The Year of Voting Dangerously: The Derangement of American Politics
by Maureen Dowd. Twelve/Hachette. Pages 464. Rs 1,599/-
Review by Roopinder Singh
The election for the next president of the United States of America is fascinating. The clash of two of the most unpopular candidates for the top position is so interesting, so confounding, so bewildering that it is only natural to wish for someone who could, somehow present a coherent commentary of what is happening in the US of A.
Maureen Dowd is one such person. A leading columnist with The New York Times, she earned her spurs, and a Pulitzer, explaining the implications of a decidedly un-presidential affair, which became the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Her columns have long been liked for their irreverence, acerbic wit and a rare felicity with words. It is these columns that have been compiled into the book, with some interludes.
One of publishing shibboleths is that columns do not make for a good book. This one, however, does— primarily because, ‘The race is rife with racism, sexism, tribalism, jingoism, anti-intellectualism, anti-Semitism, gladiatorial bloodlust, conspiracy theories, federal investigations, hooliganism, xenophobia, puerile name-calling and, most absurdly, penis and “schlong” taunts.’
The book brings in a sense of history through the columns that have examined (read skewered) the two New Yorkers over the years, a certain perspective, and information of the kind which both find uncomfortable. And that felicity with words: ‘How could the White House be classy when the Clintons were turning it into Motel 1600 for fund-raising…’ Hillary Clinton ‘wrapped herself in an off-putting and opaque mantle of entitlement in the primary.’ Donald Trump is ‘prolix plutocrat’ and ‘It’s hard to imagine Trump implementing impulse control.’
The content, observations and their expression in the columns allows them to re-live a life-cycle far longer than what was originally intended. The world is fascinated with Trump, whose candidature took everyone by surprise. As for the volcanic eruption of Trump’s imminent nomination, ‘Not since Pompeii have there been so many people caked in muck and frozen in varying poses of horror.’
Hillary Clinton took the support of women for granted. ‘It turned out that female voters seem to be looking at Hillary as a candidate rather than as a historical imperative. And she’s coming up drastically short on trustworthiness.’ Then there was Bernie Sanders, Chick Magnet, an unlikely avuncular socialist senator who attracted young voters, even women, who Hillary thought of as her vote bank. But then, feminism has matured.
All political campaigns are carefully calibrated, not Trump’s. ‘With his muddle of charm, humour, zest, vulgarity, bigotry, opportunistic flexibility, brutal candour, breathtaking boorishness and outrageous opening bids on volatile issues, he has now leapt into that most sensitive area: the Clintons’ tangled conjugal life.’ Now that a damning audio tape of Donald Trump’s lewd remarks about women and his bragging, about groping them, has been released, he may be muzzled, but will he be?
The compilation also brings in columns about President Obama, or The One, as Dowd calls him. ‘His identity is defined by his desire to rise above the fray. Unfortunately, he is in politics, which is the fray,” she says in one of the columns.
One enjoys reading The Year of Voting Dangerously, more so by going back to it as the US presidential campaign continues to throw up surprises. Individually many more columns sparkle, collectively the clever turn of phrase does get a bit jaded when you read it too often. But that is a quibble from a reader who has long admired the author’s columns, and looks forward to those which are to yet come.
What Doud says about…
Mr. Trump does not live an examined life. He lives a quantified life. He keeps track of all numbers, the sentinels of success— the number of magazine covers his girlfriend is on this month and the number of men who are dripping with lust for her; the number of zoning changes he has finagled…
Hillary’s stock is so high— almost as high as her speaking fees— that in the Daily Beast, Tina Brown urged the front-runner to skip the campaign and simply go straight to becoming “post-President.”
President Barack Obama
The president who was elected because he was a hot commodity is now a wet blanket.
Monica is in danger of exploiting her own exploitation as she dishes about a couple whose erotic lives are of waning interest to the country.
The Clintons don’t sparkle with honesty and openness. Between his lordly appetites and her queenly prerogatives, you always feel as if there’s something afoot.
The review was published in the Spectrum section of The Tribune on October 16, 2016.