This is American journalist Matt Taibbi’s collection of columns about covering the US Republican primary race and then the presidential election campaign of 2016. As Taibbi was writing for entertainment magazine Rolling Stone rather than for a more “serious” news outlet, there’s a breezy, informal quality to his writing that swings from dark humour to rage, without the pretense of dispassionate, objective reporting. Taibbi’s biases and emotional reactions are out there for all to see, and as the title makes it pretty clear, he’s no fan of Donald J. Trump.
No conservative is going to pick up this book, probably, because the title (and anything you know about Taibbi) so clearly screams “liberal bias,” or at least “anti-Trump bias.” But in fact, Taibbi is just as hard on the Democratic Party as on the Republicans (he appears to have been a Sanders supporter who was not impressed with the choice of Hilary Clinton as candidate), arguing that by 2016 both political parties were so completely out of touch with the concerns of most Americans that the time was ripe for a populist outsider to come along and tap into the anger and resentment of many voters. That the outsider who did so was someone as stupendously crass and ignorant as Trump is something Taibbi blames at least in part on his other target: his own peers in the media. He argues that by dumbing down news in favour of “infotainment,” mainstream media paved the way for the terrifying “post-truth” reality that America now faces. And he offers no encouraging way forward: the book ends bleakly in the aftermath of the election, with America left to reap what it has sown.
I agreed with just about everything in Insane Clown President (except the wholesale excoriation of Hilary Clinton: Taibbi is right in some of his criticisms of her and the Clinton “machine,” but there are depths to her I don’t think he appreciates and he doesn’t seem like the kind of male writer to appreciate the toll that systemic sexism takes on a woman in public life). The same things that make him angry make me angry; the same things that scare him scare me. So I guess I was kind of the ideal reader for this book, and while I can’t say it was an enjoyable read (it ranges from horrifying to depressing), Taibbi is a sparkling writer and an insightful analyst. Even amid the rage and horror he made me laugh out loud a few times, and he definitely made me think.