Before writing Devil’s Bargain (Penguin Press, $27) author Joshua Green labeled Steve Bannon “the most dangerous political operative in America.” Now, in his authoritative, readable new book, Green explains just how a bombastic right-wing political extremist bent on “disrupting” the status quo became the most influential strategist behind the campaign and presidency of Donald Trump. Green looks at Bannon’s roots, political and cultural sensibilities, previous ventures (successful and not), and of course… follows the money. Bannon’s rise and his access to financiers who share his extreme views is a cautionary tale, and essential reading one year into the Trump presidency.
Extending her ground-breaking work on emotional values to the political sphere, the renowned sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild made ten extended visits to the Louisiana bayou region between 2011 and 2016. There she met with some sixty supporters of the Tea Party. Her goal wasn’t to argue, debate, or change minds—she wanted simply to get a sense of white conservatives’ feelings about current issues, especially those relating to the environment. Strangers in Their Own Land (New Press, $27.95) is her vivid and illuminating report of these discussions, which ranged from fracking to fish fries, sinkholes to Fox News. Viewing the Tea Party as “a culture” not just a politics, Hochschild strove to scale the “empathy wall” that divides people of different beliefs and to understand The Great Paradox: what makes those most in need of government assistance vote against it? Why, in the second poorest state, where 44% of the budget comes from federal funds, where the land and water have been ravaged by petrochemical and other industries, are people so avidly against federal regulation? It’s not that no one notices or cares about these problems; part of it is that they look to their own tight-knit communities for the kind of support progressives expect from the government. Other parts are more complicated, and Hochschild, a keen and respectful listener, lets these local leaders, current and retired factory workers, long-time farmers, Pentecostals, and many more, have their say. And when she returns home, she begins to see Berkeley through their eyes.
In Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (Doubleday, $29.95), Jane Mayer, an accomplished investigative journalist for The New Yorker, explores how right-wing billionaires, most notably David and Charles Koch, have shrewdly, systematically, and ruthlessly influenced such major centers of power in America as political institutions, academic establishments, courts, think tanks, and foundations. Drawing on court records, extensive interviews, and many private archives, Mayer traces how these enormously wealthy individuals with extreme libertarian views have furthered an agenda that has fortified their own corporate and political interests at the expense of meaningful financial, environmental, and labor reform. Mayer’s book contributes significantly to public understanding of the dark money that is tainting America’s political process, civic life, and democratic values.