American Carnage : On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump by Tim Alberta (2019, Harper)
I felt like I needed a shower after reading this book. Not because of the actions of President Trump, but because of the presentation of the writer.
It’s a piece of solid journalism, written from the perspective of a Republican-friendly reporter. He does not overly speculate. He does not make up facts, and he makes a serious effort to present multiple sides of an issue where there are different perspectives. What makes it so unpleasant, to me, is the viewpoint that is found within the pages.
The message I got from the book is simple: President Trump is correct in what he does… because he won. If he had been wrong, he would have lost.
The book does not hide any of Trump’s failings. It presents him as a venal, vengeful, petty man who took advantage of internal conflicts within the Republican party. It makes clear that Trump has shifted the party away from its roots and its history. The author simply doesn’t seem to care.
The result is a book which will offend some die-hard Trump supporters, but will be a breath of fresh air to those who rabidly defend every action he takes while simultaneously insisting they disagree with his positions. It is a book of utter capitulation, a declaration that the Republican party stands only for a letter.
I can appreciate the work which went into the interviews, and the effort to get as many people central to the internal Republican frictions of the early 2010s on the record about how the fractures occurred. The author carefully pieces together a timeline and presents details corroborated by testimony of those who were present. I would recommend it only to those who are curious about studying the Republican party in a historical light, however, and I would certainly not recommend giving the author any money for his work. If you have a local library, this book would be a solid incentive to spend some time there. Just make sure your shower is working for after you get through with it.
Mage by Matt Wagner (2019, Image)
Mage is a comic book series broken into three segments of fifteen issues. It is told in story arcs; The Hero Discovered, The Hero Defined, and The Hero Denied. Each book is written and illustrated by Matt Wagner, with some aid with inking, coloring, lettering and editing. They are effectively solo projects, or as close as one can normally get to a solo project from a professional comic publisher.
The book is centered on threes. There are three story arcs, three versions of the Mage of the title, three names for every monster, and three levels for the story.
On the surface, it’s a simple story of heroism. The protagonist, Kevin Matchstick, discovers that he has immense powers, but only when he is working to actively defeat the evil monsters which secretly inhabit our world. He has a main antagonist, and he works to defeat it and its minions across the series, gaining and losing friends along the way.
On a deeper level, it’s an analysis of heroism itself. Because it is constructed that way, there are philosophical conversations scattered throughout the series. Issue 14 of the first arc consists entirely of a discussion about motivation and the value of sacrifice, and it works perfectly as the natural culmination of the story to that point. It underscores the notion that the series is about thought as much as action.
On a deeper level still, it’s a arc about personal development. The main character began the series in the early 1980s (there was a long gap between each story arc) as a man with no purpose in life and who was convinced that nothing mattered. He ends it (the final issue in the final arc was released a couple of months ago) with a conviction of the value of life and family, with his reward the general equivalent of “the American Dream”: a loving family consisting of a wife, a son, a daughter, a cat, a new house, a new car, and looking forward to finding a job.
The series is about as positive an outlook on life as can be found in the pages of superhero comics while maintaining a strong grip on rational philosophy. I strongly recommend it, particularly as something to pass along to teenagers.