Books to pop a Fox News bubble
June 24, 2020 1:42 PM   Subscribe

What books can I recommend to my father that might make him actually question his staunchly Republican, pro-Trump political stance? Middle-of-the-road stuff he might actually read, rather than "left wing trash" he would toss in disgust.

I was hoping that the ever more ridiculous statements and actions by Trump would finally make my father realize that he is not a good president for the country, but he is deeply invested in the Fox News/Rush Limbaugh ideology. The radio is constantly on conservative talk radio, the TV is always showing Fox News. He barely looks at anything else.

I am, unfortunately, particularly bad at political debate, because I can never remember specifics to back up my points.

However, dad loves to recommend political books for me to read. He clearly loves to read them himself. I though about the new Bolton book, but having scanned the beginning, I don't believe he'd keep reading it long enough to have any of his stances challenged (refers to Trump as "stunningly uninformed" on page 1).

So can anyone recommend something that's centrist, or even moderately Republican, but still points out the problems in Trump's presidency? For instance, I gave him an online and paper subscription to the National Review, a right-leaning (but not far-right) news source for his birthday last year. Whether he has read it, I don't know. I need to ask him.
posted by timepiece to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
It seems like he is a little “on guard” about anti-Trump stuff already. Is he a general interest reader who would pick up books you recommend that sound interesting but that aren’t about Trump or politics? If so, it might be more effective to come at him sideways with books that sound appealing to a GOPer but end up complicating their worldview. Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer is about Pat Tillman’s life and death, but also about how patriotic soundbites like “NFL player enlists after 9/11 and is killed in war” are never the full story.
posted by sallybrown at 2:06 PM on June 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'd play a longer game than one book. I'd give him The Limits of Power by Andrew Bacevich, which is a pretty sobering look at some of our national political failures going back to the Carter Administration. It was published late in the Bush years so it doesn't much touch Obama OR Trump, but that is a good thing for your purposes.

It is philosophically and fiscally conservative which means that it is deeply critical of American imperialist adventurism AND of a rapacious domestic consumer economy which demands such an empire. If you can get him hooked on Bacevich, I think that will be a good, somewhat lower-stakes entry point for him to re-evaluate some of the conservative nostrums that are lurking in the background, and you may be able to take it from there.
posted by gauche at 2:08 PM on June 24, 2020 [10 favorites]

Everything Trump Touches Dies: A Republican Strategist Gets Real About the Worst President Ever by Rick Wilson, which I haven't read because I'm not really interested in Republican retconning or strategizing, but which fits what you're asking for. The term that applies to Rick Wilson and probably other people who write the sort of stuff you want is "Never Trumper". Other NeverTrumpers I know about are Tom Nichols, Bill Kristol, David Frum.
posted by foxfirefey at 2:14 PM on June 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

You have a couple of suggestions above, but you might also consider structuring this a little differently -- for example, a book club approach wherein you both read the same book and then discuss it, or a tit-for-tat, as in he recommends a book for you and you recommend one for him and you both must read them. You might get him to read a Trump-critical book if you, yourself, have to take some medicine, too.
posted by woot at 2:26 PM on June 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

The Economist, a well-respected publication, might have some good book recommendations.
posted by Melismata at 2:37 PM on June 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Couple comments deleted. OP is asking for book recommendations specifically - so if you don't think there is such a book or don't have a book/reading/etc recommendation, please just skip the thread. Thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:41 PM on June 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

I agree with the first poster about the sideways approach. Perhaps something narrative instead of analytical?

I'm not sure why this came to me while reading your question, since it's from 1961 and about race, but Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin is a great book about a white man traveling in disguise as a black man through the South (he used a number of chemicals to achieve the effect). I read it a while ago, and found it relevant to today's world. Besides its tight storytelling, it contains plenty of political observations. Here is a Guardian article about it and below an excerpt that could be taken as an indirect critique of Fox News.

«...the most obscene figures are not the ignorant ranting racists, but the legal minds who front for them, who "invent" for them the legislative proposals and the propoganda bulletins. They deliberately choose to foster distortions, always under the guise of patriotism, upon a people who have no means of checking the facts.» (Black Like Me)
posted by kolendra at 2:41 PM on June 24, 2020

You might leaf through back episodes of Jonah Goldberg’s podcast, The Remnant, and look for authors he’s interviewed. Goldberg is a Fox consultant and authentic old-school conservative. He also sees Trump as the shitshow that he is, and regularly bristles at the Republican party line’s brazen hypocrisy. His positions are sometimes offensive, but he’s not nuts.
posted by jon1270 at 2:43 PM on June 24, 2020

Dignity, by Chris Arnade, might appeal. It's primarily a profile of people "left behind," but Arnade is strongly critical of the entire spectrum of the political establishment, both right and left, so it might reduce his dogmatism.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 2:47 PM on June 24, 2020

Best answer: Ben Sasse, the Republican Senator from Nebraska, wrote a book called The Vanishing American Adult, whose thesis is that both sides are increasingly infantile. It’s probably a little too both-sides-y for liberal readers, but for a conservative, it should hit the spot. There’s a lot of criticism not just of Trump, but of the dynamics that led to him.

I also generally recommend Rod Dreher for anti-Trump conservatism. I don’t have a specific book in this case, but all of his books are examples of a mostly friendly, calm, and anti-demagogue traditional conservatism. More about tone than content.
posted by kevinbelt at 3:02 PM on June 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

Trevor Noah's Born A Crime might be another way in, if he doesn't see Noah's name and immediately assume it's "left-wing trash" on author alone. It's about growing up in South Africa, but I think it brings our own issues with racism (especially now) into the foreground in ways your father might not have considered.
posted by Mchelly at 3:03 PM on June 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Is he the kind of guy who holds a lot of respect for the military? Mattis's recent article in the Atlantic Monthly might be a short starting point.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 3:10 PM on June 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Agreed on the long game. Try out The Man They Wanted Me to Be and Dying of Whiteness. Neither are written from the conservative POV, but they're both written for it. The former sneaks under guard as memoir, from someone raised in a conservative milieu; the latter is well-supplied with statistics and graphs showing its harm.
posted by jocelmeow at 4:29 PM on June 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I asked for books, specifically, because his birthday is coming up and I can give them as a gift. Pointing to an online article or podcast is not going to work. He's actually a pretty big reader, and reads books by right-wing authors often.

I see a few I can work with. I really want something recent, that will specifically call out some of Trump's actions. I'm not trying to turn him into a Democrat or an Independent, I just want him to consider that Trump is not the best hope of the Republican party.
posted by timepiece at 5:44 PM on June 24, 2020

Best answer: Ross Douthat's The Decadent Society is really good. Your dad might agree with its general picture of society—"[a] combination of wealth and technological proficiency with economic stagnation, political stalemates, cultural exhaustion, and demographic decline"—and be open to Douthat's identification of what brought it there, which include failures on all sides of the political spectrum (as well as in the fundamental structures of our government, the developed world, and modern life). It's a serious book written from a conservative perspective without drawing from the really shallow MAGA or #NeverTrump wells where cable news lives.

Douthat himself is a Republican who—10+ years ago, with Reihan Salam—wrote "Grand New Party", a book that identified a lot of the weaknesses in the pre-Trump Republican party and proposed some solutions that... well, suffice it to say the world would be in a better place if they had gone that route instead of the other one. I bring this up because he's an anti-Trump Republican who isn't just pining for the immediately-pre-Trump party, and who recognizes a lot of the deficiencies that allowed Trump to win the GOP primaries; as a result he might seem more honest and be more compelling to your dad than a lot of his peers.
posted by Polycarp at 6:01 PM on June 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

Your father might be more open to more historical views that are still relevant today but since they aren't dealing with contemporary politician are possibly less likely to get his hackles up.

The Paranoid Style in American Politics is a classic. On Tyranny might be a bit too left wing, but an actual historical look at facism might put things in perspective. I would also suggest On Bullshit, which has nothing really to do with politics, but might also give perspective.
posted by brookeb at 6:54 PM on June 24, 2020

Jonathan Haidt has a couple of books that might be useful to demonstrate why people have different views on things. It's not that people are stupid, it's that we look at the world differently and we lock ourselves in bubbles. I would point out, very strongly, that by reading only right leaning authors, he's locking himself into one point of view and guaranteeing that's he's wrong about 50% of the time.

Of the three below I've read the first and last. The Righteous Mind was excellent and my main suggestions. The Happiness Hypothesis was more about humans and general also an excellent read. I also think that the metaphor of elephant and the rider is fantastic. It's essentially the idea that the conscious mind is like a rider on an elephant, the elephant is the one in control but the rider thinks it's control and makes it appear so by concocting stories to justify the elephant's actions.

The Coddling of the American Mind is on my reading list but haven't gotten there yet. I trust Haidt enough to recommend it anyway and your Dad will probably love it based on the title.

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012)
The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure
The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom (2006)
posted by Awfki at 6:31 AM on June 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Since people have already suggested your David Frums and Rick Wilsons, here are a couple more left-field (but not left-wing) suggestions:

Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump Sportswriter Rick Reilly talks about how Trump's cheating at golf is a microcosm of his cheating at everything

Plaintiff in Chief: A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3,500 lawsuits Lawyer James D. Zirin, a moderate Republican (he makes a point of saying he voted for Reagan and both Bushes), explains how Trump's litigiousness is a microcosm of his wanting to be above the law
posted by box at 7:19 AM on June 25, 2020

Best answer: Along the lines that gauche suggests, how about Tom Nichols, The Death of Expertise?

"From the beginning, discussion of The Death of Expertise was inextricably bound up with Donald Trump. The book appeared less than six months after the upheaval of the 2016 election, and barely three months into the new presidency, and it seemed to have been composed with Trump in mind: a man, Nichols wrote, who quoted The National Enquirer as a reliable source of news, traded in conspiracy theories, and remained willfully and persistently uninformed about basic issues of public policy...In fact, though, the book was all but finished by the time the election took place, and explicit mention of the winner comes only in its final pages, which were written after the rest of the book went to press. The Death of Expertise diagnoses a malady decades in the making, for which Trump represents only one case, albeit perhaps its most famous and extreme. “I didn’t know ahead of time that Trump was going to happen,” Nichols says now, “but I knew that someday something like him would.”"
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:52 PM on June 25, 2020

Another: Michael Lewis' 'The Fifth Risk,' in which the guy who got famous writing about the stock market and baseball takes a deep dive into federal bureaucracy.
posted by box at 4:40 AM on June 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Full disclosure regarding the following book: (a) I haven't read it, and (b) I know the author, so I'm biased. But it seems to fit what you're looking for so perfectly that I'm going to suggest you check it out:

Gaslighting America. It's by Amanda Carpenter, who is Ted Cruz's former communications director. She's also worked for Jim DeMint, and her previous book was an anti-Hillary-Clinton book. She has impeccable ultra-conservative credentials, and she has been outspoken against Trump from the beginning. Maybe her book will convince your dad and maybe it won't, but there's no way he can dismiss it as "left wing trash."
posted by yankeefog at 7:05 AM on June 26, 2020

I think the idea of giving your father this type of book is excellent, but can I ask you to reconsider the plan to present it as a birthday gift? The occasion of a birthday should be a chance to sincerely think about what would give the other person pleasure, not to try to turn them into someone you would like better. The recipient can (usually) tell when a gift is actually a hint to them to change, and it stings. Give your father a real gift for his birthday, and save the hint for a neutral day.
posted by kelper at 12:45 AM on June 27, 2020

Response by poster: kelper, my father once gave me a diet book for Christmas. I don't feel particularly bad trying to nudge his political beliefs in a more sane direction. And he adores reading political books, so I am keeping his likes in mind. It's not like I'm giving him stuff diametrically opposed to his beliefs. I'm just trying to get him to apply some critical thinking to a single person's actions.
posted by timepiece at 6:34 AM on June 30, 2020

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