Our appetite for Trumpology seems to be insatiableby Prospect Team / December 8, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in Mid-winter (Jan-Feb) 2019 issue of Prospect Magazine
Michelle Obama at the Royal Festival Hall in London © Yui Mok/PA Wire/PA Images In 2018, much ink was spilled over Donald Trump’s car-crash government. Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury (Little, Brown), 1.4m copies of which were ordered in its first week, is a reckless account of a reckless president. Filled with gossipy nuggets that might pique the interest of special counsel Robert Mueller—Steve Bannon described Don Jr’s dealings with Russia as “treasonous”—Wolff’s book is, in our reviewer’s words, “the most unflattering account of any sitting president in US history.” Until the next two Trump books, that is. Fear (Simon & Schuster) by long-term president watcher Bob Woodward is a sober dismantling of the current White House. Institutional damage is less visible but still important. Michael Lewis’s unsettling The Fifth Risk (Allen Lane) looks beyond the tantrums to analyse how government departments have been emptied of talent. Anyone looking fondly back at the Obama administration can pick up engaging and self-reflective accounts from his former speechwriter Ben Rhodes in The World As It Is (Bodley Head) and his former ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, in From Cold War to Hot Peace (Allen Lane). (Possibly in response to McFaul’s criticism, Trump discussed handing him over to Putin.) Michelle Obama’s Becoming (Viking) is a candid account of being married to a driven young man who, weeks after their marriage, flew to Hawaii alone to write his memoir. For the long view on the ideological roots of Trumpism, Sarah Churchwell’s Behold, America: A History of America First and the American Dream (Bloomsbury) is indispensable. But nostalgia isn’t going to do much good if Mark Zuckerberg is a bigger threat to democracy than Donald Trump. So what happens when websites like Facebook use their data to sell us opinions that suit our prejudices? That’s the provocative thought David Runciman floats in his fluent and typically counter-intuitive How Democracy Ends (Profile). (It interrogates the same issue tackled at greater length in Jamie Susskind’s Future Politics (OUP).) Runciman, whose Talking Politics podcast is a must-listen, believes that as democracy has grown middle-aged it needs to be more responsive to people’s actual needs. Otherwise darker, more atavistic, forces may prevail. Harvard historian Yascha Mounk also worries about the siren-call of nationalism. His ambitious The People vs Democracy (Harvard) talks about how liberalism may be becoming detached from democracy—not only in places such as Turkey and Russia, where liberalism does not have deep roots, but also in the west. Do we have the high-quality leaders equipped for these enormous challenges? In Britain, apparently not, according to political journalist Isabel Hardman in her Why We Get the Wrong Politicians (Atlantic). In addition to the prohibitive cost of standing for parliament—on average £35,000—Hardman identifies a toxic climate in our politics that encourages otherwise good people to behave disreputably. Though not, as yet, as disreputably as @realDonaldTrump, whose tweets, veering between manically exaggerated half-truths and bare-faced lies, have nearly 60m followers. So these tweets are—sadly—the most important political publications of the year.