Russell Fox's Reviews > The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump

The Death of Truth by Michiko Kakutani
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This is by no means a bad book, but I had a hard time respecting it. Kakutani is a skilled writer, and in this short book she very effectively surveys trends in philosophy, technology, literature, media and more, all of which, in her view, have made it possible for a man who is manifestly dishonest to be elected president, winning millions of votes from people who either do not trust all the facts showing what a grifter and fraud he is, or accept that he's been a liar and huckster all his life and simply do not care. The problem is that, in surveying all these developments, she never builds any kind of consistent critique; it's just a parade of horribles, with the horribleness being simply assumed. Hence, as many good points that Kakutani makes--none of them original, from what I can tell, but all of them thoughtfully and succinctly presented--I couldn't shake the sense that she was writing so deep in her anti-Trump bubble that the necessity of connecting her "notes" in any programmatic way to the conditions of the world in which the voters who put Trump in place actually live never occurred her. In which case, she's just ranting to her fellow NYT-writing and reading audience, and short as this book is, a little of that goes a long way.

Does Kakutani intend to enlist her readers against postmodern philosophy and the subjectivist turn in literature? It doesn't appear so. Does she hope her book to be a call to abandon social media and resurrect more authoritative bodies of news dissemination? Nothing about that either. Without any sense of where any of this going, Kakutani appears, to me anyway, to be just flailing. Regarding the vicious fights over multiculturalism in school curricula from the 1980s and 1990s, which she connects--but never critiques--in connection with the decline of "history as a linear narrative," she waxes lyrical: "The terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the financial crisis of 2008, it was thought, had marginalized those [cultural] debates, and there was hope, during the second term of President Barack Obama, that the culture wars in their most virulent form were winding down. Health-care legislation, the Paris climate accord, a stabilizing economy after the crash of 2008, same-sex marriage, efforts to address the inequalities of the criminal justice system--although a lot of essential reforms remained to be done, many Americans believed that the country was at least set on a progressive path" (49). From what I can tell, she never once says "Obviously many Americans were wrong." Instead, it just sounds like horrible people--bad philosophers, evil politicians, irresponsible media personalities, etc.--have hijacked the country, which was doing so well, right? (She is critical of the fact that "the too-big-to-fail banks paid little price for the crash of 2008" (152), but Obama comes in for no criticism for that decision by his administration, interestingly--or perhaps predictably.)

I shouldn't be harsh. Kakuntani is well-read and perceptive; she ends the book relying heavily upon a great and important book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neal Postman's prophetic, incisive 1985 attack on the world of spectacle and falseness we were allowing ourselves to be seduced by. And, of course, the very title of this book is "Notes," so really, maybe it is best to imagine this book primarily as Kakutani just speaking to herself about all these horrible developments, which she saw and noted and was vaguely disturbed by, but never imagined allowing for something like Trump's election to occur until she saw them all together. Maybe seeing them all together will help others genuinely engage these complicated, deeply entwined socio-economic, technological, and psychological problems. But if so, then all Kakutani has done, in my opinion, is laid out the problems; aside from some praise for the U.S. Constitution's checks and balances and the inspiring example of the Parkland shooting survivors, she offers no real advice on which problem to confront first.
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Reading Progress

August 2, 2018 – Started Reading
August 12, 2018 – Shelved
August 12, 2018 – Shelved as: academic
August 12, 2018 – Shelved as: american-politics
August 12, 2018 – Shelved as: democracy
August 12, 2018 – Shelved as: elections
August 12, 2018 – Shelved as: history
August 12, 2018 – Shelved as: literary
August 12, 2018 – Shelved as: non-fiction
August 12, 2018 – Shelved as: philosophy
August 12, 2018 – Shelved as: political-science
August 12, 2018 – Finished Reading

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