Political Prose: Understanding Post-election America
The explosion of new books exploring the political/cultural/social climate of America’s recent election demonstrates that, when people are trying to make sense of things, they still reach for a book.
If, like many, you are struggling to understand post-election America, here are some titles that might help—or maybe simply provide escapist reading.
Central to all the discussions about the election results is the question of how the two major parties failed their supporters. Exploring what it feels like to live in “red” America, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, by sociologist Arlie Hochschild, gets to know the people of Louisiana and explores the paradox of a state that receives so many government subsidies being against big government.
On the other side of the bipartisan divide, Listen, Liberal: Or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? by Thomas Frank reflects disillusionment with the “blue” party that, although occupying the White House for 16 of the past 24 years, has done little to advance traditional liberal goals.
Voters lost faith in the dominant parties, and no third-party candidate had a strong enough showing to rank in the election results. Who are the disaffected whose collective voice was strong enough to elect a candidate that might have seemed unelectable just months ago?
Written three years ago, but presciently apropos as post-election reading is The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, by George Packer. Narrative nonfiction at its best, the stories of these Americans whose lives are characterized by a feeling of dissolution reads like an epic novel.
The Populist Explosion: How The Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics by John B. Judis puts contemporary trends that influenced this election in a historical and global perspective, particularly spotlighting the escalating effect the 2008 recession had on class divisions.
Due to be published in January, The Making of the President 2016: How Donald Trump Orchestrated a Revolution, by Trump advisor Roger Stone, outlines how Trump’s candidacy harnessed the discontent of the “silent majority” to produce one of the biggest upsets in American political history.
Making a comeback right now is Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here, a cautionary story about a fragile democracy and how easily fascism takes hold after the election of a president who, among other things, promises drastic reforms and a return to “traditional” values. There has also been a rise of interest in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a novel about one woman’s desire to escape a society that has reverted to the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans.
The list of current concerns is long, and includes fear and anxiety about immigration, climate change, guns, violence by and against police, hate crimes, terrorism and more. Reading can be stabilizing and good preparation for conversations that are productive rather than combative.
Libraries, as neutral community places that promote learning and the free exchange of ideas, provide the tools and resources to explore these and other issues. Pay us a visit, and if you don’t find what you are looking for, be sure to let us know. We’ll try to get it for you!
Lisa Gresham is the Collection Support Manager for Whatcom County Library System where she selects adult nonfiction titles for the collection.
(Originally published in Cascadia Weekly, Wednesday, December 14, 2016)