A liberal commentator offers his scathing take on contemporary American politics and culture.
One of the results of the shocking election of Donald Trump has been the political commentariat’s reassessment of the state of the nation. In that vein, Frank (Listen, Liberal, 2016, etc.), a former columnist for the Wall Street Journal and Harper’s and founding editor of the Baffler, assembles a series of essays that originally appeared in various publications from 2011 to 2018. The essays, asserts the author in his introduction, “all aim to tell one essential story”: the dissolution of the common bonds of American society as the rich and powerful accumulate more power and the rest of the citizenry is forgotten. Frank proceeds to paint a dystopian picture of struggling fast-food workers, greedy colleges and universities, and politicians’ disregard for the common folk, all culminating in the election of Trump, “the very personification of this low, dishonest age.” To his credit, the liberal author (he supported Bernie Sanders in 2016) acknowledges Trump’s appeal to the working-class and rural voters whom Democratic Party elites have all but abandoned. Moreover, several of his arguments should resonate with Americans of all political stripes. Is there any doubt, for example, that a factor in the skyrocketing cost of a college education is “the insane proliferation of university administrators”? Yet Frank’s analysis is occasionally faulty, as when he writes that Barack Obama, whose administration added as much as $9 trillion to the national debt, made a “turn to austerity” following a “brief experiment with deficit spending.” While the author’s essay on modern colleges and universities is mostly spot-on, he doesn’t acknowledge the role that federal student loans have played in the outrageous rise in tuition he so rightly laments.
Flaws aside, the book is worth perusing, primarily for its keen analysis of why the Democrats have come up short in recent election cycles. The party’s powers that be would be wise to read up.