Insane Clown President: Dispatches from the 2016 Circus

Insane Clown President: Dispatches from the 2016 Circus

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Overview

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Dispatches from the 2016 election that provide an eerily prescient take on our democracy’s uncertain future, by the country’s most perceptive and fearless political journalist.

In twenty-five pieces from Rolling Stone—plus two original essays—Matt Taibbi tells the story of Western civilization’s very own train wreck, from its tragicomic beginnings to its apocalyptic conclusion. Years before the clown car of candidates was fully loaded, Taibbi grasped the essential themes of the story: the power of spectacle over substance, or even truth; the absence of a shared reality; the nihilistic rebellion of the white working class; the death of the political establishment; and the emergence of a new, explicit form of white nationalism that would destroy what was left of the Kingian dream of a successful pluralistic society.

Taibbi captures, with dead-on, real-time analysis, the failures of the right and the left, from the thwarted Bernie Sanders insurgency to the flawed and aimless Hillary Clinton campaign; the rise of the “dangerously bright” alt-right with its wall-loving identity politics and its rapturous view of the “Racial Holy War” to come; and the giant fail of a flailing, reactive political media that fed a ravenous news cycle not with reporting on political ideology, but with undigested propaganda served straight from the campaign bubble. At the center of it all stands Donald J. Trump, leading a historic revolt against his own party, “bloviating and farting his way” through the campaign, “saying outrageous things, acting like Hitler one minute and Andrew Dice Clay the next.” For Taibbi, the stunning rise of Trump marks the apotheosis of the new postfactual movement.

Taibbi frames the reporting with original essays that explore the seismic shift in how we perceive our national institutions, the democratic process, and the future of the country. Insane Clown President is not just a postmortem on the collapse and failure of American democracy. It offers the riveting, surreal, unique, and essential experience of seeing the future in hindsight.

“Scathing . . . What keeps the pages turning in this so freshly familiar story line is the vivid observation and original turns of phrase.”—San Francisco Chronicle

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399592461
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/17/2017
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 743,169
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Matt Taibbi, author of the New York Times bestsellers The Divide, Griftopia, and The Great Derangement, is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone and winner of the 2008 National Magazine Award for columns and commentary.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

The Great Derangement Redux

Ten years before Donald Trump, I wrote a book about Middle America’s growing mistrust of government, the media and other mainstream forces. The thesis of the book was that we were moving toward a future in which facts would be increasingly irrelevant and people would gravitate more and more toward conspiratorial politics. This situation was fueled by the repeated failures of once-trusted institutions to respond to the frustrations of ordinary people.

I didn’t exactly see Donald Trump coming. But there were a lot of signs that the conditions were set long ago for the rise of a truly postfactual candidate.

From the introduction to The Great Derangement:

We were living through the last stage of the American empire. Historians consistently describe similar phenomena in past centuries. Great societies often collapse in the same way.

When the Bolsheviks finally broke through the gates of the Winter Palace, they discovered tsarists inside obsessed with tarot cards. When the barbarians finally stormed Rome in its last days, they found the upper class paralyzed by lethargy and inaction and addicted to the ramblings of fortune-tellers.

This, too, seemed to be the fate of America, viciously attacked by a serious enemy on 9/11 but unable to grasp the significance of this attack. Most of the country instead fled for consolation to the various corners of our vast media landscape, in particular seeking solace in the Internet, an escapist paradise for the informationally overwhelmed.

Trained for decades to be little more than good consumers, we had become a nation of reality shoppers, mixing and matching news items to fit our own self-created identities. We rejoiced in the idea that reality was not an absolute but a choice, something we select to fit our own conception not of the world but of ourselves. We are Christians, therefore all world events have a Christian explanation. We hate George Bush, therefore Bush is the cause of it all.

And directly feeding into this madness was the actual, real failure of our own governmental system, reflected in a chilling new electoral trend. After two consecutive bitterly negative presidential elections and many years of what was turning into a highly deflating military adventure in Iraq, the American public had reached new levels of disgust with the very concept of elections.

People no longer voted for candidates they liked or were excited by. They voted against candidates they hated. At protests and marches, the ruling emotions were disgust and rage. The lack of idealism, and especially the lack of any sense of brotherhood or common purpose with the other side (i.e., liberals and conservatives unable to imagine a productive future with each other, or even to see themselves as citizens of the same country), was striking.

Politicians, with their automated speeches and canned blather about “hope” and “change” and “taking the country back,” were now not only not believed by most ordinary people, but actively despised.

A parallel phenomenon was a growing lack of faith in the mainstream media on both sides of the spectrum. Conservatives and liberals alike accepted unquestioningly the proposition that the stories put out by network news broadcasts and major daily newspapers amounted to little more than a stream of untrammeled, insidious deceptions.

In the 2006 senatorial primary contest between the would-be Jimmy Stewart–esque do-gooder millionaire Ned Lamont and the archetypal Washington whore Joe Lieberman, the fault lines were outlined with crystal clarity.

The “People” boosted Lamont with blogs and YouTube broadcasts, while the entrenched political mainstream circled the wagons around Lieberman. The major news mags and dailies blasted the blogger phenomenon, and the likes of sanctimonious New York Times columnist David Brooks ascribed the antimedia bias to “moral manias” and a “Liberal Inquisition.”

On the right, similar fault lines were appearing. Whereas before conservative anger toward the “liberal media” had been usefully directed against the Democratic Party by Republican strategists, the failure of the Iraq war and also growing disillusionment on the part of Christians who had supported George W. Bush led more and more of those voters to seek out their own enthusiasms.

For the first time I started to see and hear people at Republican events who sounded very much like the dissidents on the fringes of American liberalism. The Ron Paul supporters who began to collect around the rallies of assembly-line establishment-blowhard candidates like Mitt Romney were almost indistinguishable from the followers of liberal candidates like Dennis Kucinich.

They were similarly against the war, similarly against the conspiracy of business interests that dominated Washington, similarly fed up with standard-issue campaign stumpery.

At these events I heard some of the same theories about “peak oil” and the nefarious influence of institutions like the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission that dominated 9/11 Truth rallies.

But they weren’t liberals. They were ex-Dittoheads and dropouts from the Republican revolution. The Ron Paul candidacy was an extreme example of outsider politics on the left and right merging.

I spent time down in Texas with a group of churchgoers who were loyal to an apocalyptic theory of world events, one in which 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq were part of an ongoing march toward a final battle between the forces of Satan and an army of God.

At the same time, I found myself involved, at times involuntarily, with the 9/11 Truth Movement.

The similarities between both of these groups is striking and should be clear to anyone who reads this book. Both groups were and are defined primarily by an unshakable belief in the inhumanity of their enemies on the other side.

The Christians seldom distinguished between Islamic terrorism and, say, Al Gore–style environmentalism. The Truthers easily believed that reporters for the Washington Post, the president, and the front-line operators of NORAD were equally capable of murdering masses of ordinary New York financial-sector employees.

Abandoned by the political center, both groups ascribed unblinkingly to a militant, us-against-them worldview, where only their own could be trusted.

What made them distinctly American was that, while actually the victims of an obvious, unhidden conspiracy of corrupt political power, they chose to battle bugbears that were completely idiotic, fanciful, and imaginary.

At a time when the country desperately needed its citizens to man up and seize control of their common destiny, they instead crawled into alleys and feverishly jacked themselves off in frenzies of panicked narcissism.

Time and again during the research for this book, I encountered people who acted not like engaged citizens looking for solutions to real problems, but like frightened adolescents, unaccustomed to the burdens of political power. People saw in the vacuum of governmental competence an opportunity not to take control of their lives, but to step in and replace the buffoons above with buffoon acts of their own.

They made elaborate speeches to no one in particular, as though cameras were on them, they dressed in Washington and Jefferson costumes, they primped and preened like they were revolutionaries, modern-day Patrick Henrys and Thomas Paines. And they got nothing done.

I was struck particularly by a meeting of 9/11 Truthers in Austin, Texas, in which a “discussion” of what to do about the conspiracy in Washington devolved into a speech-making session. A group of twenty-five to thirty Truthers filed into a little church on the outskirts of town and, led by a breezy, EST-counselorish moderator who enforced tolerance for the viewpoints of all, each participant got up and offered his or her own individual angry theory about the nature of The Conspiracy.

Some blamed the royals, others the bankers, others the Trilateral Commission, all blamed decades of Bush family iniquity, and one woman even talked about a conspiracy to hide the discovery of alien technologies at Area 51.

Everyone made his or her speech, and then the meeting was over with nothing accomplished except a decision to have another meeting.

Having seen all this, what I ended up trying to do in this book was describe the whole outline of the problem. Much of the book focuses on the insider game in Washington, from the corrupt response to Hurricane Katrina to both parties’ absurdly transparent attempts to deflect popular opposition to the Iraq war. At the same time I tried to describe the response to this nonfunctioning government across the country, on both the right and the left.

What I hope comes through is that the corruption of the system certainly has had consequences in the population, inspiring popular disgust and rage, with voters keenly understanding on some level anyway the depth of their betrayal.

But the form of the public response turns out to be a grotesquerie. It turns out that we’ve been split up and atomized for so long that real grassroots politics isn’t really possible.

We don’t respond to problems as communities, but as demographics. In the same way that we shop for cars and choose television programs, we pick our means of political protest. We scan the media landscape for the thing that appeals to us and we buy into it.

That it’s the same media landscape these new dissidents often reject as a false and misleading tableau dominated by corrupt interests turns out not to be problematic for many.

In some cases, like that of those Christians I spent time with in San Antonio, the trusted new figure, a preacher named John Hagee, turns out to be every bit the establishment Washington insider these would-be religious revolutionaries think they’re fleeing from.

In other cases, like that of the 9/11 Truthers, the radical canonical revolutionary tracts end up including thoroughly commercial mainstream entertainments like V for Vendetta and The Matrix (at different times I would hear both radical conservatives and liberals describe their political awakenings using the phrase “taking the red pill”).

In short, what sounds on the surface like radical politics turns out to be just another fracturing of the media picture, one that ultimately will result in new groups of captive audiences that, if experience is any guide, will ultimately be assimilated and electorally coddled by a political mainstream in reality bent on ignoring both sides.

For now, however, the situation going into the 2008 election looks grim. We have a population more disgusted than ever with our political system, one inclined to distrust the result no matter who wins the White House—and should the national election end up being a contest between a pair of full-of-shit establishment conservatives like Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, it will only confirm the worst fears of both sides and result in an even further bonkerization of the population.

Gone will be the good old days of neat blue-state/red-state hatred—a nicely symmetrical storyline that has always appealed to the Crossfire/American Gladiators sports-coverage mentality of the commercial media.

In its place, at least temporarily, will be a chaos of lunatic enthusiasms and dead-end political movements, with calls for invasions of Babylon and, on the other side, congressional investigations into nonexistent conspiracies . . . ​

When a people can no longer agree even on the basic objective facts of their political existence, the equation changes. Real decisions, even in the approximate direction of righteousness, eventually become impossible.

The Great Derangement is about a stage of our history where politics has seemingly stopped being about ideology, and has instead turned into a problem of information.

Are the right messages reaching our collective brain? Are the halves of that brain even connected? Do we know who we are anymore? Are we sane? It’s a hell of a problem for a nuclear power.

From Chapter One:

Out There, in states both blue and red, the People were boarding the mothership, preparing to leave this planet for good.

The media had long ignored the implications of polls that showed that half the country believed in angels and the inerrancy of the Bible, or of the fact that the Left Behind series of books had sold in the tens of millions.

But on the ground the political consequences of magical thinking were becoming clearer.

The religious right increasingly saw satanic influences and signs of the upcoming apocalypse. Meanwhile, on the left, a different sort of fantasy was gaining traction, as an increasing number—up to a third of the country according to some polls—saw the “Bush crime family” in league with Al-Qaeda, masterminding 9/11.

Media outlets largely ignored poll results that they felt could not possibly be true. For instance, there was a CBS News survey that showed that only 16 percent believed that the Bush administration was telling the truth about 9/11, with 53 percent believing the government was “hiding something,” and another 28 percent believing that it was “mostly lying.”

Then there was a stunning Zogby poll taken just in advance of the 2004 Republican convention that showed that nearly half of New York City residents—49.3 percent—believed that the government knew in advance that the 9/11 attacks were coming and purposely failed to act.

Voters didn’t just distrust the government’s words and actions. By 2007 they also had very serious doubts about their government’s legitimacy.

Successive election cycles foundering on voting-machine scandals had left both sides deeply suspicious of election results. A poll in Florida taken in 2004 suggested that some 25 percent of voters worried that their votes were not being counted—a 20 percent jump from the pre-2000 numbers.

Even more damning was a Zogby poll conducted in 2006 that showed only 45 percent of Americans were “very confident” that George Bush won the 2004 election “fair and square.”

The most surprising thing about that last poll was the degree to which the distrust was spread wide across the demographic spectrum. That 71 percent of African Americans distrusted the 2004 results was perhaps not a surprise, given that black voters in America have been victims of organized disenfranchisement throughout this country’s history.

But 28 percent of NASCAR fans? Twenty-five percent of born-again Christians? Thirty-two percent of currently serving members of the armed forces?

These are astonishing numbers for a country that even in its lowest times—after Watergate, say, or during Reconstruction—never doubted the legitimacy of their leaders to such a degree.

And if distrust of the government was at an all-time high, that was still nothing compared to what the public thought of the national media. Both the left and the right had developed parallel theories about the co-opting of the corporate press, imagining it to be controlled by powerful unseen enemies, and increasingly turned to grassroots Internet sources for news and information.

In the BBC/Reuters/Media Center’s annual Trust in the Media survey in 2006, the United States was one of just two countries surveyed—Britain being the other—where respondents trusted their government (67 percent) more than they trusted national news reporters (59 percent). A Harris poll that same year showed that some 68 percent of Americans now felt that the news media were “too powerful.”

The country, in other words, was losing it. Our national politics was doomed because voters were no longer debating one another using a commonly accepted set of facts. There was no common narrative, except in the imagination of a daft political and media elite that had long ago lost touch with the general public.

Table of Contents

Introduction xiii

1 The Great Derangement Redux 3

2 Inside the GOP Clown Car 19

3 Donald Trump Just Stopped Being Funny 37

4 The Republicans Are Officially the Party of White Paranoia 45

5 Casting Clown Car, the Movie 53

6 The Official GOP Debate Drinking Game Rules, Part 2 67

7 The Case for Bernie Sanders 73

8 The Clown Car Rolls On 81

9 America Is Too Dumb for TV News 97

10 It's Too Late to Turn Off Trump 105

11 The Official GOP Debate Drinking Game Rules, Part 5 111

12 The Vampire Squid Tells Us How to Vote 117

13 Morning Blow: How Mika and Joe Became Trump's Lapdogs 125

14 How America Made Trump Unstoppable 131

15 Revenge of the Simple: How George W. Bush Gave Rise to Donald Trump 157

16 Why Young People Are Right About Hillary Clinton 163

17 RIP, GOP: How Trump's Campaign Is Killing the Republican Party 171

18 Democrats Will Learn All the Wrong Lessons from Their Brush with Bernie 191

19 In Response to Trump, Another Dangerous Movement Appears 197

20 Trump's Appetite for Destruction: How Trump's Disastrous Convention Doomed the GOP 205

21 The Summer of the Media Shill 225

22 How Donald Trump Lost His Mojo 233

23 The Unconquerable Trump 253

24 The Failure and Fury of Donald Trump 261

25 President Trump: How America Got It So Wrong 279

26 President Obama's Last Stand 289

Epilogue 295

Acknowledgments 313

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Insane Clown President: Dispatches from the 2016 Circus 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As one of the dumbfounded the day after election day i was searching for answers as to how this could have happened. It is true that this was a carefully planned move to use our democracy to put a tyrant in power. This book takes us through it from day one. Heaven help us all during the next 4 years.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Got to hand it to Taibbi... he can devestate with a witty turn of phrase.
Catharsis More than 1 year ago
Fantastic book; terrifying content. This book clearly illustrates that, for better or for worse, we did this to ourselves. Career politicians lie; the media say and do whatever they can to gain the most market share. We know this. A functioning democracy relies on an informed public. An informed public is the enemy of establishment politics. The political machine in America recognized this, and slowly ramped up their defenses into an all-out assault on public truth. The more ignorant the public is, the easier it is to manipulate to benefit the elite few on both sides of the aisle. This book exposes this whole process in irreverent detail. It forgives neither Democrat nor Republican for playing the American People against each other. Nor does it forgive the American People for being so malleable. The fact is that The United States of America is a representative democracy, so who we elect to high office is ultimately our responsibility. This book narrates how a few greedy, corrupt people hijacked what it is to be American through systemic indoctrination, polarization, and deliberate dumbing down. This backfired on both sides of Elitism when a rich, crass, unapologetic non-politician entered the fray with nothing to lose. Standard media procedure to derail this effort failed for the same reasons it had been so successful in the past; there was an assumption that respect for objective truth and a general sense of shame were universal attributes of any viable candidate. Not so for Trump. The man is immune to facts and to shame, and that won him the 2016 Presidential Election. The BS in Washington reached critical mass and collapsed in on itself, leaving Trump standing alone as the one candidate not composed entirely of said BS. Love him or hate him, admire him or fear him, he alone held that distinction, and that was the criteria of success after 30+ years of oozing putrescence masquerading as leadership in Washington. This book is not for Liberals; it is not for Conservatives. It is for Americans. And it is well worth the read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nothing "new", just a repackage of columns written during the campaign.
tilyas89 More than 1 year ago
I picked this book up because I needed political commentary written in the A.D. age. No not 2017 AD. AD as in After Donald. This has been such a ground shaking election cycle that what was written before must be updated to account for the present. Prophetic voices, largely ignored like Matt Taibbi, Chris Hedges, and others warned about an unseen movement spreading throughout the USA. Americans have been sinking into a cynical, increasingly desperate mental state. With our lives being stolen from us because of corporate greed in reality, we've retreated into bubbles of fantastical thinking. Trump took the seething disgust with mainstream political parties and media, along with our endless appetite for sensationalism and "Kardashian" type of news and did something amazing. He single handedly beat over a dozen Republican stooges, well funded by oligarchs, and also triumphed over the Clinton juggernaut, all while being uniformly condemned by almost every media outlet, paper or digital, and party members from across the spectrum. The Donald turned the presidental campaign into the biggest, most disgusting, most sensational reality TV show in the world. And we all made it happen. From the media's insatiable appetite for Donald and the ratings he gave them, to the betrayal of America by mainstream politicians, to the desperate, fantasy drunk, cynical population of America, we all played a part. The book elucidates this in biting commentary. Often both sobering and humorous at the same time, I found myself torn as to whether to laugh or cry as you follow the author through the election cycle as it happened and see how this unlikely present became possible. It is an extremely easy and entertaining read and you won't regret getting it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Taibbi has written lots of truth in this book covering the 2016 presidential campaign. Funny and insightful.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mysteries Explained! While most of us, even the "experts", were shocked and dismayed by the outcome of the 2016 Election, this book make sense of it. Even Matt Taibbi, a seasoned observer, admits he didn't see this coming! But the he goes on to give a concise analyses as to how it all came together to produce an unexpected result. All the players and the parts they played are thoroughly explained: the GOP Candidates; the clueless Democratic Party hierarchy; the ignorant voting populace and, of course, the antiquated and faulty Electoral College System, which repeatedly has produced bizarre results. Of course, Trump is cited over and over again, but he could not have done it without the above mentioned players and the the assistance of the corporate mainstream media. Maybe, just MAYBE, there will be a lesson learned from this. But the damage done is ongoing and will be big ......, REALLY big!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Free sample this person cannot write a decent word.