Review

The Great Derangement has the best tutorial I’ve seen on the actual workings of Congress. Chapter 2 describes in detail the processes of the Republican-controlled congress (prior to the 2006 elections), explaining in detail how bills are actually created and rammed through. Taibbi explains why it is that CSPAN2 is so mind-numbingly dull - an endless parade of house resolutions to name a post office or honor a dead chamber of commerce booster. The real work of the congress is done in the middle of the night (literally) in the offices of committee chairmen, energetically inserting and deleting provisions into legislation to satisfy the needs of their true constituents, the large corporations that donate so generously to the campaigns of those committee chairmen. This is Civics 101 as it was never taught in our public schools. Chapter 6 describes the same process at work now that the Democrats have a clear majority in Congress. Not much has changed. Later in the book, Taibbi describes a meeting between leaders of the peace movement with the new Democratic leadership - a meeting in which the topic of discussion was how to sell angry voters on the reason why the Democratic congress did absolutely nothing to end the Iraq war.

The premise of this book is that starting 20 or so years ago both government and the media abandoned their responsibilities. Government became unabashedly a government of the few against the interests of the many, and corporate controlled media simply stopped reporting the news, turning to trivialities and sleaze instead. This left a vacuum into which poured the phenomena of right-wing end-times fundamentalism and left-wing conspiracy theories. Both camps have enormous numbers of followers, and neither side is able to talk to the other.

Taibbi infiltrated the Cornerstone Baptist mega-church in San Antonia Texas - Pastor John Hagee’s church. He dove right in and went through their training/indoctrination programs, attended weekly cell meetings and the weekly church services. The ideology preached at that church, as at most fundamentalist churches, is equal parts anti-liberal, anti-science, pro-Israel, and pure ignorance and prejudice throughout, with massive doses of demons, Satan, hell, and a vengeful wrathful Lord. It makes for entertaining, but scary, reading. Taibbi was pretty depressed by the end of that months-long experience.

He also spent considerable time with 9/11 Truthers - people who hold a variety of evidence-free beliefs about a vast corporate/government conspiracy to carry out and cover up the attacks of September 11, 2001. He characterizes this as a left-wing movement. I’m not so sure about that, since many of its proponents seem not to have ever been left-wing before they adopted the theories. But, whatever. The problem from Taibbi’s perspective is that 36% of the US population believes in some part of the 9/11 conspiracy theories. A substantial part of the population, in other words, is willing to accept preposterous theories without evidence, because they are so convinced that every time they read a paper, see something on television, or read news on the internet, that they are being lied to. And they are right, for the most part.

In the end Taibbi sees some cause to think that the situation might be changing. Written at the end of 2007 he saw the campaigns of Ron Paul, John Edwards, and Barack Obama indications that people are starting to rebel in meaningful ways both from the 2-same-party system and from the us/them demonization represented by religious fundamentalism and conspriracy crackpotism. He points out that Obama is massively funded by the same corporate interests that fund the rest of the power elite, but believed that Obama’s ‘tone’ represented a promise of change for the better. We’ll see.

I wish that Christian evangelicals and conspiracy theorists could read this book. It provides a much-needed dose of reality. Sadly, as with most political books, he will be preaching mostly to a choir of like-minded realists.

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Metadata Info

  • Title: The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics, and Religion at the Twilight of the American Empire
  • Author: Matt Taibbi
  • Published: 2008
  • ISBN: 0385520344
  • Buy: Amazon search
  • Check out: Seattle library
  • Rating: 5.0 stars