It’s a word that gets tossed about a lot, defined more or less by what the person using it considers terribly wrong and/or immoral. It’s also dismissed as a logical way of looking at deeds that harm others by some who prefer to find social or psychological explanations—or who prefer the idea some people aren’t like the rest of us. Still others just apply it to anyone they don’t like.
Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty was written in 1997, right around the time the term “superpredators” was coined as part of the effort by the current President and his predecessor Bill Clinton that ended in the US having the highest number of people incarcerated in the world. When I first realized how little I understood current events, it was one of the first books I bought to expand my knowledge base. It was the constant labeling of Donald Trump and anyone who supported him as “evil” that led me to finish reading it.
“Most people who perpetrate evil do not see what they are doing as evil,” Dr. Baumgartner notes on the first page of chapter 1. Indeed, he goes on to suggest, if it weren’t for their victims’ suffering, evil might not even be a social construct.
In what follows, he provides a compelling amount of evidence that even sociopaths aren’t “born evil”, although they may be more susceptible to doing evil deeds for reasons of their personal psychology. In essence, he says, it’s the deeds that are evil, because they cause suffering. But can the case be made that those who intentionally choose to cause suffering are themselves evil?
Violence perpetrated on others, he writes, boils down to a lack of self-control. That self-control is why all of us don’t do evil things. Yet given the proper circumstances, even those who have excellent self-control may lose it—and cause harm.
This is an important book not just because it provides a cogent and well-supported argument that adds a needed level to sanity in a culture that increasingly labels people permanently “evil” for a single misdeed decades in their past. It’s also presented in a way that doesn’t require a degree in clinical psychology to understand. For those reasons I recommend anyone struggling to make sense of why we seem to live in a world full of genocide and mass shootings and police brutality find a copy as soon as possible.
I am about to make myself a likely target of outrage again, but recent events make it necessary I speak my piece. I’ve had more than one engagement with Green Party enthusiasts, most of whom don’t seem to have studied the history of previous third-party efforts to see what went wrong and benefit from that knowledge.
As the House of Representatives prepared to pass HR.1 of 2021, the For the People voting reform act, the Green Party launched an indignant campaign on social media declaring “the Democrats” were once again setting up roadblocks to any successful challenge to the duopolistic status quo by a third party.
The language in question:
SEC. 5202. ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS FOR MATCHING PAYMENTS.
(a) AMOUNT OF AGGREGATE CONTRIBUTIONS PER STATE; DISREGARDING OF AMOUNTS CONTRIBUTED IN EXCESS OF $200.—Section 9033(b)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 is amended—
(1) by striking ‘‘$5,000’’ and inserting ‘‘$25,000’’; and
(2) by striking ‘‘20 States’’ and inserting the following: ‘‘20 States (disregarding any amount of contributions from any such resident to the extent that the total of the amounts contributed by such resident for the election exceeds $200)’’.
For those unfamiliar with the language of campaign finance, under the existing law a candidate running for President of the United States was required to have accumulated funds in the amount of $5,000 collected from at least 20 states to qualify for matching funds from the US government. That amount has been increased to $25,000, which to most people would seem reasonable for someone aiming to cop the top office in the national government.
There is no question the legacy parties have made it extremely difficult for third-party challengers to get on ballots. Most states have sets of rules for third parties that are so clearly designed to make it impossible for them to get a foothold they should have been challenged all the way to the Supreme Court decades ago. Or, alternatively, the parties seeking that foothold would find ways to win seats in state legislatures to the point they could initiate changes. That’s a discussion for another time.
The discussion this time is about the Green Party trying to rouse the masses by telling them to demand their representatives in Congress refuse to pass the entire reform bill unless and until the provision above and one other that states “IN GENERAL.—Subject to the provisions of this chapter, the eligible candidates of a party in a Presidential election shall be entitled to equal payment under section 9006 in an amount equal to 600 percent of the amount of each matchable contribution received by such candidate or by the candidate’s authorized committees (disregarding any amount of contributions from any person to the extent that the total of the amounts contributed by such person for the election exceeds $200), except that total amount to which a candidate is entitled under this paragraph shall not exceed $250,000,000’’ are removed.
“Progressives should be demanding full public funding based on equal grants for all qualified candidates and a constitutional amendment to end the US Supreme Court imposed doctrines that limit public regulation of campaign funding in public elections,” 2020 Green Party Howie Hawkins says in a position paper posted on the party’s website. “The qualifying thresholds to access this presidential primary matching funds are increased five times, putting the program beyond the reach of third-party candidates.”
I leave it to my reader to decide whether $25,000 is such a huge amount of money as to be “beyond the reach” of a truly viable third party running someone for President of the United States. Why not be complaining that these major reforms aren’t scheduled to go into effect until 2028? Or, put another way, until the current Democrat Party’s occupation of the Oval Office, provided one or the other of the top two holding office wins in 2024, the opportunity arises for the other legacy party to take over again.
That is, the Democrats get to run another Presidential campaign and at least three Congressional ones without having to abide by the changes called for in the bill.
Hawkins admits the bill contains desperately needed reforms, but the Green Party’s hobbyhorse (cf. Sterne, Lawrence, The Life and Times of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman) about matching funds is in full gallop. Never mind closing the loopholes to keep foreigners from donating, to require paper ballots, to improve voter access, and curb the influence of dark money. It’s more important that anyone who decides to start a new political party immediately have access to the same level of support as established parties that have developed, for good or ill, a sufficient voter base to be able to raise the levels of financing modern political campaigns require.
Which, it must be noted, the Green Party has failed to do despite its 20-year history of running people for President every four years then essentially disappearing into the woodwork until the next time come around. It seems their core belief is that anyone with the least intelligence in the working class will simple fall in love with their eco-socialist platform and come running to sign on. I call it Field of Dreams politics—a group of committed and well-meaning activists who think all they need do is set up their new political option and “they will come”.
The most successful third party in US history, the People’s Party, emerged from the Farmer’s Alliance movement in the latter half of the 19th century. The Alliance had, at its height, 40,000 traveling lecturers and educators, 1,000 newspapers and magazines, and even its own press organization—The National Reform Press Association. Local Alliance chapters had libraries, and held study groups. Even so, the People’s Party failed—because it allowed its organization to be dominated by men more interested in getting elected than in advancing the goals of its platform, and because it refused to acknowledge just how deeply rooted party loyalty is in the majority of people who embrace a party.
Nevertheless, the Populists were making major inroads into the duopoly’s control despite the huge levels of funding coming from the same kind of corporate oligarchs and bankers candidates face today being used against them. They did it with the support of people some of whom were burning their own crops to keep themselves warm because they couldn’t sell them for enough to live on. There were no matching funds. There were simply millions of people mad as hell who understood who their real opponents were and worked their hearts and souls out to fight them.
From where I watch, there seems to be a whole lot of people so focused on their pet issue they’re incapable of understanding that compromise and politics is the way things work. They’re so conditioned to thinking that if something isn’t working the way you want it to, the solution is to throw it out and get something new instead of looking at how the one you have might be repaired. They claim they embrace solidarity, and then are ready to toss the benefit of the mass of the people aside unless their own special to-do list gets fulfilled. They call for “general strike” and, when asked if their strike fund is ready, airily state they don’t need one because sometimes you just have to suffer for the cause.
The US governments—federal, state, and local—have been run by two, and only two, major parties for most of the country’s history. Students of that history know all too well how, thirty years ago, the two parties essentially became Siamese twins joined at the hip of neoliberal economics. Anyone who thinks they can just declare they’re launching a new party and succeed in combatting that wall of established privilege is delusional. If there’s going to be a new, third party, it has to be built from the grassroots up, blade by blade and brick by brick. That doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen without a lot of hard work. And yes, reality does suck.
Today is Monday, February 22. I’m sitting in my bedroom office in Austin TX. We haven’t had water service since last Wednesday, and the word is we won’t have it until tomorrow at the earliest because first broken pipes have to be mended and a search has to be made to locate any that haven’t yet been found.
My husband and I were lucky, in that we were among those who had electricity during the Great Freeze. We conserved as much as we could to help keep the load down. It helps that Austin has one of the three remaining actual public utilities in the state. We’re told we won’t be facing the obscene electric bills those who thought they were getting a bargain by signing up with privately-owned electrical companies are now getting.
They shouldn’t be. Those bills are the direct result of price-gouging initiated by natural gas providers on the commodities markets. Some were even recorded in business media chortling gaily over the fat profits they were pocketing. What happened with the people who produce electricity was unconscionable.
Meantime, the usual suspects in the so-called “liberal media” and opportunistic New Democrats were busily driving the focus from the real root cause of the Mess in Texas—the same neoliberal free-market economic system they love and support—onto blaming Republicans and anyone who dared to vote for them. SSDD.
So, having been provided with a major weapon to use against neoliberalism, how to we on the left keep the focus where it belongs while the establishment is already turning Texas into just another Democrat vs. Republican team food fight? How do we get through to the Comfortable Class well-intended who think advising people facing horrendous electrical bills where to get financial assistance is being helpful, and who take umbrage when you point out there’s not going to be enough “assistance” anywhere to deal with something of this scope?
The last time the working class went up agains the corporations, there was a network of 1000 newspapers and 40,000 traveling lecturers able to help voters connect the dots. The former came to create the National Reform Press Association for mutual support. Now, we’re watching similar news sources being deplatformed by their main sources of connection, while journalists with the courage to defend everyone’s right to free speech are routinely attacked to undermine their credibility.
I won’t even start on the active campaign to do likewise against the small but steadily growing number of Populists in Congress. On second thought, yes, I will. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has become the punching bag for the right, the New Democrats, and every spoiled brat who has their pet issue (Tristram Shandy called them hobby-horses) and thinks that, despite having no knowledge of how politics work, nevertheless demands she march to their tune, raised $5 million in three days to help people. She lives in New York City. She did it while one Texas Senator was tripping off to Cancun, and a Democrat politician with eyes on being governor did a Zoom phone bank to see how people were doing.
I don’t want to make light of Beto O’Rourke’s effort, because those calls mattered. There’s just something about the way they became a major PR moment right after the media announced he was thinking of running that’s unsettling. He has a dog in the political hunt. AOC didn’t and doesn’t. And she brought usable resources rather than simply sending people to whatever was available. (See previous comment about Comfortable Class well-intended).
Yet over and over AOC was attacked on social media, her effort demeaned because “she’s just taking money from people when the government should be doing it”. There were even implications some of the money would go to her staff, or for political purposes. Or that she was the one doing a PR stunt. Never mind that she’s done similar fundraisers all year long, both for people in her own district and elsewhere.
All of which feeds into the way we are once again being distracted from the real villains—the corporations and the financiers and the hedge-funders and the speculators—to place the blame on their enablers while diminishing how hard some of the people most harshly criticized are working to do good for the average human being. It’s what they do. It’s how they keep the majority of us with our shoulders to the wheel and our nose to the grindstone generating profits for them to store somewhere else and avoid paying taxes. Ever try to have any fun when you’re in that position? Well, it’s not great for getting people to revolt that way, either.
We’re at a crucial moment in the effort to change everything for the people’s advantage. If we fail to take advantage of it, or allow our voices to be shouted down and silenced, will we ever again be in such a strong position to wake the sleepers? I don’t mean a general strike, although if ever we had a reason for one what’s happened in Texas qualifies. The problem is, we don’t have the resources yet for that. Or the general support.
Still, we can take every opportunity to call out those who want to deflect from the real cause. Many single voices add up to one loud one.
“People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.” — Blaise Pascal
If you’re going to “call out fascism”, you’d best get started ASAP, since the US has literally been a neo-fascist oligarchy in the model of Mussolini’s Italy since Bill Clinton handed the Democrats over via his Third Way. Is The Donald finally exposing the authoritarianism that’s underlaid our society for most of its existence? Yes. Yes, he is, and for that we should be thanking him profusely.
The ongoing effort of the US corporate media to conflate Donald Trump with Hitler, and thus maintain the false view that a country must look and operate like Nazi Germany to be fascist is nothing but propaganda, and the fact journalists I know are aware of how propaganda works choose to ignore it in favor of embracing that propaganda does the US voting public a shameful disservice.
In my observation, that’s what most of the pearl-clutching over The Donald’s proclamation he won’t remove himself from the Oval, and his “orders” to the White extremist groups he and who knows how many others have been encouraging for at least the last 40 years is about. Any student of real history, as opposed to the watered-down version we’re taught and which he wants to, apparently, dilute even further, knows this. It’s what makes the ongoing propaganda effort to make him some kind of boogeyman Icon of Evil® so appalling.
When anyone focuses a discussion of authoritarianism and fascism solely on Donald Trump, they are either woefully lacking in historical perspective or deliberately choosing to reinforce the false narrative that supporting a different party with the exact same agenda as the one he belongs to will somehow save us all. It’s a lie, and an egregious one.
Does Donald Trump need to be removed from the Executive Branch? Without question, but not for the reasons on offer. He needs to be gone because he is a clear and present danger to our survival, being a narcissist who is both bored with his current worldview and feeling challenged to defend it. This is potentially fatal combination, as any number of victims of domestic violence can attest, assuming they survived it.
Nevertheless, pretending Joe Biden (or more likely Kamala Harris) is going to make any definitive reversal of the current administration’s policies that will benefit anyone other than the oligarchs is either painfully naive or unabashedly disingenuous. Wasting our time shouting at people to repent their evil ways will not help, so if anyone thinks confronting people by telling them they’re racist or misogynist or homophobic or whatever will result in anything other than hardening their confirmation bias, they need to spend sometime studying how you really get people to change their minds and/or viewpoints. Because that ain’t it.
“Don’t be in a hurry to condemn because he/she doesn’t do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.” — Malcolm X
The trouble with trying to review one of Ms. Hillier’s novels is that it’s extremely difficult to do so without spoilers. The latest is no exception, but I’m stubborn.
First, although I wanted to be empathetic with the protagonist, Marin Machado, the simple fact is that she’s not terribly likable. Of course, one suspects as the plot resolution approaches that’s how we’re supposed to feel, but it could just be me. Ms. Hillier’s characters are always painfully human, so it’s logical to react to them as if we were meeting them at a party and drawing our conclusions on short acquaintance.
Marin is doing some last-minute Christmas shopping at a crowded farmer’s market with her 4-year-old son Sebastian when she receives a text from her former lover and trusted best friend Sal. She lets go her son’s hand to respond—and he’s gone.
This is, as we’re reminded many times as the book progresses, is every mother’s nightmare. Marin’s guilt at having let go of a small child in a crowd is certainly justified. Her reaction to it is to essentially become the center of a universe in which anyone who doesn’t display an emotional level equal to her own is dismissed, never mind that her perception of those reactions is entirely narcissistic. No one can possibly suffer as much as she does.
The somewhat predictable effect of this nearly a year and a half after Sebastian’s abduction slowly evolves into a web of lies and betrayals that Ms. Hillier is so adept at weaving. Nothing—and no one—is what we think it is, and yet as the story advances one begins to suspect. Whether those suspicions are correct you’ll have to read to the end to discover.
I suspect many people will have a different reaction to Marin, and that’s why Ms. Hillier’s fiction is so compelling. Far too often in genre fiction the themes and tropes are so well-known we simply react on reflex. That’s not possible with Small Secrets, and that makes all the difference between a good book and a compelling one.
This is an important book on two levels. First, it explains the various economic ideas most people do their best to avoid dealing with in a way accessible even for those of us whose eyes tend to glaze over at mere mention of the subject. Second, it provides information for those only just learning about the mess neoclassical/neoliberal economics has created—a field guide, if you will, to how we got here, and who drove the bus everyone except the 1% has been systematically thrown under.
It’s become common wisdom to blame the paralyzing level of wealth inequality on the Republican—i.e., “conservative”—party, in particular because of Grover Norquest’s infamous “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” that intended to “make the government small enough to drown in a bathtub”.
The man usually given credit for moving the US economy into neoliberalism is Milton Friedman. However, while he is unquestionably the progenitor of modern free-market capitalism, it was his colleague George Stigler who introduced the rabid anti-regulatory element that’s created the modern oligarchy, a position even Stigler’s most important apostle, Sam Peltzman, referred to as “propaganda”.
It was Stiglitz who tilled the soil in the hallowed halls of Congress and the Oval Office that left the federal, and later state, government amenable to the gospel message that competition is superior to regulation for controlling market behavior. The message took hold just as Ronald Reagan took office. The result, unfortunately, we saw too clearly in 2008*.
The problem with neoclassical/neoliberal economics, this excellent and easy-to-read history of the movement suggests, isn’t that the theory doesn’t work. On a limited level, it does. However, the moment it became married to politics, in a country where profit is sought at any cost, it became more like religious dogma, and so not subject to question. Academic certainty became academic arrogance as the Chicago School economists went from being high on ideas to being drunk on power, refusing to accept any data that refuted their fixed beliefs.
They had the right audience, given our culture defines success solely in terms of material wealth. As a result, the converts adhere to the basic tenets of neoliberalism—limit money, cut taxes and government spending to the bone, limit or preferably eliminate regulation, support free trade and unrestricted investment, limit inflation to no more than 2% by manipulating interest rates—despite there being no only no evidence such a system is sustainable but in the face of mounting evidence it’s driving us to disaster.
And why not? It’s a system that works perfectly from those in a position to benefit from it. It’s as though a gang of thieves announced stealing was the only way to run the economy then eliminated all the laws against stealing except the ones that prevent the majority of the non-thief population from doing so.
*For an excellent, if slightly more technical, analysis of how this happened, I recommend ECONned by Yves Smith.
Disclaimer: I received an advance review copy of The Economists’ Hour from the publisher, which I found very flattering since I hadn’t requested it. I’m pleased I can unequivocally recommend it.
Reviewing a book about the Hillary Clinton Campaign only a few months before the primaries to select the candidate for the 2020 Presidential campaign begin might seem to qualify for the Day Late Dollar Short Award. However, in the run-up to those primaries the Democrat Party establishment is repeating many of the same talking points they used against Sen. Bernie Sanders during the 2016 event. Perhaps more important, the Party seems determined to repeat the mistakes it made then. That makes this book quite timely as a reference.
Both the authors make no pretense they didn’t prefer Ms. Clinton over Sen. Sanders, and they work for Politico and The Hill, neither of which is particularly friendly to progressive ideas. However, they are able to get past it for the most part and report the facts instead of justifying or glossing them over. That said, they still can’t refrain from using the kind of violent terms the Clinton campaign applied to the Sanders campaign, words like “rage” and “attack” that in no way describe the way he talked about and to his opposition. Instead, he’s portrayed as a disruptive wannabe unqualified to challenge someone with Clinton’s credentials, which tends to get irritating to anyone who actually paid attention.
What they reveal, perhaps without meaning to, is the simple fact that Clinton, whether because ambition replaced her common sense or simply because of a high level of self-entitlement, comes across as a woman both uncomfortable outside her personal circle of selected friends and arrogantly dismissive of opinions that countered her own.
That her campaign staff acted like eager courtiers willing to do anything to win a moment of their monarch’s attention likely wasn’t helpful when it came to dealing with a hardcore experienced showman like Donald Trump. It’s no wonder people who voted for Obama flipped to vote for The Donald—they’re hypersensitive to precisely the kind of superior attitude Hillary Clinton exuded, and they rejected it.
One of the biggest points of contention during the primaries was Ms. Clinton’s refusal to publish the texts of her well-paid speeches to various Wall Street corporations, speeches her team apparently begged her not to make. According to the authors, she considered them irrelevant. That was her attitude toward her party’s traditional voter base, blue-collar working people, as well. It’s telling that even when, at the end, her husband warned her she was making a mistake to ignore them, she couldn’t bring herself to hobnob with the hoi polloi. She sent Bernie instead.
Ironically, in their efforts to present their subject, the authors seem equally unaware how ruthless and arrogant she comes to appear, qualities they try to convince us are strength and determination. What is also clear is that Ms. Clinton was extremely uncomfortable with large crowds of the sort her primary opponent drew, usually limiting her “rallies” to carefully limited gatherings. That was one of the reasons offered as to why she became convinced she could win by relying on data instead of politicking.
Now, going on four years later, it appears the Democrats are prepared to implement the same strategy they used in 2016, albeit making a broader effort at a pretense of progressivism. It’s as if they convinced themselves Sanders voters were simply enthusiasts who would lose interest in the changes Sanders proposed once the reality of a Trump administration set in. It’s precisely the same kind of mistake they made before, if the story in Shattered is a reflection of the truth.
Historian Howard Zinn (1922-2010) qualifies as a cultural icon, and as is usually the case that means there are likely as many people who hate him as consider him a hero. His nonconformist overview of American history, A People’s History of the United States, and its sequel, A Young People’s History of the United States, is either considered desperately needed to counter the accepted narrative on the subject or distorted and misleading propaganda, depending on whom you talk to.
“In the nearly forty years since the first edition of A People’s History of the United States appeared, Zinn’s critics have tried to sandbag him,” says author Ray Suarez in his foreword. “Some complain that his iconoclasm, his tearing down of long-revered heroes, and his corrections to the record leave only a dreary slog through centuries of oppression, struggle, and suffering. Well, a historian’s job is to find out what actually happened.”
In this in-depth interview, done just prior to Mr. Zinn’s death in 2010 and scheduled for release in September 2019, Suarez delves into how the historian believes his take on the subject has affected the trajectory of the US, and whether that influence is important.
For those not familiar with Mr. Zinn’s work, he views the events we all heard about in school from the standpoint of not the generals, politicians, and plutocrats but the common people. “[Y]es, let’s have heroes,” Mr. Zinn tells Suarez, “but let’s look for them in different places than on high in the seats of power where the heroism very often consists of exploiting other people or invading other people or taking advantage of other people.”
Now, as a tiny handful of progressive politicians are rallying the working class to confront the system that has done that for literal centuries, a book like Mr. Zinn’s, showing again and again how ordinary people have challenged powers and institutions seemingly unconquerable, and won, is vital. Again and again, the new wave of rebels is told they can’t possibly succeed, that the policies they demand are impossible, that they should be “realistic” and accept what the “more informed” people in power tell them.
Worse, they skillfully turn those who should be working together against one another.
“It’s a very common thing in history that people who are victims will turn upon one another”, Mr. Zinn says. “They can’t reach the people who are really responsible for their plight, so they turn on those who are closest to them.”
In those two sentences, Mr. Zinn likely explained the phenomenon of Donald Trump’s election. Even now, on social media, the tactic of turning the victims against one another occurs on a daily basis. Likewise, the corporate news media are masters at generating outrage, replacing one incident or individual—preferably both—with a new one as the emotional level declines.
This is an important book for those familiar with Mr. Zinn’s work but not the man, and Suarez has done a magnificent job of ensuring we never stray far from the latter. His questions elicit details those of us not privileged to have met Howard Zinn can use to more deeply understand him and, by extension, his work.
“The idea that people make history and can alter its course, that institutions have human origins and can be changed by humans, is truly subversive—and is a central reason [A People’s History of the United States] has drawn the ire of so many censors and would-be censors,” writes Anthony Arnove in his introduction to the 35th Anniversary edition of the book (Harper Perennial Classics, 2015). “Fundamentally, Howard had a confidence in people’s ability to work together and change their circumstances.”
Do get a copy of Truth Has A Power of Its Own when it comes out. Meantime, if you’re part of the New Revolution and haven’t read Mr. Zinn’s histories—and I confess I’m among you—get those and discover the history you didn’t hear about. As the battle for the future of both the US and the planet advances toward November 2020, the stories the books tell of success in the face of overwhelming odds will become increasingly necessary for inspiration. Or, as Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, who is one of the few individuals mentioned by Mr. Zinn, said:
“Some day we will have the courage to rise up and strike back at these great ‘giants’ of industry, and then we will see they weren’t ‘giants’ after all—they only seemed to because we were on our knees and they towered above us.”
NOTE: I obtained this book as an advance review copy from the publisher.
“Upward mobility”. It’s a phrase that’s as American as baseball, apple pie, and ousting the democratically elected heads of state of various foreign countries. From childhood, we’re told anyone can grow up to be President of the United States—or work their way out of poverty and join the Rich and Famous. The United States, we’re told, overcame the rigid class structures of Europe and became the first truly classless society. There’s only one problem.
It’s a lie.
In this excellently researched, if someone unnecessarily repetitive, exploration of the role of class in US society, Ms. Isenberg exposes the myth that “all men are created equal”, at least in the eyes of the moneyed and powerful who launched it 400 years ago. By dangling the carrot of upward mobility in front of the working class and the poor, the power brokers have maintained their control and exploited it to the fullest.
Although it’s no longer politically correct to say so, and for good reason, the first slaves in the northern reaches of the New World settled by British noblemen were White. They were the poor and the criminal, scooped up and shoved onto ships to be sold as indentured servants kept hard at work with the promise they would eventually work off the cost of passage they never asked for to begin with. They were replaced by the institution of African slavery, in no small part because poor White people couldn’t be as easily controlled as terrified Black people torn from their native homes and thrust into a totally alien world.
Redneck. Cracker. Hillbilly. There have been any number of similar slurs—and make no mistake, that’s what they are—applied to poor White trash in the last four centuries. Like those applied to Blacks, or on the basis of ethnic origin, the labels are meant to differentiate between those too lazy, worthless, and morally corrupt to be socially acceptable and “good people.” That the “good people” are almost always at least reasonably wealthy, college-educated, and White says all that needs to be said.
It’s also how those “good people” have made racism a systemic disease. “If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored man,” said Lyndon B. Johnson, “he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll even empty his pockets for you.”
More to the point of Ms. Isenberg’s book, you can also prevent him from realizing he has more in common with the people he’s been taught to hate and despise than he does those doing the teaching. Over and over, she recounts how the American aristocracy has overtly and covertly manipulated class warfare into race warfare, setting two groups who have the most in common against each other.
There’s much more to this history of how the citizens of a highly stratified society were and continue to be convinced there are no strata than how the fairy tale was used to keep the lower ones in their place. However, it’s the history I found particularly interesting, because none of it was in the history books I read in school. That, by itself, is indicative of how we still have to deal with rabid racism and unconscionable levels of poverty in what those power brokers keeping most of us in our place love to call “the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth”.
White Trash is an easy-to-read journey into the depths of a myth, and one that in the current economic climate of gaping inequality should be taken by anyone who can’t understand how and why Donald Trump became President. Or why so many working-class people rejected the candidate the power brokers were certain would win. After all, she was one of the “good people”.
Essentially, White Trash exposes the reality that the “American dream” is and always was a fiction designed to keep the working class plugging away—a lottery on a few ever actually win. No matter who you voted for, or what your political persuasion, this is an important book that reveals the root of the why a crude-talking snake-oil salesman defeated the cultured rich woman her peers thought couldn’t lose. Rather than, as have other recent books on the subject, seeking to reinforce the false message the poor and the working class, who all too often are the same thing, are evil, uneducated, racist, misogynistic, homophobic idiots. You’ll understand once you’ve read it.
It’s a good thing I didn’t know this thriller was centered around a serial killer. I’m so burned out on serial-killer mysteries/thrillers/police procedurals I’ve begun avoiding them across the board. Fortunately, Ms. Hillier has done what I thought impossible—written a serial-killer novel that’s entirely original.
For 19 years, Georgina Shaw harbored a horrible secret—one drunken night in her junior year of high school she helped bury her murdered best friend. Then the dismembered body of Angela Wong is discovered in the woods near her home, and the man who killed Angela, Calvin James, is charged with the murder of three more people.The arresting officer is Kaiser Brody, her other best friend in high school, who loved her then and is forced to admit he still does.
Angela Wong was the poor little rich girl, beautiful and with the kind of charisma that led everyone to ignore her darker side. When her body is found and Geo’s part in her death is revealed, that darker side is erased; and Geo’s carefully constructed life of denial is over.
Geo is compelled to admit what she saw and did that night or spend the rest of her life in prison as an accessory; she is sentenced to five years. Calvin is convicted, but shortly afterwards escapes and disappears. Then, within days of Geo’s release the bodies of a woman and a toddler are found in almost the same spot where Angela was buried. And then another woman and child. Kaiser has no doubt Calvin is back. His partner, and erstwhile lover, isn’t as sure.
The title references a Mason jar of cinnamon hearts Calvin gave Geo. She disliked the candy, and he ended up eating them, emptying the jar the last time she saw him. The night he raped her.
It will seem to some I’ve just done what I swear never to do, which is write a review containing spoilers. You’d be wrong. If, however, you’re gotten a sense this is a story infinitely more complex than the standard fare, you win the prize.
Ms. Hillier has a new book coming out shortly, so I’m embarrassed I’m more than a year late posting this review of her first one. Which, per requirements, I’ll note I read as an advance review copy provided by the publisher. I swear I’ll try to be faster reviewing #2.