Seven Stories Press
Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union is the first book from David Swanson, a prominent national activist organizer known for ProsecuteBushCheney.org, AfterDowningStreet.org and his work with Progressive Democrats for America and Democrats.com. Swanson's pedigree might suggest a partisan perspective but his book reveals a utopian idealist equally critical of President Obama, both parties, and the supposed two-party system. He is deeply devoted to restoring the rule of law through populist policies, wide-ranging reforms, and most demonstrably his own direct actions.
In just the introduction alone, Swanson notes: "The US government has been fundamentally changed...While we can't erase the harm already done, we can reconstitute a nation of laws and a democratic system of government to ensure it doesn't happen again...We will need a revolution of values in our own habits of thought and action...At heart, the aim of this book is to encourage the American people to take actions that are absolutely necessary. Now."
Focusing heavily on the relationship between the three branches of US federal government, Daybreak documents how each has illegally redefined its role in recent times, via signing statements and other executive overreach; abdication of spending powers, refusal to impeach, and other congressional self-castration; and selective judicial activism. While recommending many changes to the Constitution, Swanson also writes: "The most glaring problem with it is not dated concepts or ambiguous wording, but our failure to enforce it."
More than 400 footnotes support an exhaustive depiction of government, corporate and media wrong doing. For those of us who have been actively working for change through most of this decade, such a complete review can be overkill and create a seemingly interminable delay in getting to the "how to" part of forming the more perfect union. Or maybe I've just read enough Naomi Wolf and Naomi Klein and become an impatient member of the revolutionary choir.
To the credit of Swanson's broad perspective, Daybreak recognizes the interrelatedness of myriad issues, offering insight to both problems and solutions involving the economy, imperialistic military, consolidated media control, corporate personhood, health care, wealth inequality, election integrity, campaign finance reform, whistleblower protections, education, labor, civil liberties, and more.
His best recommendations are in chapter 23, "The Trouble With The Media." Citing Robert McChesney and John Nichols' characterization of a "cartel-like arrangement," Swanson sees the equivalent of a fourth branch of government deserving to be called the US Department of Media causing the need "to completely overhaul our communication system."
Utopian idealists such as Swanson (and myself) believe "Most Americans are altruistic and want to be more so." Further, "the best programs and organizations...show people how they can help others. It's not 'Teach a man to fish' so much as 'Teach a man to teach others to fish.'" In the margin next to that paragraph I scrawled "promoting as well as doing advocacy journalism," which is my purpose at ManifestPositivity.org, a site created as a public service for peaceful revolution.
This is clearly Swanson's approach as well. Of the need for revolution in "US civil society," he says "we must not only avoid violence, but reject it so completely that no use of it can be plausibly attributed to us."
Ultimately, while there is a lot in Daybreak that resonates with me, it is a book that could afford to trade some of its thoroughness for a simpler articulation of priorities. Swanson gives us an extra large serving of "what would be better" without enough "least you can do" everyday actions.