cover image Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal

Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal

George Packer. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (224p) ISBN 978-0-374-60366-3

Warring tribes are tearing the country apart, according to this conflicted meditation on America's discontents. National Book Award winner Packer (The Unwinding) parses the uproar of 2020 in terms of four competing "narratives" of America: the "Free America" of the Republican elite, composed of antigovernment conservatives; the "Smart America" of the liberal, globalist professionals, academics, and journalists who make up the Democratic establishment; the "Real America" of Trump's base of xenophobic white populists; and the "Just America" of "social justice warriors" who see white supremacism everywhere. All these visions, Packer argues, skirt the central problem of economic inequality, and he sketches a vague program of progressive economic and welfare policies, plus mandatory national service, as a means of defusing sociocultural antagonisms. Packer presents sharp, insightful critiques of all sides—for many white, well-educated progressives, he writes, "confessing racial privilege is a way to hang on to class privilege"—but occasionally slips into melodrama: a neighbor's Trump campaign sign reminds him of "an evil shape in a far more serious red and black." Worse, his economic determinism rarely addresses the substance of divisive issues such as immigration, transgender rights, and policing. This eloquent yet unfocused take on American politics further muddies the waters. Agent: Sarah Chalfant, the Wylie Agency. (June)