Douthat: Books for the Trump Era

In “Books for the Trump Era”, apologetic, hat-in-hand, cuckservative, and token NYT’s “conservative ”Ross Douthat recommends some reading for those on the Left still stunned by Trump’s win. After name-dropping, to prove he’s well-versed in liberal authors (“Look, I read Ta-Nehisi Coates!”), Douthat first discusses a few bio/profile/sociological works:

Book buyers baffled by Trumpism and seeking understanding have turned to various sociologies of the ur-Trump voter, making best sellers out of J. D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy,” Nancy Isenberg’s “White Trash” and Arlie Russell Hochschild’s “Strangers in Their Own Land.”

Douthat then focuses on some solid and astute books of a more intellectual/theoretical bent, most of the titles being ones I regularly encourage interlocutors to check out:

[This] that might be what liberal readers needs right now: Not just portraits of the Brexit and Trump-voting domestic Other, but a clearer sense of their own worldview’s limits, blind spots, blunders and internal contradictions.

So my reading list starts with two of liberalism’s sharpest internal critics, both deceased — a reactionary of the left, Christopher Lasch, and a conservative liberal, Samuel P. Huntington. Their most-cited works, Lasch’s “Culture of Narcissism” and Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order,” have obvious applications for our culture and politics today. But the books I would recommend are a little different.

For Lasch, it’s “The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy” (1995), a polemic against the professional upper class’s withdrawal from the society it rules and a critique of the ways in which multiculturalism and meritocracy erode patriotism and democracy. For Huntington, it’s “Who Are We? The Challenges to American National Identity” (2004), a book widely denounced as racist for arguing that the recent wave of Latin-American immigration might not be easily assimilable and might instead balkanize the country into identitarian redoubts.

Both books are imperfect: Lasch’s is too angry, Huntington’s too pessimistic (I think). But in different ways they both offer, in Lasch’s words, a “revisionist interpretation of American history, one that stresses the degree to which liberal democracy has lived off the borrowed capital of moral and religious traditions antedating the rise of liberalism.” And they illustrate how the Western elite has burned the candle of solidarity at both ends — welcoming migration that transforms society from below even as the upper class floats up into a post-national utopia, which remains an undiscovered country for the people left behind.

Lastly, Douthat mentions (which I was gladly surprised to see) one fiction writer, Michel Houellebecq, a very important figure in France, briefly discussing Houellebecq’s novels Submission and The Elementary Particles, both of which I read last year and strongly recommend, the former for its prescience today, the latter for capturing in novelistic form the West’s post-60s relativism and its devastating cultural aftermath.

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