Book Review: The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War

The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War, by Jeff Sharlet

A gift from my son, who heard the author interviewed on NPR, this book is 333 pages and includes numerous small to large B&W photos. The author has written six previous books and edited one.  This book is difficult to read. My notes on the text state "hard to follow" or similar comments at several places. It is disjointed at times, but generally highlights the tragic death of Ashli Babbitt along with her radicalization into a true believer in extreme conspiracy tenets when she attempted to crash violently through the main door to the Capitol Building during the January 6 riot. She has become a Talis(wo)man for conspiracy beliefs among true believers in extreme elements in the U.S.

One core tenet is that the election of 2020 was stolen, even though every single post-election investigation and voting review has confirmed the results. Many of the most contested results were in normally Republican states such as Georgia and were conducted by Republican Governors and elected officials, yet these do not satisfy the conspiracy believers, fueled by continuing false claims by Donald Trump. As references to Ms. Babbitt continue through the book, several powerful evangelical preachers are featured with their "Praise Services" heavy on emotion and rock and roll music along with conservative political messaging.

Former President Trump is characterized by his lack of putting much of anything in writing, speaking in a way that is understood by those he wants to reach, yet is done in a way that is hard to pin down - spiritual truths, "true meanings" - and things to be feared. The "Trumpocene" has its own sign (index finger and thumb touch, with the middle three fingers splayed), recognizable as a "WP" symbol, for White Power. At numerous Trump rallies and evangelical sessions across the U.S, the author watches the Prosperity Gospel and Evangelical Coalition of the Willing in full swing, with the enemies clearly understood to include Liberal TV Networks, "The Media," Journalists, and Gays.

The author interfaces with many at numerous evangelical and political rallies, and reports on the "undertow" of discontent and combination of violent actions (the attack on the Capitol and death of Ashley Babbitt) and rising religious fervor. He believes a civil war is underway - not a shooting war like the last, but an "undertow movement" with gerrymandered political pockets of witnesses, and a deep-seated psychological operation.

6 Responses

  1. JK James George
    From Anon-1: Wow ! You’re up late! Reading something exciting or mind blowing? Sure;) not on your life! Right? Honestly it been one of those days!
  2. JK James George
    From Anon-2: I got up this morning at 5am for a drive to San Antonio for chemo. That has not put me in the best frame of mind. Learning about the dogged insistence in believing a self-serving lie created for and by our 45th President has reached a point of no return. Who cares what they think? Everyone enjoys a good conspiracy story. I still grapple with the idea that a man who was unable to shoot Gen. Walker from the Generals backyard privacy fence [ distance of 100 feet?] was able to climb six floors of the Dallas Book Depositary building and pull off two head shots on a man riding in a moving vehicle. If true, that incident displayed a remarkable improvement of a man's skills during the greatest stress shot of all time. Not all questions have answers. I have listened to televangelists explain to their congregation why God wanted them to have five airplanes, not four. Their logic was an insult to anyone who held a religious belief in Jesus Christ. How did we get from a religious leader who walked the face of the earth and never took an interest in material things to an over-weight preacher from Louisiana who needs five airplanes to do the same job? The preacher got his new jet. The congregation dug deeper and came up with a "love offering". " Explain me that, Johnny Budro?" Not all questions have answers.
  3. JK James George
    From Anon-3: Jim: Thanks for slogging through this book. I found it extremely painful to listen to (read by the author). At times – most of the time, actually, -- I heard his conversations with rally attendees, church goers, bar and café customers seated around tables, as though I was hearing people from another planet expressing inconceivably crazy ideas and opinions. I know, I know, Trump has played into a large well of dissatisfaction and malaise, of people who think they’ve been left behind, with nothing but shitty jobs, cigarettes, beer, and unhealthy, fattening food to look forward to. But the undeniable fact, the indisputable fact, is that these people are compliant, deep believers in the BIG LIE, the whackier the better. Why do they so readily believe the nonsense they utter or hear? What is the confirmation bias here? I think it’s confirmation of their belief that they are worthless and failures and, so, find solace in tearing down everything that stands for reasonableness and stability, competence and intelligence. They just want to tear it all down. Like a frustrated or frightened infant throwing a tantrum.
  4. JK James George
    From Anon-4: I enjoy reading your book reviews. This most recent one has a grammatical error in one place. This is not a sentence, since it has no verb: "He believes a civil war, not a shooting war like the last, but an "undertow movement" with gerrymandered political pockets of witnesses, and a deep-seated psychological operation." (This sharp-eyed person, an old pal from Pennsylvania) got it right. I've already gone back in and edited the last part to add a verb. Sorry about that, (Now slinking away.)
  5. JK James George
    From Anon-5: What a kind gift from your son! I also think it’s kind of you to read it all even though it was difficult, and perhaps not your cup of tea? I also admire you for giving credit to writers both pro and con. You are such a good source of knowledge when you write reviews and really go the extra mile, not just for yourself but for your readers as well. Thanks for the memories of the books we will read because you cared to read them First! (Personal note... thank you!)
  6. JK James George
    From Anon-6: Not fun at all. The whole business is just too much. These people are crazy.

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