Well not really a trilogy, but Griftopia, The Divide and Insane Clown President all riff on the same general theme of a corrupt American society, run by a cabal of robber barons at the expense of the poor. Once you read the first, it’s pretty easy to move on to the next.
Taibbi is our generation’s Hunter S. Thompson. Yes, lighter on the shock-value prose and drug addled stream of consciousness writing, but heavier on the political analysis. And in our the complex world of incomprehensible economic and legal jargon, he’s the Rolling Stone political writer we need. To his credit, Taibbi approaches the material with same requisite snarl and bite as Thompson once did. He’s angry and incredulous, blending in dark humour to lighten the subject matter.
With less of an over-arching theme than The Divide, Taibbi tells some free association stories about various grifts and cons that have gone on the in the American economic system over the past decade. In it, Taibbi also provides probably the greatest all-time explanation-for-novices of the crash of 2007 (even better than Michael Lewis). If you’ve ever wondered what a credit default swap is, Griftopia is the place to start.
Perhaps Taibbi’s best work is a chapter on former Chariman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, entitled The Biggest Asshole in the Universe. It chronicles the endless gaffs of a high-society-loving charlatan who was able to convince generations political elites that he was a financial Nostradamus. Taibbi argues that, as with most Friedmanites and Rand enthusiasts, Greenspan’s skill laid in pushing a tragically flawed philosophy, one that simultaneously exalts the pursuit of personal wealth while providing the ‘intellectual’ and ‘moral’ framework for a generation of thieves to convince themselves that they are doing what’s best for society. Taibbi destroys their methodology, point by point. It’s really something.
The Divide juxtaposes the two courts of law in America: One for the rich and white and one for the poor and the minority. Taibbi exposes a society where a black man can be stopped, frisked, thrown in the back of a police car and given a court date, all for the crime of standing on the street, while a major bank can ‘illegally’ add five billion dollars off the top of a merger, while stiffing creditors and receiving no blowback, all through the power of their high-priced legal teams.
The Divide is a punch to the gut. It’s horrific, troubling, and illuminating. Easily my favourite of the three.
Insane Clown President
In his newest and most Thompson-esque work, Taibbi dispatches from the Trump campaign trail. It’s a collection of pieces cobbled together from his year writing for the Rolling Stone – much like HST’s famous books of the 1970s and 1980s. It’s hard not to compare Taibbi-Trump to HST-Nixon.
In the book, Taibbi details the fascist-like fervour of Trump’s rally’s, ultimately deciding that Trump is a fitting modern American President, A “human consumption machine with no attention span, no self-control, no beliefs and no hobbies outside of sex, spending, eating and talking about himself. Nixon at least played the piano and read the classics. He was an intellectual with a pig’s heart. Trump is just the pig part.”
Read it now, while it’s still topical, because hopefully time is running out on America’s most famous unhinged carnival-barker.
Nolan Kelly is a Library Tech student at Langara.