Monday, June 24, 2019

Review: 'The Man Who Sold America'

©2019 All Rights Reserved Reviews

The Man Who Sold America
By Joy-Ann Reid
Current Affairs
June 2019
William Morrow
ISBN: 978-0062880109

From the introduction, "Welcome to Gotham" with on-point comparison of today's occupant of the White House to a Jack Nicholson signature performance, to the epilogue about who we really are, Joy-Ann Reid tells us about ourselves in the age of Trump, how we got here and what we must do next before a new chapter can be written in her new book, The Man Who Sold America: Trump and the Unraveling of the American Story.

In concisely researched sections, Reid, host of MSNBC's AM Joy, shows the origins of Trump, the current state of his party, the media and government. It's a perfect storm of resentment, yearning and complacency. She begins with the 2016 election, laying out not only the vote counts but also the underlying studies that show why anyone would vote for someone who had no political experience but plenty of bluster. That the narrative is calm and fact-based sets the tone for the book. This is not a political rant. This is a reflection on the current point in the American story.

Information from a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in April 2018 displays what "economic anxiety" really means for white Americans who voted for Trump. Regardless of their actual economic status, it was their perception that mattered. That perception, as seen in media feature stories still being published on a regular basis, is the fear that white Americans are being crowded out by people of other races, ethnicities and religions, regardless of their immigration or citizenship status. Diana C. Mutz of the University of Pennsylvania political science department noted in the study that candidate preference was connected to a political party's position on American global dominance and an American population that is becoming majority-minority. In other words, if white Americans feared no longer being part of the dominant group, they voted for Trump.

At the same time, American culture is becoming more divided, with groups staying together based on how they view the world and less genuine communication among different groups. Reid notes the work of Robert P. Jones in a Public Religion Research Institute study done with The Atlantic in 2017 to show the fear among those who do not like the increasing diversity of America. In a chapter on the media, Reid adds how what we believe determines where we get our news. Facts themselves have become a malleable commodity.

In addition to quoting other studies, Reid also goes into the cultural aspect of how Trump's base was built and why it remains true to him. Britain is dealing with the same resentments that led to Brexit, so it's not just an American phenomenon.

One of the strongest chapters in the book compares and contrasts the journey of South Africa following apartheid to the United States since the Civil War and Jim Crow eras. Reid reports how white people in both nations have feared change and losing power, and how they are responding. The countries are different, and Reid is clear to note that. But seeing the paths the two countries have taken and the origins of conspiracy theories in South Africa that have made their way to the United States is illuminating. What unites us is stronger than what divides us, but what is it that unites us? And divides us?

Reid tell us how we got here and how we see ourselves. One of the great take-aways from reading The Man Who Sold America is that until and unless Americans face up to who we are, things are not going to improve for anyone who isn't already one of the .01 percenters. Superhero mythology is a motif in the book. But Reid makes it clear we should not be holding out for a Superman or Captain America or Wonder Woman. As Joan Didion said, "We tell ourselves stories in order to live." What is the new chapter in the story we tell about ourselves? It is up to us to write it.

©2019 All Rights Reserved Reviews and reprinted by permission

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