NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From an award-winning journalist at The Atlantic, these searing essays make a damning case that cruelty is not merely an unfortunate byproduct of the Trump administration but its main objective and the central theme of the American project.
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR • “No writer better demonstrates how American dreams are so often sabotaged by American history. Adam Serwer is essential.”—Ta-Nehisi Coates
“Trump summoned the most treacherous forces in American history and conducted them with the ease of a grand maestro.”
Like many of us, Adam Serwer didn’t know that Donald Trump would win the 2016 election. But over the four years that followed, the Atlantic staff writer became one of our most astute analysts of the Trump presidency and the volatile powers it harnessed. The shock that greeted Trump’s victory, and the subsequent cruelty of his presidency, represented a failure to confront elements of the American past long thought vanquished.
In this searing collection, Serwer chronicles the Trump administration not as an aberration but as an outgrowth of the inequalities the United States was founded on. Serwer is less interested in the presidential spectacle than in the ideological and structural currents behind Trump’s rise—including a media that was often blindsided by the ugly realities of what the administration represented and how it came to be.
While deeply engaged with the moment, Serwer’s writing is also haunted by ghosts of an unresolved American past, a past that torments the present. In bracing new essays and previously published works, he explores white nationalism, myths about migration, the political power of police unions, and the many faces of anti-Semitism. For all the dynamics he examines, cruelty is the glue, the binding agent of a movement fueled by fear and exclusion. Serwer argues that rather than pretending these four years didn’t happen or dismissing them as a brief moment of madness, we must face what made them possible and continues to endure. Unless we confront these toxic legacies, the fragile dream of American multiracial democracy will remain vulnerable to the forces that have nearly destroyed it time and again.
About the Author
Adam Serwer has written for The Atlantic since 2016, focusing on contemporary politics while often viewing it through the lens of history. Serwer was a Spring Fellow at the Shorenstein Center at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University as well as the Ira Lipman Fellow at the Columbia University School of Journalism. He is the recipient of the 2019 Hillman Prize for opinion journalism. He lives in San Antonio, Texas, with his family.
“Serwer’s writing has been indispensable to understanding the chaotic world around us. Incisive, elegant, and deeply anchored in history, The Cruelty Is the Point is an essential guide to a perilous time in American life.”—Jelani Cobb, New Yorker contributor and author of The Substance of Hope
“Adam Serwer is the most incisive political writer of our time.”—Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy
“The essays in The Cruelty Is the Point combine an unsparing accounting of our history with an astute examination of our present.”—Wesley Lowery, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and author of They Can’t Kill Us All
“Serwer’s powerful truth-telling grabs us, shakes us, and warns us that as long as we wishfully forget the history of American cruelty, we will fail to see it coming for all that we hold dear.”—Heather McGhee, author of The Sum of Us
“No journalist has done more to advance our understanding of American power abuse in the age of Donald Trump than Adam Serwer.”—Rebecca Traister, author of Good and Mad
“For those of us trying to find our way through the fog of the Trump era, Adam Serwer’s essays served as a constant source of illumination and inspiration. The Cruelty Is the Point is an absolute must-read.”—Kevin M. Kruse, professor of history, Princeton University
“Atlantic journalist Serwer reflects on the antecedents, methods, and legacies of Trumpism in his clear-eyed and incisive debut essay collection. . . . Serwer draws parallels [and] . . .[CE1] threads in snippets of his own biracial background and offers concise and illuminating history lessons on the Nation of Islam, the eugenics movement in America, and police unionization, among other topics. . . . This sober-minded inquiry into the Trump era provides essential perspective.”—Publishers Weekly
“A cogent examination of the challenges America faces. In a vigorous collection of more than a dozen essays, award-winning journalist Serwer, a staff writer at The Atlantic and former fellow at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, considers the social and ideological forces that led to Trump’s presidency and, without intervention, will continue to shape American society. . . . A strong contribution to conversations about racism, injustice, and violence, all of which continue to plague this country.”—Kirkus Reviews