Hello and welcome to the 538 Politics podcast, I'm Galen Droog. As President Trump prepares to leave office in just over a month, it appears, at least for now, to be the end of an era in journalism and literature. For much of the past five years, Trump has been the sun around which so much of our political and cultural thinking has orbited. Journalists, authors and academics have all tried to understand him, his supporters, his White House and his impact on America.
And this podcast has probably been no exception as far as that goes. So what conclusions did they or we come to you over the past five years? What have we learned about Trump and ourselves during the time he's been in the White House?
Well, Carlos Lozada, the nonfiction book critic for The Washington Post, has some answers.
He read one hundred fifty books written in those past five years about Trump and the Nation and reviewed them in his book titled What Were We Thinking? A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era. So Carlos is here with me today to share the wisdom contained in the Trump cannon. Carlos, thanks for joining me.
Thanks for having me. I have a lot of questions.
It was a good book. I enjoyed reading it. But just to start off, I'm curious, on a personal level, what was it like reading all 150 fifty of those books?
I mean, did you have coffee or something stronger?
Does your neck still hurt? Like what was this like on a personal level?
Well, I mean, I think I'm very lucky to have a job where I get I get paid to read books so I can't complain too much. And what I tried to do is define the Trump canon very broadly. So it's not just the sort of mayhem inside of the White House books, but what I think of as Trump adjacent books, books that deal with the big debates of this time on immigration, on identity, on on democracy, books that might have existed in the absence of Trump.
But that certainly became a lot more relevant. And I'm from Peru, from Lima originally. And so I drank a lot of gogola while I was reading these books, which has a ton of caffeine. That's good to hear.
I can only imagine how does the scale of literature about Trump's presidency or adjacent to Trump's presidency compare with past presidents? I mean, like as a book critic, can you think of another time that our literature and culture had such a singular focus?
Well, here's one reference point. For instance, if you can recall the explosion of interest and writing and literature surrounding Barack Obama and his assent to the presidency, estimates are that there were about some 400 or five hundred books about Obama during his first term. There were about twelve hundred or so books and the equivalent period for Donald Trump. So this is clearly an outlier of sorts. That said, you know, the thing about about writing about presidencies and presidents is that it never ends.
You know, we're still getting great new biographies of Nixon. You know, there's an endless supply of Lincoln books every year. And so we'll continue learning a lot about this time through books. But certainly the just the sheer number and magnitude of Trump books has been remarkable. One hundred and fifty sounds like a lot until you put it in context of about twelve hundred books that have come out during this time.
Yeah, I'm glad you brought the data. You know, we, we love data at five thirty eight so. Twelve hundred five hundred. That is remarkable.
Did we come to many conclusions in all of those books.
Look, we cover this stuff so I have been paying attention as one after another. You know, mayhem in the White House book has come out, explanations of why people support Trump, explanations of why the resistance formed against Trump, what he says about our country and how he has or hasn't changed our country. This has been coming across my transom for a long time.
Did we actually come to a lot of conclusions during the past five years?
It depends of who who the we is that you are you are talking about here. I think a lot of conclusions were reached. What I would say is that those conclusions often to my mind, simply as as a reader of these books, often seem to reflect a lot of what these authors either believe to be the the motives behind the rise of Trump or simply confirmed what a lot of writers have already been thinking and arguing for a long time, even before Trump.
That was a constant refrain in these books. You know, this just proves everything I've been saying all along. About how, you know, American society functions, you see that in books as different as Naomi Klein's book No is not enough. That just says basically Trump proves everything I've been arguing and every other book I've written ever. Right. And also James Poniewozik book, The Times television critic saying that the rise of Trump just affirms all these trends I've been I've been seeing and writing about and the way we absorb information and how the medium of television has evolved.
So you had a lot of I'm not saying they're wrong. I'm just saying that people see see this time through their own blinders and their own kind of predispositions. And the explanation for Trump's political rise and his appeal among the so-called white working class. You know, you have authors who sometimes even interviewing the same Trump voter come to wildly different conclusions as to why Trump won, whether it's sort of economic anxieties and economic populism or more sort of racism or prejudice.
And so I think, you know, in terms of what we were thinking, we were thinking what we wanted to think and we wanted to see in Donald Trump. That was one of the main outcomes for me of this of this literature.
Yeah, you're opening chapter is called Heartland, and you explore that question, which is, why do Donald Trump's supporters support him? Or in particular, why does he have a special appeal amongst non college educated white voters? And this has been discussed plenty on this podcast. It's also been discussed in every newspaper, I assume in America. This is a question that a lot of our listeners will be familiar with.
What conclusions did people come to and how compelling were they in this racism versus economic anxiety paradigm dynamic that has been debated now for five years?
Those became these two explanations, and it was almost like teams you were on team economic anxiety or team prejudice. And and they really regard each other with almost disdain. I would I would say I mentioned that sometimes they even found these disparate explanations in in the same voter, you know, and I'll tell you that that story, you know, there's a book called The Great Revolt by Salena Zito and Brad Todd. And they interview a, you know, many Trump voters around the country, including this one guy from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, who was, you know, a long time Democrat, Clinton supporter.
And it turns out he switched to Trump. And in that book, the reasons he switched to Trump was because he thought the Democrats had forgotten the working class and he was suspicious of political dynasties like the Bushes and the Clintons. And that was the story. It was very much an economic anxiety story. Right. A few months later, this is twenty eighteen. A few months later, I'm reading another book called The Forgotten by Ben Bradlee Jr. about Trump voters as well.
And, you know, I've read many books in between and suddenly I encounter this guy, you know, and he was a long time Democrat labor organizer from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, you know, and I'm just thinking, I know this person. How do I know this person? You know, like why why is he so familiar? And then it hits me. It was the same guy, this guy named Ed Henry. And except in this book, he was a culture warrior, a 9/11 truthers, you know, rails against transgender bathrooms, things George Soros is secretly funding, you know, race protests in America.
And it's the same guy, right? It's the same person. And I'm not I'm not accusing any of these authors of bad faith. I just think that they see in the people they talk to sometimes what it is that they wish to see. In each case, Ed Henry's motives perfectly reflect their larger explanations for why Trump won. And there are some books that I think do a better job of showing how these motives can be mixed sometimes, how it's kind of weird to put people in these different baskets as if their motives were so simple and defined.
People are complicated. And there's a book called We're Still Here that I really appreciate because it it shows people in their complexity. It's by a sociologist named Jennifer Silvo. And more than saying that these struggles push people to one candidate or another, she makes the point that they really end up leaving people with a sense that politics has no room for them at all. She was reporting and writing the book during the twenty sixteen election and she went to vote and she comes back with her little I voted sticker on her on her sweater.
Or whatever, and the people she was interviewing mocked her, they laughed at her for daring to believe that the political system would be responsive to her preferences. And that's a moment that really stayed with me. And it was, again, in that same area, she's she's talking to voters in in in Pennsylvania coal country.
I think what you've laid out for us there is an important lesson that likely people who consume a lot of news already know, which is that even when you're going out into the world and finding evidence and primary sources to back up the work that you're doing, your biases influence how that primary source evidence gets displayed. We obviously here at 538 think a lot about data as the evidence that we try to use to analyze the world and help paint a better picture of it.
To what extent did the Trump cannon rely on data and try to get to the bottom of these difficult questions like why did they support him? How did he shape America in new ways? What does this tell us about ourselves?
I mean, part of it depends on what you and of course, this may reflect my own biases, right? I'm not I'm not coming to all of this clean and pure either. Some of it may reflect the kind of books that I chose. I found that there was not a heavy reliance on data, except no surprise among books that were, you know, more academic, a book like Identity Crisis by my three political scientists, John Sides and to others whose names I'm not going to remember right now.
It's been cited on this podcast multiple. I have no doubt.
You know, that is a book that relies heavily on data and they end up more closely hewing to the prejudice argument. But in a in a subtle way, I mean, I think what what what they did in understanding Trump voters is they came up with this conclusion of what they call kind of racialized economics. Right. That it's not that people voted for Trump because they were afraid of losing their jobs, but because they were afraid of job losses to those people.
Right. To to to this amorphous other who could, you know, immigrants, minority groups who would come in and take your livelihood. And so there was certainly some of that in the Trump cannon. I think as more time goes by and we're able to collect, you know, data and evaluate data on two election or three election cycles. Twenty, sixteen, twenty, eighteen, twenty, twenty, I think that there'll be more of that. One other example I would note is a book called Cyber War by Kathleen Hall Jamieson, which is one of the few books that attempts to use data in trying to assess to what extent Russian interference could have had an impact on the election.
I find those conclusions to be a bit more tentative, but certainly tantalizing. She's if someone wants to read on, you know, what is the best sort of non ideological case for Russian impact on the twenty sixteen vote? That's the book that I would I would recommend. But a lot of the books of this time are aggressively anti data. Are memoir's our argument are books grounded in emotion and resentment and fear and glee, depending on your point of view and all.
I mean, I'm not saying that those are illegitimate ways to to write. You know, there's there's terrific books coming coming from that from that world view.
But but they're not all like, you know, five thirty eight specials, you know, you saying that makes me think that covering Trump himself has been a real challenge over these past five years because a pillar of his administration, his campaign has been dishonesty and really appealing to emotion and cultural grievance and things like that. Do you think that there are any books that were particularly well suited to covering an administration that really has not been truthful? Because that has been a challenge that all of us in the media and I imagine writers as well, writing five hundred page bestsellers as well, have had to deal with during the past five years.
I think that that's been a huge challenge. I think there are books that are good at explaining that conundrum that that you just laid out. There's a book called Gaslighting America by Amanda Carpenter, and that book lays out very clearly the sort of steps of a Trump lie. And and a lot of these books end up showing you the increasing demands that Trump's lies make on the public. You know, it's not just like believing something that's not true. It ends up kind of like believing nothing.
And one of the books emphasized that The Apprentice, Greg Miller, my colleague at The Washington Post, emphasized that, you know, if journalists had, you know, uncovered a secret back channel memo from the Trump campaign to the Kremlin, encouraging Russian intelligence to dig in to Hillary Clinton and all that, that that we know how to do that. We know how to cover that. We know we can we can right that story because it's a big reveal.
Right. But when Trump at a campaign event stands up and just says it right, it's almost like it doesn't compute for four journalists. Like, how do you write about that? How do you how do you uncover a scandal when the scandal is just right out in the open and Trump is essentially daring you to to think that it's really wrong. And so I think that's been a real challenge for for journalism, because covering Trump has been unlike covering any campaign or certainly any any president, because he operates as though in a shame, free environment, as though there are no consequences to untruth.
And of course, journalism is only calling card is truth and and the ability to to reveal it. And so when it seems like that doesn't matter, what do you do? What do you do as a as a journalist? I think that's been a that's been a huge challenge.
It seemed like the expectation, particularly early on in his presidency and during his first campaign was that there was some error or some violation of norms that would be so grave that it would take Trump's approval rating.
We have been tracking Trump's approval rating on this podcast now for four years, as well as his campaign polls. That never happened, right? I mean, the closest that anything ever came was firing James Comey and the government shutdown, that those were the perhaps the most significant dips we saw in Trump's approval rating during his presidency. But there was never any big reveal of a scandal that did that.
But a lot of the literature and there are two chapters in your book that get it. This one is called Russian Roulette, which is all about Russian collusion and theories there. And then the other one is about chaos in the White House and all of the different books that covered with a lot of anonymous sources, the kinds of things that were said behind closed doors, the kinds of incompetency in their view that was going on inside the White House.
How close did anyone ever get in all of this literature to actually uncovering the kind of scandal that changes the presidency? Well, I think they all did, except it wasn't the kind of scandal that changes this presidency, the it happened even during the campaign, but again, it was out in the open saying that John McCain wasn't a hero because he was captured. You know, I don't like people who were captured. Right. Denigrating American values in any other candidate or presidency is a mortal offense.
Like it's over when that happens. Right. If you can if you can put that in the words of any other candidate, that meeting with Russian lawyers during the campaign, you know, getting into a food fight with Gold Star families, you know, saying that a Mexican-American judge can't can't oversee a case that you're involved in, like all these things are out in the open scandals. You know, you don't even have to read one of the books.
You can just read the mother report right there, the mother report without anonymous sources, the Mueller report with people by name under oath describing what Trump did simply because it stopped short of naming and sort of determining criminality in no way, you know, reduces the scandalous nature of what exists in those four hundred and forty eight pages. You know, if people would just read them. I teach a journalism class and I assign my my undergraduate students to read the Mueller report, which they they hate me for.
But but once they read it, they're utterly shocked by by what they find. So, you know, the the big reveal isn't one, you know, what is the next great scandal. But the big reveal is, is why do these scandals not stick to this president?
We're authors able to come up with any answers to that. A lot of the authors, you know, sort of hyperventilate over, you know, like asking the same question and feeling that, you know, there was always this surely this moment. Right. Like, surely this will be the tipping point. In a sense. I think that journalism shouldn't operate in a in a sort of outcome based environment. Right. That journalism only matters if, you know, there's this big consequence.
Like, you know, my colleague David Farenthold at The Washington Post uncovered the Access Hollywood video and and we reported that story. And the moment it seemed like that was the end. Right. It's people in Trump's in Trump's circle in the Trump campaign were telling him that he had to step down, that it was over, that it would be a bloodbath for for for Republicans. And it wasn't. It wasn't. And that doesn't mean that journalism wasn't valuable.
It doesn't mean that David Farenthold to work had no impact write it. It just means he didn't have that impact. Right. And we can't necessarily be in the business of of expecting or promising a particular kind of outcome. But I don't know why why these things didn't stick to Trump. In a way. Part of it is because no one really thought he was going to win. Right. At least I'm talking about the sort of campaign era scandals.
It seemed like a stunt. That's why the party didn't come down harder on him. That's why the press gave so much free coverage to to to his to his rallies because no one really thought it was going to happen. I would love to read a book about all the decisions that major institutions made based on the premise that Hillary Clinton was going to win the election. The Obama administration didn't come down harder on the Russians for interference because Hillary will deal with that.
You know, when she's when she's in office, she can she can impose sanctions. She can she can do whatever against the Russians. You know, James Comey, you know, made decisions about about reopening investigations, about making his big statement against Hillary Clinton based on the notion that he didn't want to seem like he had been, you know, cozying up or anything less than than dutiful in investigating the future president. You know, I think so much was I would I would love to read about the consequences of that one assumption across an array of powerful American institutions.
So I think that was part of it. People just assumed it wasn't going to happen. Once President Trump is, of course, elected, he spawns a whole new kind of reporting and writing both on the left and right, which you dig into, you talk about the resistance writing and the conservative pivot, which is all the different ways that conservatives dealt with the president. I'm curious from the resistance perspective, looking at public opinion polling, Trump has changed what the left believes.
Quite literally. You look at something like immigration and you see that he was extremely vocal during his campaign and much of his presidency about that issue. And he changed a lot of Democrats minds to be significantly more in favor of immigration than they were before he came onto the scene. The left and Democrats embraced things simply because they were the opposite of Trump. In what ways has he shaped the views of intellectuals on the left, what they write about, what motivates them, that part of the literature that you were looking into?
That's a great question. I think I think in some ways it's hard to know exactly what the counterfactual is like. Where would have thinking, progressive thinking moved in the in the absence of Trump? I think you can make the case that it was already that the the move toward toward a more robust left was already happening pre Trump and the Sanders campaign is a good indication of that. But I think that intellectuals on the left were as susceptible as anyone else to the sort of manufactured outrage of of Trump on a series of issues, especially issues of race and of immigration.
And so the kind of radicalization, the kind of of increasingly progressive views on the left on those issues to the point that that the Democrats once were the party of of labor that wanted to restrict immigration. Right. Like that's that seems like another planet. And I think that Trump had something to do with that. I don't know that that it was a place they didn't necessarily want to go. But I think in many ways trump free that up. And the issue with that, of course, is I, as I write in the in the book, is that just because Trump's moral compass is broken doesn't mean that yours points unerringly north.
Right. That that because he holds retrograde views on X, Y or Z issue, that therefore a full push and the exact opposite direction is where the country or the party or voters want to go. And so I think, though, that that certainly on on immigration with with the border and the wall becoming such the kind of essential Trump issue that that both push thinkers on the left further in that direction, but also free them to go in that in that direction, which may be where they were headed already.
What happened to the intellectual right? Of course, you're reading books, so this is not necessarily mainstream culture, which mainstream culture on both the left, right and centre looks very different from what you would have read in books, you know, regardless of what you're looking at necessarily, but particularly it's people who are buying and reading what intellectuals on the right have to say. What are they doing during this time of a seemingly anti intellectual president leading their party?
I think on the right you had a three way split. At least that's how I read these different books. First you had the people who just right away, you know, made their peace with the new regime, who glommed on, you know, from the very beginning. And these are weirdly some of the some of the worst books as pieces of writing and argument and persuasion. But books that sold really well, you know, whether it's Jeanine Pirro books or Newt Gingrich's books, you know, books that Newt Gingrich wrote for Trump books in four years, it's kind of amazing.
And they just, you know, imitate Trump's tics, his language embraces his his stories and his arguments or simply deny that the things he says mean the things that he says. And they don't really make an argument. They just kind of stand with Trump, whatever it is. Then you have the the never Trump conservatives who, you know, declare their opposition early on, who, by and large, you know, they lost some members, but they but they they ended up sticking to it and who write these really kind of painful breakup letters to their party and to the conservative movement.
And those are those are some of the some of the best writing, I think, to come out of out of the these political battles within the right during during the Trump years. But part of my problem with with those books is that they don't really fully grapple with their own complicity in and how this came to pass. If the conservative movement was so ripe for a takeover by Donald Trump, you know, why was it so vulnerable? You know, these are these are folks who in some ways benefited from the radicalization of the base on the right.
But we're OK with it as long as they kept churning out mainstream nominees like Mitt Romney or John McCain. And suddenly in twenty sixteen, they couldn't control that base anymore and now they're horrified by it. And then there's a third set of books by pro Trump intellectuals, people like Victor Davis Hanson or Rich Lowry, who are trying to retrofit Trump's impulses into some ideology that cannot last him. And that's the kind of, you know, conservative nationalism that you're seeing.
And, you know, the problem is that there's there is no coherent ideology to trump beyond the what personally benefits him and the sort of whims of of the man at the middle of it. And so in some ways, they're just beholden to him rather than to really any kind of real ideology, which is such a shift for what conservatism has at least attempted to be in the past. You know, William F. Buckley gets rid of the tries to tries to fight against the fringes of the of the conservative movement.
And that kind of thing isn't around anymore. Now, you just keep finding ways to try to rationalize it and justify it, which you're seeing to the bitter end now with, you know, Trump's constant claims that this election was stolen from him. All right, I want to step back and ask some broader questions about the literature and what impact it all actually had. But first. You mentioned at the top that there were one thousand two hundred bucks approximately written about Trump during his presidency.
Was anyone actually successful at bridging the partisan divide, you know, like a truly mass audience that didn't break down by partisanship?
I think those that attempt I think there are some books that do attempt to to do that and do it well. I don't think they were necessarily books that achieved a mass readership. I'm thinking of of a couple of books in particular, and maybe they did really well. I just I don't associate them with, like the top notch best sellers of the moment. There are two books that came out early, twenty, twenty in January of this year. One is a book called A Time to Build by Yuval Levin, the conservative sort of intellectual historian, you know, policy wonk.
And that is a book that looks at American political institutions and basically says they've become theaters for performance art. You know, they are performative rather than formative institutions are supposed to formula, supposed to constrain your behavior and his worries that they've ceased to do that. And it's it's a book that is although he comes from the right is a book that I feel is sort of across the board, critical and incisive and looks at universities and Congress and, of course, the ultimate performative institution of this presidency, the the White House.
And I felt it was a book that was necessary in this time, a similar book, but very different in its style, similar in its in its in its intentions. And its focus is called Unmaking the Presidency by Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare. And they you know, it's similar in the sense that it's focused on enormous institutions. And if there's one thing we've all learned during this period is that, you know, democracy is not just based on rules and laws, but the norms of accepted conduct and behavior.
And they look at where those norms of presidential conduct came from throughout American history, how they are created around the presidency, and why it's so dangerous when they are undermined and and and flouted. And I thought that it was a book that it came out the same day as a very stable genius by my colleagues, Phil Rucker and Carol Hennig. And I think that kind of overshadowed that, you know, the Hennesy and this book, because a very Stapleton's was such a blockbuster and had so many great details and reported stories.
The Hennesy latest. This book is more analytical, but I found it to be extremely helpful in in helping me understand what we mean when we say that norms are really what allows this democracy to function.
So the title of your book is What Were We Thinking? And of course, it's an intellectual history. So you're mostly tracking the thoughts of intellectuals. How close do you think these intellectuals, authors, journalists, academics were able to come to capturing what the actual public was thinking? How close were people able to get to their subjects, which is like the broad American public, most of whom don't know that any of these books exist and don't think about Trump on a minute by minute basis?
That's a great question. And, you know, I tried to cast a very wide net in the kind of books that I covered in this in my book and the kind of books that a review of The Washington Post, you know, that said, if you really want to capture what we as in what we were thinking, the American public during this period, years from now, I don't know that these books are they will be a partial reflection of that, but not necessarily a full reflection of that.
I was actually talking to I had this great, like two hour zoom with a bunch of professors of intellectual history from the University of Chicago and Notre Dame and Illinois, all these Midwestern universities. And one of them said, you know, maybe because I asked them that, like, when you guys are looking back on this period, you know, 10 years from now, 20 years from now, what are you going to try to do? What's your primary?
What's your source material? Right. What are you going to look at beyond these books? And one of them said, look, I'll probably be looking in the archives of, like, private Facebook groups, you know, and and chat groups and and the online discussion that dominates our news consumption. And that might be the real way to understand what we in a very broad sense were. We're thinking more so than like what you know, the guys at Lawfare are writing about.
So, you know, I I completely took that to heart. I think that make. A lot of sense, I I feel that in part because it's my job and I've been reading a lot of these books, but I also feel that there's a a certain prism that books give us there like a second or third draft of history. Right. If if journalism is the first. And so I thought there was value in trying to understand this period purely through its books.
Other critics have done, you know, have looked at very different kinds of media. Like I mentioned, James Poniewozik, you know, the TV critic, what a wonderful book called Audience of One about Trump and Television and not just how Trump, the person, has used television, but also how how it changes in the medium itself have informed our thinking on this time. So I think there's lots of lenses to to use. This just happened to be mine.
I'm curious if in all of that you see the chasm between the literature written by experts at Lawfare and private Facebook groups being one of the defining features of the president himself, which is that he kind of jumped straight into the private Facebook group sphere instead of messing around too much with caring what the intellectuals are writing in the literature. And so when we look back on this time, you know, we now have Americans with dramatically different views of the president himself.
Are we going to have dramatically different views about what this period was like? I mean, we think of history as being what we read in high school history book. And for a long time, elites have had greater control over the two parties. They probably still have much more control over the Democratic Party than they do over the Republican Party.
But the intellectuals are not in control of Republican thinking. And so are we unable then to have a a common, if elite view of this period in history? Maybe first of all, I have no idea, right? I think that that it may depend on our time frame in a sense, like over over time, usually there comes to be a more settled version of history. It doesn't mean it's the correct one. Right. But I think that you do get to a kind of of consensus, which then becomes constantly questioned.
You know, I mean, like what The New York Times did with projects 18 19 is is an attempt to to question the settled version of history. And I think that the divides in our media consumption in the short term make that much more difficult. I don't know what it means long term. You know, if if it would be very it would be like super depressing if the the current divide over not just what it meant, but what actually happened over facts, if that endures to the point that there is no settled history of this time.
No, no. Come understanding of this time. But, you know, you've had that with, you know, the South and the lost cause. You've had you know, there are many there are many moments in which, you know, different groups have viewed American history entirely differently. And so I don't think that's left to be careful of sort of attributing too much to Trump. You know, that that that he is so unique and so different and so special that he has changed everything.
Trump in some ways is is the personification of a lot of the fights and a lot of the battles and divides that this country has dealt with for centuries.
So given where we stand right now and what you said about some time and space, perhaps allowing facts to have a greater influence over how Americans view this period of time, what do you think will be the historical view of these five years, given the literature that we have on the eve of Trump's departure from the White House?
I think one of the ironies of the time is that, you know, Trump with America first to make America great again in the sense of the kind of chess beating we're better than everyone else. I think that what it may do is show the ways in which America is unexceptional, in which America is susceptible to the same challenges and pitfalls as as a lot of other places. You know, it's it's unthinkable in a pre Trump context that that a president would so loudly contest the results of a presidential election and try, however ineptly, to stay in power.
We are now a country that has done that right. We will never not be a country that didn't have that happen. And so to me, I think. If I were to hazard a guess, I mean, I could I could imagine an argument in which, you know, this is the period that proved America's unexceptional ism or that eroded what we thought of as as American exceptionalism. And, you know, that's there's a certain tragic air to that.
But I think that that that could potentially be one of the one of the outcomes. I'm not a historian. I don't even play one on TV. You know, this is this is just one one reader who went through this this exercise. But I see that as as being one possible outcome. You you know, like they say that when you're walking on a tightrope that, you know, the trick is to never look down. Right. Because that's when all your fears and vertigo or disorientation will will come in.
In some ways, we've looked down now like, you know, we we have looked into it into an abyss and we know the risks, or at least we're closer to understanding them and we know the fragility of American democracy. And that may be beneficial and that it could it could propel a whole series of reforms. But in a larger sense, it simply suggests that we're not quite as special, perhaps as we thought.
That's how you and your book is talking about this idea of American exceptionalism and democracy. There's so much literature about that in and of itself, dating back to the founding of the country written here in the United States and by foreigners. I literally took a class in college called the American Dream, where we just read books about the American dream. And no, I'm not that young. I just have a weird memory of that class. What has been added to that canon during this time?
Is it all just kind of doom and gloom from the authors themselves? What were they writing about American exceptionalism and how we view ourselves in comparison to the rest of the world during the Trump era?
I think the best books of the Trump era are not really about him. I think that often we have ceded too much power to one person to set are, you know, not just our daily mood, but but the the intellectual agenda in some ways. And I'll mention just a few books that I think managed to break free of that. There's a book called America for Americans by Erika Lee, a historian at the House in Minnesota. And she makes the very simple case that alongside the tradition of America as a nation of immigrants is an equally vibrant tradition of xenophobia in this country and the rejection of outsiders.
And those two things kind of have gone together throughout throughout our our history. There's a book called One Person No Vote by Carol Anderson that looks at the long history of voting suppression, the struggle for for voting rights, and the very insidious ways that that suppression has as evolved over the over the decades. And there's a book like Julia Paw's book, These Truths, that goes back to those self-evident truths of the declaration and shows how the the constant feature of America is the struggle to live up to them and how that is not just a shortcoming of this country, but is its definition.
And so those books, that place what's happening today in the long arc of the American story and show how we've been fighting over these things for a long, long time, they can be super depressing because, you know, it just tells you that these things keep coming back. But they can also be oddly comforting. And to me, when I think of of the of the Trump era cannon, it's not going to be the, you know, the latest book about, you know, the crazy thing that happened in the White House that day that, like Michael Wolff saw or wrote about, it's going to be these kinds of books that because they're not beholden to this moment, actually reveal so much about it.
What are you expecting the Biden cannon to look like spitting out ahead to the next four years?
You know, the problem with the Biden candidate, there's going to be, you know, a big hangover, a Trump book still coming. You know, that's not like you don't get a clean break here. I think, though, that my hope for the Trump books in the New Year in the post Trump era is that they're better, but that they do worse commercially in the sense that, you know, they can maybe dig into, you know, some of the deeper stories that we don't we haven't really contemplated, but that maybe the temperature will have diminished a little bit so that they won't be become, you know, these obsessions in the in the in the book marketplace.
And also, Trump has papered over a lot of our divides. So much of what we've had to think about with Trump is like, well, are you for him or are you against him or are you with Trump or are you pro or anti? Right. And and America is more complicated than that. And once he's not the organizing principle of our divisions, we'll see that there's a lot of other things that that that keep us divided as well.
And so I hope that the I hope it's not a Biden cannon. I hope it just continues to be in America.
All right. There we go. We'll leave it there. Thank you, Carlos. Thank you so much. Carlos Lozada is the nonfiction book critic at The Washington Post. His book is titled What Were We Thinking? A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era. My name is Galen Turny. Chao is in the virtual control room. You can get in touch by emailing us at Podcast's at five thirty eight dotcom. You can also, of course, tweet us with any questions or comments.
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