With the election of Trump, Brexit, and everything else, the world seems to have lost it, and no one understands why. I do! Not because I’m some genius or anything—I just read the right things.
A handful of recent books on politics, history, and sociology have given me a comprehension of the world I desperately wish I could upload into everyone else’s brain. Predicting Trump’s win is the least satisfying case of being right ever, but if it gives me any credibility, let me use it to recommend those books.
These seven won’t just help you understand a world where Donald Trump is the President—they’ll prepare you to fight it. And to help out our time-pressed readers, there’s links to shorter interviews, podcasts, and articles that let you dip into each.
1. The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism From Edmund Burke To Sarah Palin by Corey Robin
How can “family values” voters support a philandering reality TV star who who openly sexualizes children? How can the free market-worshipping business class laud a trust find baby who had the government cover his massive losses?
Dissolve the seeming contradictions of conservatism by reading The Reactionary Mind. From its anti-French Revolution birth through Ayn Rand zealtory, Scalia originalism, and the “moderate” David Brooks, Corey Robin’s history of conservatism as a philosophy unearths its true ideology: “defending power and privilege against movements demanding freedom and equality.” While disagreements between Trump, Paul Ryan, George W. Bush, and whoever else aren’t insignificant, Robin makes it clear that, given the choice between their professed beliefs and wielding power, conservatives will always choose the latter.
Intro: This eerily prescient 2012 podcast with Robin (starts at 8:34)
2. From #BlackLivesMatter To Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamhatta Taylor
The Civil Rights Movement didn’t choose between “class” and “identity,” and you shouldn’t either. From poverty wages to mass incarceration, the inequality produced by American capitalism effects nearly everyone, but black oppression is at its core. Drawing on the vibrant history of black socialists who drove the CRM, Taylor shows how demands for economic equality aren’t just necessary for black liberation, but galvanize wider anti-capitalist resistance across racial lines.
Nixon’s crackdown pushed the movement into emphasizing what Amiri Baraka termed “black faces in high places,” but as Taylor points out, Baltimore’s black mayor and police commissioner not only failed to protect people like Freddie Gray, they covered for the system that killed him. Which is why the left-moving Movement For Black Lives is a hopeful step towards liberation for all.
Intro: This article from the author encapsulates the premise.
3. Twilight Of The Elites by Chris Hayes
From the Catholic Church to Enron, the first decade of the 21st Century was wracked by a litany of institutional corruption that culminated in the 2008 crash, kicking off a crisis of authority that put a reality TV star in the White House.
As the only political commentator on TV who isn’t consistently wrong about everything, Hayes can see firsthand how American “meritocracy” is a sham. As soon as one group rises to the top, they pull the ladder up with them, ensuring the growing inequality that created today’s new gilded age. Positing a growing clash between pro-establishment “institutionalists” and distrusting “insurrectionists,” this very brisk 2012 read predicts everything from the 2016 primaries, to the fragmenting of news sources, and the increasing embrace of police, simply by diagnosing the cause.
Intro: A review of the book written after Trump’s win.
4. The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture In The Digital Age by Astra Taylor
Whether it’s “fake news” or “online echo chambers,” the media is scrambling to understand the web’s increasingly strange role in politics. But Astra Taylor got it in 2014 with a book that rips apart the internet’s utopian mythology.
The web, we’re supposed to believe, is an inherently democratizing force, its non-hierarchical structure leveling the playing field for artists, journalists and more. It’s not. From major studios bankrupting indie artists with frivolous copyright claims, to the death of regional investigative journalism, “The People’s Platform” deep dives into the worst of the web to show how it, too, concentrates power in the hands of a few massive corporations. And then emerges with a vision of how to democratize it for real.
Intro: A wide ranging author interview on the political economy of the internet.
5. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein
Similar to The Reactionary Mind, This Changes Everything decodes seemingly unbelievable conservative positions into their true motives. When climate deniers say that climate change would require the end of market capitalism to fix, they’re not wrong.
An incredible writer, Klein turns diffuse global trends into a page-turning narrative with the highest stakes ever, to show how the crisis is also an opportunity. Attacking the roots of climate change won’t just help fight the inequality capitalism creates, it requires it. According to one study cited, the US must reduce consumption to 1970’s levels, which, if not easy, is certainly possible. So yes, this story of earth, science, and the people building the growing global climate justice movement will force you to acknowledge this existential crisis, but it will also make you believe it can be beat.
Intro: The book’s accompanying documentary isn’t as in-depth, but extremely well made.
6. Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality In American Life by Karen E. Fields and Barbara J. Fields
Liberal mores against overt racism are crumbling in the face of Trump. We must build them better.
Racecraft may be the most theoretical book here, but it only engages in abstractions in order to burn them down. Its essays cover some mind-bending ground, but the core insight is best summed up with a linguistic example: a sentence like “the police shot the man because he was black” masks causality. It wasn’t because the man was black, but because the officers were racist. Racism isn’t an emotional or mental state, but a social practice that, through “racecraft,” becomes lived reality. The Fields sisters dive through sociology, history, and science to reach the material truth: races is a product of racism, not the other way around.
Intro: Barbara Fields in conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates (feat. Teena Marie).
7. No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power In The New Gilded Age by Jane F. McAlevey
Imagine if you didn’t know how to play basketball, and all anyone told you was “pick and roll!” For someone new to political work, this is what the calls to “get organized” can sometimes feel like.
Thankfully, in the most nitty-gritty book here, veteran labor and community organizer Jane McAlevey provides a series of case studies that detail exactly what successful organizers do. Social problems are so big it can be hard to imagine what fixing them even looks like, so the book’s models of successful 21st century campaigns go a long way. Advancing a theory of “deep organizing” based on the most successful organizers of the early 20th century—COUGHsocialistsCOUGH—McAlevey reminds us that if labor could win in the 30’s, we can definitely do so today.
Intro: McCalevey sums it up perfectly in this ten minute post-election interview.
Charlie Heller is a freelance writer and member of the Brooklyn DSA Climate Justice Committee.