"Democracy Talks" Book Club

Established in 2016 as the "Dark Money Book Club" to discuss Jane Mayer's book on "the hidden history of the billionaires behind the rise of the radical right," the club is now called "Democracy Talks" and has broadened its agenda to include political and cultural critiques of threats to US democracy from both the right and the left. Beyond reading (or viewing) books, articles, and podcasts, members bring their own perspectives to discussions and strive to put ideas into action. The club owes its founding and continued success to the Saint Joan of Arc Catholic Church and Minnesota Citizens for Clean Elections (Clean Elections Minnesota). Meetings generally take place on the third Wednesday of each month at the church. No dues; everyone with a stake in our democratic policies and principles is welcome.

Next Session

Wednesday, February 19, 2020, 1:30-3:00 p.m. Saint Joan of Arc church basement. Reading: Nancy MacLean's Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America. MacLean will visit the Twin Cities this April, and will be speaking at an event sponsored by several democracy-reform groups, including Minnesota Citizens for Clean Elections. More details when they're available.

Discussion Format

The group has agreed-upon guidelines to keep discussions productive, civil, focused on the reading but flexible enough to allow for personal contributions relevant to the topics. No dues required; everyone welcome. For more information contact Gil Gustafson.

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History professor Nancy MacLean's book, published in 1917, was a finalist for the National Book Award that year. It was also a finalist for the LA Times Book Award, winner of the 2017 Lannan Foundation Cultural Freedom Award, named the "Most Valuable Book" of 2017 by The Nation and chosen as a favorite Book of the Year by The Progressive. Despite the obvious progressive/leftist accolades, MacLean considers her topic as more fundamental to democracy (small "d") than an attack on a particular ideology "This is not about Ds and Rs," she explained in a talk on the topic. It is "not even about liberals and conservatives in the old way. This is something new and different...a messianic plan decades in the making to fundamentally change the relationship between the people and our government." This Koch-funded radical right movement, MacLean continues quoting from president of Common Cause Karen Flynn, seeks to "roll back the 20th century."

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Taxation Only With Representation: The Conservative Conscience and Campaign Finance Reform. Richard Painter. Take Back Our Republic: Feb., 2016, 202 pp.  "...discusses how our money driven campaign system undermines the vision of the Founding Fathers...(and) lays out a plan for reform that (defines) the government's right to tax its citizens in a way that will give each citizen a real voice in funding campaigns." -- Publisher's abstract Mr. Painter teaches in the University of Minnesota Law School and appears as commentator on national television.

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 "...the story of how the 'Party of the People' detached itself from its historic constituency among average Americans and chose instead to line up with the winners of our new economic order." To Frank, it isn't only Dark Money and Citizens United that brought us so close to oligarchy; Democratic Party leaders--the so-called New Democrats and the "Democratic Leadership Council--have also contributed.

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Reich laments the “winner take all” mentality that undercuts “our core identity…the ideals we share, the good we hold in common.” “Love of country," he writes, “based on the common good entails obligations to other people.” These obligations include paying taxes in full (not looking for loopholes), volunteering in the community, serving on school boards and city councils, and blowing the whistle on corruption. He reminds us that the common good “has sometimes required the supreme sacrifice.”  Reich even advocates two years of “required public service.” An economist who served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton White House, Reich has written a relatively short, straightforward book that’s sure to spark conversations and controversy.

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How Democracies Die. Steven Levitsky & Daniel Ziblatt. Crown: 2018 (Hardcover). “…[A] brilliant diagnosis of the most important issue facing our world: Can democracy survive?”–E.J. Dionne, Jr. “Two years ago, a book like this could not have been written: two leading political scientists who are experts in the breakdown of democracy in other parts of the world using that knowledge to inform Americans of the dangers their democracy faces today” — Francis Fukuyama.

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Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Radical Right. Jane Mayer. Doubleday: Jan. 19, 2016, 464 pp. “A careful exposé of the libertarian agenda, spearheaded by the Koch brothers, to 'impose their minority views on the majority by other means.'... Mayer provides plenty of ammunition for those convinced that the U.S. is no longer a representative democracy but instead an oligarchy. A valuable contribution to the study of modern electoral politics in an age that Theodore White, and perhaps even Hunter S. Thompson, would not recognize.” – Kirkus Reviews