Truth is stranger than fiction in these linked reported essays about the 2016 presidential campaign.
The book’s title comes from a Robinson Jeffers poem, with the final word “Again” suggesting approximately 80-year cycles in which the United States reinvents itself through a cataclysmic event: the Civil War, the Great Depression, which spawned Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, and the shocking election of Donald Trump. Some of the essays appeared in the Guardian, where Fountain (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, 2012, etc.)—the winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize—is a columnist. The book opens, naturally, at the beginning of 2016, as the author chronicles his journeys among the presidential candidates as they participated in the Iowa primaries. Hillary Clinton (“with the years has come a kind of dreadnought presence, queen of the fleet, thick armor plating and heavy guns”) appears first, followed by Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders. Fountain provides useful context beyond each candidate’s campaign with relevant historical information and also by introducing each essay with a monthly “Book of Days” that summarizes global, national, and local news headlines. As the author covers events much like an especially woke journalist, he slides gradually into his Third Reinvention thesis by showing the mutation of traditional presidential campaigning, grounded in a Frankenstein-like scenario during which a monster—especially Trump but also Sanders—turns against its inventor, represented by traditional political parties. Throughout the narrative, as a victory for Trump seems increasingly possible, Fountain savages him in ways many journalists would not. The author portrays Trump as a congenital liar, so far beyond hypocrisy that the author struggles to find a new word to describe him.
For most readers, Fountain will offer fresh insights. While some readers may not agree with all of his conclusions, the author’s masterful original phrasings make the book worthwhile, urgent, and timely.