Saturday, December 12, 2020

Review of These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore

This review is written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in:
Genre = History, Empires

Short Description

Elaborate Description

This book is a political history of the United States of America.  It is in the Declaration of Independence that the sacred and undeniable rights are found which are political equality, natural rights, and the sovereignty of the people.  Lepore uses American history to see if these truths prove true.  A social and cultural history that tells of liberties and civil rights.  The focus are on junctures which were shaped by law, religion, journalism, and technology as it is through these mediums which what is true and what is not became sorted.  Lepore places valor and error of the people who shaped history together to question the truths and allow everyone to learn from history.  More than just history, as along the way the reader will encounter epistemological insights.

The origins of America stem from taking land away from the Native American tribes.  The various tribes, from the western perspective, had no faith and no civil government so could not own anything.  As the land was not owned, Columbus took possession to their land.  When Columbus returned, the pope divided the unknown and inhabited lands to various European kingdoms.

Due to the environmental and cultural practices of the indigenous people of America, they were not exposed to many diseases.  The Native Americans did not have the built-up immunity of the Europeans.  European bacteria decimated the New World due to the lack of immunity.  In response the loss of working prisoners due to disease, Spaniards wanted to conquer more territory to obtain more workers.  Diseases traveled faster than the invaders, devastated the communities before the invader’s arrival.  

Slavery was practiced for a long time before America.  Enslaved was an outcome of war or due to being different enough such as having a different religion.  Questioning who would be a slave and who was free facilitated ideas about liberty.  While trying to obtain liberty from England, many wanted to keep their slaves but need a justification.  The justification became race.  Even when slavery had ended, political equality was possible only under coercion.  After the Civil War, many legislatures were written known as Jim Crow laws which segregated communities.  

Deposing a tyrant in favor of another favorable candidate was not a radical idea as it was the impetus for every slave rebellion.  Although Americans won the revolution from Britain, it lost the revolution to end slavery.  It would take a civil war to end the formal institution of slavery.  Taxation without representation was rule by force, which was slavery.  The Declaration of Independence explained that arbitrary rule meant that the people were in a state of slavery.  Debate over slave ownership was contentious but was kept in order have enough votes to ratify the Constitution.  The conflict over the Civil War was an opposition to federal power over states, with the irony that the South exercised it more than the North.

A study of the Magna Carta from England provided the impetus to challenge England, as the Magna Carta claimed that kings have no authority to rule people.  A constitution was meant to authorize laws.  What makes the constitution powerful is that it is meant to give governance predictability.  Ruled by reason and choice rather than accident.  Each state eventually created their own constitution, acting as a laboratory of political experimentation.  The main idea was to prevent corruption in rule by many (democracy), or rather, to check the corruption of democracy, the different forms of governed would be mixed.  The constitution was meant to restrain the tyranny of the majority on the minority and vice versa.  Peaceful transition of power whose strength comes from dissent.  

Literacy is a powerful tool which many have tried to prevent others from obtaining in order to keep power.  The colonists were able to print their own newspapers which criticized government and clergy.  Newspapers were enthusiastically partisan as their interest was setting the stage for a battle of opinions.  Every new technology enabled more democracy for more people.  Photography was cheaper than painted portraits.  Radios, and then TV, enabled mass communications.  The internet made everyone responsible for what is true.  Decisions became divorced from direct knowledge which created concern over the structure of democracy.  Mass persuasion meant that a concentrated minority has more power to influence a majority.  Within the informational battles, sometimes accuracy was a commitment, other times it was used as a public relations tool for others to hear their views.  Misinformation is not a recent development, but fake news started become a problem in years leading up to WW2.  Fake news became a weapon of tyrants.  

Over time, in order to win over voters, politics became more partisan.  Social issues, rather than handling them collectively, became partisan issue partly because the emotional responses to them were greater.  Each party began to attack the ideas of the other and framing them in more demonizing ways than before.  Resolving social issues became a secondary, with the primary agenda being to obtain more political power.  Disagreement, which was once a way to resolve issues, because a way to accuse those who disagree and end the discussion.  Increased intolerance to difference in ideas and in general.  As the official media became more partisan, they started to question the facts and attack the ideas of their opposition.  All the while eroding the trust that the public held in institutions.  What precipitated is what Lepore calls the politics of mutually assured epistemological destruction.  No truth, as only innuendo, rumor, and bias remain.  

There have been many times in U.S. history were trade was heavily restricted but with globalized production and products, those restrictions have been reduced until the Great Depression.  Although other nations had economic recessions before the U.S. Great Depression, it was after the U.S. trade bill of 1930 that other countries started to restrict their trade in response.  Since the American constitution, other nations had followed suit and become democratic.  But during the Great Depression, dictatorships were on the rise and democracy seemed threatened.  It took WW2 for the U.S. to built political relations with other countries.  As the U.S. was more powerful, many international laws were circumvented as they became inconvenient.  

The history presented within this book does not curtail to any party or creed.  Lepore provides an understanding of the situations from the errors and benefits they made.  Building an understanding that relations can be repaired, or further tarnished.  It is out collective actions, the actions of each individual, that gives credence to political actions.  Lepore frames each event in respect of different perspectives to enable everyone to see from those perspectives.  A wonderful epistemological history of the United States.  


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book
•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?
•What are These Truths?
•Why was the land belonging to the indigenous Americans divided by Europeans?  What claims did the Europeans make unto the land?
•What makes some people slaves and other free?
•How did ideas about slavery impact ideas about liberties?
•What role did the Magna Carta play in America? 
•Why a constitution?
•What is a democracy?
•What ideas were there to limit corruption?
•What were the Federalist papers? 
•What was the role of newspapers in the early republic?  How did their role change over time? 
•What was the Civil War fought over?
•After the Civil War, why was there segregation? 
•What does slavery have to do with corporations? 
•Why enter the Great War (WW1)?
•Does mass persuasion erode democracy?
•When and how did fake news start? 
•What is the problem with polling? 
•Why is there party polarization?  What makes social issues partisan issues? 
•Why do parties fight over social issues? 
•How did the media facilitate brining about intolerance to difference?  Why are people intolerant of those who think or are differently? 
•How does the U.S. see international relations and laws?

Book Details
Edition ISBN:  9780393635256
Pages to read:   803
Publication:     2018
1st Edition:      2018
Format:            eBook

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall           5