October 6, 2022

I’ve been writing a lot lately about 1960s America and how the civil rights backlash paved the way for the modern Republican Party’s hardline positions on gun control and abortion bans. But I haven’t spent that much time looking at what happened inside the Democratic Party that allowed this seismic shift to happen. So this week I’m remedying that with a massive holiday reading pile:

  • Racial Realignment: The Transformation of American Liberalism, 1932–1965,” by Eric Schickler, argues that the Democrats’ embrace of civil rights is not, as is commonly perceived, a top-down elite project that occurred in the 1960s, but rather a bottom-up pressure campaign in which Democratic constituencies, particularly the industrial labor unions of northern states, pressured the party to adopt the cause of civil rights.

  • To understand why this happened, it is important to understand the Great Migration, the mass exodus of Black Americans from the South and into Northern cities. They subsequently became an important constituency for the union movement and the Democratic Party, creating grassroots pressure to adopt a civil rights platform. So to better understand that period, I return to Isabel Wilkerson’s Pulitzer Prize.The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.”

  • To broaden my historical context, I took “What it took to win: A history of the Democratic Party” by Michael Cousins, which traces the party’s history from Andrew Jackson to Joe Biden, and includes an analysis of the party’s modern era of bourgeois cosmopolitanism.

  • And for a retro pop culture meta-context, I also watched “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Aaron Sorkin’s dramatization of the 1968 trial of a group of anti-Vietnam War protesters, which AO Scott described in his review to the Times as “a very special Sober Episode of ‘Drunk History.’ Today is not that day.

Kate Godfrey, a reader in Oakland, California, recommends “Joan is fine” by Weike Wang:

There it was on the shelf of the local library. I am a retired graphic designer. I liked the cover. No expectations for the text. Inside was a story about a dedicated doctor questioning the meaning of life and family. A brilliant story about dedication to yourself and others.

Christina Arrostuto, a reader in Auburn, California, recommends “New York, New York, New York: Four Decades of Success, Overcoming and Transforming» by Thomas Dyja:

I was waiting to know more about my beloved city. What I did not expect was a thorough, yet concise, cogent and insightful account of the social, political, economic and humanitarian forces that have swept not only New York but the US as a whole during my baby boomer lifetime. Mr. Dyja has created an anthropological mosaic that brings into relief all our current joys and sorrows. Between the lines, I could see a road map for both continuing the paths of progress toward bettering our society and changing course on issues that have caused so much suffering.

Thanks to everyone who wrote in to tell me about what you’re reading. Please keep the submissions coming!

I want to hear about things you read (or watched or heard) that made you realize you were wrong about something, no matter how trivial the revelation. Tell me what it was and how it changed your mind.

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