Category Archives: Books & Book Reviews

Timothy Miller “Why We Did It” Review, Part 2

 

[Part One of this “Review in Pieces” is here.]
Imagine a history of the Trump rise done not by a DC insider, but by Stephen King, who had taken a double dose of bad acid and is channeling Hunter Thompson in bed with Franz Kafka. Then you’ll begin to get the drift of Tim Miller’s book, Why we Did it.

But as I read through the ominous early chapters, another specter haunted me: as what Miller calls “the croc” (using a Churchillian metaphor about fools feeding a pet crocodile in the bathtub) began to thrash its tail outside the rightwing tub, in nearby DC neighborhoods during these same years there existed a bloated, entrenched complacent “progressive” counterpart, raking in the “liberal” billionaires’ dough, buying or building their beach houses, and still skating on the legacy of the Sixties’ good side, victories won by many of their grandparents. While increasingly preoccupied with such towering matters as microaggressions or blanco fragility, and sharpening their aim with practice circular firing squads, they were just as surely turning themselves into sitting duck targets for this monster. Continue reading Timothy Miller “Why We Did It” Review, Part 2

“Why We Did It” — A Review in Pieces – Part 1

Timothy Miller is a repentant ex-Republican operative, now a key member of “The Bulwark.” This is a group of mostly like-minded  onetime GOP operatives, now Never Trumpers, still “conservative” on many issues, but dead-seriously dedicated to preventing #45’s overthrow of democracy, and who may well have — at least I hope so— the brains & skills to do it.

Yet with a long record of putting his talents effectively to work for many who have become bigtime Trump loyalists and fascism accelerators, not to mention being a completely closeted hit man for many professional political  homophobes, Miller, as the saying goes, has a lot of explaining to do — first all, to himself.

Hence, Why We Did it, just published last week. Fittingly, it’s both a personal confessional, and an insider apparatchik’s look at the rise and reign of you-know who. This latter category is a crowded one at most bookstores, with new entries popping up every week or so.

Will Miller’s book stand out in this crowd? I don’t know yet. And — full disclosure — I haven’t read all or most of the similar output, and don’t plan to. Life is short.

But in 2020, deep in the gloom of the pandemic’s first autumn, I was captivated by one of the other major confessional tomes, Disloyal, by Trump’s longtime fixer, Michael Cohen. That experience produced a review, not only of the book but of its times, that filled several posts (which can be found here). Continue reading “Why We Did It” — A Review in Pieces – Part 1

Guilford Is In “The Times” Again— Yes, With Ayn Rand

Most folks who speak often in public tend to have a collection of anecdotes they repeat to illustrate familiar points. Dr. King, for instance, had a whole stack of sermon passages, which he shuffled like a deck of cards, to fill out various addresses. (Yes, “I have a dream” was one.)

Wendy Brown, academic doyenne, is another, still very much alive. She also has her go-to stories. Not being an academic, I only know one of hers: the tale of the near-broke little Carolina Quaker college which sold its soul to an Ayn Rand-obsessed mega-donor, for half a million dollars and a ten-year supply of her doorstop clunker screed, Atlas Shrugged.

Brown dropped this nugget into a lengthy Times interview early last month, which we duly noted here.

But that wasn’t enough for The Paper of Record. Continue reading Guilford Is In “The Times” Again— Yes, With Ayn Rand

Quakerism was born in a terrible civil war. Could it survive another one?

[NOTE: This review does not mention that amid the spreading devastation of the English Civil War, which in 1649 led to the execution of the defeated Charles I, a new radical religious group, derisively called Quakers, was coming into being.  The earliest Friends were at least in sympathy with Cromwell’s anti-monarchical “Commonwealth,” and not a few had fought for it. When the Commonwealth collapsed a decade later, the monarchy was restored and the beheaded Charles’s refugee son became king Charles II.
Behind  the new king was the Anglican church, and many others turned loose in his realm — losers turned winners, with lots of scores to settle.

Quakers were among those targeted, persecuted for the next thirty years. That’s another story, except to note that they survived.

I mention Quakers because as one of the spiritual descendants, this writer is living in times when forecasts of a new civil war are frequently heard. And this review indirectly but forcefully raises two questions: would Quakers survive another such ordeal? How could they/we prepare?]

From The Guardian: The Siege of Loyalty House by Jessie Childs review – the English civil war in all its fog and mess
The story of the clergymen, soldiers, architects, actors and apothecaries forced to rub shoulders during desperate times
Kathryn Hughes — 04 June 2022

In the centuries following the burning down of Basing House by Oliver Cromwell in 1645, all sorts of odd things kept turning up in the ruins. There was fine glass from Venice, an ivory cup from west Africa, apothecary jars from Delft and fragments of a Chinese bowl.

Random though these remnants were, they were nothing compared with the assorted jumble of house guests who had left them behind. For three years at the height of England’s civil war, 500 or so mostly strangers had been obliged to cram hugger-mugger into the Tudor castle, which lay two miles east of Basingstoke.

Sheltered within the massive earthwork fortifications were Roman Catholics and Anglicans, soldiers and architects, actors and apothecaries, people who burned with righteous anger at what was happening to their beloved country, and those who couldn’t wait for the whole thing to be over. The one thing they all had in common was that they were nominally king’s men, on the side of Charles I in his bloody and seemingly endless struggle against his own parliament. Continue reading Quakerism was born in a terrible civil war. Could it survive another one?

A Long, Satisfying Read: DuBois’s “Black Reconstruction”

 

The Nation: Abolition Democracy
W.E.B. Du Bois and the making of Black Reconstruction.
By Gerald Horne – MAY 3, 2022

W. E. B. Fubois

By the time his magnum opus, Black Reconstruction, was published in 1935, W.E.B. Du Bois was already a rara avis—a prominent Black activist-intellectual in the midst of Jim Crow. Dapper and diminutive, and nattily clad in suit and tie, he was renowned throughout the country.

The first African American to earn a Harvard doctorate, Du Bois cofounded the NAACP in 1909 and thereafter helped organize a pan-African movement that bedeviled European colonizers. But what distinguished his close study of slavery and Reconstruction (and does so even today) was its Marxism. Continue reading A Long, Satisfying Read: DuBois’s “Black Reconstruction”

Reading “On Tyranny,” and Getting Ready

I picked up Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny the other day. I had read excerpts from it; this time it was cover to cover.

It’s concise; reading only took a little over an hour. But it was more than worth it.

In fact, I’d say it was necessary for me.

I needed to read it because I’m persuaded that local and state governance in much of the United States is approaching, or even sliding off the cliff into an abyss of authoritarianism. Our runaway Supreme Court appears ready to give the whole country a major shove, starting with reproductive rights and following up with blows to many other of our remaining liberties. Continue reading Reading “On Tyranny,” and Getting Ready

Quakers & the End of Abortion Rights: A Very Mixed Bag

Some liberal pundits are predicting a tidal wave of backlash against the leaked SCOTUS decision to reverse Roe & Casey, the decisions that have made abortion a right since 1973, forty-nine years ago. (The full text of the draft decision is here.)

I’ve written that, while a Roe supporter, I’m not at all sure any such tidal wave is certain, or even likely.

Let me add here that this uncertainty seems to apply just as much to U. S. Quakers.

Why?  In sum, because

A. Americans (Quakers too) are exhausted by years of crises, from an attempted (& ongoing) coup begun at the capitol, a continuing pandemic (case numbers are rising again, fast), a new, not-exactly Cold War/World War 3, inflation, and more.

B. Americans, even American women, are and long have been divided on the issue. Furthermore the pro-Roe supporters have long been out-campaigned by the anti-abortion side. Again, Quakers too.

This last is not just my opinion. The leftist journal Dissent put it bluntly and well in 2019:

The American right is winning the battle over abortion rights. In fact, they have been winning for a long time. Since the late 1970s, conservatives have worked to build a well-funded, militant anti-abortion movement that that includes white nationalists, religious extremists, and pro-life feminists. Now, the end of the legal right to abortion appears terrifyingly imminent.

(More on my own ambivalence about a great backlash here.)

I’d be happy for Dissent and I to be wrong and the prophets of political tsunami proven right; but the evidence for it isn’t there now, and I’m not in the “wish-casting” business.

Besides, an informal survey of public Quaker sources only reinforced this impression. Continue reading Quakers & the End of Abortion Rights: A Very Mixed Bag

Friday Follies: the Culture War & The Tostitos Hint of Lime Chip Conflict

Jamelle Bouie, one of the best new columnists for the New York Times, today highlights a recent book, The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left.

Jamelle Bouie

[In it, he writes], “the historian Landon R.Y. Storrs shows how conservatives used loyalty pledges to purge the federal bureaucracy of government officials ‘who hoped to advance economic and political democracy by empowering subordinated groups and setting limits on the pursuit of private profit.’

Left-leaning New Dealers in the federal government, she explains, ‘believed that race and gender inequality served employers by creating lower-status groups of workers who supposedly needed or deserved less, thereby applying downward pressure on all labor standards, including those of white men. They saw their mission as sweeping away beliefs and practices that were based on obsolete conditions but defended by those whose interests they continued to serve.’

The Red Scare is, in this view, less a sudden outburst of reactionary hysteria than a political project aimed directly at dismantling the New Deal order and ousting those who helped bring it into being, both inside and outside the federal government.

Without making a direct analogy between then and now, [NOTE: But the parallels are pretty darn close!] I think that this perspective is a useful one to have in mind as conservatives pursue yet another witch hunt against those they perceive as enemies of American society, using whatever state power they happen to have at their disposal. Continue reading Friday Follies: the Culture War & The Tostitos Hint of Lime Chip Conflict

Twofer Thursday: Garrison Keillor at (almost) 80; and the Decline of Religion in the U.S.

There’s not a direct connection between the two items excerpted here. Garrison Keillor is definitely religious, in his low-key, often self-mocking way.
But like others of his (& my) generation, he’s watched in bemusement as the generations behind him have been mostly quietly, but steadily dumping religion.  Following Keillor, pastor-researcher Ryan Burge takes a look at this undeniable, but still puzzling slide: contributing factors are easy to name; but clarity and implications are elusive.

#1 – Excerpted from The Saturday Evening Post:

[Garrison Keillor’s new book] Serenity at 70, Gaiety at 80, is a playful yet deeply felt meditation that ought to be a standard in the literature of human aging. I asked Kate Gustafson, president of

Keillor’s production company, how she’d characterize the work. “It’s a novelty book, a gift book,” she ventured after a long pause. Keillor chortled when I told him that. No, no, he corrected, it’s actually “a memoir with an essay wrapped around it.” . . .

About his “canceling/MeToo” ordeal, Keillor himself was plenty angry. He has written that he was unable to defuse what boiled within him until one day, in New York City, a priest prayed into his ear that the “injustice done to me” could be put aside. And that was it, Keillor wrote in his memoir. He was suddenly unburdened, and could return to the “quiet domestic life with the woman I love,” his third and current wife. But as the Washington Post reported in a lengthy piece last year, the scandal represented a “downfall” from which Keillor never fully recovered. Continue reading Twofer Thursday: Garrison Keillor at (almost) 80; and the Decline of Religion in the U.S.

Two Chilling Blasts From the (not so distant) Past

I’m reading a memoir/autobiography, Writing Straight With Crooked Lines, by Jim Forest. Jim died recently, after a long life spent in peace work, including much collaboration with Quakers.

After the attack on a huge Ukrainian nuclear power plant, two passages in it leapt out at me this morning. The first was merely a blip — but an unnerving one— from almost 40 years ago. The second, however, tells of a passing encounter in that same era which could be repeated today.
Tell it, Jim: Continue reading Two Chilling Blasts From the (not so distant) Past