Democracy Books this Week
Watergate continues to shape American political identity to this day. From the adaptation of every scandal into a -gate to the development of democratic norms to avoid the abuse of power. At the same time, the public seems to have forgotten the lessons of Watergate. Indeed, few Americans remember or fully understand its significance. The other books touch on many different subjects from democracy in Kenya to ideas about ideas. As always readers will find plenty of new scholarship from disciplines as diverse as history, political science, and public affairs.
Don’t miss the latest episode of the Democracy Paradox podcast. It features Debasish Roy Chowdhury and John Keane in a conversation about inequality and democracy in India. It’s an important conversation as elections take place in Uttar Pradesh over the next few weeks. You can find the podcast on most apps or listen here and read along with the transcript.
Watergate shaped and influenced American history for a generation. Its lessons constrained political leaders who saw Richard Nixon’s Presidency as a cautionary tale. However, Donald Trump’s survival after two impeachment trials challenged many of the assumptions after Watergate. Indeed, many Americans have forgotten the lessons of Watergate. So, it’s about time for America to revisit its history. Using public documents made available in recent years, Garrett Graff has written a new definitive history of Watergate. It’s an important tale to understand American institutions and the limits of Presidential power.
The Quiet Before
This blog and podcast is largely about ideas. It’s about sharing different perspectives and testing them through questions, comments, and introspection. Ideas go on to shape movements, but they develop slowly through conversations, writing, and reading. Gal Beckerman’s new book is about the origin, development, and evolution of ideas. Indeed, Beckerman is focused on radical ideas that go onto shape political movements and change the world. But Beckmernan also critiques the contemporary approach to ideas. Do ideas develop too quickly today? Beckerman makes a case for a different approach to produce more lasting, yet also more dramatic change.
Gal Beckerman, The Quiet Before: On the Unexpected Origins of Radical Ideas
There Are No Accidents
Perhaps some will say this book is not about democracy. I disagree. Jessie Singer finds many injuries and deaths described as accidents involve calculated risks from businesses, bureaucrats, and politicians. The decisions take place largely outside public view and the consequences bring about disasters in communities and tragedies for families. It’s unfathomable that decisions with enormous risks does not receive democratic deliberation. It’s an account with implications for public policy, governance, and humanity.
Jessie Singer, There Are No Accidents: The Deadly Rise of Injury and Disaster—Who Profits and Who Pays the Price
Kenya is among the most important and consequential countries in Africa. It is large in population and its economy. However, it is the diversity of its population that makes its politics so complex and challenging. Jeremy Horowitz examines elections and governance in Kenya. He tackles the reasons for polarization among ethnic groups and its consequences for its politics. Moreover, he considers areas for reform through a chapter near the end that considers Ghana’s comparative success. It will interest anyone interested in democracy in Africa, Kenyan politics, and multiethnic conflicts.
Jeremy Horowitz, Multiethnic Democracy: The Logic of Elections and Policymaking in Kenya
The Southernization of America
A few years ago Heather Cox Richardson caught everyone’s attention with her book How the South Won the Civil War. While this book is not a sequel to Richardson’s work, it should attract a similar audience. Gaillard and Tucker describe how the politics of the South has in many ways become the politics of the country. Indeed, the parallel goes beyond conflicts over race into questions surrounding democracy itself. Moreover, many of the most significant conflicts in American politics have shifted back to southern states such as Georgia and Texas. The book serves as a warning, but also has hope for the South and the larger nation.
Frye Gaillard and Cynthia Tucker, The Southernization of America: A Story of Democracy in the Balance
It is not the people who forgot Watergate; it is the establisment; the progressive and conservative establishment that forgot Watergate.
The problem with America is that representative democracy is only a democracy at election time, the rest of the time is an elected arirtocracy at the services of the various lobbies who finance their campaigns or deliver the vote.
Not surprisingly, the people, in grown numbers have become aware they do not count.
Trump and Sanders are the result. If the American elites do not want things to get worse and want to feel safe; they could do what the Swiss have done; accept direct democracy, let the people decide all important issues.
When the people know they are rn control, they do not go for extremes and demagogues.
But it seems that too many in the US cultural, media and economic elites are too polically stupid to understand that simple idea.
I’m not sure that I agree that people remember Watergate. I live in the Midwest, smack dab in the middle of America. Everyone knows of Watergate, but very few can explain what happened and that had real implications during the Trump impeachment trials. I think that’s what makes Garrett Graff’s new book important. It should introduce the history for many who never learned the details and facilitate as a refresher for those who lived during that era.