cover image The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War

The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War

Jeff Sharlet. Norton, $28.95 (302p) ISBN 978-1-324-00649-7

Reporter and photographer Sharlet (The Family) probes the intersections of faith and right-wing politics in these meditative essays. Profiling Trump supporters who believe they must save the nation from unseen evil forces, churchgoers who hope to emulate the lavish lifestyles of their pastors, and “manosphere” bloggers who insist that the most oppressed group in modern America is the white cisgender male, Sharlet notes a shared desire among his subjects to achieve the greatness they feel they’ve been denied. Trump and his followers subscribe to “the prosperity gospel, the American religion of winning,” which has roots in Norman Vincent Peale’s “applied Christianity,” while Pastor Rich Wilkerson Jr., leader of Vous Church in Miami, sells a specific, celebrity-infused brand of “hipster Christendom,” which encourages followers to “bask in his glamour and become ever so slightly glamorous themselves.” Elsewhere, Sharlet discusses how Ashli Babbitt, who was killed during the January 6 Capitol riot, has become a modern-day martyr for the right. An excellent interviewer, Sharlet elicits eye-opening commentary from Trump rallygoers, militia members, QAnon conspiracists, teenage pro-choice protestors, and more. Poetic descriptions of America’s landscape and history punctuate Sharlet’s unsettling insights into the undercurrents of fear, isolation, and anger coursing through the country. It’s a jaw-dropping portrait of a country on the edge. Photos. (Mar.)