Author Archives: Mike Moats

America This is Quite Serious: Inventing America

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Every year around July 4th, inspired by the occasion as much as the dream of getting some real reading done over the long holiday weekend, I pull from the shelf Garry Wills’ Inventing America: Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.

The book was published two years after the bicentennial, and is a long and dense study of the intellectual foundations of the Declaration of Independence — “the psychology of Louis de Jaucourt, the contract theory of David Hume, the mechanics of benevolence as elaborated by Francis Hutcheson,” as Wills summarizes them early on. Wills also talks about the way those lines of thought square up with how the document exists in our collective consciousness today, though I suspect he would have some updates to that interpretation.


As you might imagine, Inventing America has the potential to make its readers absolutely insufferable at today’s barbecues and fireworks shows, and fortunately I rarely get in too deep. The Prologue is enough to add a little magic and solemnity to a day all too often characterized by over-eating and ‘Murica chest thumping, and that is my recommended reading here.

The question Wills raises from the outset is: Continue reading

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America This is Quite Serious: On Day Care

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Trade. Immigration. Jobs. Guns. We’re talking about these things a lot in 2016, and that’s good because they are important. But if we really want to talk about an issue that would drastically affect the day-to-day life of families, we should talk about day care:

Every parent knows that child care is expensive, and getting more so. According to a report from the Economic Policy Institute, annual infant care in 33 states now costs more than a year’s tuition at a public university. For minimum-wage workers nationally, child care costs can easily eat up over half of their paychecks.

This is from Brittany Bronson’s op-ed “Clinton’s Day Care Plan: A Good Start, but Not Enough” in the New York Times. As a parent who has already signed checks for my 2-year-old to attend day care/school in September, I can assure you that this rings true. Parents, especially working and low-income parents, really could use some help on this, and relieving some of the pressure around finding and affording quality day care could have a real impact on economic opportunity, education, public safety and a whole host of “big” issues. In the hopes that there may be bi-partisan interest in such a screaming need, Bronson takes both Clinton and Trump to task for confronting the issue — and doing so in adequate ways.

America this is quite serious, and “Clinton’s Day Care Plan: A Good Start, but Not Enough” deserves a read.

Read more in our election year series “America This is Quite Serious.”

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America This is Quite Serious: The Sunday Book Review

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Our goal with this series is to find books, articles and more that clarify the prevailing forces of this election season, or at least mollify how it feels to bear witness to them. This is roughly the same thing that the New York Times Book Review is doing this Sunday. With a cover illustration of burning letters asking “WHY POPULISM NOW?” the issue offers up a long list of books hoping to ensure that all this fire sheds a little bit of light.


The central essay asks “What Do This Season’s Political Books Tell Us About the Election?”  Continue reading

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America This is Quite Serious: Andrew Sullivan on Tyranny in America

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I know I’m not the only one who had been wishing Andrew Sullivan would say something about this insane election. I will remember to be careful what I wish for.

I wanted to hear from Sullivan because I knew he would be devastating on the rise of Donald Trump. Personally, I suspected I would enjoy what he has to say about Bernie Sanders. And the real treat — the opportunity to actually learn something — would be to watch him square his historical distaste for the Clintons with his support for what she know stands for, which is essentially a third Obama term. That is why I was JON-SNOW-IS-ALIVE! excited when Sullivan re-emerged earlier this year in New York Magazine. And while some of my expectations were met, his real point was much deeper, and more terrifying: “Democracies end when they are too democratic.”

ATIQS ASullivan

The title alone is bracing, given our fealty to full representation in our democra– er, republic. But like most things with Sullivan, the argument is more complicated than its clickbait headline. Continue reading

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America This is Quite Serious: “Fear” by Marilynne Robinson

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The massacre of 49 people in Orlando this weekend has, once again, raised enormous questions about the current state of American life.

Photograph by Paolo Pellegrin.

This incident, more than most others perhaps, stirs discussion. Not just because it is an election year, but also because of the many existing debates into which it painfully intrudes. Rather than the usual exasperations about the great need or the totaly futility of gun control, we are also debating the shooter’s supposed faith and affiliations with ISIS; his attack on the LGBT community when he himself might have also been gay; and how we should react in our politics, our policy, or for our own protection.

Almost all of these come back to one thing: Fear. The shooter’s, and our own.

In 2015, Marilynne Robinson wrote about this fear. As usual, she speaks from the perspective of a Christian. But — also as usual — you don’t need to share her faith to make sense of what she believes. She also speaks as an American, someone who loves her country and is a student of our long and complex history.

I have read this article at least five times since it was first published. Sadly, I often have reason to pull it up after hearing about another senseless mass murder with a firearm. I am sorry to say that I found it useful again this week.

America, this is quite serious, which is why “Fear” by Marilynne Robinson is worth a read.

Read more from our election year series “America This is Quite Serious.”

-Michael Moats

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Did You Hear? Under Pressure

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New music! Sometimes old music. Music that we love!

As part of our series “America This is Quite Serious,” a song with some good things to remember in days like these:

…Why can’t we give love that one more chance?
Why can’t we give love give love give love give love
Give love give love give love give love give love
‘Cause love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the (People on streets) edge of the night
And loves (People on streets) dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves…

Plus, just a really goddam great song.

-Michael Moats

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