The Great Derangement
Grade : B-

If you read Rolling Stone or watch Bill Maher’s HBO series, you’re probably familiar with Matt Taibbi, who is one of the show’s roving political reporters. There’s no mistaking his political point of view, but his screeds are always tempered with humor. And, like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, he’s an equal opportunity hater, almost as apt to go after excesses on the left as he is to go after those on the right. As much as I liked this book and learned things I hadn’t known about how Congress actually works, he repeats himself often. It’s almost as though, as mainly an author of articles, he could only reach his word count for a full length book by finding different ways to write the same thing.

The Great Derangement focuses on Washington politics, the born-again evangelical movement of Christian dispensationalists, and the 9/11 conspiracists. The basic thesis of Taibbi’s book is this: National politicians are so thoroughly corrupted by money and power that they look upon the electorate as the enemy and expend most of their efforts deflecting the voters’ power (to vote them out of office) by posturing rather than acting decisively. Because we don’t understand the rules of the game, we are powerless and continue to “buy” into the idea that our representative government exists to represent us. And with so much information available to us today, and in fragmented forms – ie, Bill O’Reilly for one group, Keith Olbermann for another – we are able to pick and choose what fits the anger that grows out of our powerlessness, and can easily ignore what doesn’t. The “great derangement” is that, as a result, we’ve been co-opted by crazies who see conspiracies where none exist…and who look forward to the end of the world as the chance to say a big fat “nana nana boo boo” to those who don’t believe.

Much of the book focuses on the author’s going undercover in the church of pastor Jim Hagee, whom Republican presidential nominee John McCain was recently forced to repudiate. Taibbi describes a late-night prayer phone call to Hagee’s televised ministry, and thereafter adopts the name Matt Conner and moves to a San Antonio boarding house. He attends a weekend retreat, watches the “demon of hand-writing analysis” be cast out, fakes speaking in tongues, is baptized, and even learns how to proselytize in a San Antonio mall. Each of these events is interesting, but it is the people he encounters, and in some instances – surprising nobody more than himself, I’m sure – befriends, that provides most of the narrative’s color.

The book seems to confirm everything that liberals like me fear from religious fanatics. The ease with which Hagee and his fellow End Times pastors encourage hate and fear among the sheeple (sheep people, my term, not his) astonished me. The trouble in one man’s household, for instance, exists because his son has a copy of a Harry Potter book.

More page count is devoted to Taibbi’s encounters with Hagee’s church than with the 9/11 Truthers, but I think that’s because their circuitous logic is too confusing. He does, though, lay it all out in an imaginary meeting Dick Cheney might have had with Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Irv Kristol, and the owner of the World Trade Center a dozen years or so before the towers came crashing down. Think of the most diabolical romance novel villain, who cunningly planned, years before, not only with brilliance but with the ability to see into the future, how to seek revenge against the hero. I think he does a great job debunking the “truthers,” but then, I never bought into their logic to begin with.

Even though his encounters with these two groups provides most of the story’s texture, it’s when he writes about the inner workings of government that I gleaned the most valuable information, and got the most angry. Yes, it’s true that he’s got a particular point of view, but he treats the Democrats no better than he treats Republicans; they’re all bums and they all ought to be thrown out, but even if they were, the next bunch would surely turn into bums. If the End Timers and 9/11 Truthers are the Great Deranged, then this is what points to the Twilight of the American Empire.

Reviewed by Laurie Likes Books

Grade: B-

Book Type: Non Fiction

Sensuality: N/A

Review Date : June 8, 2008

Publication Date: 2008

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  1. This author (Judith Ivory) used to appear frequently in “best of” lists for historical romance; and it seems that this…

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