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Dublin: 8 °C Sunday 20 October, 2019

Sitdown Sunday: The best 2017 longreads about Trump, the USA and the alt-right

We’ve sifted through the longreads to find you the best.

AT THE END of every week, we bring you Sitdown Sunday: a round-up of the best longreads of the week.

This year, longreads tended to be overwhelmingly about major political events – particularly, the presidency of one Donald Trump. Alongside this, there were in-depth looks at the alt-right, and the state of America today.

Here are our picks of the best longreads on these topics.


Trump mural A mural in Dublin of Donald Trump Source: Niall Carson

The first white president 

October: Ta-Nehisi Coates drew a lot of attention with his article My President Was Black in 2016. Now he’s back with another look at Donald Trump, Barack Obama, and race.

(The Atlantic, approx 51 mins reading time)

His political career began in advocacy of birtherism, that modern recasting of the old American precept that black people are not fit to be citizens of the country they built. But long before birtherism, Trump had made his worldview clear. He fought to keep blacks out of his buildings, according to the U.S. government; called for the death penalty for the eventually exonerated Central Park Five; and railed against “lazy” black employees. “Black guys counting my money! I hate it,” Trump was once quoted as saying. “The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.”

Why I voted for Trump

January/February: Rick Perlstein is a lecturer, and last year he asked a student of his why he voted for Trump. His answer is interesting reading.

(Mother Jones, approx 10mins reading time)

But while Peter’s analysis is at odds with much of the data, his overall story does fit a national pattern. Trump voters report experiencing greater-than-average levels of economic anxiety, even though they tend have better-than-average incomes. And they are inclined to blame economic instability on the federal government—even, sometimes, when it flows from private corporations. Peter wrote about the sense of salvation his neighbors felt when a Walmart came to town: “Now there were enough jobs, even part-time jobs…But Walmart constantly got attacked by unions nationally and with federal regulations; someone lost their job, or their job became part-time.”

Donald Trump is not a fascist

January: Is Donald Trump a fascist or not? Dylan Matthews, who has interviewed many actual fascists, says he isn’t – instead, he says Trump is a right wing populist. This article compares fascism with populism and gives a good rundown of the two.

(Vox, approx 19 mins reading time)

As this brief discussion should make clear, there are some similarities between fascists and today’s populists, including Donald Trump, but also some crucial differences. First, while contemporary populists often extol things like “national sovereignty” (see Brexit) and the importance of national values and communities, they rarely present the nation as an “organic entity” existing above or beyond the people. And “the people” tend to be defined on the basis of shared customs, traditions, and behaviors, rather than on purely racial or ethnic grounds. Populists are thus more often xenophobic than racist.

The hedge fund tycoon and Trump 

March: Robert Mercer is a reclusive hedge-fund manager – and he happens to have become a major force behind Donald Trump’s presidency. Here’s a juicy longread about the man.

(The New Yorker, approx 52 mins reading time)

During the past decade, Mercer, who is seventy, has funded an array of political projects that helped pave the way for Trump’s rise. Among these efforts was public-opinion research, conducted by Caddell, showing that political conditions in America were increasingly ripe for an outsider candidate to take the White House. Caddell told me that Mercer “is a libertarian—he despises the Republican establishment,” and added, “He thinks that the leaders are corrupt crooks, and that they’ve ruined the country.”

A Muslim in the White House

February: Rumana Ahmed worked for the National Security Council under the Obama administration. She was the only hijab-wearing Muslim in the building. But once Trump came into power, she only lasted eight days at her job.

(The Atlantic, approx 18 mins reading time)

I told him I had to leave because it was an insult walking into this country’s most historic building every day under an administration that is working against and vilifying everything I stand for as an American and as a Muslim. I told him that the administration was attacking the basic tenets of democracy. I told him that I hoped that they and those in Congress were prepared to take responsibility for all the consequences that would attend their decisions. He looked at me and said nothing.

Trump supporters 

February: There can be a lot of talk about Trump supporters, but sometimes we don’t get to actually hear from them. Sam Altman went and talked to 100 Trump supporters to find out what they really think.

(Sam Altman, approx 11 mins reading time)

This was a surprisingly interesting and helpful experience—I highly recommend it.  With three exceptions, I found something to like about everyone I talked to (though I strongly disagreed with many of the things they said).  Although it shouldn’t have surprised me given the voting data, I was definitely surprised by the diversity of the people I spoke to—I did not expect to talk to so many Muslims, Mexicans, Black people, and women in the course of this project.

The alt-right

NY: Anti-fascist demonstrators rally in Union Square Park Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

My travels in White America

November: You might have seen a clip of Gary Younge meeting Richard Spencer, champion of the so-called ‘alt right’. Here’s the in-depth write-up by Younge of his travels in white America.

(The Guardian, approx 14 mins reading time)

Across from the counter, Ted sits in a T-shirt emblazoned with a Native American in full headdress. He thinks white America is getting a rough deal and will soon be extinct. “There’s not many white Americans left. They’re a dying breed. It’s going to be yellow-white Americans, African-American white Americans, you know what I’m saying? The cultures are coming together,” he says, with more than a hint of melancholy. “Blending and blending, and pretty soon we’ll just be one colour.”

Breitbart, Milo, and white nationalism

October: This exposé on Buzzfeed looks deep into Milo Yiannopoulos’s relationship with Breitbart and Steve Bannon, uncovering some very disturbing things along the way.

(Buzzfeed, approx 44 mins reading time)

For more than a year, Yiannopoulos led the site in a coy dance around the movement’s nastier edges, writing stories that minimized the role of neo-Nazis and white nationalists while giving its politer voices “a fair hearing.” In March, Breitbart editor Alex Marlow insisted “we’re not a hate site.” Breitbart’s media relations staff repeatedly threatened to sue outlets that described Yiannopoulos as racist.

The story of the new right

April: It’s a topic that’s been fascinating – and worrying – people for the past number of years: the rise of the alt right (or the new right, or the new far right). This in-depth piece looks at this movement, saying that it is a ‘powerful counterculture’ and that to call it primarily a political movement “is to wildly underestimate its scope”.

(New York Magazine, approx 67 mins reading time)

To many on the radicalized right, social progress is a zero-sum game in which minority groups and women have been winning at the expense of the previous kings of the castle. Moreover, other forces are ransacking the castle, too — namely, technology, globalization, and financialization. Yet how they believe one should actually go about addressing those problems can be difficult to parse, especially when the complaints are often filtered through 140 characters of unprintable vitriol and hate.

Milo and the ‘lost boys’ 

February: Writer Laurie Penny gets on the ‘Milo tour bus’ for a number of months and gives an interesting and timely insight into the young provocateur. Milo Yiannopoulos, she says, is exploiting Americans’ sense of irony, and means nothing that comes out of his mouth.

(Pacific Standard, approx 28 mins reading time)

This is a story about truth and consequences. It’s a story about who gets to be young and dumb, and who gets held accountable. It’s also a story about how the new right exploits young men — how it preys not on their bodies, but on their emotions, on their hurts and hopes and anger and anxiety, their desperate need to be part of a big ugly boys’ own adventure.

I learned to love the right

May: Is it possible to leave the ‘liberal bubble’ and learn to love the right? This writer says he did.

(Daily Beast, approx 19 mins reading time)

 In general, our view of policy and ideology is driven by signaling; that is, our political perspective is often shaped by what others are suggesting we should think rather than by any careful and independent consideration of the issues. The research on this goes a long way back and mostly suggests that political scientists like to fuck with voters.

How fake news turned a small town upside-down 

September: In 2016, during the US election, there were exaggerated reports about a juvenile sex crime in Twin Falls, Idaho. The New York Times details the major effect it had on the town.

(New York Times, approx 30 mins reading time)

About a year earlier, after The Times-News reported that Syrian refugees would very likely be resettled in Twin Falls, Edwards joined a movement to shut the resettlement program down. The group circulated a petition to put the proposal before voters. They failed to get enough signatures to force a referendum, but Brown was struck by how much support around town the movement attracted. In bars after work, he began to overhear conversations about the dangers of Islam. One night, he heard a man joke about dousing the entrance to the local mosque with pig’s blood.

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday>

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