Enemy within

 quarterly essayReview by Garth Jones


AS the United States prepares to head to one of the most divisive Presidential polls in history, author and speechwriter Don Watson returns with his second Quarterly Essay.

Watson, a former speechwriter for Paul Keating, adopts a travelogue structure, similar to his 2008 book American Journeys. Travelling through the US interior, the author seeks to take the temperature of the state of the American body politic.

Reflecting on the toxic discourse of the 2016 election campaign, Watson discusses the roots of the United States’ historically unprecedented cultural and political division.

Enemy Within considers the three philosophical directions suggested by establishment candidate Hillary Clinton, social progressive Bernie Sanders and rogue Republican demagogue Donald Trump. Watson frames his musings around the concept of American Exceptionalism and the key role faith (in many guises) plays in presidential politics.

A lifetime political animal, the author attempts to parse the mythology and narratives of American public affairs which eventually spawned Donald Trump. The businessman, initially dismissed as a clownish sideshow, has, as of this writing, preyed on the electorate’s worst instincts and now seems within shouting distance of the White House.

Shrewdly exploiting a national sense of an Empire in decline, Trump’s populist ‘Make America Great Again’ narrative has thrived on fear mongering, xenophobia and paranoia.

Written before the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where presidential nominees are anointed, Enemy Within is perhaps handicapped by the Quarterly Essay’s publishing schedule. Taking into consideration increasingly fraught opinion polling as election day draws nearer, it would be interesting to see a companion piece from Watson as the race tightens.

With November just around the corner, Watson’s essay serves as a fascinating insight into the historical and cultural forces behind the current parlous state of American presidential politics.

RRP: $22.99


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