Arresting reading that identifies obstacles and dangers to democracy, many at the highest levels of government.

HOW CIVIL WARS START

AND HOW TO STOP THEM

The idea that a second American civil war is brewing is not alarmist hyperbole.

“We are no longer the world’s oldest continuous democracy,” writes Walter, a professor of international relations who has written multiple books about the mechanics of civil war. Instead, the U.S. is now an “anocracy,” a democracy on the road to becoming an autocracy. Chalk much of that decline up to Trump, of course, and those who abetted his efforts to establish an autocracy and preserve it by means of a coup. The image that should be brought to mind is not of columns of blue- and gray-clad soldiers meeting on battlefields; instead, it lies in the scattered rubble of the federal building in Oklahoma City and the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Walter locates similar circumstances in Ukraine and Myanmar, among other places where “elected leaders—many of whom are quite popular—start to ignore the guardrails that protect their democracies.” Even though the number of democratic nations has grown markedly in the last century, the path to getting there is perilous, since entrenched power interests will always resist sharing their power. Another element of danger to popular rule is technological. “It’s not likely to be a coincidence,” writes the author, “that the global shift away from democracy has tracked so closely with the advent of the internet, the introduction of the iPhone, and the widespread use of social media.” Amplifying radicalism and rewarding attack, such media undermine public trust and reinforce long-standing resentments, a critical component in an antinomian environment in which right-wingers “choose the strategy of the weak: guerrilla warfare and terrorism.” Walter offers a few solutions: eliminating the Electoral College, reforming the Senate, and banning radical expression and disinformation campaigns on social media, for “curbing the dissemination of hate and disinformation would greatly reduce the risk of civil war.”

Arresting reading that identifies obstacles and dangers to democracy, many at the highest levels of government.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-13778-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

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PERIL

An account of the last gasps of the Trump administration, completing a trilogy begun with Fear (2018) and Rage (2020).

One of Woodward and fellow Washington Post reporter Costa’s most memorable revelations comes right away: Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling his counterpart in Beijing to assure him that even after Jan. 6 and what Milley saw as an unmistakable attempt at a coup d’état, he would keep Trump from picking a war with China. This depiction has earned much attention on the talking-heads news channels, but more significant is its follow-up: Milley did so because he was concerned that Trump “might still be looking for what Milley called a ‘Reichstag moment.’ ” Milley emerges as a stalwart protector of the Constitution who constantly courted Trump’s ire and yet somehow survived without being fired. No less concerned about Trump’s erratic behavior was Paul Ryan, the former Speaker of the House, who studied the psychiatric literature for a big takeaway: “Do not humiliate Trump in public. Humiliating a narcissist risked real danger, a frantic lashing out if he felt threatened or criticized.” Losing the 2020 election was one such humiliation, and Woodward and Costa closely track the trajectory of Trump’s reaction, from depression to howling rage to the stubborn belief that the election was rigged. There are a few other modest revelations in the book, including the fact that Trump loyalist William Barr warned him that the electorate didn’t like him. “They just think you’re a fucking asshole,” Barr told his boss. That was true enough, and the civil war that the authors recount among various offices in the White House and government reveals that Trump’s people were only ever tentatively his. All the same, the authors note, having drawn on scores of “deep background” interviews, Trump still has his base, still intends vengeance by way of a comeback, and still constitutes the peril of their title.

A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982182-91-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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