How The Hell Did This Happen? by P J O’Rourke

P J O’Rourke is a noted satirist, and self-described social libertarian and constitutional conservative. O’Rourke believes in individual freedom, individual responsibility, and small – if not to say invisible – government. Yet so bizarre was the 2016 US presidential election that O’Rourke ended up endorsing Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton – the poster girl for all the social and economic policies which O’Rourke detests. How did this happen?

That’s the very question O’Rourke sets out to answer in this collection of first thoughts, hurried impressions, and sombre reflections on the state of US politics, the electoral process, and the overthrowing of established norms by an “anti-elite revolt”. O’Rourke is predictably scathing about Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, repeating all the usual conservative tropes about the “impossibility” and “cost” of progressive policies; think Mike Moore on George W Bush, just from a conservative perspective, and you get the idea.

O’Rourke reserves some of his most stinging (and funniest) rebukes for Donald Trump, whom he castigates as a bully and a reality TV fraud (“Trump’s hairstyle makes Kim Jong Un laugh”). But perhaps the most interesting aspects of this book concerns the could-have-beens on both sides: Ben Carson, the undoubted medical genius who somehow turned into a Trumpesque crank; Joe Biden, the decent, well-respected former VP the Democrat party bosses were never going to let win the nomination; John Kasich, the experienced, accomplished politician who might have been a voice of moderation and bi-partisanship.

At the end of the day, O’Rourke doesn’t really answer his own question, and his despairing laments about the absurdities of US politics are, if nothing else, ironic commentaries on the short-comings of his own libertarian outlook. But whatever else might be said about this tome, O’Rourke gets two things absolutely right: firstly, that Hillary Clinton was entirely to blame for her electoral defeat; and that slapping a 100% tax rate on celebrities of the “famous for being famous” variety (ie: the Kardashians) would be of inestimable value to society. An at times funny and sobering, if not entirely satisfying, read by one of American politics most prominent men of letters.

(c) Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2018. All rights reserved.