A reader’s guide to president-elect Donald Trump

I didn’t read anything this week. I couldn’t. I pulled together a stack of hefty thrillers to get me through the next month or so, the kinds of books into which a frustrated American might escape in moments of desperation. But this week I stumbled through in a kind of dazeβ€”surface-calm while emotionally experiencing something akin to the final scene in Se7en. Kevin Spacey is Donald Trump, Brad Pitt is America, and Morgan Freeman is the rest of the world. We’re all just waiting to see what’s in that fucking box.


But books aren’t far from my mind. Over the past few days, I’ve found myself thinking back to things I’ve read that resonate just as strongly, or more strongly, now as before. Books that seem prescient in light of Tuesday’s results, even if (and I sincerely hope this is true) the specter of a Trump presidency proves scarier than the actuality.

I know, aggregating yourself is a bit douchey. But I hope you’ll cut me some slack in these trying, exhausting times.

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We’re all in Kansas now

My high school history teacher once told us that politics (or I suppose history in general) is a pendulumβ€”that the order of things is one way until slowly it isn’t anymore, and that this new order is only temporary until the previous status quo comes back again. At the time I thought this a rather interesting way of explaining the trajectory of existence, and a fairly straightforward factoid to remember for the midterm. Only a decade later do I really get how much it also happens to be true.

Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas? came out in 2004, but for all intents and purposes could have been written today, or five years from now. While the book focuses primarily on the last few decades, it indirectly hammers home the pendulum point; history will, for better or worse, repeat itself. We just happen to currently be in a particularly disappointing part of the pendulum swing.

There’s a part of me that feels like I’m the last person on earth to read this book, but knowing that’s never actually the case, here’s a brief summary: Basically Frank set out to assess how middle America in general, and his home state of Kansas in particular, has transformed itself into a bastion of Republicanism, even though conservatives’ belief in the infallibility of the free market is exactly what’s resulted in a reduction in quality of life for the very people that populate middle America. (Whew.) I wish I could sum up every point Frank makes in a few easy-to-read/entertaining paragraphs, but the reality is that this is a heavily researched book, with a lot of interesting points and a lot of infuriating realities. It answers a question (or at least attempts to) that I think many of us have been asking ourselves for the last few years, and in such a way that at the end you feel simultaneously informed yet depressed, knowledgeable yet resigned. This may be an at-times infuriating phenomenon, but it’s not a new one.

Continue reading “We’re all in Kansas now”