Talking the Trumpocene with Jeff Sharlet & A Review of Dennis Lehane’s Small Mercies

We talk with Jeff Sharlet about his new book, The Undertow: Scenes From A Slow Civil War.

Then we air part of an interview we did with Sharlet in 2009 about the increasing influence of rightwing extremism into the US military.

And finally, a review of Dennis Lehane’s new novel Small Mercies.

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Tags: fascism, Trump, MAGA, Christian Right, Jeffrey Sharlet, Dennis Lehane, podcast, book recommendations, author interview, book podcast, book show, creative nonfiction, fiction

The Undertow: Rising Fascism in America
Jeff Sharlet has long been an astute observer of the rise of the Christian Right in America. His book The Family revealed the long but implacable penetration of our central institutions — the state, the military, the courts — by fundamentalist billionaires of the Christian Right.

Now, in his new book The Undertow, Sharlet examines the spread of rightwing ideology among the masses and the new fascist movement it’s spurred.

The Trumpocene

He calls this era “the Trumpocene,” with its miasma of conspiracy-mongering, white supremacy and hatred of anything resembling true governance.

But Sharlet is not without compassion for the foot soldiers of the Trumpocene; he understands how its roots lie partially in the failure of the leaders of both political parties to serve the needs of the people they are supposed to represent.

The other part, of course, lies at the heart of America’s original sin — racism. This combustible mixture powers the fascism that threatens our imperfect democracy.

In the The Undertow, Sharlet offers us an unflinching look into the Trumpocene’s crucible — because, as he tells us in our conversation with him: “Fascism has a very terrible gravity that we must contend with if we are to stop it.”

About the Author

Jeff Sharlet is a journalist and bestselling author or editor of seven books. He teaches creative writing at Dartmouth College.

Read an excerpt from the Undertow

The Christian Right Infiltrates the Military

Back in 2009, we talked with Jeff Sharlet about how Christian extremists are embedding into the highest ranks of the military. We air an excerpt from that conversation.

Read Sharlet’s 2009 article “Jesus Killed Mohammed.”

Review of Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane
If you want to trace the backstory of what Jeff Sharlet talks about in The Undertow—the current rise of mass movement fascism in America—you would do well to read Dennis Lehane’s new novel Small Mercies.

Set in Boston in the summer of 1974, during the fierce backlash against school bussing that was waged by white residents of the working class neighborhood of South Boston, Small Mercies is part crime fiction, part contemplation of the combustible mixture of class oppression with racial hatred.

Lehane writes what he knows: he grew up in Dorchester, a community much like its neighbor, Southie. He writes Small Mercies with an intimate eloquence that puts the reader right inside the story.

Whether it’s the crackling dialog, the exquisite detail of place, or the loving but unsparing character development, Small Mercies unfolds like sheer poetry among the gritty streets of South Boston. I found myself reading it slowly just for the sheer pleasure of it.

Mary Pat Fennessy’s teenage daughter has gone missing after a young Black high school student is found dead on the tracks of a T station in Southie. Her daughter had last been seen chasing the Black boy into the T station with three of her friends.

Mary Pat’s search to uncover her daughter’s fate is at the heart of a story that sets her against the Irish-American Mob that runs her community.

She wrestles with divided loyalties — to her community, to her fears about what change like bussing might bring to it, to her own sense of what constitutes justice in an unjust world. And above all, there is her loyalty to her missing daughter that propels the novel’s plot — and Mary Pat’s revenge.

The other protagonist is the Boston detective, Bobby. He’s from Southie, as well, but avoided falling prey to its pernicious racism by the luck of having parents who somehow saw through it for the absurdity it is. As he muses, “There were only two big sins in the house of his parents – feeling sorry for yourself and racism, which, when you think of it, are two sides of the same coin.”

That sentence sums up the toxic brew of grievance and racism fueling the slow civil war that Jeff Sharlet’s The Undertow explores–and the roots of which Small Mercies reveals.