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LeDoux on the Hill: Books speak volumes about today’s DC climate

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Living in Washington in 2018 has almost felt like living in a book club. The fascination around Donald Trump’s presidency has overtaken the city and has a lot of residents asking how did we get here? From the lines at Starbucks, conversations on the metro, or the halls of George Washington University. There isn’t a place in the DMV where this topic isn’t being discussed. Heck, even on a tour of an apartment I did, I got sucked into a two-hour conversation about Trump just because I discussed what I did for a living. To answer these questions many in the beltway have turned to books, on the Metro, I’d see book covers with titles that attack the president.

The two gossipy books about Trump that I still see on the subway every now and then, and by the cash register at the CVS, are, of course, Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” and James Comey’s “A Higher Loyalty.”

Apart from the Harry Potter books from my childhood and the Bibles in church, I have never seen more people in the wild reading the same book as these two books in the Washington Metro area. Even I bought into the hype, and the Wolff book lives in my kindle to this very day.

While both of these books were wildly outrageous, they still scratched the itch for a lot of people on who Trump is, but the better question, “how did we get Trump?” Really isn’t answered in these books.

The rise of populism in American politics that candidates Trump and Sanders took advantage of in 2016 is the real disease that plagues our body politick. Even back in my home in the Land of Enchantment we’ve seen the rise of the furthest left and right candidates I’ve ever seen in the state come out of the 2018 primaries. What used to be a state most notable for its fairly centrist politicians like Pete Domenici and Heather Wilson, now has candidates who rose to power off of promises like “Medicare for all” and “I’ll be just like Trump.”

Local issues and candidates who chose to run on them seemed to have lost big time in 2018. With populism even taking hold in my home state, it reminded me of a book that actually went into great detail to explain the phenomena.

The book that really should be eating Washington is Jonah Goldberg’s “Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy.” No book I’ve read on the subject has as thoroughly tackled the rise of populism in liberal, capitalist, democracies than this book. Goldberg starts his book by delving into how unique and special liberal capitalist democracies are and how they are akin to a miracle that improved all of humanity. He breaks down how romanticism and populism threaten capitalism and democracy because both are not natural to humanity’s base desires.

The fascination by many academics and elites to return to a more simple humanity explains the rise of populism, tribalism and identity politics. I’m not going to lie to you, this is a very heavy read for people only passively interested in politics and comes from a very conservative point of view, making it for a very niche audience. For those looking from a break from talking heads or pseudo intellectual gossip and want a true intellectual deep dive into what may be happening to our democracy this book will provide that insight.   

Unfortunately, I do think many lessons from this book will be lost on many in the beltway, who despite their reassurances that they aren’t snobby my half year in DC says otherwise.

Even though the American people loudly voiced their opinion about the status quo in DC, this hasn’t stopped some of the ignorant comments about middle America I’ve heard at the DC cocktail circuit. The snobbery while briefly touched upon by Goldberg in the book is the only aspect of the book I feel didn’t do well expanding upon. Jonah’s optimism for the beltway can be heard in his podcasts, where he often asks his guests to say something good about Washington.

However, spending most of my life in areas that supported Trump and Sanders, and now living in Washington, I can safely say the gaps between these two worlds is larger than most pundits imagine.

The best part of the book is the section where he talks about decline being a choice. This is extremely important to remember, we choose how society is shaped. Traditional conservatives, centrists and neo-liberals who want to preserve our democracy must become active and speak out. When the populists have all the oxygen in the room, their ideas will become appealing to the public. Capitalism and democracy require defense and maintenance. I highly recommend “Suicide of the West.”