On Election Night 2016, Van Jones said something on CNN that I’ll never forget—it was a Messy Truth. This book expands on those thoughts about Republicans, Democrats, red states, blue states, and whether we’ll ever learn how to be purple. Jones shares his personal story, from his upbringing to his current passions. Beyond the Messy Truth is a starting point for plenty of necessary civil discourse in the political world, as well as at the holiday dinner table.
With a subtitle like How We Came Apart, How to Come Together, Jones makes his goals pretty obvious. He’s got a unique perspective as an educated Black man from the small-town South. He’s unabashedly liberal, while also being an admirer of Newt Gingrich’s political career. Jones is a church-going, God-fearing man who isn’t afraid to refuse Sunday morning meetings. It sounds contradictory, so I’ll say it again, there’s no question Jones is a liberal.
Jones doesn’t pull any punches when he explains how the Clinton campaign failed their base in 2016. He echoes what Donna Brazile said about over reliance on data, and not enough on-the-ground work with the African American community. He’s brutally honest and backs up his claims with specific examples. This isn’t just about the election cycle, but about Democrats losing touch with the reality all Americans face in their daily lives.
He says, “So the messy truth is this: A rebellion was justified. But the wrong rebel won.”
But Jones doesn’t give conservatives a pass either—far from it. He says they’re just as elitist as the liberals. That they’ve forgotten the average voter, and especially working class white voters for too long. Again, his perspective is that the events of 2016 got their start a few cycles ago. He feels that Republicans votes were based on specific, one-note concerns. For some it was abortion. For others it was business regulations or taxes. And they chose to ignore the things that didn’t matter to them.
Jones proposes that we aren’t a two-party system anymore, but a four party system. He’s developed four quadrants—liberal elitists, conservative elitists, liberal populists, and liberal elitists. I’ll bet you can guess which past and potential primary candidates fit in each of the quadrants.
And his solution is this: “There is only one thing that can clean up the mess that “bipartisanship from above” has created. That is bipartisanship from below.” Since reaching across the aisle in the halls of power isn’t working, Jones posits that perhaps we need to reach across the dinner table and the coffee counter, and start the trend among everyday folks.
“As we better articulate our visions and solutions, we find points of tension—but also points of cohesion. We are forced to defend our beliefs to people who disagree with us, which makes them stronger and reveals the cracks. This is what America needs, and it will take contributions from all of us to get to a better place.”
Jones gives a series of concrete examples of projects that could and should garner true bottom up bipartisanship support. These are programs that he believes check off both conservative and progressive talking points. But more than that, they actively work to improve the world we live in for people of all colors.
Fix the Justice System
End the Addiction Crisis
Twenty-First-Century Jobs: High Tech
Twenty-First-Century Jobs: Clean Tech
I loved how Jones broke each of these topics down into concrete tactics. I love how he name-dropped Prince more than once. But I had to step away from the preachy, pulpit-style rhetoric sometimes.
It’s not just that, it’s that this book looks like a blueprint for an election platform. So I wonder if there’s some self-serving purpose in the midst of the great ideas. Nevertheless, I’m glad I read this book. I’m glad I heard Van Jones say what he did on Election Night 2016. It’s going to be interesting watching his trajectory over the next decade. I think he’s already been working to make the world a better place, and watching what he shoots for next will be worth the effort.