Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House – TwoMorePages Book Review

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House – TwoMorePages Book Review

You know how best to get everyone to read a book? Freak out and tell everyone not to read it, call it a bunch of lies without even knowing what’s in it, like Trump’s administration did lol. I hadn’t planned on reading this book at all, and yet here we are!

Honestly, I thought my friend Elijah would be right when he said that I probably wouldn’t learn anything by reading the book. It would just reinforce some of the things I already thought, and so it probably wouldn’t be a good use of my time. So surprise surprise, when I *did* actually learn things in Fire and Fury!

It never really occurred to me that Trump’s advisors would not only NOT be one unified front, but would actively be undermining each other. I thought they were just incompetent and that’s why they couldn’t get on the same page.

Nor did it occur to me that Steve Bannon, of all people, would sometimes be the voice of reason among the senior advisors. For instance, he was the loudest voice against firing James Comey! WUT?! I’m sure this is due in part because he ended up being such a primary source for the book, but he’s painted as this racist political mastermind.

So here we go. Let’s talk about some of my favorite passages from this book. And Rachel’s too (in blue!)

The Administration’s Beginning

“Don’t let him piss off the press, don’t let him piss off the Republican Party, don’t threaten congressmen because they will fuck you if you do, and most of all, don’t let him piss off the intel community,” said one national Republican figure to Kushner. “If you fuck with the intel community, they will figure out a way to get back at you and you’ll have two or three years of a Russian investigation, and every day something else will leak out.”

Lol, if this was really told to Kushner and Trump’s advisors right in the beginning, that was extremely prescient. The only thing they got wrong so far was predicting legislative pushback from Republicans, since they seem to be actively aiding in obstructing Mueller’s investigation so far (*cough Nunes*).

Hi guys – Rachel here! Writing this a few months out, (and quite a few Mueller team revelations and subpoenas later), it’s remarkable to watch how little the modern Republican leadership (and I’m not taking shots at all of them or all Republicans so hold your horses people) seems to care that Trump is actively going after the Mueller investigation. Basically the strongest quote is Lindsey Graham saying firing Mueller will be “the beginning of the end of his presidency,” but since I’m pretty sure we’ve already past that point, its not much of a threat. And wow, let’s just say Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have severely given up the mantel of any ethical leadership. I pretty don’t much want to hear them say the words moral, right, or good, ever again 

The Breitbart formula was to so appall the liberals that the base was doubly satisfied, generating clicks in a ricochet of disgust and delight. You defined yourself by your enemy’s reaction. Conflict was the media bait – hence, now, the political chum. The new politics was not the art of the compromise but the art of conflict.

On Friday, January 27th, the travel ban was signed and took immediate effect. The result was an emotional outpouring of horror and indignation from liberal media, terror in immigrant communities, tumultuous protests at major airports, confusion throughout the government, and, in the White House, an inundation of lectures, warnings, and opprobrium from friends and family. What have you done? Do you know what your’e doing? You have to undo this! You’re finished before you even start! Who’s in chart there?

But Steve Bannon was satisfied. He could not have hoped to draw a more vivid line between the two Americas – Trump’s and liberals’ – and between his White House and the White House inhabited by those not yet ready to burn the place down.

Why did we do this on a Friday when it would hit the airports hardest and bring out the most protesters? almost the entire White House staff demanded to know.

“Err…that’s why,” said Bannon. “So the snowflakes would show up at the airports and riot.” That was the way to crush the liberals: make them crazy and drag them to the left.

Never really thought about it in that respect. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see now that okay, this was Bannon trying to set a tone for the administration, one that purportedly never thought it was going to win, and so never planned for what to do if it did.

The way Bannon is described in the beginning of the administration is true to what we know about him – he is brash, and he is a man of action. It makes perfect sense that he would advise Trump to just start making executive orders, and then let the fallout happen. Even more than that, it makes perfect sense that he would do something that would provoke the maximum response and push people away from what would have been the middle.

If I’m being introspective for a second, I’m as guilty as anyone of being pushed left from his actions, and then condemning people that were pushed to the right. There are some friendships of mine that will never recover.

Bannon and Trump’s actions reshaped the national dialogue. The administration of most Presidents, after winning, tries to unite the country again, bringing people back to the middle so that compromise can be reached. So that we can move on and move forward as a country. Bannon and Trump did the opposite, and that’s part of why you still see stupid shit about Clinton when the election was FOURTEEN MONTHS AGO.

But it’s interesting to see that this was planned. That we were all part of Bannon’s game. Which if I take a step back, is honestly…pretty impressive. Especially when the rest of the book paints everyone else as basically incompetent idiots running around just trying to make the best of their situations. Steve Bannon – racist political genius.

 This is probably something I’m going to end up saying a lot here, but Steve Bannon – at least Michael Wolff’s Steve Bannon – is scarily prescient. This man, from what it appears, was smart enough to know enough about a deep, dark, scary vein running through America. Do I severely dislike the man? Hell yes. Do I think maybe the way he is portrayed in this book is at least in part a product of his own making? Again, 100%. Do I think he is extremely, virulently racist and discriminatory? Oh yeah, for sure and for certain. But, I also think he knew pretty much exactly what he was doing and what he needed to push and prod to make his scary-ass dreams come true.  

The Stupid Wiretapping Allegations

“At the Obama White House, Mr. Trump’s statements toked fears among some that intelligence could be covered up or destroyed – or its sources exposed – once power changed hands. What followed was a push to preserve the intelligence that underscored the deep anxiety from which the White House and American intelligence agencies had come to view the threat from Moscow.”

-The New York Times

Here was more confirmation of a central Trump thesis: The previous administration, its own candidate defeated, was not just disregarding the democratic custom of smoothing the way for the winner of the election; rather, in the Trump White House view, Obama’s people had plotted with the intelligence community to put land mines in the new administration’s way.

So here is one example of something I genuinely learned from this book. Perspective, however screwed up, from the other side.

I remember being absolutely livid when Trump’s allegations against President Obama came out. I got a fight with my buddy Scott, from which our relationship has never truly recovered. I almost doxxed him, I was so mad, in order to prove a point as to how dangerous those allegations truly were.

It’s interesting to see how Trump and his administration saw it. From Trump’s POV, where he’s always a victim, the fact that intelligence agencies were scrambling to protect themselves wasn’t a symptom of a larger problem – namely, that they didn’t trust the President.

No, instead, it was a symptom of some larger conspiracy, where Obama’s administration set “land mines” in Trump’s way to prevent him from having a good relationship with the intelligence agencies. Absolute lunacy from a 3rd party perspective, but at least now, you can get a glimpse into the craziness.

“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped” in Trump Tower jsut before the victory.”

And once you understand that level of paranoia and craziness from Trump, you can see how it was so easy for Trump to jump to his stupid tweets accusing Obama of heinous acts that he didn’t do.

So…learning…yay…?

Yeah, okay so here’s something  I still have problems understanding. So I get that Trump is terribly paranoid. Sure, I think we’ve all grasped that by this point. But, in reading this book, it struck me once again just how odd it is that the rest of the Trump team – like all of them, generals, commanders, RINOs, CEOs, the Kushner family, etc. – are going along with the paranoid shtick. I know they get to be in some of the powerful position in the world by following along with Trump’s paranoiac behavior, but you know…they still technically won the election. Meaning, they could hold onto power and not bow to conspiracy theories every three days. Just a thought! *cough* Javanka and Kelly *cough* 

Steve Bannon’s Best Quotes

Despite the fact that I think he’s an absolutely awful human being, Steve Bannon has the most entertaining and memorable quotes in this entire book.

“The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor – with no lawyers. Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”

-Steve Bannon

“He (the President) said to me everybody would take that Don Junior meeting with the Russians. I said, ‘Everybody would not take that meeting.’

‘I’m a naval officer. I’m not going to take a meeting with Russian nationals, and do it in headquarters, are you fucking insane?’ ”

-Steve Bannon

It boggles my mind that Bannon and I have things we 100% agree on. Bannon’s condescension and disbelief at the stupidity of that meeting in Trump Tower mirrors mine. He just makes it so entertaining to read lol.

“I’m pretty good at coming up with solutions, I came up with a solution for his broke-dick campaign in about a day, but I don’t see this. (Russia thing). I don’t see a plan for getting through. Now, I gave him a plan…but he’s the President…and you can’t stop him. The guy is going to call his own plays. He’s Trump…”

-Steve Bannon

“If he fires Mueller, it just brings the impeachment quicker. He wants an unrecused attorney general. I told him if Jeff Sessions goes, Rod Rosenstein goes, and then Rachel Brand goes. We’ll be digging down into Obama career guys. An Obama guy will be acting attorney general.

I said you’re not going to get Rudy (Guliani) because he was on the campaign and will have to recuse himself, and Chris Christie too, so those are masturbatory fantasies, get those out of your brain.”

-also Steve Bannon haha

That last one is I think my absolute favorite. “Those are masturbatory fantasies, get those out of your brain” bahahaha

The way that Bannon describes *just how bad* of a decision firing Mueller would be is hilarious entertaining.

Quick snap back to real life, I’m obvious on Team Mueller, and hope he finds enough to not only get Trump out of this Presidency, but charged with actual crimes. With the increasing speed of front-page worth news articles related to Trump, since this book got released, Mueller got a subpeona to interview Bannon.

What’s weird to me is that Bannon has basically lost everything now. He was kicked out of the White House by Kelly/Jared/Ivanka. Then, because of some of these hilarious quotes in the book, he and Trump no longer publicly get along. And on top of that, the Mercer family, the main family backing Breitbart, cut ties with him and so he got fired from Breitbart, of all places.

So here he is, having lost everything. No income. No relationships. No nothing. He’s literally got *nothing* to lose by talking.

So why isn’t he turning on Trump and Trump’s family? *Especially* because the book goes into so much detail about how much he hated Jared and Ivanka. Considering how vengeful he seems to be, this would seem to be a prime opportunity for some vengeance at getting ousted by them.

Instead, he’s hiding under executive privilege from Trump, and seems to be actively trying to not answer Mueller’s questions. WHY? I’m so confused…

Couple months out from the release of the book and not one whisper from Bannon. Which, agreeing with Edmund, is super super super odd. It’s kinda like the saying about toddlers and puppies, although this time applied to a much more sinister case scenario — The scariest sound of all is silence. 

Favorite Quotes from Other People

It’s worse than you can imagine. An idiot surrounded by clowns. Trump won’t read anything – not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers; nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored. And his staff is no better. Kushner is an entitled baby who knows nothing. Bannon is an arrogant prick who thinks he’s smarter than he is. Trump is less a person than a collection of terrible traits.

I hate the work, but feel I need to stay because I’m the only person there with a clue what he’s doing. The reason so few jobs have been filled is that they only accept people who pass ridiculous purity tests, even for midlevel policy-making jobs where the people will never see the light of day. I am in a constant state of shock and horror.

-Gary Cohn

I think this totally unrefuted blurb from Gary Cohn is the most telling thing about the inner workings of the Trump White House. This is someone who was on the inside, who worked for Goldman Sachs. Why wouldn’t I believe him?

“Its impossible to make him understand you can’t stop these investigations. In the old days, you could say leave it alone. Now you say leave it alone and you’re the one who gets investigated. He can’t get this through his head.”

-Roger Ailes

I think it’s funny that even Roger Ailes speaks condescendingly of Trump, especially in relation to the Russian investigation that most die hard Trump supporters think is a “nothing-burger.”

To me, the exposition of the relationship between Murdoch, Ailes, Trump, and Bannon was fascinating. Three of these men have been household names for decades now, and all four will be for a long, long time in the future. But I guess what’s crazy is you never think about the fact that these guys actually know each other – like each other, hate each other, tolerate each other – in real life. But that’s beside the point. The point is this quote by Roger Ailes: 

“Men who demand the most loyalty tend to be the least loyal pricks.” 

Now, who on earth in the White House do we know demands absolute loyalty from anyone he encounters… You’d think by now people would know Trump is one of the least loyal humans ever. I mean come on, the man’s been stabbing people in the back since the 70s. 

Trump: Marshmallow in Chief

“The President fundamentally wants to be liked. He just fundamentally needs to be liked so badly that it’s always…everything is a struggle for him.”

-Katie Walsh

The speech also confirmed Ivanka’s understanding of her father: he just wanted to be loved. And, likewise, it confirmed Bannon’s worst feat: Trump, in his true heart, was a marshmallow.

This is simultaneously the most insightful and most sad revelation from this book. That maybe, at his core, Trump isn’t an awful person. He’s just a someone with the mind of a child who’s surrounded himself with awful people, and so he does awful things with the powers granted him based on their influence.

It makes sense when you zoom out and see which world leaders he gets along with the best. They’re all people and regimes that flatter him – literally almost everything else doesn’t matter. He gets along with Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the Phillippines, autocratic regimes that flatter him.

And the countries that he gets along least with? Our allies who don’t just cowtow to him, but expect him to lead and set a good example. Germany, Australia, France, Great Britain, Canada.

Or when you look at his visceral reaction to the press. Fox News, which is basically a propaganda machine built on fellating Trump, is his favorite. He even likes Infowars and Breitbart, not because of the quality of their journalism, but because they praise him. Meanwhile, actual good news outlets are all “fake news” because they are critical of the MANY things his administration is failing at.

So how do we approach things given this information? Because right now, the only people who deign to be his sycophants are awful people with awful agendas. They are the only ones with his ear.

Does the press start focusing on praise when he does well, to encourage him to do more good things? Like a child? I’ve always heard you teach children/pets tricks by praising them when they do something well, not punishing them when they do something you don’t want to do. Could that work with Trump as well?

And if so, how does that change the national discourse? Does it change it in a positive way? Will he stop attacking the press if so?

To be clear, this argument is not advocating to go full on Fox News apology mode, ignoring anything he does poorly and making excuses for them. It’s just to give him a little positive press when he DOES do something well that’s popular – like when he pulled out of the TPP for instance. And then continue being critical of him where he fails.

Or maybe we can praise him for things like NOT firing Mueller? 😀

Would that work? Would that help dilute the advice of his awful advisers, and somehow mitigate some of the terrible effects of his awful presidency? Food for thought.

I gotta agree – this portion of the book hit me hard too. But, maybe I’m more cynical, I just have a hard time believing that underneath the racism, sexism, power hunger, class-ism, etc. that Trump is just a big Marshmallow. Truly, I think he has a narcissistic personality that has been fed simpering, sycophantic flattery over his entire life, is someone who has never worked an honest job (yes, I know he worked, but come on, it wasn’t really honest), and is very rarely contradicted by his inner circle when he says something blatantly (or dog whistle-y) wrong. Give a man like this nearly unlimited power and attention…well, why did we except him to change upon entering the Oval Office. I’m sure he does feel some level of sympathy about bad situations, but if the man – who, let’s just reiterate, is THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES – needs a card that reminds him to say “I hear you” at a listening session for shooting victims…something’s off there. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, this book was a better read than I thought it would be. I got a little glimpse into Trump’s POV (however wrong) in certain issues, developed a better understanding of the adversarial relationship that Priebus, Bannon, and Jared/Ivanka had in Trump’s White House, and maybe got a little glimpse into the President’s character as well, along with some *very* entertaining quotes from Bannon.

A worthwhile read.

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The Only Pirate at the Party – TwoMorePages Book Review

The Only Pirate at the Party – TwoMorePages Book Review

My evolution as a violinist has included many thrilling performances, and I still love what I do, but there are times when even I get burned out. When this happens, I go back to that moment ten years ago. I picture myself on the stage with my bow in the air. I feel my heart racing, I see the faces in the audience smiling, and I remember the moment I thought, I have to make this my life.

So I was overseas, with limited access to internet and…whoops, I read through all the books that I had on my kindle. So…what was I to do, but re-read something I’d already read?

Well, what book to read then? I’d just finished a load of sci-fi with the latest installment of Craig Alanson’s The Expeditionary Force (aka THE ADVENTURES OF SKIPPY haha), fantasy with Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer, and well…I was trying to read to relax instead of stress out with righteous indignation, so politics was obviously out of the question (thanks Trump lol).

I looked through my library and…voila! The Only Pirate at the Party, from my first favorite violinist, Lindsey Stirling! I didn’t remember a ton about it, since I’d last read it 2 years ago, but I remembered it being mostly positive and uplifting?

It hit the spot, helping me turn around a vacation that honestly had not gone that well up to that point, and helping me cool off some of my anti-Trump rage. So kudos to you, Lindsey. 🙂

Uplifting Messages/Advice

That’s the best part about being a kid. Nothing seems impossible until someone bigger and older tells you it is. I grew up in a lovely little world where nothing was too far out of reach if I wanted to work for it. I think I still live in that world.

Standing out on purpose is one thing, but doing so by default takes a lot of energy and confidence. I’m proud of the things that set me apart, and I know why they are good; but that doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult.

Lindsey had a lot of great and relatable messages to her readers in this book. The above two are my favorites.

I’m often told that I have a lot of (too much?) energy, especially for my age, and I know for a fact that I stand out. I’m confident now, but I wasn’t always. Stick me in a completely unfamiliar place, and you’ll see me struggle sometimes if I can’t turn “it” on.

Based on her stories, Lindsey seems the same way. She grew up a certain way, found it didn’t *quite* conform, but rolled with her personality and upbringing anyway. It’s nice to see and read affirming messages, and I hope she reached some of her younger fans with them.

Living in the Moment

Once upon a time, I thought I blew the greatest moment of my life. I no longer believe that is possible. Life is kind and full of great moments, but I think the greatest moment of my life is always ahead of me. When I reach it, there will be another, greater moment to come.

I want to spend more time balancing in the present. It’s the only thing that truly exists. If I’m too busy ruminating over the past or pining for the future, some of those great moments will pass by before I get the chance to live in them.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I had been pretty stressed out, both personally and at global affairs for several months leading up to re-reading this book. I’d spend hours ruminating on what-could-have-been if only I’d made a different decision at a certain point in time in December, or stressing out about the LATEST idiotic thing that Donald Trump did, or stressing about learning that someone *else* I knew and looked up to had voted for and continues to support Trump through it all. Oi.

But Lindsey’s message of staying in the moment, of not dwelling on the past or waiting for the future was a kind reminder to pay attention to the present, was a good reminder to enjoy the here and now. It helped that I was in New Zealand, of course, but yeah – I should enjoy this vacation, weather and bad luck be damned.

Lindsey Philosophy

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” What genius came up with that one? A robot? What a load. Let me set the record straight. Throwing stick sand stones is mean (and archaic), but you really want to hurt me, use words. They are much more effective.

Lindsey went into detail about how pretending to not care about how others feel about you may work for some people, but not for her. I think that’s a really good lesson for any of her readers that have or have had self esteem issues.

It’s not weak that you care about what other people think of you. You can try to minimize it, but it’s okay to still care.

“Not long after, I came across some positive comments on the internet, and I was reminded why I do what I do: to bring people joy. Am I the best violinist in teh world? No. Do I need to be the best to bring people joy? No.”

What’s important is how you deal with it. Lindsey’s solution was to care more about what she thought of herself, and to think about why she performed. And bravo to her for that.

“Maybe my best isn’t as good as someone else’s, but for a lot of people, my best is enough. Most important, for me, it’s enough.”

And of course, her real overarching idea in that chapter was acceptance. It’s okay if you’re not the best, as long as you’re accomplishing what you set out to do. For her, it was helping others have fun via entertaining them.

For me, it’s okay if I didn’t make the perfect trade – sure, I maybe could have retired if I had, but I still came out well ahead of most of the decisions I could have made, so I should be happy with what I’ve done, and look to the next trade, instead of beating myself up for not timing the top and making the perfect one.

Selfishly Selfless

Selfishly selfless: Selfless behavior resulting in positive recognition for good deeds, warming the heart and causing feelings of being noble and heroic.

Selflessly selfless: Selfless behavior resulting in negative recognition, or no recognition at all.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: being selflessly selfless was really hard for me.

Her chapters about her Mormon missionary work were very interesting. She went into depth about how hard it was, and about her mindset going into it: that she’d go and save souls and be super recognized for it, and oh how fun that’d be!

If you’ve seen The Book of Mormon, the main character has similar aspirations for credit, and falls on his face, similar to what Lindsey experienced initially as well.

Her main point with her mission stories is that if you go into the mindset that helping you will help you feel better via praise from others, it’ll sometimes be really hard to enjoy being selfless. Which is…an interesting concept.

I’ll admit that part of the reason why I help people when I can is exactly that. I want to be recognized for helping others so that way I feel better about myself. Selfishly, I also think that doing so will end up coming around karmically to help me out if I’m even in a bind, which is…if you think about it, kind of a selfish reason to be selfless.

“Whenever anyone asks him how he found the church, Mike talks about you. Says he met a little short haired angel on the subway.”

Her major success story in her missionary work brought a smile to my face, and is clearly an important moment in her life. I’m glad she shared it.

Lindsey’s Struggles

Reading about Lindsey’s struggles, both professionally and personally, was a lot more than I honestly expected. I had expected more of “Well, things were hard at first, but then I kept working and things kept getting better and then yay!”

When the lights faded, I held it together until I reached the bathroom, where I locked the door, sank to the floor, and sobbed. I was humiliated, but more than anything, I felt utterly betrayed by God. Leading up to my performance, I was confident it was nothing short of divine intervention that had led me there – that God wanted me to do well. Instead of rising to the top as I had prayed for, I took a nosedive, and I couldn’t understand why.

Reading about how she locked herself in a bathroom and cried after what happened to her on America’s Got Talent was heartbreaking. I’ve been there where you think “welp, guess it was fun having hopes and dreams. That’s over. What are my consolation prizes / where do I go from here?”, and it is a *dark* place.

At first, I felt like I had a split personality. Every time I ate something out of my comfort zone, the internal battle would begin in my head. Automatically, the eating disorder side of my brain would say, You can’t even say “no” to a small bowl of ice cream? You are pathetic and weak.

Furthermore, reading about Lindsey’s struggles with anorexia were both frightening and eye opening. If I ever have a daughter (or son) going through something similar, I hope I’ll be able to help them, first with getting them to read her anorexia chapters in this book, and then starting on a support structure from there.

Hopefully the chapters here would help her (or him) to see that she (or he) is not alone, that others have gone through it, and that they have triumphed, Lindsey being one of them.

I’m fortunate enough to not have gone through something like that, but damn, the way she described anorexia was psychologically pretty frightening – the way her relationships with her friends changed, the way her relationship with her family and her mother changed. That’s scary.

Gavi

I can only hope I never have to find another keyboard-playing best friend. Those are some big shoes to fill. I would know, since I once tried to wear Gavi’s shoes into a venue. It was snowing, and I couldn’t find my own. I ended up using one as a toboggan instead.

And Last but not least, I heard it from someone somewhere that Gavi thinks I’m hott. Don’t make me say it again, I’m blushing so hard right now.

-Phelba

I’ll close this review the same way that Lindsey closed her book, with Gavi.

I had heard whispers that Gavi and Lindsey were almost a couple, but never quite. Lindsey wrote this book while he was still sick, but everyone thought he’d recover. He was a healthy guy in his late 20s, early 30s before he got sick – surely nothing to worry about?

But then…

Gavi passed away after the completion of this book, but before it was published. Losing him was the darkest period of my life, but he will always be a light in my memory.

When I think of him, I will always imagine him laughing, because that’s what Gavi was best at – making people laugh and spreading joy.

I love you, Gavi. I love you more than you will ever know.

That’s just…so sad. 😦

Reading this book gave us all insight into Lindsey’s past life via her stories and musings, but it also gave us a window into her life at the time of her writing this book. I’m sorry you and Gavi didn’t get your storybook ending, Lindsey.

Seems like you two truly did have something special, especially after hearing Gavi’s Song, from your Brave Enough album. Gosh, I even believe the online speculation that you named your album Brave Enough because you wished you had been “brave enough” to tell him your feelings. 😥

Conscience of a Conservative by Jeff Flake – TwoMorePages Book Review

Conscience of a Conservative by Jeff Flake – TwoMorePages Book Review

{Edited Preface: Like The Words of Radiance review, this one has two voices. This time, I read the book along with my good friend Rachel, and she’s shared her thoughts below in blue.

Funnily enough, Jeff Flake had an unexpected announcement while we were coming up with our thoughts. I wrote all of my thoughts *before* his announcement and Rachel wrote all of them *after*, so there will be a slightly interesting dichotomy in timing and verb tenses. Enjoy!}


So I’ve been reading a lot of political books lately given our…unique political climate. Senator Bernie Sanders’s book was cool, if a bit preachy. Senator Al Franken’s book was hilariously entertaining, while also being on point with his messaging.

But in order to prevent myself from living in an echo chamber, I thought it important to read something from a conservative viewpoint. On a recommendation from my buddy, Eric Kuhle, on our Acadia National Park trip, I picked up Jeff Flake’s book, “Conscience of a Conservative.”

It was way better than I thought it would be. And, surprisingly, it read *really* similarly to Al Franken’s “Giant of the Senate book.” The main difference wasn’t one of topics, but of tone. Whereas Franken’s book carried a mostly comedic tone, Flake’s come off in a very serious manner. The only time he really tries to be funny is when he points out the absurdity of some of the situations he has been faced with as a US Senator.

Hi! Rachel here. I picked up this book on a recommendation from Edmund and, I have to admit, I honestly enjoyed it. It was short, witty, to-the-point and a breath of fresh air in an otherwise very smothering political atmosphere. Was it a little preachy? Yeah, of course, it’s a book written by a politician. Was it necessary? Absolutely. 

On Bad Information and the Threat to Democracy

For instance, the third chapter of Flake’s book is titled “On Bad Information and the Threat to Democracy”. Compare that with Franken’s chapter “Lies and the Lying Liars that Tell Them”. You could have dropped one persons’s chapter into the other verbatim and aside from a slight change in tone, I would never have noticed. For instance, compare the following statements from each of their books:

Whatever the source, a steady diet of bad information, conveyed in bad faith, can over time become a serious threat to democracy. Over time, a determined effort to undermine the very idea of truth softens the ground for anti-democratic impulses.

-Jeff Flake

I know I’m sort of farting into the wind on this. But I hope you’ll fart along with me. I’ve always believed that it’s possible to discern true statements from false statements, and that it’s critically important to do so, and that we put our entire democratic experiment in peril when we don’t.

-Al Franken

or these statements from each of their books:

There was once a time in politics, as well as in journalism, when in order to be serious and credible, you had to observe a baseline fidelity to empirical truth. And if you made mistakes – or worse, if you were a bad actor and got things wrong on purpose – you suffered real consequences. Violate the public trust, and you paid a steep price. The higher up the food chain you went, the more serious and credible you were expected to be.

That order seems to have vanished.

-Jeff Flake

All of this to say that I care a lot about people in politics telling the truth. And even considering all the horrible things Trump got away with during the campaign – mocking a disabled reporter, attacking a Gold Star family, referring to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “drug dealers,” calling for Muslims to be banned from our country – I still can’t believe he got away with lying so much.

Frankly, it made me wonder whether, sadly, the war was over and the liars had won.

-Al Franken

I’ll give credit where credit is due. Flake is an eloquent writer. While his prose is more fancy than Franken’s, they basically had the exact same message. And remember that they are on pretty staunchly opposite sides of the political aisle.

THE TRUTH MATTERS. AND AGREEING ON WHAT IS PROVABLY TRUE OR FALSE MATTERS.

Look on my facebook wall and you’ll see that I don’t shy away from political debate. But you’ll notice that until someone tries to use “#FakeNews” to discredit something that they disagree with, I try to be relatively cordial, trying to address the specific points that we are disagreeing on vs assuming that they are dumb.

Just because we disagree doesn’t make either one of us stupid. I fully agree with Day[9] when it comes to internet arguments, and try to approach discussions that way.

But try to discredit anything you disagree with as “fake” not because it’s actually fake, but because it disagrees with you? Now I’ll treat you like an idiot child.

If you treat everything that you disagree with as “fake” and then ignore it, how are we supposed to have a reasonable discussion? Your mind can’t be changed, and you can’t support your argument with provable facts. Why are we even talking?

It was very heartening to see Senator Flake, a staunchly Republican Senator, agree that facts are important.

Perhaps most destructive of all, we haven’t ever had an occupant of the White House who so routinely calls true reports that irk him “fake news” while giving his seal of approval to fake reports that happen to support his position.

It is madness to turn ourselves inside out in an attempt to make reality comport with an alternate reality, just because someone in power would like us to.

It was further heartening to see him call out Trump specifically for what infuriates me about him – calling everything that disagrees with him “fake” while automatically praising anything that agrees with him, regardless of its validity.

I’d go further down this rabbit hole, but I already did in my review for Franken’s book, so no need to rehash that here.

Only in anti-democratic propaganda states do we see “alternate facts” successfully compete with the truth for primacy. Only in such states do we see a sustained program of bad information emanate from the highest levels of the government. This, as I will continue to point out in the course of this book, is not a conservative value. And as conservatives, we simply cannot carry on as if it is not happening.

As someone who grew up staunchly conservative and who has become sickened at what now passes as conservative, it’s nice to know that there’s still someone home who has the ability to think critically. And that if Flake thinks this, surely other Republican Senators and House Representatives do as well.

I wholeheartedly agree with Edmund’s analysis above. While always a liberal, I too grew up in a pretty conservative extended family and I have watched the Republican party and its conservative affiliates leap to the right and leave my family behind, bewildered and all of a sudden pretty liberal. (Shout out to all the Southern Baptist conservative Texan families out there who have rejected this administration as well…oh wait, no one else? Ah well.) Senator Flake analyzed the situation fairly aptly: The Republican Party, “following the lead of a candidate who had a special skill for identifying ‘problems,’ if not for solving them…lurched like a tranquilized elephant…” with no solution or moral code in sight.  That’s a pretty damning indictment of someone who will continue to work on behalf of the Republican Party for another year and a half. 

On Fox News

I fully expected to receive the “Do you believe the President is a citizen?” question, and sure enough, when the question came, I said that if we wanted to be taken seriously, we had to stop indulging in ugly conspiracy theories. Those words were met with a choros of boos.

When a conspiracy theory becomes litmus-test orthodoxy, objective reality is at risk.

The truth is the truth, and anything else is a waste of time. Still, to be booed because I didn’t subscribe to a right-wing conspiracist fantasy about our first African American president is a sobering experience indeed.

The impact of the support of the absurd birther theory regularly received on certain shows on Fox News cannot be overstated. In fact, the impact of the conditioning that the minds of American conservatives receive on some of these Fox shows cannot be overstated.

That last paragraph was something I had not expected to read AT ALL in a book written by a conservative senator. That was an amazingly pleasant surprise.

So kudos to Jeff Flake, calling out bullshit where he sees it.

I know that one of the big hullabaloos about him writing this book at all was that he put himself in danger of losing re-election, not from a democratic challenger, but from a primary challenger. And I think that danger is very real, given that he calls out the idiotic ideas that galvanized the extremes of his party’s own base (who are the ones who usually vote in primaries). So again, major props to Jeff Flake.

Way to stick to your principles, Flake. I really hope you’re not punished for it from within your own party, that smart conservatives actually read your book and show up to the Primary voting booths.

So I’m adding to this review a few days late and it looks like my prediction that Flake would drop out has come true. I haven’t quite come to terms yet with how I feel about that. This is a man with whose policies and voting records I vehemently disagree.  This is a man who voted 91% of the time with the Trump Administration’s policies. But as much as I disagree with this, I can’t really blame him – Flake is a staunch conservative who borders on libertarianism, of course he would vote this way. 

However. This is also a man who wrote in his condemnation of the modern Republican party, “We hold out our hand, expecting our share of nonwhite votes, and yet we give these Americans too few reasons to come our way. Instead, we demonized them, marginalized them, blamed them for our country’s problems…” That statement right there? Incredible. A member of the modern Republican party being able to critically diagnose his party’s failings in this regard is almost unprecedented. 

On Globalism and Free Trade

Seemingly overnight, the word globalist became a grave insult among people in my party who also called themselves “conservative.” I remember a right-wing blog post during my election t the Senate that said I had “been seen in the company of globalists in Paris, France.”

Quel scandale! Globalist as opposed to what, exactly? A provincialist? A parochialist? A localist?

In this country, we are less than 5% of the world’s population. We are 20% of the world’s economic output. And if we don’t trade, we don’t grow. Given the alternatives, I’ll take the globalist moniker, thank you.

One of my favorite snippets of the book came in his chapter about Free Trade. It’s one of the few times that he comes off as comedic and, imo, the perfect amount of snarky.

Yes, Flake! This is something that has been driving me up a wall for years. When on earth did we decide that being a “globalist” or internationalist was such a bad thing? Did we learn nothing from World War 1 or World War 2? Let’s just set this straight. No, the U.N. is not out to take over the world and ruin American lives. No, isolationism is not the best way to solve problems. No, understanding other cultures is not going to undermine your own. No, attempting to make peace through treaties and diplomacy is not a symbol of a country’s weakness. And no, globalization and trade and international relations ARE NOT A ZERO SUM GAME. They’re just not. 

As someone who grew up with the notion that free trade makes everyone richer and better off, the whole “protectionism” vibe that we’ve been seeing with the election of Trump, the potential election of Marie LePen in France, and the whole BrExit fiasco has been super puzzling for me. Who votes to cut off their nose to spite their face? Well, a lot of people apparently.

Free trade is a lift-all-boats phenomenon, and that is precisely what free-market economics is all about. It provides for the most efficient use of capital…It is precisely because we have taken advantage of globalization that we have the standard of living that we have.

In America, it’s even weirder, because, to me, the party that is about hands-off government and laissez-faire economics should be the party that is all about open borders and free trade. IT MAKES EVERYONE RICHER, so why wouldn’t the pro-business party be all for it?

His condescension at the idiot members of the Republican party that seem to be for protectionism, those idiot members who use globalist with a negative connotation perfectly encapsulates how I feel about them. DO YOU NOT LIKE MONEY? WHY WOULD YOU BE FOR TRADE WARS?

On Thinking About What You Say

In politics, it is difficult to win an argument with complexity and facts when the other side offers easy answers and free stuff without worrying about the details. This is largely how Donald Trump vanquished the Republican field in 2016.

Candidate Trump was giving – and we, the Republican electorate, bought – the late-night infomercial: “Health Care for Everybody! Much Better, at a Fraction of the Cost! Free Border Wall! Super-Colossal Trade Deals! But Wait! There’s More!!”

This doesn’t need much commentary by me. It is just straight up funny, while being OH-SO-TRUE.

Trump promised his electorate the world, and those of us who questioned how the fuck he was going to do things that seemed mutually exclusive like make health care better while simultaneously making it cheaper while simultaneously covering more people were brushed off. And then of course, when push came to shove, came “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” Yeah, “nobody.” /s

Exactly. As a Political Science major a little piece of me dies inside any time a politician or layman tries to say that a policy is bad because it is too long or complicated. There really isn’t ever such a thing in politics as an easy solution. In fact, there is a whole branch of political science devoted to something called Wicked Problems: problems that have incomplete or contradictory information, a plethora of people and interest groups involved, a large economic burden, and interconnections with other problems and policy areas. So yeah, the legislation that is the most detailed, comprehensive, thought-out, and analyzed is probably going to be the best legislation to pass. And yeah, we all knew health care (and literally any other policy arena) was going to be complicated. 

On Checking the Powers of the Executive Branch

I was puzzled when the new president’s senior adviser Stephen Miller – who was also credited with a principal role in the development of the travel ban – appeared on national television and announced that “our opponents, the media, and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.” Will not by questioned? Really?

Presidential power should be questioned, continually. That’s what our system of government, defined by the separation of powers, is all about. It shouldn’t matter whether the president belongs to my party or to another one.

Besides, I’m from the West. Questioning power is what we do.

Aside from entertaining Jeff Flake’s mic drop there at the end (Woooh! West USA!), I was very happy to see that Senator Flake understands that the legislative branch is there not to serve at the leisure of the President, but to work alongside him/her, and to provide a check on executive power when it is over-reaching.

Contrast that other Republican lawmakers literally saying that our representatives “work for the President” instead of their own constituents.

Once again, a little piece of me dies every time I hear a politician – on either side of the aisle – say they serve the interests of the President. No you don’t. Please, just read the Constitution once. That’s all I ask. And while Flake has voted incredibly frequently for the President’s agenda, and while I disagree with most of it, I believe that *he* believes he is voting in the best interest of those who elected him, not the President. 

The Senate must be the saucer that cools the coffee, as George Washington is said to have told Thomas Jefferson.

A case in point early in the new presidency was President Trump’s increasing pressure on the Senate to dispense with the filibuster for legislation so that he might be able to get his program through the Senate without concern about achieving consensus.  Such a move would turn the Senate into just another majoritarian body just like the House of Representatives, thus forfeiting its reputation as a deliberative body at all, much less the world’s greatest. At that point, it might be fair to ask: Why have a Senate at all?

That is not how constitutional democracy works. And it’s not how the United States Senate works, either.

How willing would the Republicans be to go along with the President? Would we be willing to change the institution for short-term gain? We all consider ourselves institutionalists, but what will we do when the President starts tweeting, scolding us for obstructing his agenda?

What happens if there is a tax bill which isn’t getting any Democratic support? Will we stand up and say no, we’ve got to be bipartisan, we’ve got to work for it and pick up the necessary votes? Or will we scrap the rules?

I will not support any such effort to harm the Senate. It is a line I cannot cross.

 

I was pretty pumped when I read the above section in his book. And then I went to google and found out that he did indeed vote on completely partisan things like removing the filibuster to put Gorsich on the Supreme Court. And he voted for the terrible Republican health care bill. And he voted to put Devos as Secretary of Education.

So…partial credit. Good rhetoric, no matching action. :/

But maybe he’ll be better going forward? I hope so.

Maybe. I’ve probably studied politicians and Congress too much to have much faith in them but maybe now that Flake has completely severed his ties with the President and the scary wing of his party he’ll be more inclined to buck them. 

On Conviction of Conservative Beliefs

Never has a party so quickly or easily abandoned its core principles as my party did in the course of the 2016 campaign. And when you suddenly decide that you don’t believe what had recently been your most deeply held beliefs, then you open yourself to believing anything – or maybe nothing at all.

Why did we do that/ And how did it happen? How did conservatives betray conservatism? Or worse: how did we embrace incoherence?

The quick answer: We did it because it was cheap and easy and the real world is hard and defending a principled position to voters is harder still.

His introspection into what has happened to the Republican party over the past decade, but ESPECIALLY in the 2016 election was especially poignant in my opinion.

It is a testament to just how far we fell in 2016 that to resist the fever and stand up for conservatism seemed a radical act.

I often wonder what Barry Goldwater would make of the current state of his party and of American politics more generally. I am confident that he would not be pleased or amused.

The party of Lincoln would now likely be unrecognizable to the Great Emancipator.

I don’t even recognize the current Republican party. It’s not the same party that I grew up with, *that I was a part of* in my younger years. It’s funny now to me that I’m considered “so liberal” when I don’t feel like I’ve really changed that much. didn’t change – the party did, bringing the needle *so far to the right* that apparently now I’m liberal?

When did it become a conservative value to place party over country?

When did it become a conservative value for your elected official to do/say something because he has an R next to his name, but not okay for someone else to do/say a similar thing because he as a D next to his name?

When did it become a conservative value to turn a blind eye towards lies and misinformation?

When did it become a conservative value to be okay with consorting with foreign powers during an election?

So it’s refreshing to see that at least one (and hopefully more) Republican lawmakers feel the same way, that their party has changed, and not for the better. They may not all have the courage of conviction that Jeff Flake has, who may or may not be committing career suicide by breaking ranks and publishing this book; but I want to believe that some at least are smart enough (and sane enough) to realize what is happening to the Republican party.

It’d be nice to be able to “come home again” and be able to agree with a Republican on political topics without having to believe such silly things as “Obama wasn’t a US citizen” or “Climate change isn’t real”.

When your raison d’etre stops being How can we hold to the principles of limited government and economic freedom? and becomes How can we hold on to this majority for one more cycle? then you’ve become the very thing that you’re supposed to be against.

In this era of dysfunction and collapsed principle, our only accomplishment is painstakingly constructing the argument that we’re not to blame and hoping that we’ve gerrymandered ourselves well enough to be safe in the next election.

We decided that it was better to build and maintain a majority by using the levers of power rather than the art of persuasion and the battle of ideas. And we have decided that getting nothing done is okay.

There are many on both sides who like this outcome so much that they think it’s a good model on which to build a whole career. (Edmund insertion: *Cough Ted Cruz*) Far too often, we come to destroy, not to build.

Moreover, I like how he spends entire chapters talking about the foundations of good governing, and how poisonous the current Republican party’s stance on governing is for the country.

TARP was actually a modest price to pay to forestall a global depression. My vote against the bill is a vote that I still regret.

Here’s what mattered: At a moment of national and global crisis, that vote was an abdication of my responsibility as a member of Congress.

For instance, he goes into detail about how stupid it is to “Vote No, but hope yes” (on the TARP bill), and about how he is ashamed to have done so in the past.

He talks at length about how bipartisan legislation used to be passed, and about how wholly partisan victories are shallow, because they’re just as easily overturned in the next election cycle without bipartisan support. He uses specific examples of attempts at good, enduring legislation, successful or otherwise, and it’s not all to make himself look good – some of his examples he isn’t even involved in.

I have to agree with everything above. I think it is remarkable that a sitting politician could come out with such a damning expose of his entire party and I admire him for that. It was interesting that he agreed with Franken when he traced part of the start of the Republican Party’s decline to Newt Gingrich. Both Flake and Franken wholeheartedly condemned Gingrich for bringing to light the vicious underbelly of the Republican Party. Flake’s condemnation of Gingrich echoes my concerns with many of today’s politicians: “Newt, whose talents for politics exceeded his interest in governing…” This is extremely on point. As someone who one day would like to enter the world of politics, it worries me that many politicians seem to prize their ruthlessness and cunning over their concern and care for their constituents. 

Conclusion

I am a proud conservative and a lifelong Republican. That does not make the Democrats my enemies. America has too many real enemies to indulge such nonsense.

It’s good to not demonize the people on the other side of the political aisle, and this book helped me a ton in that respect. The similarities between Jeff Flake’s book and Al Franken’s book were eye opening to me. If two senators that are that different from one another politically can agree on things like that, it gives me hope for the future.

This book helped me greatly in that respect. It’s good to know that not all Republicans are Trump supporters who are ignorant to logic.

It’s great to know that not all Republican lawmakers have abdicated their responsibility in understanding that the legislative branch doesn’t work as an arm of the executive branch.

It’s fantastic to know that some of them like Jeff Flake have such strong conservative convictions that they’re willing to put themselves out there and risk their own re-election to help lead their party’s return to sanity.

I think it’s really interesting that once Republican legislatures are free from the shackles of worrying about re-election, they say and do sane things. Like Bob Corker. or John McCain.

Of course, relying on Senators not worrying about re-election to keep Trump in check is not sustainable. So I do hope that Jeff Flake, like his idol Goldwater (whose book Flake based his own book on), sparks a conservative revolution, one that affects the ranks of normal congressmen and women that *are* seeking re-election.

Now, more than ever, America’s separation of powers is what is keeping her afloat. But that requires legislators like Jeff Flake to have the conviction to stand up for their conservative ideals rather than act as servants for Trump.

And maybe more than that, I hope it helps spark activism amongst more moderate conservatives, ones who look around and see that things ARE INDEED NOT NORMAL AND NOT OKAY. I plan on giving this book to some of my more conservative, older friends. They’d be much more likely to read a book by the Republican Senator from Arizona than the Democratic Senator from Minnesota. I don’t know if it’ll work, but I sure hope it does.

I could not agree more. The only way to escape our political malaise is to educate ourselves. Jeff Flake’s book is a good first step in this direction. I can only hope that his actions support his words. 

 

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate – TwoMorePages Book Review

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate – TwoMorePages Book Review

Kudos to Rachel, who turned me onto this book. I wouldn’t have read this without her recommendation, and my life would have been much less rich for it.

Al Franken is hilariously insightful. It’s like one of the correspondents from the Daily Show became a Senator. I really enjoyed his insights into the workings of the Senate, complete with plenty of tangible real world examples.

For instance, I always felt like this Congress was more obstructionist, but I was never quantified it. I didn’t realize that 40% of all cloture votes in US Senate History were called by Mitch McConnell alone, just to delay progress so that Obama couldn’t get credit for things. McConnell called for cloture votes on some things that would eventually pass 98-0! He called cloture on bills that he himself ended up voting yes on! HOW STUPID IS THAT?

But more than that, his take on the difference between Congressional behavior just a few decades ago compared to Congressional behavior now was interesting, specifically his take on the specific drivers that caused that change in behavior.

His discussion of various facets of policy was passionate. It was like he took the words and arguments straight from my head, replete with the righteous anger of being lied to over and over again.

One of the tenets of his book is that a strong failing of Democrats is messaging. This book? Definitely the antithesis of that. Strong, direct, entertaining, and to the point.

 

Operation Curdle

“On this day,” Obama declared in his inaugural address, “we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

To which Mitch McConnell basically responded, “Oh yeah? Well, screw you, buddy!”

The way I see it, Republicans had three options for how to deal with the new political reality they faced in January 2009.

Option 1: Recognize that the new President was hugely popular and had a mandate from the American people to deal with a series of pressing crises, and ask, ‘How can we help?’

Option 2: Recognize that the new President was hugely popular and had a mandate from the American people to deal with a series of pressing crises, and say, ‘Congratulations, but we have some political standing too, and we’re going to make you come to the table and negotiate. So let’s sit down and work out something we can all live with.’

Option 3: Focus on reducing his popularity, refuse to respect his mandate, and as for those pressing crises? Not only are we not going to help him solve them, we’re going to do everything we can to prevent him from solving them, and then we’re going to blame him for failing to solve them. In fact, after a while, we’re going to start blaming him for creating the problems in the first place!

Democrats and Republicans had faced this dilemma many times before, but never before had anyone ever chosen Door Number 3.

And then, having enjoyed making a big show out of refusing to help the President succeed, Republicans then turned to making a big show out of complaining that he had failed.

In reality, he hadn’t. The stimulus kept us from falling into another Great Depression, and created millions of jobs. But it took awhile to kick in, and it wasn’t as strong as President Obama and Democrats wanted (or as economists had called for). It’s hard to get people excited about avoiding a hypothetical depression when you’re slowly muddling through a huge recession.

Let’s just start off with the meat of things, shall we? I really liked Al Franken’s perspective as a Democratic Senator in the midst of Obama’s first term, a term that brought with it the Great Recession.

More than any other subject I ever studied, I loved economics. One of these days, I want to teach economics. It’s fun; it affects people; and it makes sense. One of the basic tenets of basic macroeconomic theory is that that GDP (Gross Domestic Product) = C (consumer spending) + G (government spending) + I (investment spending) + nX (net exports). (I still remember that Mr. Santucci!)

Going into 2009, C in that formula was falling off of a cliff. People were scared. They were losing their jobs, and so were spending less, making industry stall and making more people…lose their jobs. See how that’s a shitty cycle?

In Econ 201, you learn that the total monetary supply = M (Total amount of money in circulation) * V (velocity of money, how often money changes hands). Going into 2009, the value of V was dropping *so much* that the US economy was experiencing deflation *despite* printing trillions of dollars and increasing the value of M. The only realistic way to stop that is with a strong increase in overall spending. Well, as we just learned before, consumer spending wasn’t going to do that (and in fact was falling as a result of the falling total monetary supply), so you have to get *government* spending to pull us out of that hole. You increase G in C + G + I + nX.

I remember being livid at the time at people saying “We should have just let all the banks fail.” No, that’s how you decrease the velocity of money EVEN MORE and make the economy EVEN MORE DEFLATIONARY, putting us into an even DEEPER RECESSION.

And I remember having to politely say “A statement like that shows a profound misunderstanding of basic economic theory” instead of what I wanted to say: “Are you insane?! Have you even seen the rate at which the velocity of money is declining?! Do you even understand the implications a drop in velocity of that magnitude? No, of fucking course not, because you’re too stupid to understand what that even means. All you know is that ‘Government intervention = bad, herp derp.’ ”

I will defend to my last days the necessity of government intervention in 2009. Anyone in their late 20s or early 30s was a direct recipient of that government intervention. Our thriving economy now is a direct result of that aid. So if you’re someone like me, who is doing relatively well now, and you want to complain that “the government should not have intervened in 2009”, know that deep down, I truly want to punch you in the face and make you retake economics, you ungrateful imbecile.

So to read about Al Franken’s experience in the Senate itself trying to get that through was interesting. He could have been the 60th vote to help push through a better, $1 trillion dollar stimulus (instead of a $.7 trillion one that took longer to work), but his election was held up because of a recount. It still boggles my mind that he won by less than 200 votes. That’s insane.

The stimulus had been a successful test run of the Republican strategy: Abdicate their responsibility to govern, obstruct the President’s agenda, complain that things weren’t getting better, and wait for Americans to get fed up so they could profit politically as his expense. Operation Curdle was well under way.

And that brings us to what Al Franken so affectionately refers to as “Operation Curdle”, an unfortunately very successful political maneuver. Fuck things up, blame it on the guy in charge even though you’re the reason it’s fucked up, and then somehow score political points with it.

In a rational world, this would never work. It 100% relies on the stupidity of the governed to be too dumb to see through your charade. The fact that it *does* work, and works *so well* makes me question my faith in the intelligence of people.

On hundreds of occasions, the minority would use a parliamentary procedure called “forcing a cloture vote” simply to waste everyone’s time. They did it more than ever before in history; in fact four out of every ten cloture votes in the history of the United States Senate up to 2014 came in the eight years that Mitch McConnell served as minority leader.

In most of the situations there wasn’t actually anything to debate. McConnell would force cloture votes on ridiculously noncontroversial stuff.

So it was not uncommon for us to file a cloture motion on a Monday for a vote on say, a noncontroversial district court nominee, only to have the nominee confirmed with an overwhelming majority (in one case by a 98-0 vote) late on Thursday evening. That’s right – Republicans would routinely filibuster things that they’d then turn around and vote for.

What made it worse that McConnell had made his intentions clear by actually saying, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Not making sure that kids get a great education, not creating millions of good jobs, not even getting our deficit under control. No, his first priority was about Republicans winning the next presidential election. I wasn’t shocked that he thought that. I was just appalled that he actually said it.

Like how is this okay? Congress had been around for more than 225 years through 2014. And Mitch McConell, by himself has 40% of the cloture votes under him? That is brazen obstruction.

Which brings us to…

 

“But that’s Washington for you” – Politiphobia

And the thing was, ordinary Americans who weren’t themselves rabid partisans saw all this happening and blamed both sides. I was always amazed when I would go around Minnesota and meet people who didn’t follow national politics that closely but who knew that Republicans had been extremely uncooperative during the Obama administration. “I know,” I’d say, “it’s awful.”

“Yeah,” these people would often respond. “But that’s Washington for you.”

These folks didn’t reach that conclusion without some help. Many political reporters can’t seem to write a sentence about a problem without casting at least some blame onto both sides. Congressional Republicans knew that, and made hay with it. McConnell and his friends consistently blamed Obama for the partisanship of the Obama years, managing to suppress their giggles all the while.

After eight years of refusing to help the President govern – in fact either years of actively trying to make the country ungovernable – Republicans hadn’t just created a monster within their own ranks. All that inaction and gridlock helped to create a nation of politiphobes, people who (correctly) felt like they were being left behind in the economy and (correctly) felt that the political system was broken and rigged against people like them and (extremely incorrectly) felt that everyone who had anything to do with politics was more or less equally to blame.

But perhaps the worst side effect of Operation Curdle isn’t from people who refuse to believe that anything is wrong. It’s from people that agree with Franken and me that something is wrong but that blame both sides for it.

Even today, I’ll hear people say “Oh, well they all suck, what are you going to do?” or “I think politics has always been like this. It’s just being reported more now.”

WAIT. FULL STOP. WHAT?! NO.

There is quantifiable evidence of specific and malicious wrongdoing by one party over and over again. Gerrymandering is how Republicans control 2/3’s of seats in state and national legislatures despite consistently only garnering just south of 50% of the popular vote. Mitch McConnell led 40% of all cloture votes IN US SENATE HISTORY.

Trump, our idiot Republican President, consistently lies to our face over and over and over again. In the same amount of time that Trump was under investigation for possible collusion with Russia AND had fired Comey to obstruct said investigation, literally the only thing that Fox News could come up with to discredit Obama was that he liked to eat his burgers with fancy mustard.

But you want to blame *both sides*? How in the wut…? How are these things even remotely equal?

I know Democrats aren’t perfect. No party or person ever was or ever will be. But if you’re going to paint all politicians from both parties with that broad of a brush, you’ve created a perverse incentive for politicians to just go balls to the wall with unethical obstruction.

It’s like if the penalties for murder or speeding in your car were the same. Well, I’m already speeding, so I may as well go murder that guy I really hate? It doesn’t make sense.

Why is this worse? Because the people that are die hard party line people are basically always going to vote Republican no matter what. This last Presidential election proved that the Republican party could basically put up a completely unqualified candidate, one who routinely lies, who had no experience in government, who is openly prejudiced, and those people would still vote for him.

Look no further than the millions of people who didn’t think Trump was a particularly good candidate, but *still* voted Trump because he had an (R) next to his name. Nothing is ever going to change those minds or votes.

But other people, smarter people, people with the ability to think critically and see when they’re being lied to? If they become politiphobes and distance themselves from politics altogether because “both sides are bad”, this only amplifies the voices of the aforementioned.

Republicans tend to do *much* better in low turnout elections. They have a motivated base that consistently votes Republican basically no matter what. Not voting is like a Republican half-vote.

So it’s a Republican victory if they can obstruct everything, and then have people blame BOTH parties for it.

It’s frustrating for me, as someone who pays attention and doesn’t like getting lied to; but it’s got to be *mind-blowingly frustrating* as a sitting Senator like Al Franken, trying to do your best despite the gridlock, and STILL getting the blame for said gridlock.

Several of my good friends seem to have fallen into this politiphobe mindset, and hey – at least it’s better than being a die hard party line person no matter what. But I really do wish they’d look into things some more and see that one party seems to consistently be on the wrong side of things more than the other. Please don’t paint both sides with the same brush.

 

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them

The distinctly antigovernment Limbaugh / Gingrich agenda swept in a significant number of radical Republicans and with them a partisan enmity that has just grown even worse over the past two decades. In addition to the nastiness, there seemed to be a new willingness to lie about the basic facts.

Even after the Rush book came out, I kept noticing conservatives in the media saying things that were recklessly, provably false. And every time I noticed it, it would drive me bananas. No matter how many times it would happen, it would engender the same visceral reaction every time. “You can’t just lie!” I would yell, to no one in particular. “You can’t!” But they did.

I’ve struggled sometimes to succinctly define why I’ve turned so anti-Republican as I’ve grown older. It should be the opposite, right? I mean, I grew up Republican in a conservative suburb of Houston; several of my friends and their families are conservative; I honestly don’t feel like I’ve changed *that much* from my childhood. So what happened?

Al Franken helped me put my finger on it. I hate being lied to.

All of this to say that I care a lot about people in politics telling the truth. And even considering all the horrible things Trump got away with during the campaign – mocking a disabled reporter, attacking a Gold Star family, referring to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “drug dealers,” calling for Muslims to be banned from our country – I still can’t believe he got away with lying so much.

Frankly, it made me wonder whether, sadly, the war was over and the liars had won.

And one party seems to consistently lie over and over. This is the party that put Trump into office AND CONTINUES TO DEFEND HIM; all he ever seems to do is lie, from stupidly petty ones like “I had the biggest inauguration crowd ever” to more serious ones like “I didn’t have any contact with Russia” when it is so provably true that he had business dealings there.

This is the same party that blamed Obama for the partisan atmosphere in Washington that they themselves created; the same party who said  “There is certainly long historical precedent for a Supreme Court with fewer justices.” when it came to Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland, but then turned around and used the nuclear option to push through their own nominee in Gorsuch; the same party that said the Affordable Care Act would have “Death Panels”.

Lies. The Republican party and Trump specifically have normalized them, and that is maddening to me. His election was 100% verifiable proof that you could be caught lying “with your pants on fire”, and somehow it doesn’t matter?

Trump has deployed a variety of methods to debunk debunkings that have proven startlingly effective. The first and most common is to simply ignore the correction even when confronted with it.

This is why he’s continually planting the seed that the media is dishonest. It renders statements of contrary fact highly suspect, because you tend to hear those via the media:

Trump: The US murder rate is at a 45 year high.

You: That’s wrong. The FBI says that it’s at a 50 year low.

Trump Supporter: Uh-huh, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. Where’d you hear that?

You: CNN

Trump Supporter (sarcastic): Ah, okay. CNN, right. And they always tell the truth. Come on, man! Wake up!

I have no problem having political discussions with my conservative friends. Discussions are healthy – it’s how viewpoints change and new information is presented. Not living in an echo chamber is important.

I *do* have a problem when the crux of their defense is calling anything they disagree with #FakeNews.

That’s not a freaking discussion. That’s the equivalent of a person plugging their ears and going “LALALA. If I can’t hear you, it’s not true.” How are we supposed to discuss things if literally everything you disagree with is “fake”? if we can’t agree on basic facts like the DoJ saying that the murder rate is at a 50 year low? Or that Comey straight up said he thought he was fired because of the FBIs investigation into possible Russian ties to Trump’s campaign?

If you reply saying something factual is #FakeNews just because you don’t like it or because it disagrees with you, that is infuriating. And I very much think less of you for it.

But I really think that if we don’t start caring about whether people tell the truth or not, it’s going to be literally impossible to restore anything approaching a reasonable political discourse. Politicians have always shaded the truth. But if you can say something that is provably false, and no one cares, then you can’t have a real debate about anything.

I know I’m sort of farting into the wind on this. But I hope you’ll fart along with me. I’ve always believed that it’s possible to discern true statements from false statements, and that it’s critically important to do so, and that we put our entire democratic experiment in peril when we don’t.

I firmly believe that you can draw a straight line from Rush Limbaugh through Fox News through present-day websites like Breitbart and the explosion in “fake news” that played such a big role in the 2016 campaign. And that’s how someone like Trump can wind up in the Oval office.

I love that Al Franken went into detail about how frustrating it was that it seemed (seems?) like the truth doesn’t matter anymore.

I love how he explored how Trump isn’t a one off aberration, but a culmination of the result of Republican support tactics over the last two years, specifically the last 8 years under Obama. How lying about things that were 100% false (like Obama not being born here) somehow increased their own support base, and that after being proven wrong, nothing bad happened to them.

I found his insights into how this endangers our entire democracy especially poignant. If we can’t agree on what is provably true or false, how are we ever going to agree on anything? For that matter, how will we ever govern?

 

Pivoting

Probably the most ridiculous political skill I had to learn was how to “pivot,” a term which basically means “not answer questions.”

His chapters describing how he had to change his behaviors as he became a politician were really interesting, both in contrast to how little President Trump has done in that regard, and in just straight up spelling out in what ways he had to act differently.

Honestly, I’m not sure I could ever learn how to “pivot” as he described above, or just straight up not answer questions asked of me. It seems so counter intuitive, and yet his stories of how he got misquoted and burned when he tried directly answering baiting questions showed how necessary it was.

So kudos to him.

 

Ted Cruz

Here’s the thing you have to understand about Ted Cruz. I like Ted Cruz more than most of my other colleagues like Ted Cruz. And I hate Ted Cruz.

Rachel mentioned that the chapter devoted to shitting on Ted Cruz was her favorite. And I can easily see why. It’s amazingly funny.

The problem with Ted isn’t that he’s humorless. It isn’t even his truly reprehensible far-right politics. No, the problem with Ted – and the reason so many senators have a problem with Ted – is simply that he is an absolutely toxic coworker. He is the Dwight Schrute of the Senate.

“Clinton’s own Department of Justice did a study of the assault weapons ban and concluded that it doesn’t work.” -Ted Cruz

“No it didn’t. Actually, what the report said was there wasn’t enough data to reach a conclusion, because the study was conducted only two years after the ban was implemented.” – Al Franken

“Just go read the report.” – Ted Cruz

…later, after looking up the report

“Our best estimate is that the ban contributed to a 6.7% decrease in total gun murders between 1994 and 1995, beyond what would have been expected in view of ongoing crime, demographic, and economic trends. However, with only one year of post-ban data, we cannot rule out the possibility that this decrease (in gun murders) reflects chance year-to-year variation rather than a true effect of the ban.” -Justice Department Report

“Well, I guess you owe me an apology.” -Al Franken

“Why?” – Ted Cruz

“Well, the last time we spoke, you said that anybody who is for the assault weapons ban is engaged in sophistry.” -Al Franken

“No I didn’t” -Ted Cruz

And that’s when I realized that Ted Cruz was really something special.

It’s hilarious that Ted Cruz has an entire section devoted to how shitty of a person he is. Not just how shitty of a Senator he is, but specifically how terrible of a person he is.

If nothing else, this book is worth reading specifically for the Ted Cruz chapter.

Ted Cruz isn’t just wrong about almost everything. He’s impossible to work with. And he doesn’t care that he’s impossible to work with. And that’s why, even when the choice was between Ted Cruz (who was a sitting member of the United States Senate) and Donald Trump (who was Donald Trump), establishment Republicans couldn’t bring themselves to rally behind Cruz.

Hahahaha.

 

Conclusion

My story, the one you’ve just finished reading, is a small part of a bigger story – the story of how progressives picked themselves up off the mat and made an epic comeback.

And now we have to do it again. This comeback starts with standing up for our values and making it clear that no president has a mandate to spread bigotry or roll back the clock on progress. It continues through next year, when we have a chance to punish Republicans for enabling this disaster and take back governorships and state legislatures all across the country.

Meanwhile, we can hold President Trump accountable for everything he does – and not just that, we can hold accountable every single Republican who enables him, so that when we kick him out, we can kick them out too.

There’s a part for you to play in the next great progressive comeback story. But only if you can keep from losing your mind or getting so discouraged that you quit before the comeback even begins.

Al Franken’s final chapter is fantastic. It’s uplifting, motivational, and channels all of the anger and frustration that we as readers just experienced in the preceding chapters into something positive.

In the beginning months of Trump’s Presidency, I read about (and experienced) “outrage fatigue.” Every week, Trump would find some new way to make a mockery of the office, the rule of law, or the country. Hosts like Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah all made the joke that the first couple of months of Trump’s Presidency felt like years and that we had all aged rapidly for it.

I worried that this fatigue would eventually spread. By the time the 2018 mid terms rolled around, would people be so tired they wouldn’t bother caring anymore? Would this all be a new normal? And that was terrifying…but I was so tired.

Books like this give me hope, inspire me to do more. So Kudos to you, Al Franken. Between you, Bernie Sanders, and Kamala Harris, I have Senators and leaders that I can look up to, especially since my own (Ted Cruz (ugh) and John Cornyn) suck so much.

Thank you Al. And thanks again, Rachel, for being my inspiration to read this book. You rock.

Revolution for Dummies: Laughing Through the Arab Spring – TwoMorePages Book Review

Revolution for Dummies: Laughing Through the Arab Spring – TwoMorePages Book Review

If you ask questions you are either a traitor, an infidel, or both. Fact checking authorities is looked upon as a form of mutiny against the country or against God. If you challenge those claims, you don’t like the country or you are misinformed by “mainstream media”, which is not telling you the “truth.”

Quick sanity check – do you think that the quote above references the current Egyptian dictatorship under Sissi or the current US government under Trump’s administration?

The correct answer is actually Egypt, but isn’t it weird that you have to think about it? Bassem Youssef’s book chronicling his adventures and experiences through not one BUT TWO revolutions in Egypt is a fantastic read. His insights into the kind of populism that led to a religious dictatorship, followed by the (totally not a coup?) military dictatorship are extremely intelligent and thought provoking.

He had to literally leave his country because he was going to get arrested and probably jailed forever (maybe executed?) for hosting an Arab version of the Daily Show that didn’t always show the Egyptian government in great light. It was literally the most popular show in Egypt at one point.

You know, after having read Trevor Noah’s book about growing up in Africa and then this book, I’m liking this whole “expand your horizons by reading about people who grew up in elsewhere in the world” thing.

I didn’t know that much about the Arab Spring when it happened, and I got really confused when I tried to learn more about it at the time. This is a fantastic recollection of how it went down in Egypt – first, describing the revolution that overthrew the existing 30 year dictatorship of Mubarak; then, describing how the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis, two very different Islamic groups that hated each other, somehow came together to create a religious majority that made a government based on Sharia law under Morsi; then, describing how the military seized power from Morsi and instituted a fascist military dictatorship that entirely censored free speech afterwards.

I remember reading about the conundrum that the US faced at the time: if you don’t call it a coup, then you still have to give Egypt $1.5 billion in aid. If you call it a coup, well…then you have to recognize the not-peaceful seizure of power from what you considered the legitimate Egyptian government. And if that’s the case, how do you want to handle this on an international stage?

For the first time we didn’t make fun of the Islamists. I directed my sarcasm at the ”liberal” media now. I always felt it was my job to keep whoever was in power in check – and even though these people used to root for me and against the Islamists back in the day, they were now the ones fueling hate and racism.

Reading about Youssef’s struggles under both governments was eye opening. People that supported him when he was speaking out against the religious majority of Morsi’s government then turned around and attacked him when he pointed out the same inconsistencies of Sissi’s military government.

The same people who were attacking him under Morsi’s government and accusing him of being a “secret Christian traitor” were singing his praises under Sissi’s government. He was the same person criticizing the same things, but suddenly those people were 100% A-okay with him when the government they supported was gone. How weird is that?

Moreover, reading about how much worse Sissi’s militaristic regime was was crazy. He went into detail about how the government came out and said they had created a machine that could cure Hepatitis C, AIDS, and cancer. The machine would “take the virus away from the patient and return it to him in the form of a kabab sandwich.” Dude’s a heart surgeon; he knows that’s total bullshit, and yet when he says there’s no way that machine works, he’s called out as being a liar and that his information is fake. Sound familiar?

Obviously that machine didn’t work. Here was the climate in Egypt:

A 22 year old college student was arrested and sentenced to 3 years in jail for photoshopping Mickey Mouse ears onto Sissi’s head.

An Egyptian judge sentenced FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLE TO DEATH for killing ONE police officer. All of them were convicted of the same crime!

A British couple was captured and delivered to the police by “concerned citizens” in the subway who’d overheard the two talking in their own language, you know, English.

“The country is in a critical condition now and I can’t allow my channel to be part of this. We are thankful for what you have done in teh past; your contribution to enlighten people against Islamic fascism will not be forgotten. But Egypt doesn’t need you now.”

– Station Owner, shutting down Youssef’s show

He only got a few episodes into his show under the new Regime before the government *forced it off the air*, and he had to flee the country soon afterwards to prevent himself from “disappearing.”

In a time when I worry about whether or not free speech will truly remain free here in America, it’s sobering to think that free speech is not a given in lots of places in the world.

This is the road that I fear we’re going down here in the US currently. Hearing Sean Spicer literally say “We have a respect for the press when it comes to the government, that that is something you can’t ban an entity from. I think that is what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship” , and then turn around as White House Press Secretary a few months later and ban CNN from a white house press meeting is insane.

The parallels with what Youssef’s stories in Egypt and what we saw here in the US are frightening. Who supported Morsi and Sissi in Egypt? Older, less educated people, who were easily manipulated and lied to because they are afraid of people different than them. Who supported/supports Trump? Pretty much the same demographic, except white and Christian this time instead of brown and Islamic. Facts need not enter the discussion – it’s all based on *feelings*.

It’s the same side of the same coin.

“Whenever his supporters were faced with facts and reality they would simply tell you that this is the talk of liberal media who hate Trump and who hate America.”

“But as I was inside the Republican convention it was deja vu for me…I would sometimes translate parts of their speeches in my head and they would sound exactly the same as the ones I heard back home. The fear, the xenophobia, the hate, they all came in different shapes and forms; only, they were wearing more expensive suits and had much pastier skin.”

“The (Egyptian) military supporters still lack any thoughts resembling logic. They are part of the same echo chamber you’d find yourself in if you attended a Trump rally: “Everyone is conspiring against us. They are out to get us, they hate us for our freedoms.”

So, reading this book was a little surreal for me. The same sense of awe that Youssef had regarding how he couldn’t believe the way the people around him were acting and voting is pretty much the same sense of awe that I have regarding people continue to support Trump.

The one perhaps positive difference? Trump’s approval ratings are historically low for a sitting US President in his first 100 days, so maybe people are coming around and thinking for themselves. They may be quiet about it (nobody likes admitting they were wrong), but that’s better than nothing. In comparison, all the Egyptian leaders were apparently extremely popular.

This was a really good read, and I’m glad that Youssef didn’t “disappear” back in Egypt, which looks like it could have been a distinct possibility *several* times.  I’ll definitely keep an eye out in the future for books like this that help give me more of a global perspective of the world.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah – TwoMorePages Book Review

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah – TwoMorePages Book Review

So I put off getting this book for a long time. “I’ll read something else first.” I said to myself. In fact, that’s how I ended up reading that Jon Stewart book about the Daily Show.

I strongly regret that decision now. This book was so entertaining, so fun and easy to read, that I finished it in 4 days while I was out on a ski vacation. I’d go skiing, then come back and read until dinner. IT WAS FAN-FREAKING-TASTIC.

And I learned so much about how different my life could have been. Trevor Noah is 33 years old. I’m 30. While I was playing with legos and watching Power Rangers here in Texas, thinking that racism is kind of dumb and that was totally normal, Trevor Noah was growing up in Apartheid and thinking “yes, of course the cities are segregated. It’s totally normal that my dad and mom have to pretend to *not be my dad and mom* because I’m mixed.”

Sometimes books open your eyes to different perspectives and enlarge the scope of your world view. This one did that, and did it while telling extremely entertaining stories.

 

Wait, what? That’s a thing? That sounds like something from the Hunger Games.

One of the takeaways that I’ll always remember from this book is the description of how Apartheid society worked. For instance, he described how there was one black settlement of about a million people with only one road in or out. That way, in case the people living there started getting a little too uppity and started protesting or something like that, the government could close the roads and bomb the settlement and people would have nowhere to run to. WHAAAT?! O.o

That sounds like something from some fictional dystopian future, not a description of the 1980s which I was alive for.

Another thing that I learned was that there weren’t just two groups, black and white, like I’ve tended to experience here in America. No, there was an entire other one – colored (or mixed). They had their own segregation and their own set of unique ways to be treated. If you were mixed, you belonged to *that* group and not necessarily just white or black, depending on which way the color of your skin skewed. It’s a trippy thing to think about, honestly.

I’ve experienced very little racism in my life, and I am super thankful for that. Seldom have I thought it held me back, except perhaps when it came to dating. I never even experienced the whole anti-asian bias that Universities are sometimes accused of having, since I got into both the University of Texas and the University of Wisconsin when I applied. So reading about the stark contrast between the way I grew up and the way Trevor grew up was jarring enough; reading about how he just kind of accepted it and rolled with it, like it was a 100% normal thing, was much more surreal.

 

How African racism is different from American racism

British racism said, “If the monkey can walk like a man and talk like a man, then perhaps he is a man.” Afrikaner racism said, “Why give a book to a monkey?”

In America you had the forced removal of the natives onto reservations coupled with slavery followed by segregation. Imagine all three of those things happening to the same group of people at the same time. That was apartheid.

It’s weird to think that racism has different forms. That the racism that a person could experience in one country could be different from one country to another. I always thought it was a binary kind of thing – either it existed or it didn’t. I never thought about shades of grey in racism itself.

What Trevor did a great job illustrating through his stories was just how much more severe the racism under apartheid was. Yes, you have discussion and discourse about how there is a cycle of poverty here in America (and about how black people tend to be stuck in it), and about how hard it is to escape it, but at least here I’ve never heard anyone outright say “Yeah, don’t even bother teaching those kids. They’re x race.” or “Yeah, you have to live in this neighborhood that we’ve set aside for you. You’re x race.

Yes, through social policies, black kids might be tracked to poorer public school and so would get less of an education. Yes, because it’s too expensive to live in certain areas, you may end up with de facto segregation like in Austin where everyone of a certain ethnicities tend to live in certain areas, but it’s never specifically defined in the law. There weren’t requirements for separate restrooms for whites, blacks, and colored folks.

Now, I hear the argument that perhaps the end result is the same or at the very least similar, but the fact remains that it was literally spelled out.

Growing up in the way I did, I learned how easy it is for white people to get comfortable with a system that awards them all the perks. I knew my cousins were getting beaten for things that I’d done, but I wasn’t interested in changing my grandmother’s perspective, because that would mean I’d get beaten too. Why would I do that? So that I’d feel better?

At that point, I didn’t think of the special treatment as having to do with color. It wasn’t, “Trevor doesn’t get beaten because Trevor is white.” It was, “Trevor doesn’t get beaten because Trevor is Trevor.”

-Trevor, on growing up as a mixed kid in a black family

The way he went on to describe the societal differences, even in black society was eye opening as well. The belief that black people were inherently inferior seemed ingrained into South Africa’s society. When he, as a mixed kid, was hanging out with his black family, even *they* treated him differently, but in a better way.

It’s not reverse-racism like you often hear about here in the US, where a white kid in a black community would be ostracized; it’s a literal continuation of “white is better” that the rest of his society was promoting. Weird.

And his commentary on how people who were treated better would react is spot on. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who society has decided to treat preferentially – why would you go out and change it? Indeed, you might not even understand why you were getting preferential treatment – you might think it’s just because *you specifically* are awesome.

I won’t lie. I feel like I’ve been in that spot before growing up. Sometimes it was getting to do something my sister couldn’t because I was a boy. Sometimes it was the luxury of knowing that I as a kid would get in less trouble than other kids because I was a better student. But at least in my mind, it was because I was awesome. Nothing more; nothing less.

 

Commentary on living in “the hood”

The hood made me realize that crime succeeds because crime does the one thing the government doesn’t do: crime cares. Crime is grassroots. Crime looks for the young kids who need support and a lifting hand. Crime offers internship programs and summer jobs and opportunities for advancement. Crime gets involved in the community. Crime doesn’t discriminate.

The hood has a gravitational pull. It never leaves you behind, but it also never lets you leaves.

-Trevor, on his experiences in the hood

One of the absolute best things this book did was give me a fresh perspective on things I had never experienced. I grew up in a pretty affluent neighborhood without wanting for anything monetarily, so experiences in Houston’s third ward are completely foreign to me. And here’s Trevor talking about his experience in South Africa’s version of it.

And he describes things so vividly it’s perfect. His thoughts on how the economy of the hood is perfectly evolved for its environment is intriguing – how it doesn’t discriminate; how when traditional employment fails, the hood provides ways for its members to provide for themselves economically, to survive.

But the way in which he described how it’s *extremely* difficult to leave is kind of terrifying. His recollection of one of his friends who got a legit job, but was peer pressured basically to quit it is sad. Crabs in a bucket, right?

 

Poignant Life Observations

They’re free, they’ve been taught how to fish, but no one will give them a fishing rod.

Trevor did a fantastic job of coming up with very eloquent ways to describe some of the life lessons he learned. The sentence above was him talking about how you can educate people, but if you don’t give them any opportunities to use that education, it doesn’t actually help.

He talked specifically about how he had the intelligence to do things, the drive to work hard, and the personality to sell things, but it was really only when his friend Andrew gave him his CD-writer that Trevor was able to utilize his skills to be productive, to do something with his life (even if it was just to create pirated CDs).

The more time I spent in jail, the more I realized that the law isn’t rational at all. It’s a lottery. What color is your skin? How much money do you have? Who’s your lawyer? Who’s the judge?

This is one thing I’ve only heard from other people’s stories, and that I believe is universally true, whether it’s here in America or South Africa. And the way that Trevor describes his time in jail is…a little horrifying.

He describes a huge hulk of a man who was in for stealing, but who couldn’t communicate with his guards or his defense lawyers, and so would probably not get to defend himself in court; one who was apparently not a violent criminal but was being treated as such because of the way he looked combined with the fact that nobody could understand what he was saying because he spoke a different language.

You hear stories from things like the Daily Show where poor people don’t know how to navigate the legal system and so get much harsher sentences; and you also hear through the grapevine of how people with money are able to successfully navigate their way through legal troubles and it’s…disheartening.

So yeah, I agree with you Trevor. The law is a lottery. And you get better tickets if you have money.

We live in a world where we don’t see the ramifications of what we do to others because we don’t live with them.

Trevor’s point when saying this was twofold. One, he said this is why ghettos were created, so that rich white people in South Africa would not have to see the poor black people that they were taking advantage of; But ALSO, two, it’s how he said everyone in the hood rationalized stealing. You weren’t stealing from a person, taking something and affecting their lives: you were just taking something that was there. It wasn’t until he got a camera with a family’s photos on it that he finally felt remorse for being complicit in stealing something.

I think this is a poignant life observation as well. It’s so much easier to get mad at someone else or trivialize their problems if you don’t have to see their face, to see them deal with the problems that you may have had a hand in. So if you really want to change a person’s mind on something that you think they’re doing, make them see the firsthand human results of what they’ve done. Don’t argue with them on the internet. It will be much more effective. Hopefully, this is a lesson I can take going forward in my life.

 

Fun, Fun Stories

“Yeah, she was super sad too, because she had such a crush on you. She was always waiting for you to ask her out. Okay, I gotta go to class! Bye!”

Reading back on what I’ve written, I make his book sound super preachy, and that does Trevor a disservice. Perhaps literally the best part about his book is that he wasn’t preachy about his overarching messages. This book was, first and foremost, “a collection of stories from growing up in Apartheid in South Africa.”

And boy were those stories so entertaining. Whether it was in the context of an overarching message he was trying to get across (like the ones I referenced above), or just about him regretting his inability to ask a girl out (quote above), they were genuinely funny and delightful.

I mean, yes, he’s a comedian, and maybe you should expect that, but his writing style was *on point*.

Fufi was my first heartbreak. No one has even betrayed me more than Fufi.

I believed that Fufi was my dog, but of course that wasn’t true. Fufi was a dog. I was  boy. We got along well. She happened to live in my house. That experience shaped what I’ve felt about relationships for the rest of my life: You do knot own the thing that you love.

His story regarding how his dog used to go and hang out with another family during the day was hilarious. And the life lesson that he was trying to convey with it is pretty good in the grand scheme of things.

Life lessons with funny stories? Yes please.

 

Slightly less funny stories

But the closing story of the book was honestly the most riveting. And it sucks that this isn’t some fictional story, because it would be way better if it is. He talked about how his mom’s abusive relationship with his stepdad, and about how said stepdad tried to kill his mom.

This was the story that he told mostly just as a story – no life lesson, no entertaining bit at the end. And it showed. He conveyed his tone so well, you could feel his anxiousness, feel his anger at the situation and how helpless he was about it.

For the life of me I could not understand why she wouldn’t do the same: leave. Just leave. Just fucking leave.

I won’t spoil the story in case you haven’t read it yet, but I know that feeling, where one of your friends/family is in a situation, partly of their own doing, and THEY WON’T STOP. You just want to yell at them to stop, but they won’t.

It’s infuriating, and you won’t understand. And that’s basically where Trevor was. That’s good writing to me.

 

Final Thoughts

I’m so glad I took the time to read this book. It was entertaining, had good life lessons with each story, and gave me insight into how other people grew up. Hell, other people *my age* grew up (Trevor is basically my age).

My only gripe would be that since it’s a collection of stories, Trevor’s age jumps around between the stories. He’ll be a high school graduate in one chapter, then you’ll jump to a new story and he’ll be 11. Sometimes that was jarring. But whatever, I’m sure that he put some thought into the ordering of the stories, and that was a small thing overall.

The little excerpts he put in between his chapters describing something in history I thought were perfect too. They set up the following chapters well, and were little bite size nuggets of wisdom.

This might be my favorite book that I’ve read so far this year. I loved it.

Our Revolution by Bernie Sanders – TwoMorePages Book Review

Our Revolution by Bernie Sanders – TwoMorePages Book Review

In light of our recent election results (*le sigh*), I decided to continue down my foray of non-fiction for a little while longer, this time with a book written by none other than Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.

My first concern when reading this book was that it would be ghostwritten, and I’m pretty happy to report that based on my cursory research afterwards, it seems like Bernie Sanders did indeed write this book. I kind of got hints of that while I was reading in the way he said things, but some ghostwriters are really good at matching tone, so I couldn’t be 100% sure.

I didn’t know much going into the book, and mostly expected a recap of his experience running through the democratic primaries. There was definitely some of that, probably about 25% of the book, but most of the book dealt with the issues that were near and dear to his heart. Indeed, now that I’m done, it feels like this was Bernie’s platform in a nutshell. The entire 2nd half of the book goes point my point with what he thinks is wrong and, more importantly, how he would fix it.

It’s sad that in today’s political climate, it seems that complaining is given equal weight to problem solving, so that second part (HOW HE WOULD FIX IT) is especially poignant to me. Do I agree with everything he said? No, but that’s unrealistic to agree with everything. I was impressed with the thought that he had clearly put into his positions and his proposed methods of dealing with them. Honestly, after reading his stances on the current state of the US, and how entrenched those positions are, I don’t know how he gets up every morning. The weight of that would crush me, but it seems to drive him.

 

Takeaways and things I’ve learned

The Citizens United decision hinges on the absurd notion that money is speech, corporations are people, and giving huge piles of undisclosed cash to politicians in exchange for access and influence does not constitute corruption.

(1) I’ll admit I was not politically active enough to *really* know what Citizens United was all about until I read this book. And damn, is it damning. It is basically legalized corruption and bribery, and allows big donors to basically buy elections.

It allows unlimited money in politics so that way one person with deep pockets can in essence get laws made that are favorable to themselves. Whaaaat? It seems so unabashedly dystopian that I can’t wrap my head around how this is a real thing, in real life, and not something concocted in a fiction book I’m reading.

Bernie went into great detail about how had he become President, his biggest priority was in nominating a Supreme Court Justice that would be against Citizens United, and about the mechanics of just how you can use money to corrupt politics and legislation.

Sigh, what could have been…

(2) Republicans tend to win elections with low voter turnout. I’ve never fully understood why those drives to “get out the vote” seemed so important. Seems like you’d end up with a 50/50 split of people voting for one party or another, but end up with the same proportion. Now I know that’s generally not the case, not only because younger voters tend to skew more liberal / progressive, but because conservative voters tend to vote no matter what whereas younger voters only tend to vote when they are excited and involved in the political process.

He cited the 2014 mid term elections as a strong example, where even though the country was better in every way since 2010, very few people came out to vote (lowest voter turnout since WWII!) and Republicans took several seats in both the Senate and House.

The truth is that when people come into a room, or a gymnasium or an arena, and the look around them and see all the other people in that venue sharing those same views, they come away strengthened and energized. They are not alone.

(3) Rallies actually do matter. Sure, they matter more in smaller states, like Vermont, where there are just straight up fewer people, but they do matter. I’ve always internally wondered why candidates bother with in person rallies instead of just making sure they have a clear and concise message and broadcasting that as well as possible. I’ve personally never made a decision based on a rally, but based on Bernie’s anecdotes, they worked, and they worked really well for his campaign.

Moreover, his point was that they worked not only in persuading people that attended the rallies, but in encouraging them to become more politically active, reaching voters like me that have never attended a rally. Interesting.

Throughout the campaign, from late November to the end of my campaign, I defeated Trump in 28 our of 30 national polls, almost always by double digits.

(4) In the aftermath of the election, one thing I kept reading over and over was that Bernie would have done better against Trump than Hillary had. I originally attributed this to spilled milk revisionist history, but when I delved deeper, I was surprised to see that this claim was backed up with factual data. 28/30? Damn.

Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan were the key democratic states that Clinton lost in her bid for the Presidency, and they were states with an overwhelmingly rural population where I think Sanders message would have come across a lot better, especially in light of the fact that he spent time doing rallies in rural areas, much moreso than either Trump or Clinton did.

 

Reading more about his experience in the democratic primary makes me further upset about how it all went down, about how the press repeatedly counted Superdelegate votes before they even voted when reporting the lead that Clinton had, disincentive people from even going to vote. By the time that the California primary rolled around, most media outlets had already reported the primaries over. I didn’t realize that at the time, and that sucks.

You could feel the frustration in his tone when he recounts his experience there. Ugh, and now I’m frustrated too. Stupid DNC…I now feel like *you’re* partly responsible for this Trump Presidency.

Look at that ABC number again: 261 minutes devoted to campaign coverage this year, and less than one minute of that has specifically been for Sanders.


In fact, I was gently faulted by some for having excessive “message discipline,” for spending too much time discussing real issues. Boring. Not what a successful modern campaign was about.

(5) I never realized just how biased the media had been in covering his campaign until I saw the numbers laid out. And to see how much more airtime the mainstream media gave Trump vs any more rational candidates, ESPECIALLY SANDERS, is infuriating.

Like the whole “Bernie would have done better than Trump” rhetoric I saw post election, I originally attributed any arguments I saw about Bernie not receiving enough press coverage to spilled milk. And just like that example, I’m proven wrong by specific numbers. How…in the what?!

 

His political stances

The rest of the book basically went into his political stances:

  • How our current political climate is basically an oligarchy where the richest people wield a bigger amount of power than I even thought
  • The state of our domestic infrastructure and how he proposed to fix it (and finance said fixes!)
  • Climate change is fucking real, and how he would have encouraged further renewable power generation
  • A single payer health care system is the best and cheapest long term solution for anyone earning under $500k a year
  • The TPP is bad for the middle class, and should be repealed
  • Criminal justice and how the disproportionate treatment of minorities vs Caucasian people is bad for society as a whole
  • 90% of the media is controlled by 6 companies, and they filter what message gets out to most people. This damages the foundation of democracy.

 

It’s too bad this book didn’t come out during the democratic primaries. It would have helped his messaging a lot, though I also understand the argument that most voters would not have taken the time to read 450-ish pages of his stances and experiences, perhaps it would have changed the minds of a few people, or some people like me could have made a tl;dr version that circulated on the web equally as well.

As I write this review, I feel frustration/anger at the DNC and the media for trivializing his campaign and focusing on stupid things like emails instead of issues, which Bernie stubbornly insisted on emphasizing. It makes me genuinely angry to read about just how stacked the deck was against him in the democratic primary.

Since inauguration day, I’ve grown so much more angry and bitter than I thought possible at people who voted for Trump (not at conservative voters, but specifically who voted for Trump). I see him dismantling efforts at combating climate change, at seeing him censor censor any agencies that dare say that climate change is real, at seeing him trot out his press secretary to tell bold faced lies (oh, wait, I’m sorry “alternative facts” is the phrase that KellyAnne Conway would prefer) and expecting us to believe it.

And my heart weeps to see what kind of person we could have had instead. Though they were both considered “anti establishment”, you could not set up a more stark foil than Trump and Sanders.

Sanders’s closing message is supposed to be one of hope, one that’s supposed to inspire me and other readers to go out and change things, to be involved, and to make the world a better place with something similar to his vision.

And maybe one day I’ll be able to at least re-read the closing message and feel that way. Because right now I sure don’t feel hopeful.