I've been reporting on the intersection of religion and politics--the great myths by which we live--since the smoking craters of the Twin Towers, when an acquaintance who called himself a follower of Jesus visited me in NYC and explained he was there to "bear witness" to what he hoped, in strange sympathy with Al Qaeda, would be  "the ruins of secularism."

Since then, I've published eight books, one of which, THE FAMILY, became a Netflix documentary series, another of which, THE UNDERTOW: Scenes from a Slow Civil War, gives this substack its name. Most of my work is in the U.S., but I’ve also reported on the so-called “Kill-the-Gays” law in Uganda, the beginning of Russia’s anti-LGBTQ+ crackdown—inspired by the U.S. right, which in turn has adopted ideas put into practice by Putin—and the ways American Christian nationalism shapes what I think of as “gender nationalism” around the globe.

Most of my work is intimate: I spend time with people. Some of them are scary. None of them are “monsters.” If only it were that easy. We could push them back under the bed. But they’re human, like us. I don’t “humanize” my subjects. They are, for better and worse, already human. My work is to see them as fully as possible. Our work, those troubled by what we see, is to imagine how this world we share now could be otherwise.

I never meant to spend decades reporting on the varieties of rightwing belief. I confess fascination; I admit fear. I love and write about many other matters--music books and photography and Vermont, where I live, and everyday people in their glory.

And yet Scenes from a Slow Civil War is the house I'm building to share what I know of this global fascist moment: how it came into being (and why I believe “fascist” is the correct term), the currents from which it draws, and what this ascendent fascism believes.

It’s also a space for whatever hope we can summon. Twenty years ago, my co-author Peter Manseau and I chose as epigraph of our first book, KILLING THE BUDDHA: A Heretic's Bible—which began in the still-smoking ruins of 9/11—a line from a Yiddish poem by Yankev Glatshteyn, "My Brother Refugee," which, when Glatshteyn published it in 1946, referred to the dead and the living and the in-between haunting the wreckage: "Der got fun meyn ungloyn iz priptik."

The god of my unbelief is magnificent.

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I reported Trump '16 and '20 for magazines & in my book THE UNDERTOW: Scenes from a Slow Civil War. I was going to sit '24 out, but the slow civil war is speeding up.

People

Author, NYT bestsellers THE UNDERTOW: Scenes from a Slow Civil War; THE FAMILY, (a Netflix series); & C STREET; SWEET HEAVEN WHEN I DIE; & THIS BRILLIANT DARKNESS. Contrib. Editor, VANITY FAIR. Professor of literary journalism, Dartmouth College.