Bonanza of books attempt to add to Clinton’s explanation
New memoir isn’t the only read delving into ‘what happened’
Nearly a year after the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, we still haven’t stopped asking the question. What happened?
The media didn’t call it. The pollsters got it wrong. Few people within the Trump camp, up to and including the candidate himself, believed they were about to pull off the biggest upset in American political history. And yet, just over 10 months later, here we are.
The release of former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s book What Happened this week is only the latest entry into a crowded field.
Of course, any attempt by Clinton to understand and explain what happened — no matter how fact-based and carefully crafted — will be seen by many as excusemaking, if not sour grapes.
There is honesty in this account, but also spin. Clinton accepts full responsibility for her loss while deflecting most of the blame onto others. Vladimir Putin and James Comey are among the usual suspects, but even Bernie Sanders is called to account. Clinton fills nearly 500 pages with her view on exactly what happened. But this is not the full story: only Clinton’s perspective on it.
Whatever you want to say about the U.S. election, it’s been a boon for the publishing industry
Whatever else you want to say about the election, the story has been a boon for the publishing industry, generating a tsunami of books seeking to explain various aspects of the Trump phenomenon. And, as Trump’s administration continues to court controversy, we can be sure his presidency will be the gift that keeps on giving to biographers, cultural analysts and political reporters.
For now, here’s a quick guide to recent guides for the perplexed: The big picture Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire by Kurt Andersen: Andersen sees today’s post-truth media environment as having deep roots in American life, going back to the religious enthusiasm of the Pilgrims.
Mostly, however, he paints our alternative-fact fantasy world as the fruit of the relativism of the 1960s counterculture, which was then further enabled and amplified by the internet.
The Retreat of Western Liberalism by Edward Luce: A succinct and powerful accounting of the global failure of the political left and the subsequent revolt of the people against a system that they see, not without reason, as having failed and abandoned them. Luce takes a global view of this sea of change in our politics and his analysis of how it all relates to the rise of Trump, and the failure of Hillary Clinton, is spot on. The Trump voter Glass House by Brian Alexander: A field study looking at the declining fortunes of the industrial city of Lancaster, Ohio. Former Lancaster resident Alexander de- scribes how the city has been undone by “the 1% economy” and betrayed by the political class. (For fans of this immersive approach, Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers In Their Own Land, set among Tea Partiers in Louisiana, is also highly recommended.)
Twilight of American Sanity by Allen Frances: For the record, psychiatrist Frances doesn’t think Trump suffers from narcissistic personality disorder or any other disabling mental illness. Instead, he sees him as “a kind of secular antichrist, leading his supporters into an apocalypse of societal delusion.” In other words, he’s not mad, but the people who voted for him are.
The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump edited by Bandy X. Lee: If, on the other hand, you are inclined to think that Trump really is mad, you might find support for that view in this collection of essays by 27 psychiatrists and mental health experts who are part of the “duty to warn” movement, an association of professionals united by the idea that it is their ethical responsibility to warn the public about the dangers posed by Trump’s mental health (out Oct. 3).
How the Right Lost Its Mind by Charles J. Sykes: Conservative pundit Sykes analyzes the dark tribal forces that dragged the right into the alt-right, ending with a program for how to return to sanity.
“After Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton, the Democrats need to perform an autopsy; Republicans need an exorcism.” (Out Oct. 3) The election The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore by Jared Yates Sexton: In this book of reportage from the convention floors, Sexton paints a bleak picture of a nation slipping into “an unwavering nightmare of racism, anger, and unrelenting fascism.”
That sounds apocalyptic and one does get the sense Sexton is the kind of guy looking for something to be outraged by, but he draws a depressing and convincing picture of the ugliness of the Trump rallies and the dispirited feeling in the Clinton camp.
Devil’s Bargain by Joshua Green: Trump and his former campaign manager, Steve Bannon, are no longer besties, but Green makes a strong case for Bannon having been a necessary figure in Trump’s election: the intellectual power behind his rise to the throne as well as his media enabler-in-chief.
Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History by Katy Tur: It’s probably fair to say that NBC reporter Tur didn’t know what she was in for when she was assigned the job of following Trump’s long and crazy road to the White House. Before long, she was being called out by name by the candidate at rallies and booed by crowds of thousands.
As much a story about covering Trump as it is about Trump himself, Tur’s perspective on the campaign is both informative and uniquely well-placed.
The Destruction of Hillary Clinton by Susan Bordo: In her account of what happened, feminist scholar Bordo calls out Bernie Sanders’ primary campaign and sexism in general, but places most of the blame on the mainstream media.
This is a bit surprising, given that the media overwhelmingly endorsed Clinton for president, but recent analysis suggests Bordo has it right, at least up to a point.
There was probably less deliberate sabotage involved than just the usual bias in the media toward scandal and outrage. This much, at least, Trump understood.
Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes: The fullest journalistic account of the Clinton campaign and one that doesn’t shy away from laying most of the blame at the candidate’s own feet. “Hillaryland” and “Clintonworld” are both words that get used a lot to describe the bubble she had built and which, in the end, left her woefully unprepared for the coming storm.