A few books on my list:
The Gilded Rage: A Wild Ride Through Donald Trump’s America by Alexander Zaitchik
“The Gilded Rage offers a sharp corrective to the panicked schematic analysis of Trumpism as another GOP-choreographed hoodwinking of disgruntled grassroots conservatives. By focusing on the Trump phenomenon as a social movement, Zaitchik astutely shows us how Trump’s mass appeal … arises out of the same populist discontent that the GOP leadership has stoked throughout the Obama era, without even pretending to assuage it. To his great credit, he listens while his subjects offer up complicated, often self-questioning accounts of their ardent Trump support. There’s nothing here that resembles the glib demographic explanations-cum-dismissals of Trumpism that are now fashionable among liberals in the Northeast corridor… The overall effect of Zaitchik’s unrushed, painstaking interviews is to show a Trump electorate whose members … are deeply anxious about their precarious standing in a political and economic order that hasn’t given them any grounds for hope.” — Chris Lehmann
George Packer’s The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America:
The Unwinding, George Packer, author of The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq, tells the story of the United States over the past three decades in an utterly original way, with his characteristically sharp eye for detail and gift for weaving together complex narratives.
The Unwinding journeys through the lives of several Americans, including Dean Price, the son of tobacco farmers, who becomes an evangelist for a new economy in the rural South; Tammy Thomas, a factory worker in the Rust Belt trying to survive the collapse of her city; Jeff Connaughton, a Washington insider oscillating between political idealism and the lure of organized money; and Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley billionaire who questions the Internet’s significance and arrives at a radical vision of the future. Packer interweaves these intimate stories with biographical sketches of the era’s leading public figures, from Newt Gingrich to Jay-Z, and collages made from newspaper headlines, advertising slogans, and song lyrics that capture the flow of events and their undercurrents.
The Unwinding portrays a superpower in danger of coming apart at the seams, its elites no longer elite, its institutions no longer working, its ordinary people left to improvise their own schemes for success and salvation. Packer’s novelistic and kaleidoscopic history of the new America is his most ambitious work to date.
Age of Anger: A History of the Present by Pankaj Mishra:
How can we explain the origins of the great wave of paranoid hatreds that seem inescapable in our close-knit world – from American ‘shooters’ and ISIS to Trump, from a rise in vengeful nationalism across the world to racism and misogyny on social media? In Age of Anger, Pankaj Mishra answers our bewilderment by casting his gaze back to the eighteenth century, before leading us to the present.
He shows that as the world became modern those who were unable to fulfil its promises – freedom, stability and prosperity – were increasingly susceptible to demagogues. The many who came late to this new world or were left, or pushed, behind, reacted in horrifyingly similar ways: intense hatred of invented enemies, attempts to re-create an imaginary golden age, and self-empowerment through spectacular violence. It was from among the ranks of the disaffected that the militants of the 19th century arose – angry young men who became cultural nationalists in Germany, messianic revolutionaries in Russia, bellicose chauvinists in Italy, and anarchist terrorists internationally.
Today, just as then, the wider embrace of mass politics, technology, and the pursuit of wealth and individualism has cast many more billions adrift in a literally demoralized world, uprooted from tradition but still far from modernity – with the same terrible results.