THE CRUELTY IS THE POINT

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In a vigorous collection of more than a dozen essays, award-winning journalist Serwer, a staff writer at the Atlantic and former fellow at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, considers the social and ideological forces that led to Trump’s presidency and, without intervention, will continue to shape American society. Most essays, drawn from pieces published since 2016, are newly contextualized, and Serwer includes additional pieces on immigration, politics within the American Jewish community, the destructive impact of police unions, and the past and future of American authoritarianism. He argues persuasively that racism lies at the heart of Trumpism. Although the media focused on economic anxiety to account for Trump’s rise and continuing appeal, “the movement,” he asserts, “cannot be rescued from its bigotry,” which was intensified by Obama’s presidency. Trump’s supporters have found what they deeply wanted: “a president who embodies the rage they feel toward those they hate and fear, while reassuring them that that rage is nothing to be ashamed of.” Serwer underscores the prevalence of cruelty in American life, which Trump exacerbated. In “The Cruelty of the Covid Contract,” he sees that Trump’s refusal to deal with the pandemic was essentially racist. “The lives of disproportionately black and brown workers are being sacrificed to fuel the engine of a faltering economy, by a president who disdains them,” he writes. “This is the COVID contract.” In examining the claims of nativists and White supremacists, Serwer traces the roots of White nationalism to the American eugenics movement that influenced immigration policy in the 1920s and later fed Nazi ideology. In “The Cruelty of the Code of Silence,” he excoriates police unions for promoting the image of the police “as the lone barrier between civilization and barbarism,” characterizing the people they are meant to defend and protect as violent and uncontrollable.

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