In This Review

Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal
Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal
By George Packer
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021, 240 pp

A more searing, accurate dissection of Donald Trump and his associates will likely never be written. Trump, Packer writes, is “an all-American flimflam man and demagogue, . . . spawned in a gold-plated sewer.” He was able to articulate so effectively the resentment that is the essence of his supporters’ condition because its taste “was in his mouth, too.” Of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a senior official in Trump’s White House “with expertise in nothing,” Packer notes that “he interfered in the work of more competent officials, compromised security protocols, dabbled in conflicts of interest, flirted with violations of federal law and then promised nationwide [COVID-19] testing through his business connections, which never materialized.” Packer’s main interest, however, is not Trump and his circle but the country that elected him, since “a failure the size of Trump took the whole of America.” The book focuses on the events of 2020 because “nothing Trump did was more destructive than turning the pandemic into a central front in the partisan war,” thereby causing hundreds of thousands of needless deaths. Packer traces recent U.S. history through a piercingly insightful exploration of what he discerns as four overlapping national narratives. They are not those captured by statistics but those that describe Americans’ “deepest needs and desires . . . [and] convey a moral identity.” He calls them “Free America” (libertarian), “Smart America” (meritocratic), “Real America” (the populists’ mythical provincial village), and “Just America” (more accurately, Unjust America). All have emerged from a half century of rising inequality, which has produced a country that, in Packer’s view, is no longer governable.