Bookshelf image

How Americans respond to climate change is affected by changes in America’s political climate.

In October 2016, just before the November election, Yale Climate Connections highlighted books that surveyed the American political landscape. With the following month’s election of Donald Trump as President, that landscape has changed dramatically.

In this month’s bookshelf, 18 months into the Trump presidency, we highlight works historians, journalists, and political scientists have published since his election, most within the last six months. In addition to covering the essential topics – political partisanship, race, the religious right, the rural-urban divide, the Russia investigation, and the role of social media – the selection includes titles that reflect on overarching concerns of the President’s strongest critics: authoritarianism, populism, and the future of democracy. By way of illustrating the yawning political divide discussed in several of these works, the last grouping highlights books written by defenders of Trump and/or his backers.

For the politically intrigued, key books exploring the Trump administration at the 18-month point. Click To Tweet

To boost one’s spirits after reviewing this list, YCC readers might turn to two recently published essays: the first by social historians Lara Putnam and Theda Skocpol, and the second by American writer Rebecca Solnit. These women see hope in the ways many Americans, especially American women, are striving to “reboot” democracy.

Descriptions of the books listed below are drawn from copy provided by the publishers. When two dates of publication are listed, the latter is for the paperback edition.


The Great Alignment: Race, Party Transformation, and the Rise of Donald Trump, by Alan I. Abramowitz (Yale University Press 2018, 216 pages, $35.00)

Great AlignmentToday’s party divide reflects an unprecedented alignment of many different divides: racial and ethnic, religious, ideological, and geographic. In this new study, Emory University professor of political science Alan I. Abramowitz shows how the partisan alignment arose out of the breakup of the old New Deal coalition; introduces the most important difference between our current era and past eras, the rise of “negative partisanship”; explains how this phenomenon paved the way for the Trump presidency; and examines why our polarization could even grow deeper. This statistically based analysis shows that racial anxiety is by far a better predictor of support for Donald Trump than any other factor, including economic discontent.

The Left BehindThe Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Rural America, by Robert Wuthnow (Princeton University Press 2018, 200 pages, $24.95)

What is fueling rural America’s outrage toward the federal government? Why did rural Americans vote overwhelmingly for Donald Trump? And, beyond economic and demographic decline, is there a more nuanced explanation for the growing rural-urban divide? Drawing on more than a decade of research and hundreds of interviews, Robert Wuthnow brings us into America’s small towns, farms, and rural communities to paint a rich portrait of the moral order – the interactions, loyalties, obligations, and identities – underpinning this critical segment of the nation. Moving beyond simplistic depictions of these residents of America’s heartland, The Left Behind offers a clearer picture of how they will influence the nation’s political future.

People vs DemocracyThe People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is In Danger & How to Save It, by Yascha Mounk (Harvard University Press 2018, 400 pages, $29.95)

Two core components of liberal democracy – individual rights and the popular will – are increasingly at war with each other. As the role of money in politics soared and important issues were taken out of public contestation, a system of “rights without democracy” took hold. Populists who rail against this say they want to return power to the people. But in practice they create something just as bad: a system of “democracy without rights.” As a consequence, trust in politics is dwindling. Citizens are falling out of love with their political system. Democracy is wilting away. Political scientist Yascha Mounk identifies three key drivers of voters’ discontent: stagnating living standards, fear of multiethnic democracy, and the rise of social media. To reverse the trend, politicians need to enact radical reforms that benefit the many, not the few.

Gaslighting AmericaGaslighting America: Why We Love it When Trump Lies to Us, by Amanda Carpenter (Broadside Books / Harper Collins 2018, 288 pages, $26.99)

A CNN contributor, former Ted Cruz staffer, and “Never Trump” adherent reveals a shocking truth: Donald Trump’s lies and fabrications don’t horrify America – they enthrall us. In Gaslighting America, Carpenter breaks down Trump’s formula, showing why it’s practically foolproof, playing his victims, the media, the Democrats, and the Republican fence-sitters perfectly. She traces how this tactic started with Nixon, gained traction with Bill Clinton, and exploded under Trump. If you think Trump is driving you crazy, it’s because he is. Now, in this urgent book, she explains how to withstand the fire.

Believe MeBelieve Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, by John Fea (W.W. Eerdmans 2018, 248 pages, $24.99)

“Believe me” may be the most commonly used phrase in Donald Trump’s lexicon. And to the surprise of many, a good 80 percent of white evangelicals have believed Trump – at least enough to help propel him into the White House. Historian John Fea is not surprised, however – and in these pages he explains how we have arrived at this unprecedented moment in American politics. An evangelical Christian himself, Fea argues that the embrace of Donald Trump is the logical outcome of a long-standing evangelical approach to public life defined by the politics of fear, the pursuit of worldly power, and a nostalgic longing for an American past. Fea challenges Christians to replace fear with hope, the pursuit of power with humility, and nostalgia with history.

Russian RouletteRussian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump, by Michael Isikoff and David Corn (Twelve Books 2018, 560 pages, $32.00)

Russian Roulette weaves together tales of international intrigue, cyber espionage, and super-power rivalry. As Vladimir Putin moved to reassert Russian strength on the global stage, Moscow trained its best hackers and trolls on U.S. political targets and exploited WikiLeaks to disseminate information that could affect the 2016 election. The great break-in of 2016 was no “third-rate burglary.” It was a brazen act of political espionage designed to interfere with American democracy. At the end of the day, Trump, the candidate who pursued business deals in Russia, won. This story of high-tech spying and multiple political feuds is told against the backdrop of Trump’s strange relationship with Putin and the curious ties between members of his inner circle – including Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn – and Russia.

New in paperback

Can It Happen HereCan It Happen Here? Authoritarianism in America, edited by Cass R. Sunstein (Dey Street Books 2018, 496 pages, $17.99 paperback)

With the election of Donald J. Trump, many people on both the left and right feared that America’s 240-year-old grand experiment in democracy was coming to an end and that Sinclair Lewis’ satirical novel from the dark days of the 1930s, It Can’t Happen Here, could finally be coming true. Acclaimed Harvard law professor and New York Times best-selling author Cass R. Sunstein queried a number of the nation’s leading thinkers. In this thought-provoking collection of essays, they explore the lessons of history, how democracies crumble, how propaganda works, and the role of the media, courts, elections, and “fake news” in the modern political landscape – and what the future of the United States may hold.

One Nation After TrumpOne Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, The Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet Deported, with New Foreword, by E.J. Dionne, Jr., Norman Ornstein, and Thomas E. Mann (St. Martin’s Press 2017/2018, 384 pages, $18.99 paperback)

American democracy was never supposed to give the nation a president like Donald Trump. We have never had a president who gave rise to such widespread alarm about his lack of commitment to the institutions of self-government, to the norms democracy requires, and to the need for basic knowledge about how government works. Yet if Trump is both a threat to our democracy and a product of its weaknesses, the citizen activism he has inspired is the antidote. The reaction to the crisis created by Trump’s presidency can provide the foundation for an era of democratic renewal and vindicate our long experiment in self-rule. One Nation After Trump is the essential book for our era, an unsparing assessment of the perils facing the United States and an inspiring roadmap for how we can reclaim the future.

Democracy In ChainsDemocracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, by Nancy MacLean (Penguin/Random House 2017/2018, 368 pages, $18.00 paperback)

In this brilliant and engrossing narrative, historian Nancy MacLean shows how Nobel Prize-winning political economist James McGill Buchanan forged disruptive ideas about government in a last gasp attempt to preserve the white elite’s power in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education. In response to the widening of American democracy, he developed a brilliant, if diabolical, plan to undermine the ability of the majority to use its numbers to level the playing field. Corporate donors and their right-wing foundations were only too eager to support Buchanan’s work in teaching others how to divide America into “makers” and “takers.” Based on ten years of unique research, Democracy in Chains tells a chilling story of right-wing academics and big money run amok.

Views from the right

The Great RevoltThe Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics, by Salena Zito and Brad Todd (Penguin/Random House 2018, 320 pages, $28.00)

Syndicated columnist and CNN contributor Salena Zito, along with veteran Republican strategist Brad Todd, traveled 27,000 miles in five swing states to answer one pressing question: Was Donald Trump’s election a fluke or did it represent a fundamental shift in the electorate that will have repercussions – for Republicans and Democrats – for years to come. The Great Revolt delves deep into the minds and hearts of the voters the make up the Trump coalition. What emerges is a group of citizens who cannot be described by terms like “angry,” “male,” “rural,” or “racist.” They span job descriptions, income brackets, education levels, and party allegiances. What unites them is their desire to be part of a movement larger than themselves that puts pragmatism before ideology, localism before globalism, and demands the respect it deserve from Washington.

Russia HoaxThe Russia Hoax: The Illicit Scheme to Clear Hillary Clinton and Frame Donald Trump, by Gregg Jarrett (Broadside / Harper Collins 2018, 352 pages, $28.99)

The Russia Hoax reveals how persons within the FBI and Barack Obama’s Justice Department worked improperly to help elect Hillary Clinton and defeat Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. When this suspected effort failed, those same people appear to have pursued a contrived investigation of President Trump in an attempt to undo the election results and remove him as president. The evidence suggests that partisans within the FBI and the Dept. of Justice, driven by personal animus and a misplaced sense of political righteousness, surreptitiously acted to subvert electoral democracy in our country. With insightful analysis and a fact-filled narrative, The Russia Hoax delves deeply into Democrat wrongdoing.

Donald J. TrumpDonald J. Trump: A President Like No Other, by Conrad Black (Regnery books 2018, 256 pages, $28.99)

Conrad Black, bestselling author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom and Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, turns his attention to his “friend” President Donald J. Trump and provides the most intriguing and significant analysis yet of Trump’s political rise. Ambitious in intellectual scope, contrarian in many of its opinions, and admirably concise, this is surely set to be one of the most provocative political books you are likely to read this year. Born in Montreal and now a British citizen, Conrad Black is a former newspaper publisher whose company, Hollinger International, published The Daily Telegraph (UK), Chicago Sun-Times (U.S.), The Jerusalem Post (Israel), and The National Post (Canada).

Filed under: