Longreads Best of 2016: Political Analysis

We asked a few writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here, the best in political analysis.

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Kiese Laymon
A Professor of English and Creative Writing at University of Mississippi, and author of forthcoming memoir, Heavy.

The Trouble With the Liberal Arguments Against Third-Party Voters—and What to Do About It (Josie Duffy Rice, The Daily Kos)

I got tired of reading about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in 2016, especially when most pieces could be lumped in the For or Against piles. But Josie Duffy consistently managed to make me think and feel not just what I hadn’t thought or felt, but what I tried to avoid thinking and feeling. Her piece, “The Trouble With Liberal Argument Against 3rd Party Candidates …” is amazing in its scope. Josie is easily one of the most amazing young long-form essayists in the country. In between evocatively presenting autobiography and political analysis, she dropped three sentences that made music out of American Presidential noise. “Listen,” she wrote, “I am a firm believer that in a country like America you should vote for your opponent. Who do you want to fight against for the next eight years? Who do you want to push left?” The piece, like most of Josie’s writing, welcomes us in, cares for us and asks everything of us when we leave. I can’t share this piece enough.

Donald Trump: He Was Made in America (Kirsten West Savali, The Root)

I don’t trust any journalist in the world more that Kirsten West Savali. Her work is consistently daring, loving of vulnerable folk, unafraid of calling out all kinds of abuse and deeply Mississippi through and through. Her piece, “Donald Trump: He Was Made in America” made clear to any one willing the listen what this nation was going to do on November 2. She uses repetition in this piece in a way that is both haunting and aptly comical. In a world where many writers work as extensions of the pop left and pop right, writing like this pushed and prodded many of us to reckon with what American complicity means and does in 2016.


Keith Gessen
A founder of n+1

Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City (Nikole Hannah-Jones, The New York Times Magazine)

I read this remarkable article just as our baby boy was turning one, which meant, in New York, that we had to start thinking about elementary schools. Although, not really—in fact the schools here change so quickly, as do the school zones, that thinking about it too much too early is probably a total waste of time. Nonetheless, this piece about the decision the author and her husband made with regard to their daughter introduced me to Hannah-Jones’s work, all of which deals with the persistence (and even, in the last twenty years, acceleration) of racial segregation in American life. Like all great writing, it puts words to phenomena that had been right before my eyes.

Sweet ’16: Notes on the US Election (Benjamin Kunkel, Salvage)

In the wake of the catastrophe of November 8, the media went into one of its favorite modes—self-flagellation—to suggest that, if only they had seen the Trump voters who kept thrusting themselves into their vision, they might have predicted the electoral outcome better. As a person who had just spent a year reading all the reports by these in fact pretty conscientious journalists about the strange and exotic Trump voter—many more than I had read about, for example, the Bernie Sanders voter—I found this pretty odd. Had they really not seen the Trump voters that they’d written so much about—or had they, instead, merely not understood what they were seeing? This essay by Benjamin Kunkel in the British leftist quarterly Salvage sets out the global context of economic crisis and stagnation against which the rise of Trump can actually be understood. In a year of darkness and confusion, it gives off actual light—though it, too, predicts a victory for Hillary.


Seth Masket
Chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Denver, and the author of The Inevitable Party: Why Attempts to Kill the Party System Fail and How they Weaken Democracy

Trump May Bring A Republican Recalibration, Not A Realignment (Julia Azari, Five Thirty Eight)

This may be a tad wonky. Azari discusses how Donald Trump’s candidacy may affect the Republican Party and where that would fit into the history of America’s political parties. She argues that, although Trump has run a very different sort of campaign than we’ve seen and incites emotions and fears that few other candidates do, there’s little evidence that his run will change the alignments of the parties. The parties seem to be fighting about the same basic issues that they were before his candidacy, and that system is proving remarkably endurable.


Marie Myung-Ok Lee
A novelist and essayist who teaches at Columbia.

Could Hillary Clinton Become the Champion of the 99%? (Gideon Lewis-Kraus, The New York Times Magazine)

This look at the Roosevelt Institute, a progressive think tank, suggests that Americans of many political persuasions actually want a Great Society and Rooseveltian vision for America—but would Hillary Clinton be able to win the allegiance of the so-called 99%? One random comment on the piece dated July 25 was eerily prescient:

“The Clinton brand of triangulation dictates that it’s impossible for her to become the champion of the 99 percent. I hope I’m wrong, but we shall see…”

Hillary Clinton vs. Herself (Rebecca Traister, New York Magazine)

Hillary Clinton had serious, real flaws as a candidate, including her hawkish State Department record, but the misogyny she faced just by virtue of being a woman was real, too. In this piece, a classic of its form, Rebecca Traister limns the peaks and pitfalls of being the first female nominee of a major political party to run for president.

The Obama Administration Just Granted Henry Kissinger a Distinguished Public Service Award (Greg Grandin, The Nation)

Trump aside, the political year 2016 reached peak weirdness with the reappearance and lionizing of Henry Kissinger. As Greg Grandin wrote in this piece, the penultimate moment of a man “implicated in at least three genocides (Cambodia, Bangladesh, and East Timor)” being given Department of Defense’s highest award for a private citizen showed how the Democrats’ strategy of triangulation from the Clinton years has transmogrified into some kind of M.C. Escher five-dimensional trapezoid, and why cognitive dissonance, not, say, income inequality, became the leitmotif for Democrats this election. Consider how protesters who follow Kissinger around shouting “War criminal!” are portrayed as the loonies by the press, when they’re actually the ones who are right.


Mike Dang
Longreads Editor-in-Chief and Editor at WordPress.com / Automattic.

Revenge of the Forgotten Class (Alec MacGillis, ProPublica)

In the days following the presidential election, as people began to make sense of the results, I focused my attention on a specific group of voters: those who had voted for Obama in the previous two elections but switched their vote to Trump in 2016. What was behind their reasoning? Reporters set out to find out. This American Life’s Miki Meek spoke to two Latino police officers who said they didn’t like “how policing issues had been handled over the past few years” and Hillary Clinton’s support of Black Lives Matter, which they felt were anti-police.

Two days after the election, Alec MacGillis’ “Revenge of the Forgotten Class” gave me a greater understanding of what happened than any other piece I read. MacGillis visited the small towns and cities of the Rust Belt and spoke to several white workers about how they were voting. Tracie St. Martin, a 54-year-old heavy-construction worker from a staunch Democratic family, said she didn’t like President Obama’s demeanor, despite voting for him in 2008, and that the last few years had her feeling left behind. “I wanted people like me to be cared about. People don’t realize there’s nothing without a blue-collar worker.” Another white worker, 33-year-old Navy veteran Brian Osbourne, similarly felt forgotten. He felt that the country spent too much time being “politically correct” while the local economy still had “a lot of people working jobs that they’re overqualified for.” While Trump’s string of controversies took up much of the headlines, these Rust Belt voters worried about their livelihoods, and the Democratic party seemed to take little notice.


Michelle Weber
Longreads Senior Editor and Editor at WordPress.com / Automattic.

Hillary Clinton vs. Herself (Rebecca Traister, New York Magazine)

Rebecca Traister is one of my favorite writers, and this profile-slash-exploration of Hillary Clinton the politician vs. Hillary Clinton the person shows why. Each word is perfectly chosen. The flow and pacing are flawless. Sympathy is expertly balanced with critique; writers Traister, “To be near her is to feel like the campaign is in steady hands; to be at any distance is to fear for the fate of the republic.” My favorite thing about the piece, though, are the little details throughout that give life and warmth to both the subject and the profile as a whole: the description of a sofa. Of Clinton popping a lozenge into her mouth before a stump speech. Or her breakfast. Of her subtle shifts in tone or expression.

They’re not always flattering — “‘If black and Latino voters come out and vote, we could win Texas,’ she told me firmly, practically licking her lips.” — but they give the essay and the candidate humanity, and keep what is quite a long piece grounded and relevant. It’s politics as people, not just analysis. Even if you are a die-hard anti-Clintonite I urge you to read it, if only to enjoy some excellent work by a writer at the top of her game.


Mark Armstrong
Founder, Longreads.

Autocracy: Rules for Survival (Masha Gessen, The New York Review of Books)

It almost seems like this year’s political analysis needed to be broken into two phases: the period of incredulous disbelief before November 8 that Trump was a real candidate at all (versus a businessman cannily exploiting the worst attributes of the Republican party to boost his Twitter following), and the shock of this past month, where we start to realize what happened.

Now, the only thing I remember at all in 2016 is Masha Gessen, two days later, writing this at The New York Review of Books.

Gessen, the Russian-American journalist and author of 2016’s The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, has been producing outstanding reporting from Russian for years now, but it took on a whole new meaning in the 2016 presidential race. In 2014, Longreads featured a chapter from Gay Propaganda, a collection of stories co-edited by Gessen about what it’s like to be gay in Russia. Is this our future? How can we prepare, and how can America fight to protect its democracy? Read Gessen on the jailing of the Pussy Riot protesters in Harper’s, and on what it’s like to be a journalist in Russia. In July, as questions continued about Putin’s relationship with Trump and Russian hackers’ roles in hacking Democratic party emails, she explained: “That’s what the recent Putin fixation is like—a way to evade the fact that Trump is a thoroughly American creation that poses an existential threat to American democracy.”

We can now see that horse race coverage was (once again) a total waste of time, and the best political reporting is everything else — like the political consequences of a casual phone call with the president of the Philippines and his government’s massacre of people in its streets. Did Trump really invite Duterte to the White House? That can’t be true, can it? And now I hear Gessen again, reminding me: “This will happen often: humans seem to have evolved to practice denial when confronted publicly with the unacceptable.”


Sari Botton
Writer, contributing editor to Longreads, editorial director of the non-profit TMI Project, and owner of Kingston Writers’ Studio.

Hillary Clinton Didn’t Shatter the Glass Ceiling. This Is What Broke Instead.(Rebecca Traister, New York Magazine)

This was a sobering piece to read in the days after the 2016 presidential election, and is no less so more than a month later. Rebecca Traister—whose first book, Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women—considered the implications of Hillary Clinton’s loss to Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary—tries to make sense of Clinton’s surprise loss to Donald Trump, and the potential threat to recent progress toward greater inclusion and representation for women and minorities.

The resounding, surprising, data-defying victory of a man who ran on open racism and misogyny, and was voted into office by 63 percent of white men and 53 percent of white women voters, was made possible by voters threatened by the increased influence of women and people of color.

My President Was Black (Ta Nehisi-Coates, The Atlantic)

An in-depth profile of Barack Obama and a look at his eight years not just as president, but as America’s first black president. Ta Nehisi-Coates looks at the factors behind the Obama’s unique brand of optimism, which helped propel him as a politician—and also helped him to grossly miscalculate the results of the 2016 presidential election.

History classes are our best hope for teaching Americans to question fake news and Donald Trump (Marie Myung-Oak Lee, Quartz Magazine)

Novelist Marie Myung-Oak Lee argues in favor of college history classes—which fewer students are enrolling in. She points out that studying history helps us to understand and apply critical thinking to current events, and also to detect fictions in news reporting. History classes maybe be more important than ever, she says, now that we have a president-elect who has little interest in history—or facts.


See more from our Best of 2016 series


from Longreads https://blog.longreads.com/2016/12/19/longreads-best-of-2016-political-analysis/

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