The Cruelty Is the Point
Why Trump's America Endures
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From an award-winning journalist at The Atlantic, these searing essays make a powerful case that “real hope lies not in a sunny nostalgia for American greatness but in seeing this history plain—in all of its brutality, unadorned by euphemism” (The New York Times).
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR • “No writer better demonstrates how American dreams are so often sabotaged by American history. Adam Serwer is essential.”—Ta-Nehisi Coates
Featuring additional elements: essays on how the Supreme Court undermines justice, and a new epilogue that connects the post-reconstruction narrative with today’s political discourse
To many, our most shocking political crises appear unprecedented—un-American, even. But they are not, writes The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer in this prescient essay collection, which dissects the most devastating moments in recent memory to reveal deeply entrenched dynamics, patterns as old as the country itself. The January 6 insurrection, anti-immigrant sentiment, and American authoritarianism all have historic roots that explain their continued power with or without President Donald Trump—a fact borne out by what has happened since his departure from the White House.
Serwer argues that Trump is not the cause, he is a symptom. Serwer’s phrase “the cruelty is the point” became among the most-used descriptions of Trump’s era, but as this book demonstrates, it resonates across centuries. The essays here combine revelatory reporting, searing analysis, and a clarity that’s bracing. In this new, expanded version of his bestselling debut, Serwer elegantly dissects white supremacy’s profound influence on our political system, looking at the persistence of the Lost Cause, the past and present of police unions, the mythology of migration, and the many faces of anti-Semitism. In so doing, he offers abundant proof that our past is present and demonstrates the devastating costs of continuing to pretend it’s not. The Cruelty Is the Point dares us, the reader, to not look away.
Atlantic journalist Serwer reflects on the antecedents, methods, and legacies of Trumpism in his clear-eyed and incisive debut essay collection. Combining pieces published during the Trump presidency and new material, Serwer draws parallels between the conservative backlash to President Obama and the Southern Redemption movement that wiped out the gains of Reconstruction; examines how periods of greater "civility" between Democrats and Republicans have often hinged on the exclusion of minorities from the halls of power; points out the irony that some of the "most ardent restrictionists" in the Trump White House were descended from people who fled poverty and persecution in their home countries; and argues that racial disparities in the spread of Covid-19 fueled conservative opposition to lockdowns, mask mandates, and other public health measures. Along the way, Serwer threads in snippets of his own biracial background and offers concise and illuminating history lessons on the Nation of Islam, the eugenics movement in America, and police unionization, among other topics. Though the territory is familiar, Serwer is a perceptive guide and a skillful synthesizer of scholarship by Eric Foner, Michelle Alexander, and others. This sober-minded inquiry into the Trump era provides essential perspective.