Book Review: The Reunited States of America

Readers of our book Wedged have often given us feedback that sounds something like this: "I've learned a lot and see politics in a different way... but what's next?"

(For those who have not yet read Wedged, it's available at Amazon here, and you can learn more about the key message here.)

"What's next" is a big question that has a lot of answers. But we've had the delightful opportunity to read an early copy of something we think is a great next step in the journey to rebuilding the middle ground and fixing American politics. (For transparency: we have a relationship with Mark, the author, for our work together. We aren't being compensated for a review.)

We've already put a lot of ink onto the topic of the ineffectiveness of name-calling, social-media-sharing, and general bickering. We get it. You're fed up. That's why you're reading this. Most Americans are fed up: it's part of why Trump and Sanders are doing so well. Americans are grasping at anything--anything!--that's different from the very frustrating political norm they know. But, to steal another: using the same thinking that got us into this mess ain't gonna get us out of it. 

But we have forgotten, quite tragically, that good citizenship goes beyond campaigning for your particular big-personality-with-oh-so-many-promises. Those who've read Wedged--and many who haven't--are on board here, but it's not clear what else can be done. What, indeed, is the next step?

Enter Mark Gerzon. A pretty inspiring grey-hair, Mark has extensive experience on the ground working to heal the partisan divide that's plaguing the country. He's led numerous retreats with Congresspeople of both parties to help them better work together. He's helped to incubate dozens of little organizations in what's known as the Transpartisan sphere. Go listen to a few of his talks. He was hip on healing partisanship long before it was cool. He's big into unum in a time of pluribus (to steal right from his book).

He's a bestselling author (of Leading Through Conflict), but yesterday his true magnum opus came out: The Reunited States of America: How We Can Bridge the Partisan DivideI'm usually pretty down on most of the transpartisan-style stuff I read, because it's a bunch of froofy-doofy "let's get along" stuff. I don't think we need more people just telling us to be nice.

RSA is a really, really welcome change.

Mark has seen pockets of excellence throughout the United States that we can all learn from. This book is that learning, distilled into principles. It's your call to action and your field guide wrapped in one. It's short on eye-rolling manifesto and long on action.

In it, Mark saliently breaks down the different behaviors and practices that drive division, and drive unity. He makes clear how this kind of unity is not about agreement: it's about really active, productive disagreement (and we're big fans of that). And he teaches us how to get together and get on disagreeing in a way that drives the political process forward. As we've said before, democracy actually requires getting people on board. RSA teaches you how to do that. It'll challenge you: the steps forward don't simply include getting-your-way-as-you-think-you-want-it. They're about learning, and working at the personal level to bring out the best in each of us. 

RSA is short and punchy. It's clear, and packed to the gills with those next steps we're craving. Don't have time to read? Sure you do. "But seriously I don't have time to read." Fine, get the audiobook. Jeff Hoyt's got a great voice. However you download RSA, do so. 

I do think think are going to get worse before they get better. In the words of Harvey Dent, "the night is always darkest before the dawn." But unlike Gotham, we don't have heroes--caped or otherwise--that are going to do the saving for us. Batman teaches us the wrong lesson: we still live in a Democracy, which means the change is still up to us. Claiming "the establishment" or "big money" has all the power is an excuse here: it's time to step up.

Reading RSA won't change America, but taking its advice to heart--and doing something with it--will do just that.

We may not yet deserve RSAbut it's the book we need right now. 



Erik Fogg

We do politics, but we don't do the thinking for you.