“The politician creates a powerful, huge, heavy, and unstoppable Monster Truck of a government,” P.J. O’Rourke writes in his new book, How the Hell Did This Happen? (Atlantic Monthly Press). “Then supporters of that politician become shocked and weepy when another politician, whom they detest, gets behind the wheel, turns the truck around, and runs them over.”

How have you reacted to the 2016 election, the accession of Donald Trump to the White House, and his first few months in office? Have you become more active in support of your political party? Have you read books or articles you might not have read otherwise? Have you talked with friends about misgivings and hopes? Have you wondered if everything will ever return to normal, or if normal is even a useful concept when political conflict reaches current levels of antagonism?

If you like to read political theory or philosophy, and you don’t shy from classic work, you might turn to three writers who have thought long about political questions: George Orwell, Hannah Arendt, and John Locke.

  • For Orwell, everyone knows of 1984 and Animal Farm. Add his essay, Politics and the English Language.
  • For Arendt, her two well-known books are On Revolution and Totalitarianism. She also wrote an essay titled Crises of the Republic in response to American conflicts of the 1960s. It applies to current politics.
  • As for John Locke, his long essay, Second Treatise of Government, underpins our country’s founding principles. It’s not easy going, but all of us should know the principles and ideas it contains.

To change the subject, consider this reflection on innovation. I watched pigeons flapping their wings from our hotel balcony in Barcelona, during recent travels. It made me think of the Wright brothers’ work on powered, controlled flight. As people thought about how to achieve that, through centuries, they thought only in terms of birds, who flap wings to become airborne, then soar when they reach sufficient altitude to take advantage of unseen air currents.

Until the Wright brothers, no one thought about making a plane based on the structure and flying characteristics of a box kite. That’s what the Wrights did. Now imagine how their work would proceed if the FAA existed to regulate flight, where Wilbur and Orville had to have their design approved before they could build the airplane, have the plane inspected after they built it, then qualify as licensed pilots before they could fly their invention.

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Front view of the Wright brothers’ airplane at Kitty Hawk

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