Hiding In Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America by Sarah KendziorSarah Kendzior (Flatiron Books)

The rise of Donald Trump may have shocked Americans, but it should not have surprised them. His anti-democratic movement is the culmination of a decades-long breakdown of U.S. institutions. The same blindness to U.S. decline – particularly the loss of economic stability for the majority of the population and opportunity-hoarding by the few – is reflected in an unwillingness to accept that authoritarianism can indeed thrive in the so-called “home of the free”.

As Americans struggle to reconcile the gulf between a flagrant aspiring autocrat and the democratic precepts they had been told were sacred and immutable, the inherent fragility of American democracy has been revealed. Hiding in Plain Sight exposes this continual loss of freedom, the rise of consolidated corruption, and the secrets behind a burgeoning autocratic United States that have been hiding in plain sight for decades. In Kendzior’s signature and celebrated style, she expertly outlines Trump’s meteoric rise from the 1980s until today, interlinking key moments of his life with the degradation of the American political system and the continual erosion of our civil liberties by foreign powers.

Kendzior also offers a never-before-seen look at her personal life and her lifelong tendency to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – living in New York through 9/11 and in St. Louis during the Ferguson uprising, and researching media and authoritarianism when Trump emerged using the same tactics as the post-Soviet dictatorships she had long studied.

Hiding in Plain Sight is about confronting injustice – an often agonizing process, but an honest and necessary one – as the only way that offers the possibility of ending it.

I have favorite books. This is not one of them.

I have books I want to suggest to people. This is not one either.

This book is not enjoyable. It is sobering. Reading it is like sinking into ice-cold water. Every fact is laid out crystal-clear, with the piercing pain of a truth you knew but hoped you could ignore. I could only read a couple pages each sitting before I had to walk away.

And yet, it’s possibly the most important book I’ve ever read. With grim steadiness, Kendzior draws on her experience studying autocratic states to establish that we in the US are experiencing an autocratic consolidation of power, hardly different from those seen in former democracies such as the Ukraine or Hungary. She draws careful connections between several Republican operatives, as well as many White House officials and Trump himself, and powerful figures in the shadows who have sought for years to, as she puts it, “strip America down and sell it for parts”.

It is about the decline of America and the rise of Donald Trump. It is an obituary for American exceptionalism. It is a desperate warning.

I can’t just suggest this book. It’s not just good. It’s imperative. It’s necessary. I want to plead with you:

If you never take any other recommendation from me, please read this book.

Please. Read it soon.

Because before long, it may be too late to matter.

What Is Communist Anarchism? (The Anarchist Library/Vanguard Press)

What Is Communist Anarchism? is an introduction to the principles of anarchism and anarchist communism written by Alexander Berkman. First published in 1929 by Vanguard Press, after parts of it had appeared in the Freie Arbeiter Stimme, it has been reprinted several times under several different titles, including Now and After: The ABC of Communist Anarchism and What is Anarchism? Because of its presentation of anarchist philosophy in plain language, What Is Communist Anarchism? has become one of the best-known introductions to anarchism in print. Anarchist Stuart Christie wrote that this text is "among the best introductions to the ideas of anarchism in the English language". Historian Paul Avrich described it as "a classic" and wrote that it was "the clearest exposition of communist anarchism in English or any other language".

An incredibly thorough and accessible primer that still holds up 91 years later. Berkman writes with clarity and charisma.

I’d recommend this to damn near anyone.

The Inevitable Book

Throughout the month of August, I'm aiming to write 25 blog posts. This is post #5 of 25. Find them all in the "blogathon 2014" category.

There aren’t many things in life I’m sure of, and about my future, even fewer. I lack a developed sense of ambition or faith; when faced with the daunting unknown, I’m far more likely to cautiously inspect it and slowly sketch a map than confidently plunge ahead into uncharted territory. Until very recently, if you asked me, a college graduate, what I wanted to do with my life, I would have shrugged, listed a few half-baked ideas, and ultimately iterated that I just didn’t know.[ref]Even now that I have some idea of a career I want to pursue, I’m still don’t have many powerful aspirations for other parts of my life. Like I said, ambition’s not my thing.[/ref] But despite my general milquetoastiness about the future, there’s on thing that I’ve simply accepted as a matter of fact:

One day, I’ll write a book. Continue reading

As I alluded to a few posts ago, I’m aiming to educate myself this summer on a lot of issues, particularly issues of social justice and privilege. With some help, especially that of Rachel, I’ve come up with the following rough list, affectionately dubbed the “Just How Fucked Are We?” reading list. It’s in no particular order, and I may be adding to it or deviating from it as the summer goes on, but these are the books I’m diving into this summer. Since I’m still slowly working through this reading list, most of my synopses are based on publishers’ summaries or the reviews of people who’ve read them.

I link to Powell’s because it’s my favorite local independent bookstore, but, of course, you can check them out from your library or buy them at your personally preferred bookstore.

  • You Are Not a Gadget, by Jaron Lanier: A philosophical manifesto examining the growing role of internet technology in our daily lives, and how it’s changing our understanding of humanity and personhood.
  • The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, by Naomi Klein: An in-depth examination of the “shock doctrine” used to push neoliberal economic policies across the world, wherein governments seize the opportunity created by crisis in order to implement policies that would otherwise face stiff resistance.
  • Yes Means Yes!: Visions of a Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti: An anthology from various authors on dismantling rape culture and educating people to value and embrace female sexuality.
  • Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser: In what I’ve heard described as a modern-day take on Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, Schlosser investigates the many tendrils of the fast food industry in our society–not only the disgusting truths of fast food production, but also the cultural impacts of fast food, the industry’s exploitation of minorities, and much more.
  • Reefer Madness, by Eric Schlosser: An investigation of America’s underground economy, particularly focusing on marijuana, porn, and undocumented immigrants.
  • Broke, USA, by Gary Rivlin: A look into the recent development of the “poverty industry” in the last five years, an industry making big bucks on the backs of the working poor.
  • Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich: A classic piece of ethnographic literature. In the late 90’s, Ehrenreich attempted to see what life was actually like in the trenches of working poverty by experiencing it herself, moving from job to job, state to state, trying to keep herself fed and sheltered on near-minimum wage levels–and found that the”minimum” wage is hardly sufficient.
  • The Working Poor: Invisible in America, by David K. Shipler: A study of the invisible poor, courageous and working hard yet trapped in a web of problems.
  • Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields, by Charles Bowden: A “devastating chronicle of a city in collapse” composed of individual stories of those living in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, a hotspot for drug-related violence.

Also not on the”Just How Fucked Are We” list:

  • In Praise of Shadows, by Junichir? Tanizaki: A classic essay on the Japanese aesthetic.
  • Reality is Broken, by Jane McGonigal: A look into real-world applications of positive psychology, seen through the lens of an award-winning game designer.
  • Sex at Dawn, by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá: A journey through human history, evolution, and psychology to suggest that sexual monogamy is not the default for human behavior that we all think it is.

These are the thousands of pages I’m going to try to put into my brain this summer. Wish me luck!