Media cynic enters the belly of the dumb, frightened American beast and comes out the other end more terrified than ever about the nation’s future.
The conceit of this screed by Rolling Stone contributing editor Taibbi (Smells Like Dead Elephants: Dispatches from a Rotting Empire, 2007, etc.)—reached after a couple other ideas fell through—is that both sides of the supposed red/blue divide are equally losing their damn minds. The problem with the United States, according to the author, is that most people are not being offered hope or good choices, only “a depressing selection of greed fantasies and a kind of slick, smug nihilism with which to pass the time.” The text that follows certainly makes that point, as Taibbi displays a Hunter S. Thompson-esque knack for poisoned jabs at America’s complacent underbelly. Unfortunately, the jobbing journalist also displays some uncertainty about what exactly he’s up to, as he shifts awkwardly among the enervating arcana of Congressional procedure, an undercover stint in a particularly vile evangelical church and an attempt to reason with 9/11 Truth conspiracy theorists. Taibbi is a powerful writer, and his righteous fury with the sickening mechanism of congressional corruption seethes on every page. His rage at the dense illogic of the 9/11 Truthers is reduced to crystalline perfection in a scenario imagining what the conspiracy planning meeting would have been like if all the theories are to be believed: “Cheney: Look, the point is, we do the towers and pin it on bin Laden. That leads us to invade Afghanistan.” But Taibbi fails to weave together these wavering strands and tags on an upbeat conclusion more dutiful than heartfelt. He appears to be more concerned with filling the country’s great void of despair than with understanding it.
A fulminating broadside that falls apart under the weight of its own anguish.