As noted yesterday, the hardworking staff here at Spoiler Alerts will be taking a social media siesta while partaking in a writing residency. That doesn’t mean reading is off the table, however — far from it!
I am bringing many books with me on this sojourn. Many of them are tomes that I would not recommend to those fortunate souls outside the academy. The following three books, however, all look as if they will be quite interesting to all readers, and they seem super-relevant, given that we are still in the early, chaotic days of the Trump administration:
1. Jan-Werner Müller, “What is Populism?” It’s populism’s moment in the sun, although the term itself is open to contested interpretations and might not be as prevalent as many believe it to be. Müller’s extremely well-timed, elegant book explores the concept in an accessible way. His principal insight — that populists despise pluralism — goes a long way toward explaining how and why President Trump does not like criticism from any quarter. The Post’s Carlos Lozada reviewed this book a few months ago and concluded, “Anyone imagining a Trump presidency would do well to consult Müller’s text, which describes populism’s governing playbook.” So that’s what I’m going to do.
2. Tom Nichols, “The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters.” Experts in many fields warned the country that Trump would be a disaster of a president. Clearly, a hefty minority of the country thought otherwise. A key component of the book is that the eroding trust in expertise and authority in the United States has transformed the marketplace of ideas for good and ill. But why aren’t experts listened to anymore? I will be curious to find out what Nichols, a professor at the Naval War College, a conservative who is also the author of the greatest Twitter thread ever composed, thinks about this subject.
3. Francis Fukuyama, “Political Order and Political Decay.” I’ve read a lot of international relations scholarship debating the biggest threats to U.S. hegemony since the end of the Cold War. I’ve even written something on this subject. Some people said it would be China. Some people said a natural balancing coalition would be created. Many said that the invasion of Iraq/the 2008 financial crisis would expose America’s imperial overstretch and cause a retrenchment. Not many IR scholars anticipated an erosion of U.S. democratic institutions as a key source. But Fukuyama did — a few years before Trump. So his thoughts on the matter might be worth reading and rereading more closely.