“An essential read for anyone who wants to understand why we are where we are today” – Alt-America (The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump) by David Neiwart

If you’ve been following my reviews recently (which you won’t have been) you might have noticed a theme that I’ve become preoccupied with. Like many people on the planet at this time, I have become a little obsessed with trying to figure out how and why the world has got to a place where Nazis can march in the streets and a president can tweet hate speech from his golden toilet seat without a single repercussion. Luckily, many authors and journalists are trying to answer the same questions. In my last review, of Ta Nehisi Coates’s We Were Eight Years in Power, readers are presented with the suggestion that the election of a black president in 2008 was the primary reason for the White Supremacy of the presidency that came next. There is ample evidence for this and you’ll get no arguments from me. Coates discusses Trump’s direct involvement in the ‘birther’ conspiracy as the biggest example of this racist uprising, and that is something which is also discussed by David Neiwart in Alt-America.

Like Coates, Neiwart is in absolutely no doubt that a large part of the reason for the re-emergence of the white supremacist movement was the realisation that America had made it to the point when a black person was considered good enough to be president. He documents, in detail, the vile and commonplace internet discussions this led to. He walks us through the protests against Obama and the disgusting slogans on the banners that were waved at them. He gives us insight into the ludicrous conspiracies that tried to bring Obama down, from the ‘birthers’ who claimed he was born outside of the USA, to the many people who believed he was an Islamic terrorist planning to bring Sharia law to the country, and even those who believed he was setting up concentration camps for white Americans all the way through his 8 years in charge. For Neiwart, as for Coates, there can be no doubt that deep-seated racism is integral to the current situation in his homeland.

What separates these two authors, though, is Neiwart’s attempts to also delve into some of the other factors that led to the rise and rise of Alt-America. There are fascinating chapters on the influence of conspiracists and the militia movements, the fights for land rights and the occupation of government property, and the sudden emergence of the once laughable Tea Party which quickly became not in the least amusing.

Perhaps most interesting, and terrifying, of all is an afterword entitled ‘Fascism and our Future’. In it, Neiwart compares and contrasts the rise of the Alt-Right and Donald Trump with fascist movements that have come before. While he does manage to find some differences that might lead to hope, as a whole this leads to very uncomfortable reading.

Any Cop?: Like We Were Eight Years in Power, this is an extremely important book. There can be no possibility of change until people start to recognise and come to terms with what led us to where we are today, and both of these books are among the first to try to do this. Neiwart’s work is a broad and wide-reaching look at the current condition of America and one that offers answers as well as questions. It is fascinating and frustrating to read, as it shows how big the challenges we face really are. Most importantly, it shows how powerful the forces of Alt-America now are, and how they are no longer something to laugh or sneer at. It is an essential read for anyone who wants to understand why we are where we are today.

 

Fran Slater

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