Book Review: Insane Clown President

How did America, and the world, end up with Donald Trump as President of the United States? It’s a question that will likely be asked ad nauseam until the end of western democracy, which hopefully will survive a while longer yet.

Matt Taibbi has covered the last four presidential elections for Rolling Stone, and remains that magazine’s shining light. He is one of the finest exponents of polemic journalism, and regularly punches the reader in the gut with analogies and metaphors that brutally describe the world around him.

For a journo of Taibbi’s calibre, the recent US presidential election was ripe for his cynical observations. As he humble-brags in his intro, he predicted the rise of fake news and the alt-right some 10 years ago, which would lead to a figure like Trump, writing: “The country’s leaders are corrupt and have become unresponsive to the needs of the population. People all over are beginning to notice. This being America, as ordinary people tune out their corrupt leaders, they will replace official propaganda with conspiratorial explanations even more ridiculous than the original lies.”

This proved to be horrifically correct when Americans started to believe ring wing conspiracies such as ‘pizzagate’ and ignore real scoops of gruesome Trump insights such as the ‘grab them by the…’ recording, which would have derailed any other candidate.

Writing for Rolling Stone, a few months out from the election, even Taibbi couldn’t predict a Trump win: “I still don’t think Trump really has a chance, but we’re sure headed towards a scary ending.” A month later, in October: “Trump can’t win. Our national experiment can’t end because one ageing narcissist got bored of sex and food. Not even America deserves that.”

The brilliantly titled Insane Clown President is mostly filled with his Rolling Stone articles from the Republican primaries and the presidential election and excels when Taibbi is angry at the reality TV debacle that is modern politics. He calls the Republican primary hopefuls a clown car of candidates and has nothing nice to say about any politician, Bernie Sanders aside.

Taibbi’s been called the modern Hunter S. Thompson many times, but unlike the overrated gonzo pioneer, Taibbi is able to brutally assess what’s going on as well as cover the mood of the public with humour, heart and venom minus the ego. Here his venom is not aimed at Middle America but the Republican Party, the Democrats and the media.

“Just like the politicians our [the media] job was to listen, and we talked instead,” he writes. “Now America will do its own talking for a while. The world may never forgive us for not seeing this coming.” Indeed.

Author: Matt Taibbi
Publisher: Penguin/WH Allen

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