Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country

Since November 2016, many Americans have asked "What the hell just happened to our country?" Steve Almond answers: Bad Stories. Americans embrace cultural delusions, he writes, settling for entertainment: "Bad stories arise from an unwillingness to take reality seriously." In 16 pithy essays distilled from years of study, Almond (author of Candyfreak, Against Football and co-host of the Dear Sugars podcast) suggests we're seeing "the triumph of unseriousness."

"Elite" and "politically correct" have become insults hurled at anyone trying to discuss policy, epithets deployed to "recast moral negligence as a form of martyrdom." Bad Story #4, "Economic Anguish Fueled Trumpism," cites Trump's portrayal of minorities as predatory--Mexican rapists, Muslim sleeper cells--what Almond calls "fear of a Brown Planet." Racial resentment, rather than economic stress, was "a cause in search of a candidate." He also despairs over mainstream media, illustrating Bad Story #6, "What Amuses Us Can't Hurt Us," with a chilling example: a quote from CBS chairman Les Moonves on the "circus" of the Trump campaign, "It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS."

Almond uses literary allusions--Orwell, Bradbury, Thompson--to reflect Americans' moral downturn, and sees parallels with Moby-Dick. He likens the novel's theme--man pitted against his own nature--to the situation in 2016, and "how one man's vile bombast can ensnare everyone and everything." This slim volume ends with guarded hope. Almond stresses that resistance must include voting and demanding serious media coverage. It's our task "to dream up stories that offer a vision of the American spirit as one of kindness and decency." --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

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