For lovers of non-fiction, two deep dives into the fragility of democracy, here and in the land in the land of its birth.
These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore is a mammoth tome, published in 2018. I started reading it when it was launched; I finished reading it ten days ago. This doesn’t mean that it was difficult; I was just living my life and, as my regular blog readers can attest, reading other books as well.
These Truths narrates the history of this country from its founding to the Trump years, drawing from its foundational documents and highlighting continuous themes. It is Lepore’s assertion that there are enduring fundamental values – “political equality, natural rights and the sovereignty of the people” – that bind us together. But do they? The reader understands from Chapter 1 that some of the very issues that divide us today were present at our inception. Yes, equality, but equality for whom? What powers are appropriate to the federal government, and what should be reserved for the states? What does democracy really mean when our Founding Fathers set up explicitly anti-democratic provisions in the Constitution? Concerns about political fissures and whether the center can hold have been recurrent themes.
Are we a national political community with shared interests as Lepore describes? Critics maintain that Lepore herself, while exploring racial discrimination and its roots in slavery, gives short shrift to what European settlers did (and continue to do) to indigenous people. So, too, does she seem to minimize the unheroic aspects our robust 19th century westward expansion, which also brought with it what critics see as growing imperialism abroad in the 20th and 21st century.
Many speak of American exceptionalism, but what is exceptional is also aspirational, not yet fulfilled, and Lepore sees it that way. Sadly, we have come to see the democratic values we promote abroad getting eroded here at home. Lepore is clear-eyed in posing serious questions about whether we can function as a society organized around reason and truth, or, as is painfully clear, “accident and violence, by prejudice and deceit.”
History must be examined and reexamined. Rinse and repeat, each time learning neither to indulge in patriotic myth-making nor let needed revisionist scholarship run amok. We know we chose not to be ruled by kings, but today’s growing threat of authoritarianism, embraced by so many of our fellow citizens, reminds us that our “democracy” remains a work in progress. Lepore’s book is an important contribution to the public dialogue. Like our country, it is flawed. But overall there is far more positive than negative. We cling to the unfulfilled aspirations and the promise of something better if we keep working on it. And that is our only hope. I wonder whether, if she concluded her timeline with the events and aftermath of January 6, 2021, she would have reached a different conclusion.
The Greek Connection: the Life of Elias Demetracopoulos and the Untold Story of Watergate, by James H. Barron. For my new readers, I own up to this shameless promotion of my husband’s book, launched at the height of the pandemic. But I’m not the only one giving it rave reviews.
“The Greek Connection” is a non-fiction political thriller involving international intrigue, Cold War confrontations, foreign invasions, civil war, dark money, espionage, disinformation campaigns, crooked elections, military coups, bold escapes, kidnapping plots, brutal tortures, strange friendships and betrayals, whistle-blowing, fearless truth-telling and heroism in the face of relentless attacks.
The book is being pitched in Hollywood as “a controversial journalist relentlessly battles for democracy, honor and survival against abusive Greek and American governments trying to destroy him.”
It’s the saga of audacious Greek freedom-fighter and journalist Elias Demetracopoulos, who in 1968 uncovered that the Greek military dictatorship was trying to influence the American presidential election by secretly funneling to the Nixon-Agnew campaign today’s equivalent of $4 million, money that began as “black budget’ CIA money, to its Greek counterpart. And that’s just a small part of the story.
Check out the updated book website (above). “The Greek Connection” has met with international acclaim and makes a great holiday gift for winter reading, if I do say so myself, totally free of bias, of course.
For those who have read the book, please send suggestions about who should play Elias in a movie or mini-series.