Human Rights

One Nation After Trump Review: an Inspiring Plan for American Recovery

Three authors offer a guide for sweeping away Trump and his Republican enablers.

Photo Credit: Flickr CC

If you’re still baffled by how Donald Trump got to live in the White House, or you want to make sure that no one like him ever lives there again – or both – One Nation After Trump is your must-read book for 2017.

Its three authors, EJ Dionne Jr, Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, are subtle Washington analysts and masters of good old-fashioned common sense. After reading so many other pundits who are sure that Trump was elected either because of racism oreconomic discontent, it’s refreshing to read a volume that makes it clear that the correct answer is both.

This book also rejects the notion that Democrats must reduce their interest in the plight of minorities in order to succeed at the ballot box. It argues instead for empathy for everyone, including the poor white working-class voters who were so important to Trump’s success.

And while it is true that Trump overwhelmed Clinton among white voters without a college degree, 66% to 29%, Obama performed only slightly better, losing to Romney 61% to 36%. Those numbers prove there was no “immense wave of white working-class voters moving toward Trump”, the authors write. “He built on existing trends rather than engineering something entirely new.”

Dionne Jr, Ornstein and Mann say our task is “to find policies that serve the interests of both groups, and of all Americans … a new patriotism requires that our country rediscover empathy as the antidote to Trumpian division.” And the stakes could not be any higher: the fight against Trump, they write, is “a fight to reclaim the dignity of public life and the honor of democratic politics”.

Trump, they write, was the beneficiary of “a long-term trend in Americans toward minority rule”. This has accelerated because of the nature of the Senate, which vastly under-represents larger states; because of partisan redistricting, which has benefited the Republicans dramatically at state and federal levels; because of the electoral college, “which is increasingly out of sync with the distribution of the population”; and because of voter suppression. In 2016, no fewer than 14 states had enacted new voter suppression laws.

The malfeasance of the media was also crucial. One tracking firm estimated that by March 2016 Trump had received $1.898bn in free air time, versus $746m for Hillary Clinton. The authors single out NBC’s Matt Lauer for a particularly egregious performance at a September “commander-in-chief forum”, when the Today Show host spent one third of his time interrogating Clinton about her emails.

But the rest of the press wasn’t much better – according to Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, in the whole campaign 62% of Clinton’s coverage was negative, compared with 56% for Trump.

Throw in Russian duplicity, magnified by the greed of Silicon Valley, and a last-minute intervention by the FBI director, James Comey, and there is no longer any mystery about the outcome at all.

And despite all of that – and the clear role of misogyny – Clinton still got three million more votes than Trump did.

‘A new democracy’

We should, Dionne Jr, Ornstein and Mann write, “have the confidence of knowing that Trump does not speak for anything like the majority of the American people”. In those words lies a big reason for the optimism expressed in the last third of the book.

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The authors offer solutions. As many current problems are a result of the Republicans’ very successful effort to curb voting among African Americans and other minorities, the authors propose an imitation of the Australian system, which requires voters to appear at the polls. They date the current decline in voting to the supreme court’s 5-4 ruling in Shelby County vs Holder in 2013, which gutted the Voting Rights Act. “A new Voting Rights Act should be the centerpiece of a new democracy,” they write.

Even more boldly, Dionne Jr, Ornstein and Mann want to limit supreme court justices to 18-year, staggered terms, allowing each president to make two new appointments.

Regarding the electoral college, they favor the easiest way of getting around it without passing a constitutional amendment. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would require each state that joins it to cast its electoral votes for the winner of the national popular vote. The catch is the compact only takes effect when enough states join it to cast 270 votes. So far only states with 165 have joined.

There is another reason for optimism: many of the most devastating quotes within the book come from disillusioned conservatives, Jennifer Rubin, Peter Wehner, David Frum, Anna Navarro and Charlie Sykes among them. Michael Gerson, once a speechwriter for George W Bush, says: “The conservative mind, in some very visible cases, has become diseased. The movement has been seized by a kind of discrediting madness, in which conspiracy delusions figure prominently.”

The moral and political bankruptcy of the Republican party was a theme of a previous book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, written by Ornstein and Mann. There and again in their new book with Dionne Jr they explain that because there no longer is any genuine equivalency between the two major parties, the mainstream press is on a fool’s errand trying to pretend that there is one. Trump’s arrival in the White House has, of course made that more obvious than ever.

The title of their last chapter is taken from Barack Obama’s farewell advice to supporters: “Show up, dive in, stay at it.” Like the former president, the authors know the only thing that can really cure the catastrophe in Washington is massive citizen involvement at every level of the political process.

In everything from the Women’s March on Washington to the ad hoc groups of lawyers who flocked to airports across the country to help victims of Trump’s travel ban, they see strong evidence that the rational part of the country is finally ready to take back America.

  • Charles Kaiser is a writer based in New York. He is the author of 1968 in America, The Gay Metropolis and The Cost of Courage.
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