Books to curl up with in cold weather – pt. 2, non-fiction

The Scheme by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D, R.I.) is a stunning, sobering and, indeed, chilling account of how the radical right, funded by dark money, has captured the U. S. Supreme Court. It is a well-documented review of the decades-long campaign by ultra-wealthy billionaires like the Koch brothers and the organizations they funded (think The Federalist Society and a host of less well-known front groups) to solidify the triumph of business interests over the protection of relatively powerless individuals. This comprehensive strategy was laid out by then-attorney Lewis Powell in a report to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1971. Two months later, Richard Nixon nominated Powell to the Supreme Court, where he served for 15 years.

The rightward turn of the Court has been consolidated under Chief Justice John Roberts, with the addition of three Trump-appointed justices, all members of the Federalist Society. Today’s radicalization has been greased by the flow of money from anonymous sources unleashed by the Court’s abhorrent 2010 Citizens United Decision, which greenlighted unlimited money by corporations and individuals as well as super PACs not required to name funders. Many of us have watched with concern the politicization of the Court.   Whitehouse, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been speaking and writing about the corruption of the federal judiciary for decades. Now, with Jennifer Mueller, he has pulled it all together in this book. The depth of the capture is dismaying. The Scheme is not for the faint of heart, but it is must reading for anyone wanting to understand the world in which we live.

The Parties Versus the People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans by Mickey Edwards was a compelling analysis of our hyper-partisanship when he wrote it ten years ago and is even more relevant to today’s toxic polarization.  For 16 years, Edwards was a Congressman from Oklahoma, working his way to the most powerful inner circles of the Reagan Republican Party. He served on the House Budget and Appropriations Committees and chaired the House Republican Policy Committee. For several years, Edwards was a vice president at the Aspen Institute where he led a bipartisan fellowship program for elected officials. He has also taught at Harvard and Harvard Law School.

 A former journalist, currently a Princeton professor, he has written numerous books about the political process and the damage that sclerotic divisions between parties have wreaked upon responsible representation of the people.

The is an important book in which the author does a granular analysis of how the political system is being choked by Republicans and Democrats alike, with the two parties defining everything a Representative does, down to which lectern a Congressperson may speak from and where he or she eats a snack. He makes the case that everything that happens in Congress, though couched in terms of the public interest, is designed to serve the parties, and the party leadership is omnipotent. This, he writes, is antidemocratic, ever narrowing voters’ choices of candidates and militating against desirable compromise on policy.  Edwards offers at least ten suggestions for remedying this situation, including ending closed primaries and partisan redistricting. 

The inter-party divisions have only worsened since the book was published, but Edwards’ crucial insights and proposals are worth taking up today.  In fact, I would say it’s a must read for anyone concerned about what is happening in our country this very moment.

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