Unless you’re a MAGA Republican or a sadist, it was a grueling, overheated year for politics. As Trump cut food stamps and ICE Agents rained terror down on immigrants, Democrats chased Russiagate and searched for impeachment-worthy evidence in communications with Ukraine. Democratic presidential candidates battled for the soul of the party as Mitch McConnell installed hundreds of conservative activist judges.
How did we get here? What does it mean? A handful of political observers were able to pierce through the noise and offer substantive diagnoses and recommendations.
Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy by Matt Stoller
Open Markets Institute Fellow Matt Stoller’s sprawling anti-monopoly book Goliath argues all of American politics has been a battle between concentrated, privately held power and Democracy. Stoller attributes the fall of the Democratic party to how it treated monopolistic power. Stoller recounts the success New Deal Democrats like FDR and Congressman Wright Patman reaped when they fought monopolists like former Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon and how Democrats from the ‘70s onward cozied up to big businesses with disastrous results, for the party, for everyday Americans and for Democracy itself.
Health Justice Now: Single Payer and What Comes Next by Timothy Faust
Timothy Faust, resident healthcare expect of “dirtbag left”podcast Chapo Trap House, has crisscrossed America talking to anyone who’ll listen about our broken healthcare system and the people it hurts. In Health Justice Now he argues for the moral urgency of overhauling America’s health care system. It’s a book-length inoculation against the panic and uncertainty that the revanchist and predatory healthcare industry floods the Medicare For All debate with. Throughout the book, Faust is direct, funny and utterly persuasive. The book’s a perfect holiday gift for anybody worried about Medicare For All’s impact on insurance jobs, employer-provided coverage, cost or any other deceptive health care industry talking point.
We’ve Got People by Ryan Grim
Intercept reporter Ryan Grim reports on the ongoing sea change in the Democratic Party, with neoliberals like Rahm Emanuel losing their grip on the party as left-leaning populists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez grow in power. Grim says party leaders like Nancy Pelosi rose to power through prodigious fundraising from the ultra-wealthy and the new Democratic small-dollar donor model allows politicians like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders to battle for normal people. Grim blasts the myth of centrist dominance by showing how slim many centrist electoral victories really were.
A Crisis Wasted by Reed Hundt
In the memoir A Crisis Wasted, former FCC chairman and Obama advisor Reed Hundt outlines how Barack Obama fumbled his response to the housing crisis and the great recession. Hundt argues that Obama and Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner’s insistence on a market-driven economic recovery was a disaster for regular Americans—and the Democratic party. As the economy shed jobs and families lost homes, the White House fretted about the health of the financial institutions that caused the crisis and resisted making systemic changes to improve the lives of ordinary Americans.
Financiers thrived while normal Americans suffered. Employment crawled back up but only after years of pain. The slow economic recovery caused Democrats to lose thousands of legislative seats under Obama and the White House shortly after. The book is a cautionary tale for Democrats who don’t understand that using political power to help people will help them win elections for generations.
Maid: From Middle Class to Homeless by Stephanie Land
Maid is a personal memoir, not a book about politics. But Stephanie Land’s story of tumbling down America’s economic ladder is more instructive about the consequences of politics than any policy discussion could be. If you’re a parent, her struggles to piece together a semblance of normality and security for her daughter is relatable to the point of being harrowing. In plain and direct language she shows what it’s like to live in poverty in an America with an eroded safety net and widespread contempt for the poor.