Walls, Partisanship and the Shutdown

Eighteen days into the partial government shutdown, President Trump is preparing to deliver a national address on immigration to make his case for a border wall again. These three books offer perspective on the current shutdown: the inner workings of the government offices affected, the political precedent for the present bipartisanship and the debate over a border wall.

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THE FIFTH RISK
By Michael Lewis
221 pages. W.W. Norton & Company. (2018)

Lewis has a reputation for livening otherwise dry material, and according to our reviewer, “you’ll be turning the pages” of this story about government bureaucracy. The fifth risk in his title (after an attack by North Korea or war with Iran, for instance) is project management, or rather the mismanagement he details within the Trump administration. Key government positions remain unfilled, and others are occupied by nonexperts in their respective offices. “The Fifth Risk” provides insight into how government offices function, particularly under the current administration.

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THE RED AND THE BLUE
The 1990s and the Birth of Political Tribalism
By Steve Kornacki
497 pp. Ecco/HarperCollins Publishers. (2018)

In this book, Kornacki argues that the political battles between President Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich, including a 21-day long government shutdown over budget disagreements, set the stage for the political divisions of today. “The early Clinton era is presented as a parade of confrontations — over welfare, balanced budgets, health care — that, for a time, emboldened Gingrich’s showdown wing of Republicanism,” wrote our reviewer. The government shutdown of 1995-96 is the longest on record, and this book explains the political tensions that caused it.

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WALLS
A History of Civilization in Blood and Brick
David Frye
320 pp. Scribner. (2018)

The idea of building walls to protect and separate societies is not new, and in this accessible history, Frye chronicles walls from ancient Greece to Berlin to China. He explains that early walls were built as protection from neighboring tribes, and how the walls in China assured traders safe passage. In addition to exploring walls’ role in the development of civilization, Frye also reckons with the psychological impact they can have on the migrants and refugees they keep out.


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