In this feature of the Washington Watch, WW will primarily recommend books you may find interesting but may also now and then mention a TV program or other things. I welcome your suggestions and your input. What have you been reading or watching that you think WW readers might like?
The Authority of the Court and the Peril of Politics
by Justice Stephen Breyer
A sitting justice reflects upon the authority of the Supreme Court―how that authority was gained and how measures to restructure the Court could undermine both the Court and the constitutional system of checks and balances that depends on it.
A growing chorus of officials and commentators argues that the Supreme Court has become too political. On this view the confirmation process is just an exercise in partisan agenda-setting, and the jurists are no more than “politicians in robes”―their ostensibly neutral judicial philosophies mere camouflage for conservative or liberal convictions.
Stephen Breyer, drawing upon his experience as a Supreme Court justice, sounds a cautionary note. Mindful of the Court’s history, he suggests that the judiciary’s hard-won authority could be marred by reforms premised on the assumption of ideological bias. Having, as Hamilton observed, “no influence over either the sword or the purse,” the Court earned its authority by making decisions that have, over time, increased the public’s trust. If public trust is now in decline, one part of the solution is to promote better understandings of how the judiciary actually works: how judges adhere to their oaths and how they try to avoid considerations of politics and popularity.
Breyer warns that political intervention could itself further erode public trust. Without the public’s trust, the Court would no longer be able to act as a check on the other branches of government or as a guarantor of the rule of law, risking serious harm to our constitutional system
Wildland: The Making of America’s Fury
by Evan Osnos
After a decade abroad, the National Book Award– and Pulitzer Prize–winning writer Evan Osnos returns to three places he has lived in the United States―Greenwich, CT; Clarksburg, WV; and Chicago, IL―to illuminate the origins of America’s political fury.
Evan Osnos moved to Washington, D.C., in 2013 after a decade away from the United States, first reporting from the Middle East before becoming the Beijing bureau chief at the Chicago Tribune and then the China correspondent for The New Yorker. While abroad, he often found himself making a case for America, urging the citizens of Egypt, Iraq, or China to trust that even though America had made grave mistakes throughout its history, it aspired to some foundational moral commitments: the rule of law, the power of truth, the right of equal opportunity for all. But when he returned to the United States, he found each of these principles under assault.
In search of an explanation for the crisis that reached an unsettling crescendo in 2020―a year of pandemic, civil unrest, and political turmoil―he focused on three places he knew firsthand: Greenwich, Connecticut; Clarksburg, West Virginia; and Chicago, Illinois. Reported over the course of six years, Wildland follows ordinary individuals as they navigate the varied landscapes of twenty-first-century America. Through their powerful, often poignant stories, Osnos traces the sources of America’s political dissolution. He finds answers in the rightward shift of the financial elite in Greenwich, in the collapse of social infrastructure and possibility in Clarksburg, and in the compounded effects of segregation and violence in Chicago. The truth about the state of the nation may be found not in the slogans of political leaders but in the intricate details of individual lives, and in the hidden connections between them. As Wildland weaves in and out of these personal stories, events in Washington occasionally intrude, like flames licking up on the horizon.
A dramatic, prescient examination of seismic changes in American politics and culture, Wildland is the story of a crucible, a period bounded by two shocks to America’s psyche, two assaults on the country’s sense of itself: the attacks of September 11 in 2001 and the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Following the lives of everyday Americans in three cities and across two decades, Osnos illuminates the country in a startling light, revealing how we lost the moral confidence to see ourselves as larger than the sum of our parts.
Master of the Game: Henry Kissinger and the Art of Middle East Diplomacy
by Martin Indyk
A perceptive and provocative history of Henry Kissinger’s diplomatic negotiations in the Middle East that illuminates the unique challenges and barriers Kissinger and his successors have faced in their attempts to broker peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
“A wealth of lessons for today, not only about the challenges in that region but also about the art of diplomacy . . . the drama, dazzling maneuvers, and grand strategic vision.”—Walter Isaacson, author of The Code Breaker
More than twenty years have elapsed since the United States last brokered a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. In that time, three presidents have tried and failed. Martin Indyk—a former United States ambassador to Israel and special envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in 2013—has experienced these political frustrations and disappointments firsthand.
Now, in an attempt to understand the arc of American diplomatic influence in the Middle East, he returns to the origins of American-led peace efforts and to the man who created the Middle East peace process—Henry Kissinger. Based on newly available documents from American and Israeli archives, extensive interviews with Kissinger, and Indyk’s own interactions with some of the main players, the author takes readers inside the negotiations. Here is a roster of larger-than-life characters—Anwar Sadat, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, Hafez al-Assad, and Kissinger himself.
Indyk’s account is both that of a historian poring over the records of these events, as well as an inside player seeking to glean lessons for Middle East peacemaking. He makes clear that understanding Kissinger’s design for Middle East peacemaking is key to comprehending how to—and how not to—make peace.
Resistance: How Women Saved Democracy from Donald Trump
by Jennifer Rubin
In the tradition of Shattered and Game Change, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin provides an insider’s look at how women across the political spectrum carried a revolution to in the ballot box and defeated Donald Trump, based on interviews with key figures such as Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Stacey Abrams, Nancy Pelosi, and many more.
In a compelling narrative, bookended by Donald Trump’s 2016 victory and his 2020 defeat, Rubin delivers an absorbing analysis of the women’s counter-Trump revolution. Resistance tracks a set of dynamic women voters, activists and politicians who rose up when Donald Trump took the White House and fundamentally changed the political landscape. From the first Women’s March the day after Trump’s inauguration to the Blue Wave in the 2018 midterms to the flood of female presidential candidates in 2020 to the inauguration of Kamala Harris, women from across the ideological spectrum entered the political arena and became energized in a way America had not witnessed in decades. They marched, they organized, they donated vast sums of cash, they ran for office, they made new alliances. And they defeated Donald Trump.
Democratic women candidates learned that they could win in large numbers, even in red districts. Black women voters in 2020 surged in Georgia and in suburbs in key swing states. Women across the country voted in greater numbers than in any previous election, flipped the Senate, and ensured victory for the first female Vice President in the nation’s history. While Democrats recorded impressive victories, Republican women delivered critical victories of their own.
From the White House to Congress, from activists to protestors, from liberals to conservatives, Resistance delivers the first comprehensive portrait of women’s historic political surge provoked by the horror of President Trump. This is the indelible story of how American women transformed their own lives, vanquished Trump, secured unprecedented positions of power and redefined US politics decades to come.
Resistance is essential reading for understanding the most important election in American history and the role women played in redesigning modern politics.