In our current political and cultural landscape, truth and fact have become the ignored and unloved siblings of belief and bias.
Pulitzer Prize–winning critic Kakutani (The Poet at the Piano: Portraits of Writers, Filmmakers, Playwrights and Other Artists at Work, 1988), who until recently was the chief book reviewer for the New York Times—already two black marks against her in the populist playbook: She reads, and she worked for the Times—offers a dark analysis of the rise of Donald Trump and the fall of any concern for facts. Firmly assertive and seriously argued (there is little humor here, but given the subject, few will blame the author), her text is also full of allusions to and quotations from writers and others, including George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Richard Hofstadter, William Butler Yeats, David Foster Wallace, and Ayn Rand. One short paragraph includes references to The Great Gatsby, Fight Club, Michel Houellbecq’s “willfully repellent novels,” No Country for Old Men, and the HBO series True Detective. Through it all, Kakutani’s strong presence sometimes disappears in a tangled wood of allusion and quotation. Still, she sees—and ably describes—with a depressing clarity the dangers of our brave new world. The author charts the decline of reason, the culture wars, the appeals of Trump and his “dog-whistle racism” (she is relentless in her attacks on the president), the language of dictators, the skills of Russian internet trolls, the dangers of the digital age, the blather about “fake news,” and, ultimately, the dire threat all of this poses for the democracy we profess to cherish. Kakutani also reminds us—as if we need reminding—that the German Nazi and Soviet Communist governments were hideous. Her final note: “without truth, democracy is hobbled.”
A stark sermon to the choir that urges each member to sing—loudly and ceaselessly.