This one took a lot longer than I anticipated, due to all the upheaval in my life. I’ll have to rush to finish the third before Labor Day, but I think I can pull it off.
Title: I, Citizen
Author: Tony Woodlief
Genre: Political Science
“A blueprint for reclaiming American self-governance,” reads this book’s subtitle. Knowing me, you’d wonder how I managed to miss it until a fediverse friend posted about it a few months back. I’m glad he did, because it was an interesting read. Not great, mind you, but interesting.
Woodlief introduces the problem that we already know, but in more detail than anyone would think to provide: America is divided, almost irreconcilably so. Our hyperpartisan country is tearing itself apart before our very eyes, and everything the so-called elites do only seems to make things worse. Of course, that’s by design, which he explains fairly well.
This isn’t how America is supposed to be. Our founding documents make no mention of parties—except for a denunciation of them in Federalist #10—or lockdowns, or social justice, or any of the other problems plaguing the United States of today. We have, at some point, turned our collective backs on the guiding principles of our nation, and only a return to that tradition would stop the coming calamity. All that is well and good. When he sticks to the topic, the author does a good job laying out the reasons for our fall and the things we need to do to avert it.
Unfortunately, Woodlief spends far too much of this book getting off topic, or making illogical leaps that only serve to paint him as just another Washington hack trying to make a quick buck. His “solutions” are only found in the final chapter, and he spends most of that trying to convince people to join his network of do-nothing think tanks. Yes, this push is prefaced with some sensible advice about love and community, two things sorely lacking in modern society, but his only guidance to build those boils down to, “Join a church.” For the growing numbers of us who find Christianity (or religion in general) distasteful, that’s no help.
It gets worse than that. The author’s true colors can be seen throughout the book, in fact. Often, he falls victim to the fallacy of false equivalence, painting both major parties as equally responsible for the decline in community. But only one “side” is censoring its opponents. Only one party is sending jackbooted thugs after its political rivals. Woodlief wants us to reach across party lines, but who would extend a hand in friendship to those who have spent the past two years wishing death on us? The truth is, some very vocal people in America want nothing more than to destroy America. Yes, he’s right when he says these make up the minority, but they wield power far beyond their numbers, and he’s wrong not to call that out.
Likewise, the final chapter makes mention of the dictatorial edicts of state governors during the so-called pandemic, as this book was written in 2021. But Woodlief only calls out the most heinous offenders: Whitmer and Cuomo. Never mind that 49 governors (all but Kristi Noem of South Dakota) are culpable in this destruction of basic human rights. The author is a traditional conservative, so Republicans like Bill Lee and Greg Abbott were…just following orders?
My last gripe is much more minor, but it illustrates the underlying hypocrisy of the book. In every case, Woodlief refers to the “Founders”. The correct term, as any student of history knows, is “Founding Fathers”. They were all men, and there is nothing wrong with that. To use the politically correct phrasing shows the same spinelessness that is part and parcel of any conservative call to action.
To be sure, this is an informative book. It’s a good book. But it’s not a blueprint for regaining our rights. Nowhere in it does the author talk about, for example, how to get Critical Race Theory out of schools, or how to reform police departments so they can be held accountable. His advice can be summarized quite simply as, “But if we talked to each other…”
Maybe that made sense in 2021. Now, though, we may very well be past the point of talking.