From the outskirts of American celebrity to the White House

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From the outskirts of American celebrity to the White House

The Man Who Sold America: Trump and the Unraveling of the American Story by Joy-Ann Reid, William Morrow, US $27.99, Pp 304, June 2019 ISBN 978-0062880109

Three years ago, candidate Trump sold Americans a vision that was at odds with their aspirations of freedom and liberty. He told them that their country was broken and he could fix it. Now, in the White House, he is trying to take away their freedom and many other things they have struggled to win over the last few centuries. In The Man Who Sold America, Joy-Ann Reid tells the story of the rise of President Trump to power and how he is changing everything for the worse with his policies. Joy-Ann Reid says that President Trump has existed on the outskirts of American celebrity and popular culture for the life spans of most Americans under the age of forty. He made cameos in movies like ‘Home Alone 2 and Lost in New York’ and TV shows such as ‘The Fresh Prince of BelAir.’ He was on popular TV shows such as The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Joy-Ann Reid takes the readers to New York City of the 1980s and 1990s and tells us that Trump has a history of housing discrimination against black tenants. She reminds us of his full-page ad in the 1980s calling for a group of black and brown teenagers to be put to death for a gang rape they committed. She says that, later, Trump managed to work his way into mainstream popular culture. She writes, “Early on, he was a tabloid-friendly rogue and celebrity hanger-on, and later, the king of the “B-list” stars who jockeyed for his approval on The Celebrity Apprentice.” Talking about why he became popular among the Republican voters, she says, as a candidate, Trump offered Republicans the taste of the celebrity status that Reagan had given them; something normally reserved for Democrats. Trump seems to believe he could treat the federal government like a resistant New York mayor or city councilman, blustering and bullying to get his way. The darkness — of racism and xenophobia and mutual suspicion that he carried with him in the White House — seemed to cover the land.

Joy-Ann Reid argues that the Trump presidency has shattered the old Republican Party and turn it over to the shouting class. All while Trump made his administration a movable feast for the ultimate villain; an autocratic former KGB officer in Russia who found in the untutored and eager forty-fifth president the perfect “apprentice.” She says that President Trump sold millions of Americans, and the world, on a raft of lies, that were at once frivolous and dangerous. Joy-Ann Reid argues that the victory of Trump exposed weaknesses in American democracy that were never anticipated by the country’s founders. She quotes Professor Laurence Tribe who says, “His very election underscores the danger that the dysfunctional Electoral College presents and might present with increasing frequency… The selection of presidents who are not really supported by a majority of the people, who manage, in this case with the help of foreign adversaries, to work the system — which has new and newly exposed weaknesses as a result of social media.” Professor Tribe says, “The founders “clearly believed the Electoral College would filter out dangerous characters who managed through guile and demagoguery to win their way into the hearts of enough people” to gain positions of enormous power, like the presidency. Instead, the system they built proved to be incredibly fragile.

Joy-Ann Reid argues that equally fragile is the idea that a larger American idea can hold our disparate factions together and survive the temptations toward tribalism and factionalism that Trump and our foreign adversaries so deftly exploited. Whatever becomes of Trump — whether he is impeached and removed or serves out his term; whether he is ever held to legal account by prosecutors in Washington or New York; whether his family business survives and grows, or the Trump brand withers; and whether he can build up another wave of anger, resentment, and fear and ride it to four more years in the White House. The Trump era’s danger signs are sure to outlast him.

The Man Who Sold America is an irresistible account of the rise of President Trump and how it is changing America for the worse. With the help of new knowledge, Joy-Ann Reid explains who Trump is and what he stands for — racism and xenophobia. Joy-Ann Reid argues that President Trump stands for exactly the opposite of the vision of the Founding Fathers. She also argues that the American political system is flawed because people like President Trump can also rise under this system. Written brilliantly and passionately, this book is a welcome addition to the growing literature on President Trump. If you want to understand American politics, it is a must-read.

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