Skip to main content

Culture Books

Uncertain places


Uncertain places

Why Donald Trump is president

The gut-punching photographs and stories in Chris Arnade’s Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America (Penguin Random House, 2019) explain how Donald Trump won crucial Midwest states in 2016. Free trade has reduced the cost of many items but also led to many factory closures, and Arnade shows us some of the unemployed and despairing. It’s easy to say “move to places where jobs exist,” but many are neither readily mobile (for family reasons) or easily trainable for different occupations.

In Why Cities Lose (Basic, 2019), Jonathan Rodden shows how state legislatures as well as Congress and the Electoral College now have a built-in Republican edge, since Democratic votes are concentrated in cities. Some urban Democratic candidates win 90 percent of the vote in their districts, but Republicans who win 55 percent of the vote in theirs also gain a seat. Democrats can either change the rules or try to appeal more broadly.

Ian Haney López’s Dog Whistle Politics (Oxford, 2015) sees those statistics and is upset that lower-middle-class whites tend to vote Republican: They are supposedly “led astray by appeals to social concerns.” They supposedly do not “recognize their actual economic interests.” López sees “coded racial appeals” at play, but his index does not even include the word “abortion.” 

Daniel Hill’s White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White (IVP, 2017) is a superficial look. White privilege was across-the-board a half-century ago, but now it varies from sphere to sphere: Whites are certainly privileged in law enforcement, but blacks are clearly privileged in hiring within universities. White privilege because of college admission through legacies, contacts, and cheating is a reasonable defense for affirmative action, but quotas hurt poor white kids. And so it goes: “Check your privilege” makes sense at street level when we go sphere by sphere, but Hill follows the crowd in overgeneralizing.

Truth Decay by Jennifer Kavanagh and Michael Rich (Rand Corp., 2018) has a nicely humble subtitle: An Initial Exploration of the Diminishing Role of Facts and Analysis in American Public Life. I hope, in their fuller exploration, they’ll do more historical research before contending that in recent years we have seen “a blurring of the line between opinion and fact.” Such blurring is nothing new and is even inevitable, since which facts to emphasize, and even what a fact is, often depends on worldviews. America 50 years ago did not have a golden age when network news shows merely presented facts: Walter Cronkite’s CBS sign-off, “And that’s the way it is,” lacked humility.


In For the Life of the World: Theology That Makes a Difference (Brazos, 2019), Miroslav Volf and Matthew Croasmun overuse the words “flourish” and “flourishing,” which they and others should retire. They do raise good questions about academic theology “composed of specialists in an unrespected discipline who write for specialists about topics that interest hardly anyone else.” 

Rebecca McLaughlin’s Confronting Christianity (Crossway, 2019) is theology that could make a difference. She answers well 11 questions children who go to secular universities are likely to come out asking, including: “Doesn’t Christianity crush diversity?” “How can you say there’s only one true faith?” “Doesn’t religion cause violence?” “Doesn’t the Bible condone slavery?” She only falls short on “How could a loving God allow so much suffering?”—but that’s the toughest nut to crack.

The Power of Christian Contentment by Andrew Davis (Baker, 2019) is a solid 21st-century version of—and tribute to—The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Puritan Pastor Jeremiah Burroughs, which I have strongly recommended several times in WORLD. God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel (Zondervan, 2019) is a stinging, up-close critique of televangelist Benny Hinn by his nephew, Costi Hinn.

Wild Awakening: How a Raging Grizzly Healed My Wounded Heart by Greg Matthews (Howard, 2019) has some padding, but it’s a page-turner to the gripping part where a grizzly grips the author’s head. —M.O.