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Best Book I’ve Read This Year. I Don’t Care When it Was Published!

by John on 12/11/2017

book cover american character ColinWoodardI proclaim this the best book of 2017.

Who cares if it was published in 2016?  I have my freedom to declare it anyway I want. Right?

For me American Character: A History of The Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good by Colin Woodard is my best read of 2017.

I don’t know how I missed it. Was something happening in 2016?

Still, it is even more relevant today.  I cannot urge you enough to pick this up and devour it.

As you will see it has already spurred two previous posts – this one which scares the crap out of me and this one ushering me back to the Gilded Age — even before I finished reading the book.

I listened to American Character on Audible.com in four sessions while working out and driving.

Who should read this:

  • Anyone who wants some credible, non-partisan explanation of what is happening to the United States today.
  • Anyone who voices their opinion on social media about politics; this book will help you understand others you disagree with.
  • Die-hard Trump supporters and those who espouse the alt-right cause. Hopefully they might see some of the damage they are doing to the country.  But my guess is they will pass on this book.

Colin-WoodardHere are my takes.

  • This book confirms a lot of what I talk about here on Informed Not Inflamed.  So is Woodard just an echo chamber for me?  Maybe, but he is more articulate with more research.
  • The basis of his book is our country’s formula – you could say foundational principles. And the formula today is unbalanced or wildly out of whack which might be leading to our populist/nationalist government or worse.
  • What is that formula? Woodard calls it Liberty versus the Common Good.  You’ve heard me call it Freedom vs Responsibility.  You can also add the extremes of Capitalism vs. Collectivism.  And right now the Individual reigns, my term, like a monarch or slave master.
  • America works perfectly when the formula is balanced; when Americans are allowed as individuals to find their freedom to make personal gains while also contributing to the common good and allowing for a fair playing field for all Americans. Look at the current tax reform bill and the 2010 TARP Plan that shovels money to the wealthiest while giving crumbs to the majority of struggling Americans.
  • Woodard proposes an “American Way” which pursue happiness through free and fair competition among individuals. In other words, politicians should emphasize fairness in tax reform, regulations, and education that would ensure a level playing field.  Here’s what baseball would look like if our politics dictated the game.
  • Is that likely in today’s political atmosphere?   No.  But the notion needs to be instilled especially in Millennials who may dominate the voting and whose future depends on it.
  • Is Woodard taking a political stand here? Yes and no.  Yes, he is offering a solution.  But I wouldn’t say it is directly aimed at Democrats, who could really benefit from it.  I think he includes non-Trump Republicans, moderates, blue collar workers, and those who can’t claim either party.
  • 11-separate-nationsWoodard uses one of his previous book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, another great read, which breaks down the 11 Nations within the United States. Like a computer programmer, he takes the equation that is Freedom vs. The Common Good and he codes it with the conflicting nation/regions of America.  And it is brilliant.
  • His algorithmic mosaic provides two things for me. The first is I have lived in five of those regions and he is spot on.  Second, you begin to look at the US like post-Brexit European Union. 
  • Woodard helps answer questions like why is the Republican Party so dominated by laissez-faire libertarians who seems to take on the – my term again — slave master ways of the Deep South. And why has this pre-Confederate ideology been embraced by other parts of the country like – using Woodard’s names – Greater Appalachia, The Far West, The Midlands, and Tidewater.  Again, reading this might fan some flames if you are anti-GOP and anti-Trump, but it should also give you some logical reasons for these beliefs.
  • Woodard also confirms my findings that the political shift from a moderate country to a far right country began in the 1960s. The modern day aversion to a balanced country was because of two monumental events: The Voting Rights Act and Vietnam.  The Voting Rights Act turned the South from Democratic blue to solid GOP red while the debacle of the Vietnam War set off an undercurrent of belief with conservatives, moderates and liberals that the government could not be trusted.  That mistrust created Democrats like Bill Clinton who veered to the center in the 1990s embracing more corporate interests while leaving blue collar workers out of Democratic favor – leaving the party and the country in the problems we still have today.
  • Woodard, unlike me, doesn’t go into predictions. He merely states a solution.  But his solution will seem, to many, like a turn towards Socialism.  And over the next few years if Millennials and women take political power, it will look more Socialistic: more government programs for re-training and infrastructure with higher taxes on the wealthy.
  • America will get back into balance once we Baby Boomers die off or lose power. Millennials will be a bigger voting bloc in 2020 – if they vote.  So expect a shift back to the Common Good.  But, and again my take here, expect some upheaval, violence, and some scary economic moments.

If you have read this, give me your takes.  Keep watching here or my Facebook and Twitter pages for more ideas spurred by this great book.

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