AMERICAN DISCONTENT by John L. Campbell

AMERICAN DISCONTENT

The Rise of Donald Trump and the Decline of the Golden Age
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Accessible analysis of the social trends that prefaced the shock to democracy of Donald Trump’s electoral victory.

Campbell (Sociology/Dartmouth College; co-author, The Paradox of Vulnerability: States, Nationalism, and the Financial Crisis, 2017, etc.) applies facility in disciplines including history, economics, and sociology in developing a coherent argument for the political event that left Republicans and Democrats alike “nearly at a loss for words trying to explain how it had all happened.” Regarding this book, he writes, “we all need to understand what the forces were that propelled someone like this so rapidly and so unexpectedly to the pinnacle of political power.” The author develops a multifaceted argument—explored in coherent chapters regarding race and ethnicity, political ideologies, and political polarization—that long-term decay of the economic prospects of most Americans was caused by aggressive corporatization and a compromised political system following a hazily recalled “golden age” of postwar prosperity and prefacing a vicious resurgence of cynical nativism and white nationalism. Campbell thus argues that Trump “zeroed in almost entirely on the economy [while] wrapping economic issues in nationalist, xenophobic, racist, and in some cases sexist rhetoric.” Contrastingly, the author suggests the so-called golden age of prosperity, far from being universal, created long-term fault lines “that would eventually polarize America in ways that were then impossible to foresee.” He addresses this throughout the book, demonstrating a confident grasp of complex narratives including the fracturing of the post–New Deal consensus over Vietnam, labor strife, and the Republican indulgence of bigotry via their “Southern strategy.” Also, both Republicans and Democrats amplified the drug war to appear tough on crime despite its punitive effects primarily on minority communities. Indeed, Campbell returns to Clintonian centrism as key to understanding the Democrats’ political weakness, adding extra irony to Hillary Clinton’s startling electoral defeat. The author untangles this complex, frustrating topic with clear prose, solid analysis, and a stance sufficiently moderate to appeal to Trump voters experiencing buyer’s remorse.

Free of fake news, a smart, engaging road map regarding “what happened.”

Pub Date: June 1st, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-19-087243-4
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2018




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