Excerpt from Beautiful Country Burn Again by Ben Fountain, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Beautiful Country Burn Again

Democracy, Rebellion, and Revolution

by Ben Fountain

Beautiful Country Burn Again by Ben Fountain X
Beautiful Country Burn Again by Ben Fountain
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2018, 448 pages
    Sep 2019, 448 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Renner
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There's a theory floating around Iowa these days, that showbiz is all there is. Trump's crowds, the whoops and hollers, the fizz and fury wherever he goes, this is, according to the theory, just folks coming out for the circus, wanting to see for themselves the boy with two heads, the man who can stop a cannonball with his abs of steel. Once we get down to the actual business of voting, that deadly serious business, foundation of our democracy, scourge of tyrants and so forth, reasonable people will forget the Trump nonsense and vote for a real candidate. But the theory fails to account for the fact that Trump is more about art than politics. For millions of Americans there is nothing so real as Trump's performance of himself, this spectacle of a billionaire businessman–reality TV star whose very offensiveness—the bragging, the gutter insults, the lying and whining, the blatantly racist and sexist riffs that would doom a conventional candidate—only makes him more authentic. No phony would dare do such things, just as no conventional candidate would so self-consciously ham it up for the cover of his campaign biography, as Trump did for Crippled America. It's a mug worthy of Mussolini: thrust chin, glowering eyes, operatic scowl enacting a tough-guy schtick of sternness and strength. For it to work requires buy-in by the audience, an understanding of performance as the ultimate authenticity. "It's a terrible, horrible, nasty picture," Trump said of the cover on the day of the book's release. And, as described in the same report, one book buyer "admired Mr. Trump for the candor of his facial expression, adding: 'It's just a nice scowl. It's a very well-composed picture.'"

If that photo makes some of us think of Trump as a clown and buffoon, then maybe we're the clowns and buffoons for thinking we know what's going on. There might be three or four candidates who could inspire a crowd to wait two hours in ten-degree weather, as fifteen hundred souls did for Trump on a recent night in Claremont, New Hampshire, but how many could draw thirty thousand to an open-air football stadium on a blistering summer day in Alabama, as happened for Trump last August 21 in Mobile? Thirty thousand Alabamans sweating it out for a New Yorker!

Meanwhile the Republican establishment is in meltdown mode, and Jeb, its anointed candidate, is still phoning it in like a guy who doesn't know his cell phone's dead. The papers run such headlines as "For Republicans, Fears of a Lasting Split" and "In Iowa, Battle for GOP Soul," and the National Review devoted an entire issue to the theme "Against Trump." One would think that Trump threatens a radical departure from the Republican politics we've come to know and love—that he's a force for tolerance and liberalism in the party, as opposed to a virtuoso of the very politics of paranoid rhetoric, cultural resentment, xenophobia, and racism on which the GOP has prospered for the past fifty years. To further confuse the issue, there's this, from the Times: "Manners Fit Jeb Bush, If Not an Uncouth Race,"in which Jeb's flailings are interpreted "as perhaps the last, wheezing gasp of the WASP power structure," with its political tradition, according to the Times writer, "of cordial restraint, of civil discourse, of earnest public service." Which is insane, in addition to being herniatingly funny: the WASP is as ruthless as a Comanche when his prerogative is threatened. It seems to have escaped the Times's notice that heathen Trump, destroyer of the allegedly genteel WASP, is himself as pink-cheeked WASPy as they come: Ivy League, Presbyterian, born and raised rich, made richer by plying the same world of power and privilege that's been so good to the Bushes. A Trump presidency may differ from Jeb's in matters of style and speech—there is the Bush family tradition of "kinder, gentler" verbiage, and the "compassionate conservatism" that started two wars and gutted the net worth of America's working and middle classes—but when it comes to the root politics of who holds the power, who gets the wealth?

Excerpted from Beautiful Country Burn Again by Ben Fountain. Copyright © 2018 by Ben Fountain. Excerpted by permission of Ecco. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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