"The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics & Religion at the Twilight of the American Empire"
(Reviewed by Poornima Apte JUL 4, 2008)
In his latest book, Matt Taibbi, a contributing editor to Rolling Stone, makes a compelling case as to why we need to be afraid or at the least, very worried. “We are a nation gone completely mad, blind to everything outside our borders, with our effective institutions co-opted by crooks and thieves and our citizens piddling away the last days of their influence reading sacred tracts and spinning absurd theories about the grassy knoll, WTC7, and the international Masonic conspiracy,” he writes in The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics & Religion at the Twilight of the American Empire.
To make this point, Taibbi visits with the right and left ends of the political spectrum to emphasize just how far the insanity has taken many. He joins the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio led by the controversial Pastor John Hagee. Soon Taibbi is going away on weekend church retreats literally trying to vomit out all his demons (including one for handwriting analysis). Somebody in his group even hopes she will lose weight after the exercise! The amount of delusion and propaganda that is spewed forth is simply terrifying and Taibbi recounts it all brilliantly. Of course what is most worrying Taibbi says is that once people believe so many delusions they have already come to the point where normal comprehension is lost. “It’s not merely the informational indoctrination, the constant belittling of homosexuals and atheists and Muslims and pacifists etc. that’s the issue,” he writes. “It’s that once you’ve gotten to this place, you’ve left behind the mental process that a person would need to form an independent opinion about such things.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Taibbi pokes fun at the 9-11 Truthers movement whose fundamental theory is that the Bush administration somehow engineered the horrific attacks of 9-11. In a hilarious imagined skit, Taibbi recounts what would actually have need to have transpired behind the scenes for this to be true.
The third (and last) part of the derangement, Taibbi argues, resides in our political system where politicians spend most of their time on inane matters and send pork-laden bills for passage in the middle of the night. These parts of the book also serve as wonderful reinforcements of old civics lessons and are really worth a read.
Taibbi spares no politician. In addition to the Bush administration, he forcefully skewers the Democrats in the House who were voted in after the midterm elections mostly on an anti-war wave and have done practically nothing to end the war in Iraq. “With popular discontent over the war raging, the Democratic Party still refused, technically, to come out against the war. It fudged the question of its original support for the invasion by claiming to have been misled en masse (despite the fact that a small child could have seen through Bush’s idiotic argument for the invasion back in 2002), and as for the future, it refused to make any promise to try to end the conflict.”
The Great Derangement is not without its problems. For one Taibbi writes in prose that is often angry. One could argue that he is angry for a reason and one could also reason that it is his tone that makes you sit up and take notice. Nevertheless sometimes his tone comes across as being a little too self-righteous and smug.
Taibbi also makes the argument that the sad state of derangement in the country is for the most part to be blamed on our corrupt politicians who are mostly only concerned about winning the next round of elections and their various junkets to tropical islands. The political insanity in Washington D.C., Taibbi argues, has made the general electorate either apathetic knowing nothing’s going to ever change or to adopt a fringe belief system that only serves to reinforce whatever they already believe in. “We scan the media landscape for the thing that appeals to us and we buy into it,” Taibbi writes. In my mind, this lets the electorate off the hook too easily. It’s easy to blame our derangement on somebody else. A little education goes a long way. Ignorance is not bliss—it’s stupidly dangerous.
At the very end, Taibbi offers a faint glimmer of hope saying that more people are realizing they have been “suckers” for many years. Is that enough? One can only hope.
For its part, The Great Derangement is an immensely readable and scathing critique of just how widespread the delusion now is. Terrifying true story? You bet it is!
- Amazon readers rating: from 52 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Great Derangement at Random House
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Spanking the Donkey: Dispatches from the Dumb Season (April 2005)
- Smells Like Dead Elephants: Dispatches from a Rotting Empire (October 2007)
- The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics, and Religion at the Twilight of the American Empire (May 2008)
- Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America (November 2010)
with Mark Ames:
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- Wikipedia page for Matt Taibbi
- Matt Taibbi's blog on The Smirking Chimp and The Low Post for Rollingstone
- The DailyShow interview with Matt Taibbi (2005)
- Salon.com interview with Matt Taibbi and The Great Derangement
- The DailyShow interview with Matt Taibbi (2008)
- MSNBC (frustrating, because they don't let him talk) interview with Matt Taibbi on YouTube
- Huffington Post interview with Matt Taibbi (2008)
- Daily KOS review of The Great Derangement
- FireDogLake review of The Great Derangement
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About the Author:
Matt Taibbi grew up in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts, attended Concord Academy and attended Bard College at Annadale on Hudson, New York. He spent his senior year abroad at Leningrad State University. His father is Mike Taibbi, an NBC television reporter.
Taibbi is a roving national reporter for Rolling Stone and a columnist for rollingstone.com.
He lives in New York City.