“We live not for today, but for the ages yet to come, and the children yet unborn.” — Mary Harris (Mother) Jones

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.

 

If my rating for this latest in the Amos Decker series seems a bit bipolar, it’s that my reasons for not enjoying it as much as its predecessors has nothing to do with the actual quality of the story and everything to do with politics.

I’ve noticed an annoying trend in thriller fiction I can’t mention in detail without it being a spoiler. Mr. Baldacci handles it with a bit more finesse than some, but the result, for me, still came off more like propaganda than good fiction. Other readers and fans of Mr. Baldacci and Amos won’t be bothered by it at all, and the overall plot is both an excellent mystery and a superb voyage into the protagonist’s history and its effect on his character. As the acronym says: YMMV.

I’m partial to this series because watching Amos Decker deal with his condition—which reminds me again our language lacks a decent word to describe those for whom a disability is also their best asset—and how Mr. Baldacci develops him is always a pleasure. Walking the fine line between empathy and sympathy is hard, but Mr. Baldacci manages it with skill. In this book, Amos returns home and interacts with those who were once his friends, enemies, and colleagues, in the process coming to grips with the tragedy that, despite everything, remains the center of his life.

So, yes, if you’re an Amos Decker/David Baldacci fan, you’ll definitely want to read this new installment. If you haven’t met Amos, I recommend reading the other four books first, beginning with the introductory Memory Man, for the simple reason that watching him emerge from his chrysalis of despair step by step is part of what makes this series unique.

I read an op-ed this morning in which the author said that despite the bumps in the road we’re currently experiencing, our federal democracy is nevertheless working as intended.

Sorry, but anyone who thinks government in the US is “working as intended” isn’t paying attention. If it were, one individual Senator would not be able to block every single bill his party objects to that was approved by the House from even reaching the Senate floor for discussion. If it were, Congress would not have, over the last three decades, handed more and more of its responsibility over to the Executive such that we now have a president with the ability to rule like an autocrat.

The author began by noting that being politically involved in the governing of our localities, states, and the federal government is a never-ending task. On that, we agree. There is no moment where the majority can sit back, prop its collective feet up, and assume everything will go on as desired. That is, in fact, the reason we now live in an oligarchy. As long as everyone was doing okay, being willing over-consumers, they had no desire to dip into the messy realm of politics, so they simply voted for whomever their party of choice put on offer. Those who weren’t doing okay gave up any hope of being heard, since they were told over and over it was their own fault they weren’t doing better. I’m the first to confess I wasn’t paying nearly enough attention for way too long.

Now, though, I am paying attention. I know that team-player mindset that afflicts the voting public isn’t an accident but something that has been carefully designed and nurtured to maintain status quo. That public education has been corrupted from a means by which people become informed and able to apply critical thinking skills to a system for churning out “employable consumers”. That the media supposed to ensure we know all that’s necessary to make informed choices is instead a megaphone for the narrative approved by those in power.

In other words, rather than a byproduct, the condition of the people you’re talking about is a feature, not a bug. Those in power consider the rest of us stupid and easily manipulated, and have been acting on that belief for at least the last 40 years and probably longer. It worked well, until a few people woke from their stupor and began asking questions.

We’re awake now. And we’re watching. And talking to each other. We know now how our small differences have been deliberately exaggerated to keep us divided when the problems we share are larger and more numerous. We’re shaking off the idea we can’t change anything, discovering as we do that the reason we thought that is we’ve been told it so often we came to believe it—Propaganda 101.

There will always be those who think the most complex issues can be rendered down to either/or, right/wrong, win/lose. Those people can be weaponized by the oligarchs to try silencing the voices of those who understand life and people are more complex than a game where all that matters is whose team wins. Like Martin Luther, we say “Here I stand, I can do no other”, and like Martin Luther King Jr., we believe “A man dies when he does not stand up for what is right.”

If it takes a Second American Revolution, so be it.

Over the Christmas holiday, award-winning journalist David Sirota became the target of Democrat Party Twitter vitriol when he dared to publish a column criticizing the new DNC superstar Beto O’Rourke’s funding sources and voting record. It took less than 24 hours for an article containing nothing but facts readily available to anyone who cared to go look for them to become a “war on Beto” by supporters of Bernie Sanders. By Boxing Day, DNC mouthpiece Neera Tanden was shaking her head sadly that she, too, was suffered the pain of the innocent for the last two weeks.

For the record, I will be 71 in two weeks, am a White cis-female, have been a registered Democrat for 50 years, and resent being referred to as a “Bernie Bro.” So do the half-dozen women who responded when I posted that to Twitter. None of us has ever “attacked” a New Democrat with anything other than facts. Several women have been virulently attacked, however, by people alleging to be Sanders supporters, which suggests there is already a well-coordinated campaign in place to reinforce the idea real Sanders supporters are fanatical trolls. Remember Correct the Record? It hasn’t gone away.

The ridiculous assertion that criticizing a candidate is somehow an “attack” is the latest version of Democrat Party establishment gaslighting. The New Democrat contingent feels free to tell Sanders supporters, 80% of whom voted for their candidate, what they should be talking about. It’s the precise kind of “We know best” attitude that is really what drove those conservative Democrats in rural areas to vote for Donald Trump. I know because they’ve said so over and over to researchers and interviewers who actually went there to listen.

It’s the corporate media who persist in dismissing the Sanders message as “all about the economy”, not Sanders supporters. We are quite aware the needs of the many are much more complicated than “economic anxiety” or whatever euphemism is used for “people are one flat tire from being homeless and dying” in any given week. The media then go on to provide “examples” of a few white men in Iowa or somewhere else that’s not located on the East or West Coast who said they voted Republican because were against voting for a woman, or who’ll spout racist propaganda, ignoring the very real problems everyone not in the privileged 25% Thomas Frank calls the Professional Class suffers on a daily basis because of neoliberal economic policies and globalization.

Bernie Sanders saw a need to call attention to the real world, the one outside the Beltway and the suburbs where The Comfortable live, and he did that by choosing to challenge Hillary Clinton. He did so by declaring he was running as a Democrat, which is how it’s done in Vermont. Yes, there were people who heard his message and ignored the part where he said over and over it was not about him, but about the message. We’re a culture that’s been trained to expect superheroes to swoop in and fix everything for us. Bernie never said he’d do that, but it didn’t prevent people from assuming he would anyway.

He has also been criticized for focusing on economic issues to the exclusion of other things, like racism. Which, if one only looks at the surface, could appear to be true. However, anyone who has ever faced a huge job knows you don’t get it done by doing a little here and a little there. You figure out what you can do that will address the overall problem and start there. Bernie Sanders knows that people, and particularly women, of color are at the bottom of the economic scale. He knows that is partly a function of racism, but also understands the greater issue is systemic inequality.

Children are going hungry in this country as I write, not because they don’t have hardworking parents but because the jobs those parents can get are low-paying and all too often part-time/on-call gigs. Again, this is particularly true for women of color. “Economic anxiety” is very real, and a perfectly valid reason why people refused to embrace Hillary Clinton, a candidate who ignored what they said, and instead bewailed the fact they wouldn’t accept that she knew what they needed better than they did. Oh, and I know HRC never said that in public, but it was reported by two of her media fans in the book Shattered.

I don’t expect this to have any effect, as it’s clear the effort to block a Sanders run in ’20 is already polished and in full swing, just as the program to block progressive candidates from running in the midterms was blatantly obvious. The problem this time around is that people know that’s what it is, and the Democrats might want to pause a moment and rethink it. Unless they get past their arrogant assumption the voting public is too stupid to learn the facts and make an informed choice, they’re just another obstruction.

A bit of background. I met my first person of color at the age of 17, my freshman year of college in 1965. She was a classmate from Philadelphia. I also had my first experience of blatant racism that same year, as my cousin and I boarded in the home of an Irish cop whose opinions of the African Americans he was supposed to protect and serve were appalling.

And I knew they were appalling, even though I’d never had any real education in racism. The trouble was, I was a child of the ‘50s, where children were to be seen and not heard and criticizing one’s elders was as beyond the realm of possibility as flying. That kind of relationship dynamic isn’t as universal as it used to be, but it still exists; and it’s going to be one of the hardest obstacles to putting Dr. Fleming’s ideas in process.

I pre-ordered a copy of Dr. Fleming’s book after reading a review of it on Black Agenda Report. I wasn’t disappointed. It didn’t hurt that, like me, she belatedly came to understand just how pervasive racism—and its attendants sexism, ageism, classism, genderism, and ableism—is in our modern world. And for basically the same reason, in that she, too, grew up insulated from the reality in which just shy of 15% of the country’s population lives.

Note that I didn’t limit the field of view to the US, although that’s Dr. Fleming’s focus. That’s important because racism isn’t a geographical but a cultural problem. It exists everywhere, for the simple reason a majority holding all the power will inevitably deny power to the minorities in its sphere.

“‘Race’,” says Dr. Fleming in her introduction, “is a fundamentally stupid idea that refers to the belief in visible, permanent, hierarchical differences between human groups defined in terms of biology, physical appearance, or ancestry.” Studies show over and over there are no actual differences among human beings, yet the idea that one’s complexion or other characteristic provides innate superiority persists. Of all the -isms, though, racism is the most pervasive.

“Much of the racial stupidity we encounter in everyday life derives from the fact that people think of racism as individual prejudice rather than a broader system and structure of power.”

Dr. Fleming goes on to support her statement with enough information only someone determined to hide behind “colorblindness” and consider the job done could ignore. Which isn’t to say they won’t, since confirmation bias is as hard to eradicate as athlete’s foot.

“One of the sad ironies of oppression is that it’s completely possible to grow up in a society ravaged by multiple forms of domination and not know that your society is ravaged by multiple forms of domination, especially when our educational system manufactures feel-good histories and progress narratives.”

Now that I’ve learned more of the real history of the United States, I can see exactly what she means. And I studied American history fifty years ago. The Holocaust was basically “The Nazis killed six million Jews.” The early labor movement was “people went on strike and eventually won better working conditions.” Even women’s suffrage was “woman protested until they won the vote.” There was no mention of the six million other people who died in the death camps—the Serbs and Poles and Rom and the disabled. The name “Haymarket” never came up. And I didn’t learn the true depth of the suffrage struggle until quite recently.

As for any discussion of Jim Crow and lynching and all the other horrors visited on African Americans, not just in the South but everywhere, it was a subject never deemed appropriate for the tender young minds of high school students when I walked among them. From what I’ve heard while observing the ongoing effort to privatize education, and the watering down of subject matter that goes with it, that’s likely gotten worse rather than better. This book is valuable, along with a number of others written in the last decade or so, in filling in the huge gaps.

But Dr. Fleming’s power-packed little book isn’t just an analysis of rampant racism. It also calls upon every one of us to look deep into our soul and locate the racism many of us have absorbed all unconsciously. Then, she says, have the courage to confront it wherever it appears, whenever it appears. It will not be easy. To assist, her final chapter outlines ten steps we can all take to begin breaking through the wall of denial that racism and its colluding systems of domination aren’t going away until we kill them. And that’s going to happen one person at a time.

Read this book. Even if you’re positive you haven’t a microgram of racism in your entire body, read this book. Then brace yourself to have the courage to address the problem when it arises, whether it be blatant or subtle.

Which it does. Always. Without exception. Any time the opportunity to discuss sexual assault, and our culture that vocally condemns it while refusing to do anything to mitigate it, arises. Instead, the conversation invariably diverges from the real root of the problem — power and the privilege it gives — to sex. Don’t take my word for it. Take the time to review the matter and watch it happen.

The real cause of sexual assault and rape culture is simply this: a society that encourages anyone with a degree of power to view anyone not of their own power level as personal property.

The basis of this goes bone deep, and is ingrained from childhood by child-rearing methods that allow parents to not only dictate how their children are to behave but still, in what is supposed to be a civilized society, allows them to beat their children when they don’t. Despite our much-vaunted insistence on our having a “moral compass,” that compass seems to be too easily deflected by a concept of individuality that has become what can only be described as a religion.

As a result, the next generation, barring enlightenment, has absorbed the idea that anyone in a superior position of authority is entitled to treat those of lesser authority as objects.

There are even bodies of law to protect a parent’s right to do to their child what any other adult would be arrested and jailed for. It echoes the idea that one can do as one likes with one’s property.

How often do you hear of an upper-middle class family having their children removed because of abuse? Could that be because our body of law is written to mainly protect the property of those with the wherewithal to own property? Or are we to believe that only poor people are lousy parents?

Well, yes, based on observation, we are supposed to believe only poor people are lousy parents, despite ample evidence to the contrary. The misdeeds of children of privilege—and by that I do not mean the advantages of being White, which is a rant for another time—make it into the media every now and then, lest they be accused of class bias. Incidents of abuse among the lower classes, though, are regularly reported, and the first response by the system always seems to be removing the children from their home.

Don’t get me wrong. I fully believe any child in a dangerous situation needs protection. However, there seems to be no distinction made between situations where the danger arises from a complete lack of support for the parent(s) and those where the parents are themselves the danger. In the former instance, one might suggest the children are being treated not as people with feelings but objects—property—that can be shifted from one shelf to another with no regard for how that might impact them.

Even cursory research shows that most abusive situations, regardless of income level, have one big thing in common: they result when parents view children as they would a pet, i.e., property. That is, they see child-rearing not as encouraging their children, as small people, to become individuals but rather as training them to obey and conform to whatever the familial boundaries are.

There’s an active movement to bring back the concept of “free-range” child-rearing. That is, of allowing children to explore their world and interact in ways that kids used to do as the natural order of things. It’s in opposition to several fairly recent developments, the two most insidious of which are the ideas that the world is a dangerous place, and that unsupervised children are being neglected by their parents. “Helicopter parents” are a subject of scorn, yet our entire culture not just encourages but even demands that kind of constant, hovering supervision.

Human beings don’t handle constant supervision well. It’s dehumanizing, because it implies we aren’t intelligent creatures capable of making decisions and grasping the meaning of the results. It suggests that, absent that watchful eye, we might behave in some manner outside the subscribed boundaries. Might I suggest the operative term for that is “slavery”? And slaves are—wait for it—property.

So, having seemed to wander a bit from the original topic, I will wander back. Observe the various reports of sexual assault since the rise of the #metoo movement. At least, observe them up to the point where the discussion diverges from the point where all the unrepentant perpetrators are clearly people in positions where they manipulated the lives of others on a daily basis.

Now consider that most cultures train us to admire those in power. How many times have you heard that we should respect X because he or she occupies some such position of power? Respect the boss, or lose your job. Respect your parents, because they’re your parents. Even if they’re toxic or even brutal, we’re told they deserve some respect because of the label they wear and the position they occupy in the system.

That’s why the reporting process is such anathema to many victims of sexual assault. It’s constructed such that whether one is believed depends on what level of the power structure one occupies. Add in the dynamic that bad things only happen to bad people that permeates most cultures, and where is the incentive to tell the truth?

So, the victim decides to just let the incident go, because no one will listen anyway. Years pass. Personalities grow and change, for good or ill. An opportunity to finally report the incident arises, and the victim gathers courage and does. Only to be told that, by waiting so long, he or she can’t be believed because there’s no evidence. Which brings up another matter for consideration.

Might it be argued that the difficulty of providing decent evidence long after the fact is the reason why the system makes it so hard for victims to come forward? Those in charge know the longer they can prevent an accusation from being made, the less likely it can every be proved. In other words, again, victims aren’t people, just objects to be moved about to keep the status quo firmly in place.

So, they are property, this time of the so-called “justice” system. The victim becomes the only evidence, and evidence is sealed into bags and tucked into boxes to be set on shelves in storage rooms.

If we truly want to end rape culture, we have to stop allowing the Power People to change the subject, to prevent them from making sexual assault and harassment about sex and gender dynamics instead of the real root cause. And we need to stop allowing them to use it as a weapon in political conflicts before we reach a point where even highly qualified, ethical individuals are blocked from office solely on the basis of an allegation. Do we really want someone’s lifelong sexual history to become the most important criterion for their ability to perform an important public office?

That would be just another way those in power would be able to screw the rest of us over.

(The opinions expressed as A Piece of My Mind are my own, and should not be considered those of Zumaya Publications or its authors. They are also subject to change in light of new evidence. Should you wish to contest any of them, please do so like an intelligent human being using supported facts.)

Rendezvous_OblivionRendezvous with Oblivion: Reports from a Sinking Society is a collection of essays from 2011 to the present that provides a travelogue of the downward journey of the US. Not that it starts at the top of the hill, because for the bulk of the population that’s been forbidden territory for several decades—only the nobility gets to occupy the castles.

That’s sort of the metaphor used in title of the first set of essays, “Many Vibrant Mansions,” and the subject of the second piece, “The Architecture of Inequality.” Describing his trek through the world of the McMansion, he observes they are “houses that seemed to have been designed by Stanford White after a debilitating brain injury.”

Those unfamiliar with Mr. Frank’s work should consider reading his earlier books The Wrecking Crew and Listen, Liberal! before joining him on this trip. The former answers the question many who only became politically involved during the 2016 election keep asking, which is “What are the Republicans doing?” The latter explains that it isn’t just the Republicans, and why.

In politics, of course, the scam and the fib are as old as the earth itself. Even so, the past decade has been a time of extraordinary innovation in the field…Millions of Americans came to believe that everything was political and that therefore everything was faked; that everyone was a false accuser so why not accuse people falsely; than any complaint or objection could ultimately be confounded by some clever meme; that they or their TV heroes had discovered the made-up argument by which they could drown out that still small voice of reality.

So, the first part describes how we came to accept escalating inequality, encouraged by politicians on both sides of the aisle who lied and obfuscated to ensure we stayed convinced there was really nothing wrong. That if the benefits of the tax cuts and the trade deals and the bank deregulation somehow missed us…well, it was our fault for not working hard enough, or for making bad choices, or not getting the proper education. Supported by news media and TV and movies that bombarded us with the message that the billionaires were the above-mentioned heroes we must needs struggle to emulate.

Meanwhile, the first African-American president, who promised us hope and change, saved the banks and the Wall Streeters while millions of the middle-class lost their homes and/or their retirement funds.

The one percent got the of both [“a brief experience with deficit spending” then President Obama’s “famous turn to austerity”]: not only were they bailed out, but the also chalked up some of their best years ever under Barack Obama, taking home 95 percent of the nation’s income growth during the recovery.

And speaking of not getting the proper education, that’s the topic of Part 2: “Too Smart to Fail.” This section covers the encroachment of neoliberalism on campus, which has led to a decrease in the number of tenured professors and an increase in the number of adjuncts most of whom can’t live on what they’re paid and don’t know from one week to the next if they’ll even have a job. In fact, a writer I know who works as an adjunct had a class he was counting on to pay his living expenses cancelled four days before it was scheduled to start, with no compensation.

And then there is soaring tuition, which more and more goes to pay inflated salaries for legions of unnecessary administrators while services (and those tenured professors) are cut back. Four-year college graduates are re-entering the world carrying a massive load of debt, which is not just stressful but a major drain on the economy both because wages and salaries have stagnated or actually declined in the last four decades and because money that goes into the vaults of lenders isn’t being spent in the economy.

[E]very democratic movement from the Civil War to the 1960s aimed to bring higher ed to an ever widening circle, to make it more affordable. Ours is the generation that stood by gawking while a handful of parasites and billionaires smashed it for their own benefit.

Part 3, “The Poverty of Centrism,” traces the path by which, beginning in the 1980s with Ronald Reagan and continued unabated by those administrations that followed him, the rich got filthy rich and the 90% were tricked into believing keeping them that way was good for us

To a Washington notable of the pre-Trump era, a team of rivals was a glorious thing: it meant that elections had virtually no consequences for members of the consensus. No one was sentenced to political exile because he or she was on the wrong side; the presidency changed hands, but all the players still got a seat at the table.

The only ones left out of this warm bipartisan circle of friendship were the voters, who woke up one fine day to discover what they thought they’d rejected wasn’t rejected in the least.

In this section, Mr. Frank also talks about the role the news media have played in enabling this mess. I don’t share his admiration for the Washington Post, but I have to wonder if his informal analysis of the way they undermined Sen. Bernie Sanders during the 2016 primaries wasn’t a bit painful. Or even disillusioning. He also seems unwilling to admit the collusion between the DNC and the Clinton campaign and the news media to achieve that goal; he avoids referring to the email leaks that revealed just that, and sadly, he seems to at least partly believe the so-far unsupported insistence on “Russian influence.”

Even so, his criticism of the Democrats was apparently sufficient to get him blackballed by those major news media he tries hard not to accuse of bias.

The final section, “The Explosion” addresses the why of the election of Donald Trump and why it was the direct result of the Democrat Party’s refusal to accept that they could no longer take their traditional working-class and minority base for granted. Which brings us to this year.

Trump succeeded by pretending to be the heir of populists past, acting the role of a rough-hewn reformer who detested the powerful and cared about working-class people. Now it is the turn of Democrats to take it back from him. They may have to fire their consultants.

As I said earlier, I wouldn’t recommend this as an introduction to Thomas Frank’s work. The broad scope of the subject matter is easier to take in context if one has a background in what he’s written at length. For those familiar with that body of writing, these essays are sharp-tongued snippets of the history of the last seven years, with reference to those that preceded them. They do require personal honesty, in that we who allowed this mess to come as far as it has must take the responsibility for not paying attention and staying informed.

Well done, Mr. Frank. May we please have some more?

Available from all the usual suspects

It’s always a little difficult reviewing a book from a series you haven’t previously experienced. On the other hand, it allows one to see how well the author handles backstory without interrupting the flow of the story.

So, Jack Frost is the eighth adventure in Mr. Greyson’s Jack Stratton series about a PI who’s both a veteran suffering from PTSD (a trope that has been popular of late but is coming to border on cliché) and a former police officer. Jack is also an orphan (another popular trope) who spent many of his formative years in foster care, and his fianceé, Alice Campbell, likewise. One of the subplots, which reaches a degree of culmination in this book, is her search for the truth about the accident that wiped out her parents and younger brother.

The book also includes a mysterious Asian woman of dubious career who nevertheless has an unbreakable bond of loyalty to Jack and, by extension, Alice. So, all the standards of what the mainstream publishers seem to consider necessary in current popuar mystery fiction are met. And yes, I am being a bit sarcastic, but only because I find it disappointing talented writers seem to be stuck writing to those criteria instead of developing characters that don’t rely on the same elements over and over.

Anyway, in this tale, Jack is hired by an insurance company to go undercover on Planet Survival, an ultra-challenge reality TV show set on the top of a mountain to find out whether there’s anything nefarious going on. This because one of the crew died in an avalanche, the pilot of the helicopter that allegedly started said avalanche later died in a climbing accident, and now someone is painting threatening graffiti all over the mountainside.

Jack Frost is an entertaining thriller with a well-executed twist ending and an entire school of red herrings. It’s definitely plot-driven, but the characters are well-developed; in some cases, Mr. Greyson takes what could be a stereotype and skillfully adds touches that not only avoid that pitfall but creates someone one wishes had a larger role. He has also achieved the preferred goal of having a series book that, if it’s the first one read, may entice the reader to go back and catch up on history. If you enjoy Clive Custler, you’ll probably enjoy Christopher Greyson as well.