Beyond the Messy Truth: How We Came Apart*How We Come Together (2017) is a frank reading of American-style democracy that encourages an honest debate on how to shape the country.
Author Van Jones travels around the country, touting The Beautiful Work: Four Solutions that he says would clean up the “Messy Truth” concerning the way Americans came apart and what conservatives and progressives could do to find unity.
Beyond the Messy Truth takes readers through a fact-based history that is hard to dispute.
In 2016, American voters were fed up with political business as usual:
Thousands of manufacturing jobs were lost when both parties backed flawed policies, like the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The country’s “war on drugs” didn’t put a dent in drug use; it only caused mass-incarceration.
The economic meltdown in 2008 wiped out trillions of dollars of American wealth and caused millions of people to lose their home. Adding insult to injury, voters felt like Wall Street’s greed caused the recession and the government bailed out corporations under a “too big to fail” policy touted by presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
“According to a RAND analysis, every $1 invested in such [inmate] education generates at least $4 in economic return,” reports Fast Company.
The country was involved in a misguided war in Iraq.
The country’s lack of a sound immigration policy added fuel to the fire.
Jones breaks down the atmosphere in America that carried Donald J. Trump into the presidency:
As unnerving as it is to have an erratic narcissist in power, any analysis of his rise must start with an acknowledgment that both parties have been letting down the American people for a long time.
“African American families comprise 42 percent of welfare recipients…but are 59 percent of poor people shown on television are African American.” “Sustaining Stereotypes” by Lanien Frush Holt in QUILL Summer 2018 www.spj.org/quill
Jones is not the first author to recognize the flaws in the progressive movement while analyzing the success conservatives have had getting their message to the man on the street. Jones advises progressives to read – Listen Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? by Thomas Frank. He describes it as “the perfect book for liberals who are willing to take a long, hard look in the mirror.”
Brown Is the New White (2016) by Steve Phillips also suggests that progressive leadership should, “Dethrone the data dummies and pay more attention to the wisdom of grassroots activists.” Jones wants readers to learn from Bernie Sanders’ mistakes. He points out that if Sanders had followed the fundamental lesson in Phillips’ book—pay attention to a more diverse constituency by securing more Black voters—his campaign could have overcome the Hillary Clinton machine.
On the other hand, according to Jones, voters didn’t believe Hillary Clinton could solve their problems and that led to her gradual diminishing appeal to the man on the street.
“The state typically spends $71,000 a year to house an inmate. It costs about $5,000 total to help put one [incarcerated] student through community college”, reports Fast Company.
Delving into the core of Beyond the Messy Truth, Jones explores the real problems that he maintains worry both conservatives and progressives; on the top of that list is fixing the criminal justice system.
His long list of reform measures includes ending the overuse of court fees, fines and money bail.
He asserts that dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline is vital.
Jones’ other solutions call for ending incarceration for low-level crimes, relaxing mandatory minimum sentences and shutting down the use of solitary confinement. He says we need to have more educational opportunities for incarcerated people and to promote better ways to connect with their loved ones.
Jones’ advice includes ending housing, employment and voting restrictions that make returning to the community difficult.
Beyond the Messy Truth does not shy away from the addiction crisis in America. He says the “detox and die” model must be stopped. Currently, addicts go into detox, get clean for a short period, and then turn back to drugs with a diminished tolerance level that makes it easier for them to overdose. He wants to make lifesaving drugs more available to addicts and calls for decriminalizing addiction. He proposes referring addicts to community service providers and asks that insurance companies support treatment.
A cornerstone of Jones’ solution-based ideas that appeal to conservatives and progressives is creating high-tech “clean” jobs that propel the economy into the 21st century.
“Only in a dictatorship does everybody have to agree. In a democracy, nobody has to agree. That’s called freedom,” Jones writes. “We need to develop the emotional strength and resilience to re-engage intelligently and constructively with the half of America that sees things very differently than we do.”
Jones calls for “spaces where we listen to one another and show up humble enough to accept the fact that we might have something to learn.”
Juan’s Book Review