Selected readings from the left and from the right

Published Aug. 9, 2019

By Jim Verhulst

Of the Tampa Bay Times editorial board compiled these summaries.

We live in a partisan age, and our news habits can reinforce our own perspectives. Consider this an effort to broaden our collective outlook with essays beyond the range of our typical selections.


From "In Defense of Sparta," by Nick Burns in the New Republic.

The context, from the author: The alt-right and other fanatics of the ancient civilization are distorting history. Sparta can teach us how to rethink liberal democracy.

The excerpt: Ancient liberty ... was unabashedly majoritarian. It was not individual but communal. To be free in an ancient sense was to participate in the life of the city on equal terms with others, and have a say in public debates on domestic and foreign affairs, the results of which would bind everyone. This Spartan kind of freedom was active, not passive. It made no promises about religious freedom. It had no concept of a private sphere of rights — but it was freedom nonetheless.

From "Let Them Eat Credit," by Nicole M. Aschoff in Jacobin Magazine.

The context, from the author: The new normal of low interest rates is designed to sooth the palpitations of capitalists, not to improve the lives of working people.

The excerpt: Characterizing the last decade as an "expansion" is a peculiar sort of euphemism. What, precisely, is being sustained through central bank-engineered, low interest rates? Observers point to the fact that the official unemployment rate hasn't been this low since the 1960s, that equity markets are soaring, that the United States is enjoying its longest-running growth streak since before the Civil War. But these achievements have an air of unreality about them. Perhaps in no small part because during the last decade of so-called expansion, wages have barely budged, despite low official unemployment.

From "Why Do We Hate Immigrants?" by Kevin Powell in the Nation.

The context, from the author: Whether we are indigenous to this land, whether we came in the hull of a slave ship or landed at Ellis Island, our government's brutal response to the migrant crisis is an affront to us all.

The excerpt: Tragically, as we black folks know so well, every single time we seem to take a step forward, there are mean-spirited and reactionary forces that will take us back over and over again, to the hate and fear and division and violence that has been with us from the very beginning. No wall and no detention center can ever stop the massive flow of human beings as they seek out what they need and want for themselves and for their children — that want and that need are as old as humankind itself.


From "The Feeling That the Country Is on a Precipice," by Jim Geraghty in the National Review.

The context, from the author: Maybe things will calm down, and the country as a whole will back away from the abyss. We have before.

The excerpt: Politicians may know they're being hyperbolic when they throw around terms like "betrayal," "great danger," "totalitarian," and "dictatorial"; but not everyone in their audiences understands. There is no shortage of Americans who completely believe in an organized "great replacement" plot to wipe out white America through mass immigration. There is no shortage of Americans who completely believe President Trump is establishing concentration camps and will never peacefully relinquish power. It wouldn't take much for some angry, emotionally or mentally troubled, isolated extremist to cast themselves in their own heroic narrative, striking down the evil that so obviously threatens the country.

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From "We Don't Need Red Flag Laws, We Need More Good Americans To Get Guns," by Jesse Kelly in the Federalist.

The context, from the author: It isn't time for red flag laws. It isn't time for raising the age to buy a weapon. The time has come for you to purchase a weapon and start taking responsibility for your own life.

The excerpt: Governments take away liberties and never return them outside of a political revolution. The American people are not the ones in need of a "cooling off" period when they purchase weapons. It is the U.S. government that should be restricted from passing knee-jerk laws in the wake of tragedy to satiate media cries of "SOMEBODY DO SOMETHING!"

From "Trump Didn't Start the Fire," by Robert W. Merry in the American Conservative.

The context, from the author: Rather that acknowledge the complexities that led to El Paso and Dayton, exploiters are letting the republic burn.

The excerpt: It is probably natural for many, including many prominent thinkers and commentators, to seek the simple answer — the villain involved or the single societal problem that, if adequately addressed, would curtail such inhumane malevolence. It is reassuring to think that there is, in fact, a solution to this phenomenon of senseless mass killing, which is rising to the level of genuine national crisis. Unfortunately, there are no simple answers for why this is happening or what can be done about it.