Ben Vogt

These Truths
2021-05-16

A solid history. From reading other histories of America, and biographies of political and business figures, it seems to track. There’s a lot she gets right, and even more that she includes where other authors do not.

There’s an earnest and successful effort to return throughout the book to the questions of rights, and their inclusion or lack of in the constitution. Other histories of America tend to argue that the nation is bound together what was written in the constitution, rather than what it lacked. Lapore does too, but expands on what was left out of the constitution is what has held us back, and at every critical juncture, nearly destroyed the nation.

She acknowledges in the preface that she sat down to write a political history of the US, not a complete history. She did just that. But I can’t help but feel her definition of what constitutes political is a little narrow. It’s more or less a history of the few people what were in charge in this country; legislators, political figures, agitators, businessmen, and occasionally clergy. It’s hard not to think that this left out a lot of people that had influence, but were culturally upstream, and perhaps, difficult to name and write about concretely.

One theme that I think she doesn’t appropriately handle is the polarization of politics. There are two major sides to most issues; partly because of the compromise of the constitution’s drafting. She carries this a bit far, sometimes playing devil’s advocate on her self, as if she can’t help but play what-about-ism with a sentence she just wrote. I am certainly bias because of my own political beliefs, but you straight up can’t mention the alt-right and the alt-left as if they are both equally wrong. One of them is obviously different.

I guess what I’m getting at is that political power comes not just from who is elected, or what the electoral demography of america looks like, but who has who’s ear when it comes to legislation. This means that some people of certain classes has and can gain out-sized power. She mostly looked at that from the perspective of rights, and who can vote, and who can run for election. But not who’s making the ideas that will be written into law, and into policy after and between elections.