JARED YATES SEXTON got into writing about politics because he was procrastinating.
“In 2015 I was writing this novel but it wasn’t working,” recalls Sexton, “so I was like, ‘I’m gonna throw myself into the 2016 election, analyze it, understand it the best I can.’”
Sexton began going to town halls and rallies for the 2016 election’s candidates. From there, the Georgia Southern creative writing professor was thrust into a brand new world, one where he became Twitter-verified and received enough death threats to prompt the installation of a home security system.
“I got dragged kicking and screaming into the deep end of the pool,” laughs Sexton.
He’s laughing now, but Sexton’s new book, The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore: A Story of American Rage, shows us that America’s current state of affairs is no laughing matter.
The People, released under Counterpoint Press on Aug. 15, is the full story of the 2016 election and features Sexton’s political reporting and analysis. It’s currently on its third printing, and Sexton will host a reading and signing at the Book Lady on Sep. 9.
In The People, Sexton points to rage as a quality that voters sought for in the candidates, as well as one of the motivating forces behind Donald Trump’s election as President. It’s also the reason Sexton got those death threats.
“It’s such a terrible environment right now,” he laments, “amplified by social media and the anonymity of it, but there’s this group of people that anyone they disagree with, their method is to threaten or silence. I had people trying to get me fired from Georgia Southern, calling the administrative offices, but then there was a group of people who were a lot more personal about it and show up at my house.
“It’s one of those things where, for a lot of people, the line between online and reality have blended for them.”
In the book, Sexton discusses our society’s construction of our own echo chambers, a product of our unwillingness to listen to perspectives that don’t align with ours.
“For a lot of people who have their opinions, what they consume, read, look at, watch is based around their political point of view,” Sexton explains.
“I was at all these Trump rallies where I saw and heard some really awful stuff, and I saw things like Charlottesville coming. For many people who were supporting Trump, they didn’t want to believe this stuff was real. What I dealt with a lot was people who were like, ‘This doesn’t conform with my reality, so I don’t believe it.’ I had some luck getting through to some people, but it was not the easiest thing in the world trying to get past those echo chambers.”
Part of a factory worker family, Sexton is familiar with the vulgarity that comes with working-class families, a popular demographic for Trump.
“There’s a lot of people—factory people, laborers—that part of their entire persona is that there’s a crassness to it, vulgarity to it,” he says.
“You have to be hard in order to survive hardness. Trump, for whatever reason, speaks and acts a lot like these people but hasn’t had the hardness, it just so happens that he has this demeanor.”
Sexton posits that a large part of Trump’s victory is due to his simplified approach to nuanced problems.
“We have a lot of really hard problems facing us that are very nuanced. The major problems with America are not easy, they’re complicated,” Sexton explains. “It’s almost impossible to unravel the knot, and he made it incredibly easy. He pointed the finger and said who was to blame, and that’s where you put your anger.
“My family’s anger has been there for decades and they blame certain people, DC, certain companies. Conspiracy theories are just how Trump operates. When laborers like my family look at our political system, they can either believe it’s nuanced and the world is changing and they’re not ready for it, or they can believe the world is against them. There’s a big mental gymnastic you have to make, but it’s a lot easier because it saves yourself and it doesn’t hurt and there’s not a lot of work to be done, because if there’s a worldwide conspiracy, what do you do?”
Even after writing The People, Sexton doesn’t claim to know what to do next.
“I have a lot of opinions why this is happening, and I’ve seen it coming,” he says. “Frankly, if we look at Trump and we say, ‘This is awful. When will it end?’ It’s never gonna end. This is a situation where we can’t shrug our shoulders.”