Amid all the ranting, Michiko Kakutani’s articulate and rational voice is a great relief. The Death of Truth (Tim Duggan, $22) doesn’t just argue that facts are different from opinions, that words have meanings, that reality and truth exist—it proves it by drawing on a wide range of historic and cultural touchstones. From the Founders and Lincoln to writers including Arendt, Orwell, Huxley, David Foster Wallace, and others, Kakutani taps expertise to trace the cultural and political roots of today’s resurgence of populism and demagoguery. “Trump is as much a symptom of the times as he is a dangerous catalyst,” she reminds us, and demonstrates how his disdain for facts, civility, and any perspective other than his own grew from both fascism and postmodernism. She cites chilling parallels between his use of language and Hitler’s, and shows how ideas such as cultural relativity and deconstruction—originally propounded by left-wing academics to subvert master narratives—softened the lines between objective and subjective. Where the founders emphasized “the common good,” the very idea of consensus is now in tatters. What can save us? Institutions such as the three branches of government, the press, and education; the courage to insist on the truth, as the Parkland students have; and books like this one.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright knows a thing or two about what it means to be free—and what it feels like when freedom gets taken away. So who better than Secretary Albright to alert us to the perils of demagogues who assault trusted democratic institutions and show contempt for the rule of law? And who better to alert us to the risks of being complacent in response? Secretary Albright was a child when her family was twice driven from their home in Czechoslovakia, first by the Nazis, then after World War II by an aggressive Communist regime. In 1948, her family came to the United States, where she finished her schooling, raised three daughters, entered public service, and became one of the leading voices shaping U.S. foreign policy. In her sixth and latest book, Fascism—A Warning (Harper, $27.99), she draws on her personal and diplomatic experiences, and examples of despots from the last century—and now—to explain why in the Trump era we shouldn’t be lulled into a false confidence that the United States is immune to a disturbing worldwide trend. If you think it can’t happen here, think again.
Rebecca Solnit’s new collection of essays will inspire, wreck, and revitalize you. From satirical takes on Donald Trump (the stuff that has to be laughed at, or you’d cry) to somber pieces on the consequences of gentrification, police shootings, and wrongful convictions, there is an essay in Call Them By Their True Names (Haymarket, $15.95) for everyone and every mood. Instead of coming away with unadulterated rage and a sense of injustice, you genuinely think, what I do matters—and I have to do more. Notable essays include “Preaching to the Choir,” “Monument Wars,” and “In Praise of Indirect Consequences,” as they encourage us to not despair—which you can find yourself doing just by reading the news—but to appreciate the small gains for the foundation they could someday be. Find comfort in Solnit’s words, and let them rouse you to care and to action.