George Packer is a good journalist, but he has written a bad book. Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal offers none of the deep reporting that characterized The Unwinding (2013), Packer’s justly praised book about the Tea Party response to the 2008 financial crisis. It is instead the hasty distillation of notes taken by an overwrought man who spent 2020 in his basement watching cable news, reading clickbait, and compulsively checking his Twitter account.

The results are, frankly, embarrassing. The “parasites” are always Republicans. The Trump years were a “nightmare,” during which “one unfit ruler at the head of a craven party and a nihilistic rebellion by a part of the people nearly destroyed self-government.” Claims about voter fraud are of course “lies.” Packer never misses an opportunity to describe Trump voters as “white,” which in the progressive lexicon amounts to a sneer that approaches the derisive meaning that what we now politely call the “n-word” had in my youth.

Like many commentators in recent years, Packer reaches for implausible analogies. “The year 2020 saw the most flagrant attempt to subvert democracy since Fort Sumter.” Our collective failure to don masks immediately marked a failure akin to “the fall of France in 1940.” The Trump Administration’s approach to the pandemic reminds

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