A frequent criticism of any political figure with a devoted following is that the figure is at the center of a "cult of personality."  Pay close attention to that word, cult, because Robert Jay Lifton says it's important. 

Lifton should know, he's a psychiatrist and a historian, and from his view, fanatical religious cults and extremist political movements are not far apart.  He explores the concept in depth in a new book, Losing Reality: On Cults, Cultism, and the Mindset of Political and Religious Zealotry


This looks like progress at first glance: 56 women serving in the U.S. Senate.  Oh wait, that's since the country STARTED.  Right now?  Females are more than half the population, and exactly one quarter of the Senate. 

The percentage is slightly lower in the house.  So it's not unexpected that someone would write a how-to book for women thinking of running for office. 

Represent: The Woman’s Guide to Running for Office and Changing the World is the work of actor June Diane Raphael and political operative Kate Black. 


Start a conversation with a political opponent.  Would you even know how to open?  We've gotten very good at pushing each other's buttons, but show limited ability to actually communicate. 

James Hoggan, who comes from a public relations background, gathers wisdom from respected thinkers in his book I'm Right and You're an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean it Up.

The book is now in a second edition reflecting the results and aftermath of the 2016 election. 

Richard Blanco has traveled many miles since his appearance reading his poetry at the second Obama inaugural in 2013. 

And his travels have taken him to Southern Oregon more than once, including his spending time this summer at the Young Artists Institute at Southern Oregon University.  YAI is for high school students to develop their already-demonstrated artistic skills; Richard Blanco will teach creative writing. 

His latest book of poems, out this year, is How to Love a Country


Having the candidate who won the most votes lose the presidency is not just a demonstration of the workings of the Electoral College.  It's also an example of a set of circumstances that provide opportunities for each political ideology, but not spread evenly across the country. 

Political scientist Jonathan Rodden gets into the details in his book Why Cities Lose: The Deep Roots of the Urban-Rural Political Divide.  He shows how events both accidental and deliberate make Democrats and the left stronger in cities, and Republicans and the right stronger in rural areas. 

Fibonacci Blue - https://www.flickr.com/photos/fibonacciblue/30588590810

The deep divisions in American society lead to people avoiding dialogue.  Which is likely to keep the divisions intact. 

So radio producers at KCRW in Southern California set out to hear what regular Americans--not the political heavyweights--had to say about the first two years of the Trump administration, a project dubbed "Two Years: Diaries of a Divided Nation."

The project has been extended, with additional compilations coming in the next two years. 


Much of the negative reaction to Donald Trump comes from Democrats and liberals in America.  But far from all of it. 

Case in point: an Arkansas pastor, lifelong Republican Robb Ryerse, who felt he had to run for Congress to inject some true Christian love into the body politic.  The story is told in the film "True Believer," playing at this year's Ashland Independent Film Festival. 

John T. Bledsoe/Library of Congress

More than one political scientist has observed that American voters often vote for candidates who work against the voters' economic interests. 

Jonathan Metzl is a physician, and comes at the issue from another angle: he says voters' decisions can actually shorten their lives.  He gives examples of policies implemented by anti-government politicians, like denying Medicaid expansions, cuts to social services, and looser gun restrictions. 

These are among the cases Dr. Metzl cites in his book Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America's Heartland


Any period you can think of as "the good old days," someone else can counter with a portion of society that was oppressed in those times.  Nostalgia doesn't help us deal with the issues of now, says Yuval Levin. 

He's the author of The Fractured Republic: Renewing America's Social Contract in the Age of Individualism.  Levin points to the problems inherent in thinking of ourselves as individuals above all else. 

Alan Sylvestre/OPB

With term limits looming, Kate Brown can't run for Oregon governor again. 

Which means she's got most of four years left to press for the programs she wants to see in Oregon state government, without having to stop for an election. 

The legislature is just getting started on its all-important budget-making session, and the governor is touring the state making the case for her priorities. 

Public Domain

The deep rifts in American society are evident. But how did they develop?

Historian Kevin M. Kruse and CNN political analyst Julian E. Zelizer have traced the divide back to 1974, a year in which the country was rocked by political, economic and cultural events (think Watergate). Their new book, Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974, is based on a popular history course they teach at Princeton. 


The party bosses and the people they got elected used to wield all the power in America.  But we've democratized many processes, through initiative and referendum laws, and party primaries and caucuses. 

Which raises the question: how's that working out for us?  Putting more of the machinery of the politics in the hands of the people produces things like ballot measures legalizing marijuana... but also results like Brexit, in the United Kingdom. 

The idea that the problems of democracy are solved by more democracy gets a critique from Yale University political scientists Frances Rosenbluth and Ian Shapiro, in Responsible Parties: Saving Democracy From Itself


Maybe you've wondered a bit about the American psyche.  We do get ourselves into some pickles, like wars without clear winners, and political deadlocks, and people spreading information that isn't true and calling it news. 

Psychologist Bryant Welch wants to put the country on the couch, and does, in a sense, in State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind

If you're familiar with the term "gaslighting," you'll recognize right away what the book is about.  It was first published ten years ago, and has been updated.

Casey Minter/Oregon Public Broadcasting

Southern Oregon stood to lose some clout in the state legislature when Mike McLane opted not to run again for his position as House Republican leader. 

But the loss of regional clout didn't happen because another southern Oregonian stepped up.  Rep. Carl Wilson of Grants Pass is another legislative veteran, and he will lead his party in the House in the next session. 

Jurek Durczak, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2982346

Johnny Rotten had it easy in England. Try being an East German punk with the Stasi looking over your shoulder.

Tim Mohr, Berlin-based DJ, translator and music scholar, has written a history of the underground punk scene in East Germany just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, called Burning Down the Haus: Punk Rock, Revolution, and the Fall of the Berlin Wall.


Jon Meacham has written some fine biographies of Americans, including one on Andrew Jackson that won a Pulitzer Prize.  Now it's not a person Meacham is examining, but a whole country. 

That's the gist of his latest work, The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels.  In the book, Meacham points out several times in American history when we were at each other's throats, figuratively if not actually, and managed to come through. 

The key: finding and accentuating those better angels. 

Andrew Bowen for Capital Public Radio

California state Sen. Kevin de León got a boost over the weekend in his underdog campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein this fall: an endorsement from the state Democratic Party.

Deviant Art/Wikimedia

Political figures are fond of making moves they say will help "the economy."  And often, out of sight, economists roll their eyes at the politicians. 

They rely upon each other, but economist Alan S. Blinder sees a dysfunctional relationship. 

And he demonstrates why in his book Advice and Dissent: Why America Suffers When Economics and Politics Collide.  Blinder advocates for more hard-headed but soft-hearted policies. 


Just the title of Patrick J. Deneen's book might raise a few hackles on America's left wing: Why Liberalism Failed

Deneen, a political science teacher at Notre Dame, examines the tenets of liberalism and points out how they work against their professed goals. 

Example: encouraging members of society to work for a common good WHILE also elevating the rights of the individual.  CAN liberalism be made to add up?  And does it have a future? 

United Nations, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59070111

Richard Haass thinks a lot about the state of international relations in his role as president of the Council on Foreign Relations. 

He wrote A World in Disarray before Donald Trump took office, and added some thoughts on the last year in a new paperback version of the book. 

In short, the structures that guided the world out of World War II and away from World War III are now out of date, in Haass's estimation.