In her new memoir, Lois Capps has achieved a remarkable feat for American political literature in this grim era: the words “Donald Trump” appear only once, and then on the third-to-last page.
“Some might accuse me of naïveté, but they’re wrong,” writes Santa Barbara’s now-retired nine-term House representative. “I’m not naïve. However, I refuse to get cynical. Cynicism is a cancer in democracy. The answer to the problems facing America is not cynicism but active participation.”
This Monday night (Sept. 24) , Capps will sign and read from her book, “Keeping Faith in Congress: Why Persistence, Compassion, and Teamwork Will Save Our Democracy,” just published by Fortress Press. (Details of the event below).
Trump-free zone. Lois’s sanguine perspective, coupled with the short shrift she gives the 46 percent 45th President of the United States, is a welcome respite from the inescapable grind of 24/7 reporting about the boundless narcissism, corruption and cruelty with which Trump poisons politics, governance and culture.
Political hope, embedded in her lifelong Christian faith and values, is a major theme of the book. It underpins her tenacious conviction that caring, compassion, civility and cooperation in time will heal a system wounded by the hate, misogyny, racism and noxious venom that daily pours out of the White House.
“I served in Congress during an interesting time. In my two decades, my party was both in the majority and in the minority. I served alongside both Republican and Democratic presidents,” Capps writes.
“I also watched our country and my colleagues become more and more polarized, with dire consequences. And yet, I continue to believe in democracy. I think that our system of government will survive its current crisis, just as it has survived past crises.”
The author's decision to, in effect, lump Trumpism in with previous polarized Washington brawls in which Capps participated – Clinton’s impeachment, Bush’s warmongering, the savage struggle over Obamacare – bemused at least one reader, however.
As bitter as those conflicts were, they seem categorically different than the existential threat of Trump.
The harsh facts are that our 18th century electoral system has installed a Mad King who reigns by dividing, not uniting, while gerrymandering and voter suppression helped fuel right-wing congressional majorities determined to dismantle, not make constructive use of, government. Together they are forging a federal judiciary increasingly hostile to women, minorities, immigrants, unions, the environment and the health and safety of consumers.
Capps defines herself politically as a tribune of bipartisanship, and throughout the book recounts legislative successes and personal friendships she crafted by working across the aisle.
Compromise. comity and good-faith negotiation are problematic, however, at a time when the party holding all the power considers "compromise" a dirty word, "comity" as weakness and "negotiation" as sell-out treachery.
What is to be done. Capps, of course, knows all this, but jeremiad indubitably is not her style.
When she ultimately mentions Trump and the danger he poses, near the end of her memoir, she promptly pivots to her abiding belief that electoral and direct political action can thwart him.
“He became the forty-fifth president of the United States,” she writes in her conclusion. “And one of the reactions to his election has been the galvanizing of activism and engagement in communities across the country. Many of us have participated in marches for women’s rights and gun safety and rallies for religious freedom and sanctuary cities.”
The Nov. 6 mid-term congressional elections will provide a crucial test of Capps’s faith in the power of the grassroots and resilience of the institutions of liberal democracy.
For voters who grasp the immense importance of the Democrats’ drive to capture at least one house of Congress that can counteract and effectively challenge Trump, Lois’s book will serve as both a beacon of spiritual hope and an urgent call to political action.
Lois Capps is scheduled to read from and sign her book at Trinity Episcopal Church, 1500 State Street, on Monday evening (Sept. 24) from 7-9 p.m.
P.S. The Capps memoir is filled with recollections and reflections, sometimes painful, about the family tragedies that she has suffered and endured, both privately and in the political spotlight. Check out Starshine’s recent piece about her interview with Lois for a glimpse at that facet of the memoir.
Images: Cover of Lois Capps's book; Capps in Congress and as a nursing school graduate (working nurse.com); Lois campaigning with her late husband, Rep. Walter Capps, in 1996 (Santa Barbara Independent).