Published in July 2022
Atlantic staff writer (and former New York Times reporter) Mark Leibovich knows almost none of us want to waste any more energy or time thinking about the Trump presidency. It would be hard to think of another industry in which fewer Trump supporters work than higher education.
For a quick aside, I googled “most liberal industries,” and the second result came back a 2014 Slate article titled “Which Industries Are the Most Liberal and Most Conservative?” That article reprints a graphic from a 2013 paper published in the American Journal of Political Science that shows how industries lean ideologically based on patterns of political contributions. The takeaway for us is that academia (no surprise) comes out the most liberal.
Why, then, should those of us in higher ed who have almost surely made up our minds about the Trump presidency read another book about the Trump presidency? You need to know something about Mark Leibovich’s writing to answer that question.
Readers of his previous books know that Leibovich is a) über–plugged in and b) super-funny. These two attributes serve the reader of Thank You for Your Servitude well. What Leibovich is after is not an exercise in original reporting. Instead, Thank You for Your Servitude is about the politicians who enabled the worst elements of Trump’s behaviors, policies and actions. Leibovich accomplished this goal by making those around Trump look not sinister but ridiculous.
Lindsey Graham and Kevin McCarthy are chief among the pitiful and tragicomic characters who cast their lot with Trump. In their efforts to remain “relevant,” both politicians abandoned first their values and then any claim to decency. In contrast to the bulk of the Republican Party, Liz Cheney, Mitt Romney and the late John McCain come off as (complicated and flawed) heroes.
A few years ago, I wrote about Julie Schumacher’s satirical academic novel, The Shakespeare Requirement. In that review, I asked, “Why do we love academia so much that we are willing to make fun of ourselves?” My answer was “I’d say that it is a gift to take our work seriously, but ourselves not so much.”
I’d also say that humor is often the best way to understand something. We love funny books about academia like MOO, Dear Committee Member, Straight Man and Wonder Boys because they allow us to explore our world in a way that nonfiction accounts do not.
Thank You for Your Servitude is nonfiction. And hilarious. Leibovich shows that it is possible to write about an event as horrifying as the Trump presidency and make it funny.
Where are the funny nonfiction books about higher ed? Why have novelists cornered the market on humorous books about academia? Do we have any examples of nonfiction books about colleges and universities that are likely to cause us to embarrassingly laugh out loud while listening to the audiobook version while walking across campus?
Thank You for Your Servitude was the political book I needed at this moment.
I’m on the lookout for its nonfiction analogue set not in the swamp of politics but in the halls of academia. Can you offer any suggestions?
What are you reading?