It’s hard to imagine any better qualified trio of acclaimed political scholars and journalists to explain the political mess we’re in and where we go from here: E.J. Dionne is a columnist for The Washington Post, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a professor at Georgetown University. Norm Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a contributing editor and columnist for National Journal and The Atlantic. And Thomas Mann is a resident scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California in Berkeley and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Together in One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet-Deported (St. Martin’s, $25.99), they trace the various elements that gave rise to the election of Donald Trump, then point to some possible ways ahead, striking a guardedly optimistic note. They contend that the protests and national soul-searching triggered by Trump’s presidency could lead eventually to an era of democratic renewal. But, they caution, this will take much work and depend on those opposed to Trump coming up with some unifying alternatives.
The author of this important and timely book grew up in Forsyth County, Georgia, an island of white supremacy for almost a century that remained untouched by the civil rights movement. How that happened is a powerful, complicated, and horrifying story of racial cleansing that writer and poet Patrick Phillips tells as a white man seeking the truth about his own roots. Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America (W.W. Norton, $26.95) examines in vivid and often lyrical detail the events that led to the forcible and violent expulsion of virtually all black people in the county in 1912—many of whom had lived and worked there for generations—and the decades of exclusion that followed. Change finally came to Forsyth with the 21st century, but even today the legacy of racial cleansing simmers beneath the surface. Courageous, beautifully written, and rich in its detailed reporting, Phillips records a genuine but depressing slice of American history whose repercussions continue to be felt in our country today.
With the tools of a trained ethnographer, the skills of a literary writer, and a deep-seated compassion, Matthew Desmond follows the lives of eight Milwaukee families as they struggled between 2008 and 2009 to turn grinding poverty into stable poverty. He also recounts the activities of their landlords, making Evicted (Crown, $28) a compelling and troubling story of “two freedoms at odds… the freedom to profit from rents and the freedom to live in a safe and affordable home.” Desmond puts these narratives into perspective with statistics, noting that in 2008 tax benefits to homeowners amounted to $171 billion nationally, while direct assistance to the poor for housing was $40.2 billion. In Milwaukee, the nation’s fourth poorest city, rent often consumes 88% of a monthly welfare check, and even the cheapest, barely habitable apartments—clogged drains, no stove, no hot water—may cost just $270 less than a decent place. Eviction, rare even in the Depression, is now a daily occurrence. Meanwhile, though “it took a certain skill to make a living off the city’s poorest trailer park,” it is indeed possible, as it is for an inner-city landlord renting to tenants on or below the poverty line to amass a net worth of $2 million. Desmond explores these disparities in detail and links the crisis of affordable housing to unemployment, crime, racism, poor health, and other socio-economic ills. But what’s most impressive here are the stories. One woman calls some ninety prospective apartments, her standards getting lower as her desperation rises. A seventh-grader attends five different schools in one academic year. Children “sleep” in chairs in overcrowded rooms. Evictions are cheaper for landlords than maintenance, and people can be evicted for nearly anything—or nothing; a call to the police about domestic abuse, for instance, can get a family kicked out as a “nuisance,” and every eviction on someone’s record makes the next apartment harder to come by.