How did we get to Trump’s America? | Tracing the insanity with books
In many respects, the past 365 days have been a nightmare from which I am yet to wake up (more about that in yesterday’s post). 365 days in which lies were just “alternative facts” and reality is waved aside as “fake news”. On November 9. 2016, I awoke to the nightmare of a Trump presidency. Anxious, wide-eyed and completely disbelieving of the reality that 63 million Americans would rather choose a racist, misogynistic, lying, dictatorial orange windbag, than a woman. After the election I felt like I had PTSD – election PTSD. When, after a few weeks or months, I had found my bearings again, I just wanted to understand. Understand what it was in the American psyche that made this election result and Trump’s America possible. And so I began to read.
So what was it that made Trump’s America possible? Issues like healthcare and the gun debate that I had been wondering about for years suddenly seemed like the tip of the iceberg. Why do Americans see themselves as living in the “best country on earth”? Why do they talk about the “shining city upon a hill”? When, for centuries, they’ve excluded a large section of their population from basic human rights and even continue to strip the right to vote from them? For me as a German, this fact baffles me particularly. Americans have literally won a war against Germany and exposed our dehumanizing treatment of the Jews in numerous trials. So how does this moral superiority over Germans and Nazis during World War II coincide with segregation?
The books I list below far from answer these questions. And there are far more intelligent people than me that will hopefully one day be able to solve this conundrum. However, these books do delve into some of these issues and bring me and you closer to understanding some of the underlying issues at work in Trump’s America.
„In another country they would have been criminals, but this was America.“
Colton Whitehead “The Underground Railroad”
Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” may just be one of the best books I’ve read this year. His story traces the journey of runaway slave Cora from Georgia along the Underground Railroad. Whitehead describes the treatment of slaves in vivid, gruesome detail. He thereby creates a story that captures the readers’ attention while also educating them about the reality of slavery.
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essay collection/ biography “We were eight years in power” is just that: A collection of essays written over the eight years of the Obama administration, prefaced with tales of Coates’ own life which help remind the reader of the world the essay was written in originally. For me, this book really drove home just how little I know of the experience of African Americans and how much I had forgotten about the past eight years. In interviews, people always accuse Ta-Nehisi Coates of not being hopeful enough. But in all honesty, his writing reflects reality and reality just isn’t hopeful right now.
Naomi Klein’s “No is not enough” is simultaneously frightening and hope inducing. She draws on all her previous research to write this book about the circumstances that prepared the stage for Trump. From the way the Republicans slowly eroded the political system to the way companies are taking over government responsibilities, this book made me want to curl up in a ball and hide. But Klein does finish “No is not enough” on a hopeful note. So let’s hope enough people do finally stand up to resist Trump’s America.
Hillary Clinton’s biography “What Happened” is clearly the closest to the events of the 2016 election campaign. While discussing the events from a very particular perspective, the book gives deep insight into the misogyny at play during the election and into the outside forces at work.
And finally, Timothy Snyder’s “On Tyranny” questions the exceptionalism that is usually associated with American democracy. He argues that system failure, as was so common in Europe during the 20. century, is not impossible in the American system. He then goes on to give twenty lessons that Americans should draw from the 20. century. If you’re interested, you don’t even have to buy the book. There is a summary on the Yale Law School website as well as a short video on the Penguin Random House website: