A Hoosier Writes The Definitive Account Of The 2016 Election
Many Americans have struggled to move past last year’s election, perhaps none more so than the president himself. There’s actually a good reason to relive Hillary vs. Donald this month, however. In his new book, The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore, Jared Yates Sexton, an author with strong Hoosier ties, describes the months he spent on the front lines of that crazy campaign.
Sexton was raised in Linton, about 90 miles southwest of Indy. “My family was working class,” he says, “factory workers and laborers.” Sexton left Linton for college, then an MFA. He ended up writing three collections of fiction and teaching creative writing at Georgia Southern University. The last thing he expected to write was a book about the 2016 campaign. “I thought it was going to be Hillary Clinton versus Jeb Bush,” he says. “It looked like it was going to be a boring election.”
But as Sexton watched the country combust—particularly the church shooting in Charleston—he realized he wanted to be out in the world, talking to people on the trail. He wrote dispatches for outlets like The New York Times and The New Republic, then expanded them to cover the entire campaign in his new book. He captures small, forgotten moments, like a Chris Christie town hall in Iowa, made up of bankers and real estate agents. He also writes about the Democrats and their primary.
Still, the book’s largest presence is Donald Trump. Sexton’s Hoosier background helped him understand Trump’s rallies where, instead of bankers, he found angry working-class people chanting “build that wall” (when Trump talked about Mexico) and “kill them all” (when he talked about the media). There was cold beer, Confederate flags, and casual misogyny. The atmosphere let people say the things Sexton was used to hearing privately from his Linton family and friends. “The rallies provided a comfort to people,” he says. They also let them revel in the presence of Trump. “Even though he’s a billionaire,” the author says, “he behaved like he was working-class.”
Sexton is still trying to grapple with the future under Trump. “I have a hard time thinking he will serve two terms,” he says. “If you told me he wouldn’t finish his first term, I would believe you.”
That could put another Hoosier, Mike Pence, in the Oval Office. But whoever leads the country next will have to face the forces Trump has magnified. Sexton thinks back to the rallies—the white nationalism, the hostility to facts. “Trump’s ascension has opened the door for these people,” he says. “The problems we have right now—political polarization, wage inequality—they’re going to get worse. It’s going to take a generation to repair the damage he’s done.”