Tagged: #James Madison

Constitutional Myths by Ray Raphael

drawing of George Washington book coverConstitutional Myths:What We Get Wrong and How to get it Right (2013)

Update: this book is now on my BUY list. The content is superb. The author has also written several other books in this area of American History that I will get from the library soon.

In the preface, the author describes how the  Constitution, once revered as a uniting force, has now become divisive along ideological lines. “People see in our governing document only what they wish to see. It is not a unifying force, as its authors had intended, but a wedge that widens the partisan divide.” A little bit later he makes the point that history cannot “be understood by treating the past as if it were the present. Much has happened since the founders’ time: national expansion on a shrinking planet, nuclear and biological warfare, Internet and broadcast technologies, and so on — more than two centuries of subsequent history. He gives a rather amusing anecdote to illustrate the changes.

Compare then and now. On October 15, 1789, President Washington set out from New York with only two aides and six servants to tour New England. In his diary, he chronicled the first day of the journey:

‘The road for the greater part, indeed the whole way, was very rough and stoney [sic], but the land strong, well covered with grass and a luxuriant crop of Indian corn intermixed with popions [pumpkins] which were ungathered in the fields. We met four droves of beef cattle for the New York market (about 30 in a drove) some of which were very fine — also a flock of sheep for the same place. We scarcely passes a farm house that did not abd. in geese.’

Washington was traveling through what is now THE BRONX, traversed by interstate highways and expressways, not stony roads, and home to some 1.4 million people packed tightly within apartments. If the country Washington observed was very different back then, so too was the manner in which he observed it, close up and literally on the ground, experiencing every stone in the road. He could meet his constituency directly, without intervention from an advance team, a press corps , or a small army of secret service agents.  (p. xi, emphasis mine as anyone who has ever been to the Bronx will agree)

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Thieves of State by Sarah Chayes

thieves of stateWhy Corruption Threatens Global Security: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security by Sarah Chayes (2016)

I finished the book a while ago and meant to do the write while it was fresh but got distracted.  It is a very depressing read, but probably important to know the arguments she makes so I’m going to go MUST READ on this book. The focus is on governmental and corporate corruption so obviously no good news with that focus. The problem is that there seems to be an endless supply of corrupt people, or good people stressed or tempted  or coerced and turned corrupt. Or willingly ignorant. Or simply evil. I guess it depends on what you believe the core of people is: good or evil? Since I spent childhood ducking and covering under my pathetic school desk (while realizing that it was going to be of no use at all), and my father was a bomber pilot who was absolutely a good man but he dropped bombs and people died. Of course they were scum sucking Nazi’s, but before the demagogue Hitler incited them to hate, they were just bakers, or shop clerks and so on. These same people closed their eyes to the deliberate seizure of their property and then themselves of Jews (or whomever Hitler deemed degenerate races including slavs and gypsies and of course gays) rounded up into synagogues right there in the towns and burned them alive and the synagogues to the ground. And of course the death camps. How can anyone believe in a god after the Holocaust?

So the point is, corruption is also at the heart of so many people that I am not sure it can be stomped out no matter how many whistle-blowers try. The forces of corruption are so great, and wealthy, and rationalized, and dog eat dog, or everyone else is doing it so just looking out for themselves. This is, in essence, the Tragedy of the Commons written by ecologist Garrett Hardin (no relation) in 1968.

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The Life of the Parties by A. James Reichley

The Life of the Parties: A History of American Political Parties (2000, 1992)

the life of the partiesThis link is to the 2000 edition, the one I am reading is 1992 but not as dated as one might think given that it begins at the beginning of America’s founding and all the information up to then and is extremely detailed and analyzed and described very well.

This book answers the many questions I have had over the years of how we ended up with an essentially two-party system that is run like two warring corporations for a monopoly of the United States government as the prize.

I knew that the Founding Fathers had not begun nor wanted political parties, but apparently not “until they began running parties themselves.” Thomas Jefferson was pro-party. Alexander Hamilton “associated parties with ‘ambition, avarice, personal animosity.'” I’m going to side with Hamilton on this point. James Madison “wrote in Federalist Number Ten of ‘the mischiefs of faction. John Adams expressed ‘dread’ toward ‘division of the republic into to great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other.'” Now that was prescient!

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