This grippingly intimate and heart-breaking book provides a portrait of the walking wounded who make up the base of the Trump movement. Desperate and angry, these are the Americans of the vanishing industrial heartland, depressed Appalachian coal country, and the no-man's land along the Southwestern border. These are coal miners, out of work construction workers, and small business owners, who have watched their fortunes dwindle with each passing year. They have no illusions about the grandstanding billionaire and his glaring flaws. But these men and women feel forgotten and screwed over by political, corporate and media elites...and they feel that Donald Trump, despite his flamboyant demagoguery, might well be their last chance for salvation. Reminiscent of Studs Terkel's Working, with a dash of Hunter S. Thompson, Alexander Zaitchik in this important book takes us deeper into the ravaged soul of America than any other chronicler of our times.
Selected as one of Publishers Weekly's Top Ten picks for Politics & Current Events of Fall 2016
Praise for Alexander Zaitchik's Common Sense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance:
“A sharp and informative smackdown. For Zaitchik, [Glenn] Beck is just one more American con artist in the P.T. Barnum tradition, a shameless pseudoconservative bottom-feeder who will say anything to keep the spotlight on himself while the money rolls in.”
—Mark Lilla, The New York Review of Books
“A sensational book... This is a beautifully written and insightful biography—thoughtful, considered, and very intentional about the need to understand Beck both as a symbol of something larger going on in America and as a person.”
—Susan Gardner, Daily Kos
“A scathing profile that follows the powerful pundit from a single-parent home in rural Washington state to conservative superstardom.”
—The Boston Globe
“A great political book. Zaitchik tells [Beck’s story] well and nobody has told it more soberly.”
“An informative study.”
—Sean Wilentz, The New Yorker
“A gripping and thoroughly researched biography.”
—Joe Conason, Salon
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Trudging the sidewalks of Fountain Hills, it was easy to fall in emotionally with the parade of Trump supporters. No one was happy about walking three miles in the sun. Wearing weather-inappropriate jeans and socks, I was maybe unhappiest of all. I knew my near future involved chafed thighs and ointments, and this knowledge put me in tune with the chorus of conservative complaint: Liberals don't have any arguments, so they block traffic. ... This is what welfare people do — make chaos and ruin the weekends of people who work for a living.... I heard it was mostly Latinos that blocked the road — why didn't the police stop them when they drove in?
It was a fair question: What's the point of passing the nation's gold standard in Nurembergian racial-profiling legislation if you can't prevent a caravan of activists from wreaking havoc in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's own damn suburb?
On Saturday morning, four days before the March 22 Arizona primary, protestors formed a blockade of parked cars on the road leading to an outdoor Trump rally co-starring Arpaio and former governor Jan Brewer, the state's twin icons of the immigration hardline. Arpaio's deputies towed the cars and arrested three anti-Trump protestors. They then blockaded both entrances to the adobe-themed Scottsdale suburb of Fountain Hills, turning back cars and directing everyone to park along the sandy blacktop shoulders of Highway 87. The resulting migration looked like the parking lot trek to a desert music festival, maybe one that culminated in the symbolic burning of a giant wooden Mexican.
Early into the walk I met Danny Riggs, an affable Scottsdale native, Trump supporter, and recent Georgetown University graduate. Riggs was twice angry: about having to walk in the heat to hear his candidate speak, but more about his mother, a Fountain Hills resident whose home had been enclosed by protestors and police blockades all morning. The inconvenience, he said, had accomplished something the team efforts of her son and husband could not. It had pushed Mrs. Riggs into Trump's camp. "My mom wasn't sure about him before all this, but now she's into it," he told me. "She's getting a T-shirt and everything."
I told him there was debate on the left about the ethics and strategy of trying to shut down Trump events. Some veteran activists said roadblocks and shout-downs were right and necessary expressions of dissent against nascent fascism; others found them contrary to principle and ultimately counterproductive. "Oh, guaranteed," said Riggs, the protests would only bring in more recruits like his mother.
"The protestors say Trump is dividing the country, but they're the ones stopping us from exercising our rights. We came to see a conversation. Now we're an hour late. Trump's late. We're walking two and half miles. My car's parked on the freeway. A group of protestors blocks you in your own home? I'm not saying 'violence', but I'm sorry, you'd be shot for that in a lot of states."
It's not clear if Riggs meant "states" as in the Nutmeg State, or nation states. Before I could clarify, Trump's motorcade rolled past us toward the rally grounds. At its center was the black SUV containing the candidate and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, fresh from a live-audience recording of Fox News' Hannity at the Phoenix Convention Center. Arpaio had joined them onstage, but left early to oversee rally security in Fountain Hills. (Two months later, in response to the anti-Trump protest, Ducey would sign a bill increasing penalties for blocking access to a campaign event.)
"There they go," said Riggs, gesturing at the motorcade. "That's them, if you want to tape it, or something."
I dutifully held up my phone and took a picture, but the only thing worth recording about Trump's Arizona limousine was the backseat conversation he shared during his visit with Arpaio, the celebrity sadist-avatar of his immigration platform, whose eighty-three-year-old grip, Arizonans had begun to murmur, ain't what it used to be. Did Sheriff Joe, serving a sixth term on the slimmest electoral margin of his career, coach Trump on how to navigate the demographic winds and federal boulders that menace the highways and back-ways of immigrant bashing? Did he share Cosmo-style tips on How to Arouse the Fiery Maricopa County Republican Lurking Inside Every Moderate East Coast Retiree? More likely, the student had become master and Trump had nothing to learn from Arpaio.
If the candidate needed any tutorials from his Arizona friends, it was help in understanding why everyone kept bringing up that dead Arizona senator with the Jewish name, the one with the thick glasses, who once dropped a Trump-sized turd in the Establishment punch bowl, sending packing Nelson Rockefeller, the Jeb Bush of his day, only to get crushed by the Democrat in November, because everyone pretty much agreed his election would set in motion events culminating in a global thermonuclear holocaust.
The ghost of Goldwater haunted Trump as his caravan entered the view of Arpaio's snipers. Both the widow and son of the legendary conservative had recently unloaded on the candidate in the media, calling him a "cowboy" and an "authoritarian." But those were genteel put-downs next to the protest signs greeting Trump in Fountain Hills Park, not a few of which invoked Hitler by name. A fenced-off rally area was set up near an artificial lake featuring the giant geyser that gives Fountain Hills its name. Between it and the rest of the rolling, sixty-acre park, a long white wedding tent shaded dozens of police in tactical vests. Above it all in a sky of cloudless blue hovered enough police choppers to monitor an uprising in a major city.
I arrived at the park in a sweat, just as Trump took the podium, his voice dying against a white noise of dueling chants. The loudest duel had Trump fans screaming "U-S-A!" against protestors screaming "Trump Is Hate!" The three-syllable scream-offs mixed menace with a comic undercurrent, as the scene called to mind the classic Miller Lite showdown ... "Taste Great! Less Filling!" Roving packs of pros and antis grew and shrank as people gathered, drifted off, and took breaks after going hoarse. Some of the screaming contests winnowed into dyads, leaving two people so far in each other's faces they looked more likely to French than fight. Amplified snatches of Trump's speech poked through: Build the wall ... End Common Core ... Smart trade ... George Patton ... End Obamacare ... The CEO will call me in ten minutes ... Rebuild our military ... Win with the military ... Winning ... So much winning ...
Throughout Trump's speech, passions, including what felt like a hot and burning hatred, rose, spread. Was this going to be The Day? The kind of day remembered as Bloody Saturday, or the Arizona Beer Commercial Riots? The biggest story in the country was the atmosphere of violence that had defined Trump's recent campaign events. Not a week before, an event in Chicago had been cancelled after street scuffles broke out. Rumors swirled of a nascent Trump militia called the Lion's Guard, raising the prospect of Trump brown shirts retailored in Red, White, and Blue. But there were ghosts closer to home than Nazi Germany, such as the American Legion gangs who attacked left-wing activists and union halls during the Great Depression, and later acted as muscle for the "Americanism" movement of Joe McCarthy. Fountain Hills seemed too posh a venue for knuckle politics, but this was Arizona, a border state where immigration is personal. There were pieces in place for some kind of mayhem. Both sides had numbers. There was plenty of space. The police were hanging back. A bloody afternoon brawl felt possible.
The pot steamed and never boiled. After the speech, Trump supporters drifted off with more chants and parting comments, including, "Go back to Mexico" and the "The entitlements office is that way." But drift off they did. One guy who'd been bellowing "U-S-A!" at the top of his lungs in protestors' faces walked over to his antagonists and said quietly before leaving, "You guys do know that you're fucking idiots, right?" Some of the scream-offs cooled into something resembling conversations. I saw two men go from the brink of fisticuffs to a bonding session over their shared revulsion for Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton.
Later that afternoon a similar script played out in Tucson, Trump's final Arizona event before the voting: road blockade, chanting, confrontations, chest bumping, but no blood. That protest may have minted a few more Trump supporters like Danny Rigg's mom. After returning from the rally, a black Tucson police officer named Brandon Tatum posted a public video chastising protestors for being aggressive and "hateful" toward rally goers. Tatum's video threw fuel on the Left's smoldering in-house debate over how to protest Trump, how and whether to engage his supporters, and the ethics and efficacy of trying to stop his events from taking place altogether.
* * *
On Monday, the day before the primary, I took a long city bus ride up Cave Creek Road, passing roughly seven hundred sad strip malls, to Trump's Arizona headquarters. The operation was located in a two-story office complex set behind a McDonald's on the bleak outskirts of North Phoenix. It wasn't much: two modest rooms with a dozen two-person tables for phone banking. The scene was quiet, the energy flat. The campaign staff were in their early to mid-twenties, mostly from outside the state. The volunteers averaged a few decades older, mostly over fifty and all white, with the exception of a tiny Latina woman who came with her husband, a tall taciturn fellow in a cowboy hat.
I had come to get a feel for Trump's Arizona operation, such as it was. A preppy-shaggy male staffer from New Orleans set me up with a headset and call-list. "Just try and stick to the script and let me know if you have problems with the system," he said, in a friendly but dickish manner suggesting the former presidency of a large Southern fraternity.
Arizona is a closed primary, so I spent the day telling registered Republicans about the importance of voting for Donald Trump, "the only candidate who will put America first." Most people I spoke with had already voted early for Trump. A few hung up on hearing Trump's name, but not many. One woman sounded to be trembling in anger when she said, "I will never vote for that man." One guy said he wanted to like Trump, but was deeply troubled over the candidate's breach with his favorite Fox News personalities. "Listen," he told me. "You need to sit down with your candidate and tell him he needs to straighten up and fly right. He's way off base going after Megyn Kelly."
For several hours, I shared a table with Lynn, a talky sixty-something New York transplant in khakis and a yacht club polo shirt. She knew Trump was going to win Arizona, but worried about establishment shenanigans behind the scenes. "Who is counting the votes?" she said. "That's the question. I don't trust John McCain. He's a snake." She didn't trust the media, either, and was curious to gauge my knowledge of anti-Islam sentiment in Europe. "The French just had another huge protest against the Muslims. They don't want 'em. But you didn't hear about it in the media. It's like a communist country!"
At lunchtime, a Domino's deliveryman walked in carrying a stack of pizzas, care of the campaign. As he entered the room, Lynn demanded to know if she could count on his vote on Tuesday. "Well, uh, I'm really more of a Bernie guy," he stammered, setting down the pizzas and backing slowly away like someone who'd just taken a wrong turn into the egg chamber in Alien. Lynn jumped. "A Bernie guy! So the pizzas must be free, right? I hope nobody paid for these pizzas." The joke met with silence, so she loudly explained it. "Get it? They're communist pizzas, so you don't have to pay for them. You just get them for free."
Lynn left after lunch and was replaced by Gracie, a subdued soccer mom type who spoke in a whisper that made everything sound like a secret. "You know, this Cuba trip?" she said to me in a hush between calls. "Obama taking his whole family to Cuba? He says his daughters are interested in this and that, but you know it's just another vacation. That's all it is." Later, she asked me if I knew that Obama was trying to give himself an eighteen percent raise. "Can you believe it? A raise for all ex-presidents. For the rest of their lives. Trump won't need to do that," she said. "He's already rich."
The next morning, primary day, I went back for the final push. Terrorists had just bombed the airport and a street corner in Brussels, and I expected to find the room buzzing with talk of tactical nukes and mushroom clouds forming over territory controlled by the Islamic State. During an interview with the Washington Post the previous morning, Trump had refused to rule out going nuclear. But nobody at Trump's Phoenix HQ seemed to care or even know about the Brussels attacks. At the coffee and donut station, the volunteers, now including a young black woman named Toni, were still talking about Saturday's rally in Fountain Hills. My tablemate, a retired advertising executive from Chicago named Nancy, remained in shock over the lack of mass arrests. "I can't believe they didn't arrest them all," she said. "They just towed the cars away! I took pictures of the protestors and offered them to the police. They did nothing. To be honest with you, I was a little surprised at Sheriff Joe."
Nancy had ideas of her own for making America great again. "I think people should have to pay an income tax to vote," she told me. "Except maybe old people. Maybe they're too poor or whatever." She also prided herself as being something of an amateur historian. Trump's recent speech to The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) had been a tour de force, she said, but little-known historical forces ensured it would be lost on American Jews. "I did a study," she explained. "I used to be confused that my Jewish friends were so liberal. So I researched it. It's because back in the 1880s, after all the pogroms, the Jewish industrialists, Guggenheim and Singer and guys like that, they funded all these kibbutzes in Israel, which were communist. And now, people still hear about it from their grandparents."
It was around then that I excused myself, thanked the staffers for the coffee and donuts, and left to catch the bus downtown. Waiting at the bus stop, in the bright heat of the Arizona afternoon, I found myself staring longingly at a dive across the street. The hand-painted sign on the wall commanded me: "Be Wise, Socialize ... At Larry's. Relax, Bring A Friend If You Have One." I followed the order and walked over to have a much-needed drink. The place was mostly empty; a klatch of older day drinkers sat glumly at one end of the bar. On the other side, my side, sat a large, tatted up, bandannaed man in his thirties with a beer gut and a goatee. His sleeveless leather biker jacket read "Independent Wounded Veteran" in gang script across the back; a patch on the front read, "Heroes don't wear capes, they wear dog tags."
The TV in the corner had on news about the election. I pointed at the screen. "You got a dog in this fight?"
"Trump. I voted for Trump," he said. "He doesn't have a bazillion different backers funding his shit. We need to bring big business back and not outsource so much. Every time Trump opens his mouth it helps him. He's not scared of putting his foot in it. He is able to say, 'You know what, I might not have said it the right way, but this is what I want to do.' I like that he isn't sure if he wants to be a Republican or a Democrat. Who cares? He's got something to bring to the table, and enough testicular fortitude to do it. I like that he's got balls and he's willing to take a chance. Not taking a chance hasn't worked too well."
Over a few rounds of Bud Light, I learned that the man, a native Phoenician named Anthony Holston, had a special issue: the Veterans Health Administration. Veterans' issues drove his vote the way guns or taxes drove other voters. A disabled Army vet, Holston had served in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq, where he was wounded by an RPG and took two bullets. He returned to Phoenix from Baghdad in 2005 plagued by a raft of chronic physical and psychological injuries, including PTSD. The most important institution in Holston's life was the local VA hospital. He had no love for the politicians who sent him to war only to come back to what he described as a dysfunctional and underfunded VA system.
When Trump criticized John McCain — Arizona's seeming senator for life and famed Vietnam POW — for not being a "hero," pundits in D.C. thought it a mortal error that spelled game-over for his insurgency. But in Arizona biker bars like Larry's, it helped lock up the votes of vets dependent on Arizona's scandal-plagued VA system. Trump may be an overgrown New York rich kid who dodged Vietnam like the rest of his brat pack, but no candidate talks more about veterans' issues. Holston jolted to attention when he heard Trump bluntly state vets were "living in hell." He'd never heard a candidate say that before. It was a fact both true and personal. Holston's younger brother, Dominick, killed himself after he returned from Iraq with PTSD.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Gilded Rage"
Copyright © 2016 Alexander Zaitchik.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: "Who Are These People?" 1
Chapter 1 Arizona 9
Chapter 2 Wisconsin 27
Chapter 3 Pennsylvania 45
Chapter 4 West Virginia 65
Chapter 5 New Mexico 83
Chapter 6 California 105