Books

Book review: Insane Clown President

Not long ago, P picked this one up, having read a few of Taibbi’s columns he was curious. After all, Taibbi had been hired by Rolling Stone to cover the presidential campaign, much like Hunter S Thompson, a writer who P loves (as do I). If you add in the terrifying and bizarre nature of the 2016 US campaign and the rise of Donald Trump, it’s fair to say that this is likely to make for fascinating reading. Naturally, when he was done, I borrowed it.

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Insane Clown President by Matt Taibbi

Taibbi has been compared to Thompson, and it’s easy to see why. I’m not sure that the comparison goes very much beyond: He followed along on the campaign trail; He wrote for Rolling Stone; He did it quite well. Maybe it doesn’t need to go much further than that, but if you’re hoping for gonzo journalism, that’s not what you’ll find here.

As a British person, I’m obviously somewhat removed from the US presidential campaign, although not as much as you might think. News from the campaign appears in our press and my poor American office mate at the time had to ask people to stop bringing it up in conversation. because it stressed him out and he couldn’t get any work done. He would then bring it up, and who could blame him. Even so, I once all was said and done and President Trump became a reality rather than some tech bro libertarian’s fan fiction, I had to ask myself “how on Earth has this actually happened?”

I still don’t know the answer and I’m not sure I ever will, but Taibbi has a solid crack at explaining it. He talks about how politics changed and the media changed and Trump was brilliant at exploiting that while it took the Clinton campaign just slightly too long to catch on. He puts a good deal of blame on journalists and wonders whether Sanders would have faired better… just like everyone else, I suppose.

Because it’s a campaign trail book, he starts out horrified but hopeful, and it’s not until the final few essays that he can believe that Trump might actually win. Even though all the way through he talks about how no one should be shocked that Trump came this far and he seems to have insight into how it happened, he can’t believe that it’s still happening. By the end of the book, in the pieces that came after the election, he’s despondent and seems to think that we got what we deserved. He warns against ideas that Trump is too stupid to actually do anything and hopes that the Democrats can get it together in time for 2020. He’s right to hope – after Trump 2016, we can absolutely expect Kanye 2020 and, by the sounds of things, quite possibly Zukerberg 2020. Good grief. Is it bad if I’m not sure which would be worse?

He’s right to hope – after Trump 2016, we can absolutely expect Kanye 2020 and, by the sounds of things, quite possibly Zukerberg 2020. Good grief. Is it bad if I’m not sure which would be worse?

Anyway, it’s well written, informative and compelling, even if the subject matter is rather bleak. Insane Clown President gave me a perspective on the 2016 campaign that I didn’t, and probably couldn’t, have gained living in Scotland and I feel better educated, if slightly more depressed, for having read it.

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