The Second Amendment: A Biography, by Michael Waldman

Nine stars

Never one to shy away from controversial political and legal issues, I turned to Michael Waldman’s book about the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, dealing with the right to bear arms. A topic that has become extremely controversial and has, quite literally, torn segments of the population apart, Waldman looks to explore the history of the amendment, as well as some of the early thoughts on the provision. The book opens with a lengthy analysis of the Founding Fathers’ meetings and comings together to hash out a constitutional document for the new republic, before they entertained some key amendments to form a Bill of Rights. Waldman looks at these debates and some of the written notes, exploring some of James Madison’s work to decipher not only the wording of the amendment, but to put it into context. The wording is so out of sorts with the other amendments that it baffles the reader (both at the time and now) to understand some of the nuances and how poorly it was cobbled together. Waldman cannot tell why this was done, but does address that the concept was perhaps tied to England’s own Bill of Rights from a century before. Nevertheless, it was enshrined and society accepted the right for citizens to bear arms to form a militia for state protection. Even the courts glazed over it until challenges began in the late 19th century. Waldman explores that the courts, all the way up to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) saw the militia aspect for what it was and dismissed anyone seeking personal right to bear or possess arms of most any sort. Pressure began in the mid-20th century with the emergence of the National Rifle Association (NRA), which began the hard push to get personal gun ownership and carve out the part of the Second Amendment that suited their needs (conveniently forgetting the militia part when it inculcated its members). It was only when SCOTUS heard District of Columbia v. Heller that things really turned on its head in the legal community. In a 5-4 decision written by that most wily of Associate Justices, Antonin Scalia, the Court finally came down on the side of the constitutional right of individuals to bear arms. Waldman goes into detailed analysis of the decision, its immediate fallout, and how Scalia’s form of constitutional interpretation seems to be used when it suits him and left shelved when it does not. From there, Waldman looks to the US legal and social world post-Heller and how the mass shootings and push for more gun rights have turned America in a direction that many outside the fifty states (and lots within) would shudder to digest. In a stunning exploration of all things on the topic, Waldman does a wonderful job with this biographical piece. I can only hope that many will read this to better understand the situation, as well as the political influence and brainwashing of falsehoods that is being purported in this election year! Recommended to those who enjoy detailed constitutional analysis, as well as the reader who has a passion for political and legal history.

I actually came across Waldman’s book when it was referenced in another tome I was recently reading about the need to repeal the Second Amendment for its misuse and great misunderstanding. Many of the arguments Waldman presents were also present in there, though this piece explores some of the backstory in greater detail. Waldman tells the detailed story of all aspects of the Second Amendment, as any strong biographical piece should. He lays out not only the arguments, but substantiates things for the reader to better understand context. Without getting tied up in too many knots, he seeks to focus his attention on the cogent parts of history and offers gloss over of other parts, namely those long periods when Second Amendment talk was minimal. I am pleased to see that Waldman does not shy away from criticism, as it gives the reader something to consider while they read, absorbing as well as thinking with an open mind. The book is well-paced and divided into three parts, depicting the build-up to the amendment, how the interpretation became more jaded and eventually codified by a set of conservative justices who seemed to have had their heads in the sand and a certain human orifice, before looking at the subsequent way America turned with Heller on the books. While the book can get quite technical, it is not written solely for the academic, but surely for the reader with an interest in the topic at hand. I am so pleased to have found something readable dealing with the Second Amendment, particularly a tome that offers some thoroughness without drowning the reader in minutiae.

Kudos, Mr. Waldman, for another stunning exploration of a key political aspect in American legal and social history. I hope others will find this book and be as amazed as I have been.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Fight to Vote, by Michael Waldman

Nine stars

As the next presidential election in the United States approaches, I was drawn to this book by Michael Waldman, which explores this history and importance of voting. Waldman takes the reader as far back as the Founding Fathers and the constitutional conventions to explore some of the earliest sentiments on voting and elections in the early republic. He tackles some of the sentiments about how the Fathers thought of constructing voting eligibility and how the threshold might make for a stronger country, which obviously disenfranchising large portions of the population. The Fathers did not feel that the federal government should take the lead in setting out a system of voting or elections, feeling that deferring to the states was the appropriate answer. It is essential to note at this early stage, there is nothing enshrined in the US Constitution about the right to vote, which serves as an interesting thread for the rest of this tome. As history progressed, other groups found themselves eager to have their voices heard, including the recently freed slave population, women, and eventually those in poorer parts of the country. It is most interesting to see how Waldman explores the continued expansion of suffrage, while also noting that with the power to set the rules in the states, there were also loopholes to keep groups out that did not defy anything constitutional. The latter portion of the book speaks specifically about these ‘tests’ laid out in the South for black voters, in a blatant attempt to keep their voices silent. To this day, there are state-based blockages that keep large segments of the population from having their voices heard, as Waldman explores in detail. On this point, Waldman spends the last bit of the book examining the US Supreme Court’s interpretation of First Amendment free speech and the removal of monetary limits for election contributions, while coming down hard onanistic group seeking special ‘sway’ to gain the upper hand in being permitted to vote. Fascinating to see how deliberately partisan things have become and how many people’s voices remain muted into 2020. An eye-opening piece if ever there was one on the history of voting and the importance that the fight towards true universal suffrage continue in the United States, particularly up to November 3, when there is a chance to return America (and the world) to greatness after four years of embarrassments!

Many will know that I love all things political, especially when history gets added to the mix. I find that in these uncertain times in the realm of geo-politics, it is essential to have a handle on things taking place in my own proverbial backyard. Waldman does a sensational job of laying out all the nuances of voting and elections in America, taking the reader slowly through the progress of events and how they impacted the Republic as a whole. There is so much to cover and yet Waldman lets the narrative flow smoothly and keeps the reader enthralled throughout the telling. From the foundational aspects of an electoral system to ensure a strong new country through to the means of interpreting the base rules to favour one party over the other, Waldman shows that politics is at the core of elections. With substantial chapters and many key examples, the reader will not feel shortchanged, but can easily use much of what is discussed here as a springboard to learn more, should the interest arise. Going so far as to offer a warning of what is to come in US electoral politics, Waldman makes it clear that voting is not being given to Americans on a silver platter, but it must be earned. Moreover, it will be a fight that should not be squandered or an issue dismissed until a later time. Just think what things might have been like in November 2016 had all eligible voters cast their ballots and not been blocked from doing so to tip the balance in one direction (not including the Russian collusion that we all know was rampant). Get out there, Americans and fight for what is yours. The world is watching and eagerly wants to see what your electoral voices have to say.

Kudos, Mr. Waldman, for this excellent examination of voting. I will be reading another of your books, recommended to me, and I hope it is as riveting.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons