Wingnuts, by Greek-American John Avlon, is a masterpiece. I don’t often use that word lightly, but this book certainly deserves it. And the second edition, published just a few months ago, is as relevant as ever.
Avlon is Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Beast, awarded best Internet News Site in 2012 and 2013 by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences.
Over the seven years that I’ve been writing a regular column for The National Herald, and even long before that, I have consistently railed against the hypocrisy and hyperpartisanship of both Democrats and Republicans. As is usually the case, though, the biggest bunch of crybabies happen to be the members (often, of Congress) of the party not currently occupying the White House. Presidents, by contrast, regardless of party and ideology, tend to do a great deal of growing up once they occupy the Oval Office. My other consistent theme, then, has been to defend presidents rather strongly more often than not.
Of course, considering that the occupier of the White House over most of the past seven years has been a Democrat, the preeminent whiners during that time have been, by default, the Republicans. For that reason, I tend to rail against Republicans more often than Democrats nowadays. In fact, my forthcoming book (to be published this summer), Grumpy Old Party, which is about the 2016 election, devotes a great deal of space to how, around the year 2006 or so, the Republicans in great part simply lost their minds. Nonetheless, I’m sure that will change when the GOP reclaims the White House and the Democrats become the hypocritical sore losers.
Because Wingnuts is a book and not a newspaper column, however, it has the advantage of compiling hyperpartisan extremist lunacy from both parties over the past several years, in a wonderful compendium that addresses the epidemic in whole rather than attributing it to a specific political party.
First, through a glossary rich in content, Avlon introduces the reader to some Wingnut terminology: there are the “birthers” – who demand to see the “long form” of President Obama’s birth certificate, as they insist that he was really born in Kenya and has no legal right to be president. Personally, I am happy to see Avlon spend so much time on that preposterous notion – because I have long deemed it one of the most absurd theories I have ever heard (and that’s saying a lot, because there are tons of them out there). Avlon writes about the “tenthers,” who in their absolutist defense of the Constitution’s Tenth Amendment proclaim that the states have a right to secede from the Union, and make no efforts to conceal that possibility is their heart’s most ardent desire. Closely related to that group are the “Three-Percenters,” who insist that only three percent of American Colonists even fought in the War for Independence. And the point they glean from that statistic – a dubious one to begin with – is that somehow being a unified nation is tantamount to government overreach.
The main quality of Avlon’s book, though, is his evenhandedness throughout. He writes about the wackos on the left quite a bit, too. Not least of which the “Truthers,” who somehow “know” that 9/11 was an “inside” job – that it was all about staging phony wars to line the pockets of the oil and defense industries, and of Vice President Dick Cheney. Apparently, these “truthers” were clever enough to figure that out – or somehow obtained “special knowledge” – whereas the rest of us are either too dumb to know any better, or simply out of the loop. And then, there is the “Bush Derangement Syndrome” (BDS), coined by conservative columnist and commentator Charles Krauthammer as: “the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the politics, the presidency – nay – the very existence of George W. Bush.”
With a chapter on the history of extremism in America, Avlon points out that being a Wingnut is nothing new – these phases of American history come and go. He details, in fact, the meteoric rise and eventual ebb of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin.
Avlon shares quotes that are highly-amusing in their delusion, the laughter subsiding only when we realize that those who utter them weren’t trying to be funny: among them, the alarmingly-high percentage of Republicans who think President Obama is the Antichrist, and Keith Olbermann’s rant that the Fox News Channel is worse than al-Qaeda and the Ku Klux Klan.
Avlon provides a much-needed chapter on the deterioration of the American media, and though he doesn’t explicitly call them “ratings whores,” my guess is he would agree with that description.
Finally, Avlon provides remedies for how to break this spell the wingnuts have cast on our nation. If the book could have been better in any respect, it is in this final segment. Avlon’s remedies, to be sure, are sound: 1) the majority of Americans are not extremists, and should unite across party lines (this speaks to Avlon’s first book, Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics (Three Rivers Press, 2005); 2) enact nonpartisan reforms to reverse gerrymandering and closed partisan primaries controlled by political hacks; and 3) the non-extremist majority needs to stop being passive and stand up to the wingnuts. But they do not go far enough. The “what” is great, but there should be more about the “how.”
One way to go about the how is through education. The more people – young and old alike – who understand the problem will become intellectually empowered to bring about the solution. To that end, I think Wingnuts should be required reading for every high school and college student in America. That would be a good start.
Meanwhile, I am looking forward to the third edition, which I imagine Avlon would write sometime around 2018, if a Republican wins the White House in 2016, at which point the Democrats surely will reclaim the title of most outspoken wingnuts.