For the majority of America, the country is falling apart under Donald Trump. For the minority, the slice that elected Trump, it was falling apart under Barack Obama.
They’re both right, according to the reporter who chronicled America for most of the past decade. And who had more than a little fun with the ride into hell.
The case is made in the new book, Sh*tshow!: The Country's Collapsing . . . and the Ratings Are Great, by Charlie LeDuff. LeDuff, 52, may be America’s last great gonzo reporter, who stomped across the country in American flag cowboy boots as national correspondent for Fox TV. His show was called The Americans and the book is about them, namely the people on the bottom and the people on the top screwing them.
“Everybody in America’s angry at the government,” LeDuff told The Daily Beast. “It doesn’t work for them, doesn’t respond to them, doesn’t make decisions that are healthy for them.”
That’s what LeDuff learned from three years on the road—before Trump arrived.
“It’s basically a book about America from the streets, not the studio,”LeDuff told The Daily Beast. “It’s also a book about how the sausage is made. It’s trying to glue together Bundy’s ranch with Flint with the Texas border with Ferguson with Mexico with the Trump campaign. How does that even remotely make sense?”
LeDuff—who makes a point of calling himself a reporter, not a journalist—doesn’t try to explain it.
“It’s just my job to be there and write it down,”he said.
And he can write. Take for example his chapter on Flint, Michigan, whose water was poisoned.
“There must have been a run on Kool-Aid, because everybody in the trailer park seemed to be drinking it,”he writes. Later, “The children’s lips would have told you it couldn’t be drunk without Kool-Aid.”
LeDuff isn’t a TV reporter trying his hand at writing. He spent 12 years at the New York Times before moving back to his native Michigan in 2008. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for his story of racial segregation in slaughterhouses.
It’s race, more than Trump, that is Sh*tshow’s central vein. LeDuff grew up in Detroit’s first generation suburbs where whites settled after working in Motor City’s factories, many of them migrating from Appalachia. LeDuff calls them “rednecks”without condescension.
That’s who was decisive in putting Trump in the White House, and LeDuff said Republicans peeled them away from Democrats by promising to not help blacks or minorities, or, end “affirmative action”as he put it.
“The Republicans gave the redneck everything but that,” he told The Daily Beast. “They gave him a forever war where his son comes home and walks around on popsicle sticks and can’t get an appointment at the V.A. The value of his home collapses and he’s living in an apartment…. They shipped his job to Mexico.
“An orangutan could’ve said what he [Trump] said—in fact those are orange aren’t they? I don’t blame people for voting for him.”
LeDuff does blame the “liberal white elite”for ignoring rednecks though. He writes:
“They’ve spent no time in his living room, his corner part, his pistol range. To them he’s a lout and a bore and a racist, and to dig any deeper is simply an exercise in inconvenience. And they seem to think he resides only in Appalachia, although he lives right under their noses, from Boston to Bakersfield.”
Try as he did to focus on them, LeDuff couldn’t ignore Trump so he went about covering the orange phenomenon in his own unique way.
“He was important, no doubt, but we would not castigate him, just bat him around like a ball of yarn. We weren’t campaign beat reporters. We were street reporters. In our view, the story was and always will be the American people scratching it out from Ferguson to Flint. Certainly there was room for this in the vomit of continual political coverage. So I thought.”
LeDuff asked absurd questions because Trump was absurd. A 2,000-mile wall across the Mexican border, paid by Mexico? Dial the proposal up to 11.
“Why don’t we get the Mexicans to build the Wall on their side? That way everybody at the Home Depot will run home to build it and seal themselves in?” he asked with gumption.
“Yeah, and Mexico’s gonna pay for it,” Trump replied.
“Awesome!” LeDuff shot back.
Another time he asked Trump where he stood on topless women in Times Square, because why not? Well, one reason might have been that his Fox bosses then forbade him from covering Trump.
“How was I to know I was supposed to take the shitshow seriously?”LeDuff wrote.
After Trump was in the Oval Office and Nazis were on the streets of Charlottesville, the shitshow was cemented.
“Reporters were now shouting questions at the president that would have gotten them fired just months ago. Sir, are you a racist? Spinning-in-the-spinroom was ahead of its time.”
So was LeDuff. Now we’re all in the shitshow.