Patterson (Eden in Winter, 2014, etc.) takes a break from bestselling thrillers to ponder the solipsisms, slanders, slurs, and slogans of the last electoral cycle.
A Founding Father watching the third presidential debate a few months ago might have been forgiven, writes the author, for turning to his fellows and sighing, “let’s call the whole thing off.” That whole thing was a couple of years in the making, and though a politics and news junkie, Patterson claims no special prescience or lack thereof in confidently dismissing a few candidates at the outset, not least of them Donald Trump: “He will never get that far.” He got that far, of course, even though his “ignorance of governance is a klieg-lit embarrassment”—mostly because, as the author deftly points out, the rest of the field was even worse, populated by the empty-suit likes of the “political adolescent” Marco Rubio, the “remorseless” Ted Cruz, and the predatory Carly Fiorina. Even so, it’s to no one’s credit that Trump carried the day. As Patterson writes, with the slowly dawning realization in these short, chronologically arranged essays that the guy might actually pull it off, “even an intellectual pygmy like Scott Walker tried to memorize a world globe. Trump can’t be bothered.” He still can’t, putting the lie to the idea that Americans are serious about politics but capably proving that, for worse as well as better, anyone indeed can grow up to become president. One sentence of Patterson’s in particular has the morose ring of an epitaph: “The presidency is serious business—too serious, one would hope, to entrust to inexperienced candidates with malleable ideas and wealthy patrons whose desires are far from malleable.”
Patterson is no Theodore White or Hunter S. Thompson, but he provides a readable, often astute record of a presidential campaign that future generations should ponder with astonishment—and disgust.