On November 8, 2018, I went to bed early. It had been a long, complicated political season, but at last it would be over. And at last, women would shatter the final glass ceiling in American politics. As I lay in bed and drifted to sleep, I thought about how amazing it was live through this historic moment.
But past midnight I woke as if alerted by some preternatural sense of impending disaster. I picked up my phone to check the results, and was sucked through to a dismal mirror dimension. Well, not really, but since that day it’s sometimes felt like it.
“One Nation After Trump” is full of ideas and insights that lead me to close its covers and think.
In reality, I saw the results: Trump elected US president. Good god. I woke my husband to tell him news. He didn’t believe me. I repeated it, “No, really, he won.”
“There’s no way,” he said, and went back to sleep. Lucky him.
Some people will read this and find my shock amusing. They’ll point to it as the hubris of the Democrat. I don’t know, maybe it is. But I genuinely thought people wouldn’t vote into the presidency a guy who mocked the disabled, military veterans, gold star families, and, well, the list goes on. To me, Donald Trump isn’t (just) a politician whose policies I disagree with–he’s a person I believe is morally unfit for office.
Since then, I’ve asked myself on almost a daily basis, “How did this happen? How could almost half of the country vote for him? And how to do we prevent it from happening again? What’s my personal responsibility for this, and what’s my role in changing the future for the better? “
One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet Deported by E.J. Dionne Jr., Norman J. Ornstein, and Thomas E. Mann is a book that provides some answers to these questions. The authors split the book into two main parts. Part one, “Trump and Trumpism,” explores the man, the danger he poses to our democracy, and potential reasons motivating those who voted for him. Part two, “The way forward” offers suggestions for how to handle a Trump presidency and how to prevent another one.
Despite my interest in the subject, this book lingered on my “currently reading” bookshelf for longer than usual, in part because it is full of ideas and insights that lead me to close its covers and think.
Consider the following:
- The war on truth and the mainstream media is a result of “long-standing habits” in how conservatives and liberals approach the news, “not an innovation of the Trump years” (53).
- On collapsing norms in politics: In May 2017, in an effort to repeal Obamacare, “[Senator Mitch] McConnell created a process that had virtually no precedent when it came to considering a major policy change” (79). With group of 13 Republican senators, he invited no Democrats into the deliberations and did not hold a single hearing.
Of particular interest to me, the chapter “Race, Immigration, Culture or Economics?” asks what motivated Trump voters. The answer, of course, is a little bit of all of that. Were there voters for Trump who weren’t motivated by these things? Yes, but “to ignore or downplay the role of race and immigration in creating the Trump coalition is to be willfully blind to the obvious” (160).
One of Trump’s key promises was a better economic future. A study by chief economics editor Ben Casselman for FiveThirtyEight found that economic anxiety correlated with Trump support. “Trump Country… isn’t the part of America where people are in the worst financial shape: it’s the part of American where their economic prospects are on the steepest decline” (168).
Armed with the insights on how and why Trump won and the danger he poses to America, I was eager to hear from the author about how to move forward. But instead of a clear plan, there’s a hodgepodge of ideas and policies aimed at combating economic issues, polarization, and improving political engagement, among other things. Each idea may be promising individually, but there was a lack of coherency that I found worrying, as if the authors were spitting spaghetti against the wall, saying “Try this! Or this! Or this!”
Ultimately, I felt a little let down.
But maybe it was a fault of my own expectations. The authors outline a problem with America that’s greater than Trump: A pervasive and far-reaching disease to do with race, inequality, science, truth, and polarization. You can’t really expect a single book to illustrate the solution to all that. Instead, this book serves best as a kind of summary. Use it to get a sense of the problems and their possible solutions. Dive into the deeper work by visiting the Notes, where a thorough list of works are cited.
Personally, I took my time reading this book out of emotional weariness. America is a complex, flawed society, and I haven’t always been her perfect daughter. But life under Trump has showed me how dearly I think of her, and how closely I hold her ideals. At its best, America is that beacon on the hill that other countries aspire to. It’s a misery to read a dark chapter in our history, even as we continue to live it out day by day.
But at the heart of the authors’ recommendations is a more involved, more educated citizen. Starting with this book may be a good beginning.