason to make the effort necessary to record for themselves any candidates.

And, and one political operative from Harding’s team noted — people will take what they are given:

We live in a hard-boiled age. No man in this country is every called to the Presidency by the clamor of millions. No man is so great in our democratic society that his name excites the masses.

Harding consistently ranks as the worst U.S. president (until recently) and possibly the most interesting thing about his scandal-riddled presidency was his affair with fellow Ohioan Nan Briton — Briton alleged Harding fathered her child.

We’ll Decide, They’ll Vote

I don’t care who does the electing as long as I do the nominating — Boss Tweed

The most important theme of the book, though, is how the American public does not truly have a say in the presidency. This reality has been proven, and written about, by scores of theorists. But, as Lurie notes, one reason is the party nomination process which bypasses the average voter — by permitting a relatively small group of individuals to decide which candidates will seek the presidency. And, this works because

…people accept government, they obey rulers, precisely because as an unorganized mass they easily fall victim to the predators living within their midst.

Nothing Really Changes

As he discusses the Reconstruction Era, Lurie notes how the appeal to patriotism was strong enough to quell any decent American from supporting a Democrat — a Party that was involved in suppressing the Black vote in that era. But eliminating the Democrat vote did not bring out the best in the GOP he asserts, noting,

Without the fear of political opposition there was no need to provide decent candidates, or even candidates who projected the image of decency.

In our current age of hyper-gerrymandering, it almost feels like he is writing about today.

Rating 5 out of 5. I rarely review political books this highly simply because too many become weighted down in political theory. But, this book is a nice mix of political theory, historical facts, rumors, gossip and lively narrative. Lurie has also written two books on Richard Nixon.

Categories: Books I have read, My America

‘Missoula:’ Acquaintance Rape And Those Who Enable It

Preble County, Ohio courthouse.

“I was stunned to discover that many of mine acquaintances, and even several women in my own family, had been sexually assaulted by men they trusted,” author Jon Krakauer.

Rape is a crime that experts estimate is underreported by 80 percent.

In the past 18 years, 124 rape kits from Preble County have been submitted to state and local crime labs. If it’s true the crime is underreported, the number of rapes that occur annually in Preble County would be about 10. Yet, of the 158 court cases processed through the Preble County Common Pleas Court between July 1, 2017 and Dec. 31, 2017 only one individual was indicted on rape charges.

Books like Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer offers some clues why, as a society, we are woefully lacking in our response to this prevalent, and violent, crime.

Book Inception Is Personal

Krakauer offers some commentary at the end of the book on why he chose to tackle the subject. When he decided to research the topic he was embedded with some U.S. soldiers for another book he was finishing up. As he explains he attended some therapy sessions with the soldiers who were dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the individual leading the session made the observation that two groups are most affected by the disorder: soldiers and rape victims.

That statement, and watching a personal friend struggle with the aftermath of sexual assault, seem to be the catalyst behind the book.

College Town Rapes

As the book reveals, it is a combination of societal beliefs, undertrained and bias gatekeepers, and public perception that impedes justice. And, sometimes, the march to justice is also hampered by the backlash a victim receives as communities rally around the accused.

The book takes place in the college town of Missoula, Montana which was thrown into the national spotlight a few years ago due to a series of rapes and sexual assaults that occurred in the community. Several of the allegations involved players on the much-loved University of Montana football team.

Missoula follows a couple of those cases from the allegations to their legal end. The testimony is difficult reading, but just as difficult to read is the clunky handling of the cases by the legal system, from undertrained police officers to unconcerned deputy prosecuting attorneys. In one of the cases, a female police officer assures the rape victim that she would bring in the alleged perpetrator and ‘at the very least scare the shit out of him.’

But, as the author reports, that is not what happens. While interviewing the suspect, the officer says,

I don’t think you did anything wrong. I think it is torturing you that you are accused of this and that bothers me. The case in my opinion is closed. This case is going to be listed as unfounded. I think this is just a misunderstanding.

Typical Behavior Of A Rape Victim

The book explains the typical manner in which rape survivors respond — which is counterintuitive to how we want them to respond. At the end of the book the author explains this phenomenon — as does one of the expert witnesses in one of the trials — but it’s too detailed to explain here. (A book the author quotes is Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman.)

But one of the rape victims does offer a snippet of the phenomenon. Before being raped, the woman was a stellar college student, but after the crime she notes,

“I started drinking a lot — way too much — and engaging in other really risky behaviors. You hear that rape victims avoid sex afterwards, but it is actually just as common for some victims to become promiscuous in self-destructive ways. That’s what happened to me.”

Of course, the unenlightened use this behavior to besmirch victims.

Intellectually Lazy Investigators

Another interesting, albeit troubling, aspect of the book is how much an officer’s bias, lack of training or ignorance can derail a case. In several incidences, rape victims were asked ‘if they had a boyfriend’ with one officer going so far as to suggest that sometimes,

Girls cheat on their boyfriends and then say they were raped.

But, by far, at least for me, the aspect of the book that is invaluable, is it is filled with the stats that show rape victims are telling the truth.

It is estimated that 92-98 percent of victims are honest in their testimony.

Rating: 5/5. Although, at times, the court proceedings and testimony is a little labored, the stories are well researched and well told. The end result is a better understanding of the legal and societal weaknesses that allow rape to go unanswered.

This book, a national bestseller, also has a 4-star rating on Amazon.

Categories: 8th congressional district, Books I have read, My America

‘Seductive Poison’ Shows Stages Of Indoctrination, Cult Acceptance

2008 Palladium-Item (Richmond, IN) newspaper clipping — remembering the 30th anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre.

It was about 15 years after the Jonestown Massacre when I learned Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones attended Richmond High School about 20 minutes from my hometown. I would later learn that he also spent part of his childhood in Lynn, IN — a very small town I was familiar with because some of my cousins lived there.

But I had never really wanted to delve into any books about him until I read an online review about another Jonestown book that piqued my interest.

Seductive Poison

Debbie Layton was a rising star and confidante of Jim Jones. About two months before the Jonestown Massacre, though, the mid-20s woman knew she needed to get out. This was accomplished with the help of a sister and some government officials in Guyana. She details this, and the slow indoctrination, that led her to put her faith in Jones in her memoir Seductive Poison: A Jonestown Survivor’s Story of Life and Death in the People’s Temple.

Like many readers, I presume, Jonestown always prompted an image of gullible people who, although they did not deserve to die, kind of brought it all on themselves. That is one reason I’m glad I read the book. It is easier now, for me, to understand that good people, seeking a sense of justice and community, can be pulled into a very bad situation. Many of us (myself included) forget that Jones was highly respected just a few years before the massacre. As the book notes in 1976,

“The Temple was becoming a reputable and widely recognized organization. San Francisco Mayor George Moscone welcomed Jim (who controlled a large voting bloc) and rewarded Pastor Jones’s good deeds with several prominent positions. In March 1976, Jim was honored with a mayoral appointment to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. Seven months later, he was appointed to the San Francisco Housing Authority.”

In a 1976 event honoring Jones, then-California State Assembly Speaker Willie Brown introduced Jones as a “combination of Martin Luther King, Angela Davis, Albert Einstein, and Chairman Mao.”

Even president Jimmy Carter’s wife, Rosalynn, visits with Jones during this era.

True Believers

But, underneath the public persona that was capable of duping powerful enablers was a sinister, and unstable, side of Jones that Layton effectively reveals. From the first time he sexually assaults her — to the day he confiscates her mother’s pain medication (she would die of cancer just weeks before the mass suicide) — Layton paints the image of a very troubled man.

Another side of the story she tells extremely well is the paranoia and persecution complex that riddled the religious community as they became convinced the ‘outside world’ was intent on destroying them.

Jonestown, Guyana

Because of her high role in the church, Layton stays in San Francisco, and is a late arriver to Guyana. When she arrives, after months of hearing how great Jonestown was looking, she is shocked to see that the paradise she had been promised was little more than an ‘army camp.’ Once there, her days, like other members were long filled with hard, manual labor and deprivation. As she is working in the fields one day — a 12-hour task in a jungle environment — she daydreams of simpler things,

“When I didn’t dream of food, I fantasized about my shower… Planning ones shower was important because showers also had restrictions. Anyone reported to have allowed the water to run longer than two minutes was assigned to the Learning Crew for a day.”

The Learning Crew was a chain-gang type punishment with harder labor and no talking. The crew was also escorted by armed guards.

For Her Daughter

Even though Layton wrote the book for her daughter in a way to ‘set the record straight,’ it is just a heavy, unhappy story for her family. Layton’s family was deeply impacted by the tragedy. Besides losing her mother — buried in an unmarked grave — Layton’s brother was one of the gunmen involved in the attack on U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan.

He was the only individual imprisoned over Jonestown.

Rating: 5 out of 5. This is an important read and it’s written in a way that you understand how Layton was pulled in. Even though she is empathic to the victims, she does not sugarcoat anything — not even her own errors.


Afterthought

As I was researching for this post, I came across a Rolling Stones piece which, of course, sheds more light on the topic. And, it includes the story of a elderly survivor who slept through the ordeal and published her story in 1995. The book is currently out of print.

I also researched the Richmond, IN newspaper and found a piece they did on the 30th anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre. You can view it here: Page 1 | Page 2

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