How the Hell Did This Happen?
The Election of 2016
The iconic humorist offers his take on the stranger-than-fiction (and stranger-than-fact) 2016 presidential election and its equally unbelievable aftermath.
The 2016 election cycle was so absurd that celebrated political satirist, journalist, and die-hard Republican P. J. O’Rourke endorsed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. As P. J. put it, “America is experiencing the most severe outbreak of mass psychosis since the Salem witch trials of 1692. So why not put Hillary on the dunking stool?”
In How the Hell Did This Happen?, P. J. brings his critical eye and inimitable voice to some seriously risky business. Starting in June 2015, he asks, “Who are these jacklegs, high-binders, wire-pullers, mountebanks, swellheads, buncombe spigots, four-flushers and animated spittoons offering themselves as worthy of America’s highest office?” and surveys the full cast of presidential candidates including everyone you’ve already forgotten and everyone you wish you could forget.
P. J. offers a brief history of how our insane process for picking who will run for president evolved, from the very first nominating convention (thanks, Anti-Masonic Party) through the reforms of the Progressive era (because there’s nothing that can’t be worsened by reform) to the present. He takes us through the debates and key primaries and analyzes everything from the campaign platforms (or lack thereof) to presidential style (“Trump’s appearance—indeed, Trump’s existence—is a little guy’s idea of living large. A private plane! A swell joint in Florida! Gold-plated toilet handles!”). And he rises from the depths of despair to come up with a better way to choose a president. Following his come-to-Satan moment with Hillary and the Beginning of End Times in November, P. J. reckons with a new age: “America is experiencing a change in the nature of leadership. We’re getting rid of our leaders. And we’re starting at the top.”
“Where are we going? Where have we been? P. J. O’Rourke casts his gimlet gaze on the circus of clowns-people foisted on us by the 2016 election—and demands to know How the Hell Did This Happen?” —Vanity Fair
For those interested in one more look at the unusual road leading to the unlikely outcome of the unforgettable 2016 U.S. presidential election, humorist O'Rourke delivers a wry, dry, and occasionally laugh-out-loud take. O'Rourke's chapter headings are worth a quick glance ("A Huck so Unlike Finn"); the throwaway lines are good too ("John Kasich is a two-word Republican suicide note"), and the general content doesn't disappoint (notably Chapter 17, "Fashion Notes"). O'Rourke entertains with two ways to replace America's dreadful election process and offers a breezy roundup of POTUS hopefuls who fell by the wayside even before 2016. (Remember Lincoln Chafee?) However, O'Rourke's review of first ladies is sometimes cruel (Eleanor Roosevelt), insensitive (Betty Ford), or just plain boring (Laura Bush). In his view, America's growing discomfort with leaders has led to the selection of "someone with no means to lead us." Entertaining as O'Rourke's quips generally are, it's when he gets to the heart of the matter, discussing the mob mentality and the value of "individual dignity, individual freedom, and individual responsibility," that his work is most pointed.