Joseph O’Neil – August 15, 2019 Issue – Reviewing: This America: The Case for the Nation by Jill Lepore Liveright, 150 pp., and This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto by Suketu Mehta Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 306 pp.
“A poignant quality of anachronism threatens these exigent, idealistic books by the writer-professors Jill Lepore and Suketu Mehta. The product of admirable research and serious reflection, they appear at a time when the very project of carefully acquiring and disseminating insights about the world, and the United States in particular, has been marginalized by the historic momentum of Republican authoritarianism. Presumably these manuscripts were completed by January 2019. Since then, things have moved at an extraordinary speed into extraordinary terrain. The House of Representatives, the FBI, the Department of Justice, the Office of Special Counsel, the Office of Legal Counsel, the United States Geological Survey: each of these historically sturdy institutions has been stunned by the Trump administration like a cow in a slaughterhouse; numerous states have criminalized abortion services; the US Navy has proved willing to conceal the name “McCain” from the sight of the president.
These and other autocratic advances have been met by an anguished storm of theories and speech acts—including the very words you are reading. Countless books, think pieces, Twitter threads, comedy shows, and podcasts have scrutinized the diseased body politic down to its smallest, rottenest internal part. The insight industry is booming. Interesting forms of expertise and cultural capital have been developed. Stars of analysis, wit, and protestation have been born. We are alert as never before to the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court, the rules of Congress, racial and economic injustice, the techniques of propaganda, the elements of malignant narcissism. The ship may be about to hit the iceberg, but we have excellent hypotheses about the captain’s complex childhood and the shortcomings of the hull design. We know who the commerce secretary is…”