Columns of Democracy
Democracies are under attack in many countries including our own. Wannabe dictators feel threatened by democracies’ existence. Their destructive efforts are abetted by democracies’ citizen apathy. This book examines the institutions, the “columns” that support democracy. They include such institutions as independent media, K-12 and higher education, respected, independent judges, accessible voting systems, and public libraries. These institutions support both an active citizenry and meaningful checks on executives’ abuses. This book calls Americans to action – with suggestions. It also contains the author’s “columns” – an example of citizen use of the column of democracy called media. Available from Iowa City’s Prairie Lights, Amazon, or Lulu.
Listen and watch Nicholas Johnson’s speeches, readings, and interviews about Columns of Democracy:
- Nicholas Johnson’s reading of Columns of Democracy (with discussion of how we can save it), Iowa City’s famed Prairie Lights Bookstore, March 30, 2019. [Watch]
- “The Media Under Siege — And What KHOI Can Do About It,” An Evening With Nicholas Johnson, Fundraiser for Community Radio Station KHOI-FM 89.1, Ames, Iowa, November 16, 2018 (“media” as one of the Columns of Democracy) [Listen].
- Ursula Ruedenberg’s interview of Nicholas Johnson, “Columns of Democracy,” Local Talk, KHOI-FM, community radio station, Ames, Iowa, November 9, 2018 [Listen].
- Ben Kieffer’s interview of Nicholas Johnson, “Columns of Democracy,” River to River, Iowa Public Radio, October 29, 2018 [Listen].
Democracies are under attack in many countries including our own. Wannabe dictators feel threatened by democracies’ existence. Their destructive efforts are abetted by democracies’ citizen apathy. This book examines the institutions, the “columns” that support democracy. They include such institutions as independent media, K-12 and higher education, respected, independent judges, accessible voting systems, and public libraries. These institutions support both an active citizenry and meaningful checks on executives’ abuses. This book calls Americans to action – with suggestions. It also contains the author’s “columns” – an example of citizen use of the column of democracy called media.
- Reading Video – Columns of Democracy, Prairie Lights, Iowa City, March 30, 2019 [View Video]
- Radio Interview – Media Under Siege, Ames, Iowa, Nov. 16, 2018 [Audio Page]
- Radio Interview – Ursula Ruedenberg, Local Talk, KHOI-FM, Columns of Democracy, Nov. 9, 2018 [Audio Page]
- Radio Interview – Ben Kieffer, River to River, IPR, Columns of Democracy, Oct. 29, 2018 [Audio Page]
Introduction to Resources
(1) Books can help us make sense out of confusing, dangerous times and the thousands of events and news stories they produce but never organize. Like the final pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, books authors’ research, organization and writing can create a focused picture that puts in revealing relationship what we only vaguely recall along with what we never knew. The preservation of any democracy requires the constant oversight and efforts of its citizens. Books about democracies’ challenges are central to that task.
(2) The books listed below are but a sampling of what is available. Aside from American democracy’s basic documents they are mostly only recent publications. Moreover, they are not even represented to be “the best” of those. They are but one person’s effort to create a list from which to choose.
(3) A democracy requires that we provide financial support for our local bookstores as well as local newspapers, libraries, schools, and authors. Look first to your local bookstore (or library) for these books. The references below to Amazon’s book pages are only a fallback if you cannot find a particular book locally. (Nor are they intended as an endorsement of Amazon over, say, Barnes & Noble, or other sources. You may believe there are good reasons not to support Amazon.)
AMERICAN DEMOCRACY’S BEGINNINGS
- Magna Carta (1215) British Library English translation –
- National Archives’ “Charters of Freedom”(facsimiles of Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights)
- Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776)
https://tinyurl.com/y8ar8hg5 (Amazon’s various editions)
- Declaration of Independence (1776) (transcription/text)
- Constitutional Convention (1787) (Farrand’s Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, vols. 1-3)
- Constitution (1787; final ratification 1790) (transcription/text)
- The Federalist Papers (1787-88)
- Bill of Rights (1789, effective 1791) (transcription/text of original 12)
- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (vols. 1 and 2; 1835, 1840) [View on Amazon] (Amazon’s various editions)
AMERICA’S EVOLUTION AND CHALLENGES
- Steven Brill, Tailspin: The People and Forces Behind America’s Fifty-Year Fall — and Those Fighting to Reverse It (Alfred A. Knopf Borzoi Book, 2018), [View on Amazon] (“A stunningly cogent picture of the broken system at the heart of our society. . . . America’s core values — meritocracy, innovation, due process, free speech, and even democracy itself — have somehow managed to power its decline into dysfunction. . . . Brill answers the question . . .: How did we end up this way?” — From the Amazon description.)
- Nicholas Johnson, Columns of Democracy (Lulu Press, 2018), [View on Amazon] (“Wannabe dictators . . . destructive efforts are abetted by democracies’ citizen apathy. [T]he the institutions, the “columns” that support democracy . . . include . . . independent media, K-12 and higher education, . . . independent judges, accessible voting systems, and public libraries. . . . This book calls Americans to action – with suggestions.” From the Amazon description.)
- Nancy MacLean, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America (Penguin Random House, Penguin Books, 2017), [View on Amazon] (“MacLean tells the story of how the radical right worked its way from the fringe of American politics to the White House . . . — a project that began six decades ago to remove barriers to unrestrained capitalism while erecting new barriers to democracy.” — John Nichols, The Progressive, from the book)
- Jane Mayer, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (Penguin Random House, Anchor Books, 2017), [View on Amazon] (“An extraordinarily well-documented account of the influential, interlocking organizations with innocuous names created by the Koch brothers.” — Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, from the book)
- Ralph Nader, To the Ramparts: How Bush and Obama Paved the Way for the Trump Presidency, and Why It Isn’t Too Late to Reverse Course (Seven Stories Press, 2018), [View on Amazon] (“This book] shows us how unchecked corporate power has led to the wrecking ball that is the Trump presidency. Nader brings together the outrages of the Trump administration with the key flaws and failures of the previous administrations—both Republican and Democratic. Bush and Obama led the way. Nader shows how Trump’s crimes and misdemeanors followed the path of no resistance of the Obama, Bush and Clinton regimes, which ushered in the extreme rise of corporate power and the abandonment of the poor and middle classes.” Excerpts from the Amazon description.)
- George Packer, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), [View on Amazon] (“Seismic shifts during a single generation have created a country of winners and losers, allowing unprecedented freedom while rending the social contract, driving the political system to the verge of breakdown, and setting citizens adrift to find new paths forward.” From the Amazon description.)
- Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century ( Éditions du Seuil, Harvard University Press, 2014), [View on Amazon] (“Capital . . . [details] historical changes in the concentration of income and wealth. . . . [T]he importance of wealth in modern economies is approaching levels last seen before the first world war. . . . But there are no natural forces pushing against the steady concentration of wealth. . .. ” From The Economist review [View].)
- Peter Schweizer, Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends (HarperCollins, 2018), [View on Amazon] (“Peter Schweizer explains how a new corruption has taken hold, involving larger sums of money than ever before . . . multibillion-dollar equity deals done in the dark corners of the world. . . . In many parts of the world, the children of powerful political figures go into business and profit handsomely . . . because people want to curry favor with their influential parents. This is a relatively new phenomenon in the United States. But for relatives of some prominent political families, we may already be talking about hundreds of millions of dollars.” Excerpts from the Amazon description.)
- Peter Zeihan, The Accidental Super Power: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder (Hachette Book Group, 2014), [View on Amazon] (“[I]n 1945 we produced one quarter of the world’s gross domestic product and spent as much on the military and controlled as much naval tonnage at the rest of the world combined. . . . But some things are changing. . . . America will [revert] to the role it played before World War II: a global power without global interests.” From the Kirkus’ review, [View].)
FROM DEMOCRACY TO DICTATORSHIP
- Madeleine Albright, Fascism: A Warning (HarperCollins Publishers, 2018), [View on Amazon] (“A personal and urgent examination of Fascism in the twentieth century and how its legacy shapes today’s world . . ..” (From the Amazon description)
- Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, How Democracies Die (Crown, 2018), [View on Amazon] (“Democracy no longer ends with a bang—in a revolution or military coup—but with a whimper: the slow, steady weakening of critical institutions, such as the judiciary and the press, and the gradual erosion of long-standing political norms.” From the Amazon description.)
- Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (Tim Duggan Books, 2017), [View on Amazon] (“The Founding Fathers tried to protect us from the threat they knew, the tyranny that overcame ancient democracy. Today, our political order faces new threats, not unlike the totalitarianism of the twentieth century. … Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.” From the Amazon description.)
- David Frum, Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic (Harper-Collins Publishers, 2018), [View on Amazon] (“Trump gambled that Americans resent each other’s differences more than they cherish their shared democracy. So far, that gamble has paid off.” From the book’s Introduction.)
- Michael Isikoff and David Corn, Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump (Hachette Book Group, 2018), [View on Amazon] (“[This] is a story [that] weaves together tales of international intrigue, cyber espionage, and superpower rivalry. . . . Moscow trained its best hackers and trolls on U.S. political targets and exploited WikiLeaks to disseminate information that could affect the 2016 election.” From the Amazon description.)
- David Cay Johnston, It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America (Simon & Schuster, 2018), [View on Amazon] (“[This book] shines a light on . . . our government under the Trump Administration, destroying it from within and compromising our jobs, safety, finances, and more. . . . [How] the federal agencies that touch the lives of all Americans are being undermined.” From the Amazon introduction.)
- Michael Lewis, The Fifth Risk (W. W. Norton & Company, 2018), [View on Amazon] (“Trump appointees were few and far between; those that did show up were shockingly uninformed about the functions of their new workplace . . . a government under attack by its own leaders. [The] funding of . . . food stamps and school lunches is being slashed. The Commerce Department may not have enough staff to conduct the 2020 Census properly.” From the Amazon desciption.)
- Greg Miller, The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy (HarperCollins Publishers, 2018), [View on Amazon] (“[T]he truth about Vladimir Putin’s covert attempt to destroy Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump win the presidency, its possible connections to the Trump campaign, . . . and the mystery of Trump’s steadfast allegiance to Putin.” From the Amazon description.)
- Bob Woodward, Fear: Trump in the White House (Simon & Schuster, 2018), [View on Amazon] (“[T]he early days of Donald Trump’s presidency . . . are strikingly similar [to Nixon’s final days] and in some ways even more gut-wrenching. Then, as now, the country faced a crisis of leadership caused by a president’s fatal flaws and inability to function in the job.” Jill Abramson, “Bob Woodward’s Meticulous, Frightening Look Inside the Trump White House,” Washington Post, September 6, 2018)
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On 23 Sep 2018, Michelle Obama gave a non-partisan public speech about the importance of participating in democracy through voting. [Source: CNN, via YouTube, 23 Sep 2018]
DARK MONEY, a political thriller, examines one of the greatest present threats to American democracy: the influence of untraceable corporate money on our elections and elected officials. The film takes viewers to Montana—a frontline in the fight to preserve fair elections nationwide—to follow an intrepid local journalist working to expose the real-life impacts of the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Through this gripping story, DARK MONEY uncovers the shocking and vital truth of how American elections are bought and sold. This Sundance award-winning documentary is directed/produced by Kimberly Reed (PRODIGAL SONS) and produced by Katy Chevigny (E-TEAM). More at www.darkmoneyfilm.com [Source: “Dark Money” – PBS, YouTube, 24 May 2018]
The following video from Robert Reich was originally published to YouTube on 17 Feb 2018. The YouTube description states: “The fundamental question is whether we can restore the common good and rebuild trust in the system.” (Source)
The video below is queued to 3m 6s where former President George W. Bush is talking with Ellen DeGeneres about the role of the media in a democracy. [Source: The Ellen Show, YouTube, 2 Mar 2017]