#LongRead review alert!
NB a shorter version of this review was first published in the Radio 2 Book Club Discussion Group.
I generally never read political memoires but was given this enormous first edition for Christmas. I have had to prop it up on a pillow to read it as my hands are quite small!
If you want to understand how Donald Trump came to power, make yourself read this book too. From the moment Obama was elected the Republicans closed ranks and opposed everything he tried to do – even when individually they often admitted they could see the benefit in what the first Black president of the USA was trying to achieve.
Parts of it made me want to cry out of sheer frustration that grey and blinkered bigots like Mitch McConnell could behave as they did. Attempts to derail new policies aimed at reducing climate change make particularly painful reading, especially since we know who it was who succeeded Obama and what Trump attempted during his toxic presidency.
Racism, often unspoken, floats just beneath the surface of politics in America like a slick of toxicity, often extinguishing all energy for positive change. Obama, an able and decent man (whose memory for names, places and the detail of his campaign and presidency is extraordinary) tried hard to make the world a better place. He and his remarkable team were, to a degree, successful. That they were not entirely successful is largely down to a political system no longer fit for purpose, which has sought to derail democracy itself using democratic processes – and institutionalised political racism.
Obama makes a valid comparison with the rise of fascism before WWII in the way Republican opposition evolved over his tenure. I could not help wondering if, had Hillary Clinton won instead of Obama, we might have had Biden next and be looking at Obama only now? Trump might then never have reached the White House: I think the racist Republican response to Obama was greater than would have been the sexist Republican response to Clinton, who as Obama admits was the tougher and more experienced politician at the time.
The global erosion of democracy by the far right is far from over. Trump may be out of the White House, but the Hydra has many heads.
Top reader tip – there are loads of unfamiliar-to-Brits acronyms (like TARP – nope, me neither) only defined in the index – so keep a pen and paper handy.
Vee Walker is an author living on the Black Isle the far north of Scotland. Her WWI novel Major Tom’s War was a prizewinner at the 2019 SAHR Military Fiction Awards.