Probably like a lot of his followers, Jared Yates Sexton first came to my attention during the 2016 campaign when he began live-tweeting the racist, fascistic rhetoric that would soon become the staple of Donald Trump's bid for the presidency. In his novel, The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore: A Story of American Rage, Sexton recounts this bleak, and somehow still fresh, nightmare.
Unfortunately, since this is a non-fiction political work, we know well in advance that there can be no happy ending. We haven't, as a nation, been trapped in an achingly real case of night terrors, and Sexton reminds us of an all-too real reality that we have been grappling with for only a short while, albeit one that feels eons longer. Toward the end of this book, the author recalls a cell phone conversation he overheard while traveling to cover Trump's inauguration, in which the caller explains to his listener that he finally understands the meaning of dog year's. Yup, I'm right there with you, bud.
Sexton's writing is strong and on-point, the tone of this work inescapably dark -- and rightfully so. Trump's ascendency marks what is easily one of the darkest moments of modern America, as his supporters strongly and vocally rejected morality, rationality, and progress in favor of cultish mentalities, stupid t-shirts demanding "Hang That Bitch" or pining for the murder of journalists, and attacking protestors (oftentimes with Trump's own encouragement). Given how much evangelical support Mr. Grab 'Em By The Pussy enjoyed, it should come as no surprise that his supporters, having already rejected morality and rationality, were easily swayed to join the Trump cult and drink all the Kool-Aid. [Side note: I even had a cousin tell me that Hillary was offensive to Christians. Take that for whatever it's worth.] Trump, himself endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan [a self-described Christian organization] and Neo-Nazis, helped to embolden his racist followers who have been primed by more than a decade of fake news conspiracy broadcasts from Fox News, InfoWars, and Rush Limbaugh in what became the political equivalent of a perfect storm.
While hatred and racism carried the day, that's only half the story. Sexton lays bare the flaws and missteps of the Hillary Clinton campaign, and although there are many fingers to point in this direction, her shortcomings are in no way equal to those of her rival, who was able to spin the media in any direction he chose with his constant slurs, lies, and general outlandishness. The Clinton campaign, though, tired so hard to make Hillary into a malleable Every Candidate for Every Voter character, to its detriment. Her events were so flashy, organized, and scripted, right down supporters photographs with cardboard displays of HRC and tweets upon tweets, that Sexton takes to calling the whole manufactured political theatre Clinton World. Hillary's inability to reach out to the forgotten midwestern voters was perhaps the biggest flaw of her campaign, particularly given that Trump should have been so very easily beaten, as every poll and media projection indicated. Sexton even breaks down all the various way the Clinton campaign could have, and should have, attacked Trump in an effort to win over middle America, but chose not to. Hopefully somebody from the DNC is paying attention to this list and makes use of it for the 2020 war for the heart and soul of this nation.
That Trump didn't lose, again, was a perfect storm, one that reached across the entirety of this country and straight on through to the Kremlin. Sexton touches on this latter element, of which more news regarding Russian involvement to help elect Trump and subvert our elections breaks on a near-daily basis (and recently confirmed by Trump Jr.!), but the book is heavily focused on the campaign itself and is as current as the protests of Inauguration Day. But, for an administration so besieged by malfeasance, criminal activity, political espionage, foreign agents, the destabilization of an entire nation, and a record number of golf outings, with the GOP complicit in all of it, the first seven months of Trump's rule certainly provide plenty of material for a follow-up account.
The People Are Going To Rise takes on an almost apocalyptic tone right from the outset, but I certainly cannot fault Sexton for that. I, too, am still mourning for the loss of an America, and the people, I thought I knew, the people and the country who turned its back on the world in order to embrace a racist, conniving, serial sex predator because they were sick of having a Black man in office and couldn't stand the idea of having a female president. I can hardly recount all the times since November 7, 2016, the day after election day, that one of my fervent Trump supporting relatives told me, "Hey, we had to put up with Obama for eight years, you can put up with Trump," as if the two men were somehow equal in intelligence and temperament while their Dear Leader fired off tweet after tweet attacking private citizens, private businesses, destabilizing stock markets in his favor, makes fist loads of cash by booking government engagements at his personal businesses, and commits treason like it's going out of style. And like Sexton, I grew up in a middle-class, midwestern home, with family constantly being indoctrinated by right-wing media, soaking up their hellish visions of this country like a sponge, until, one day, they elected to make that alternate reality the norm, embracing The End of the World As We Know It with arms wide open.
This book a dark, accurate take on a very dark subject. And what are we to do about it as one college student asks Sexton. His reply: We fight.
[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title from the publisher via Edelweiss.]