Book Review: “The Cruelty is the Point.”

This is not one of those books that you read to feel good. It’s not a book that you read to convince someone of something either. It’s a book to just highlight what is so blatantly obvious.

It’s kind of like what I’ve been learning about the Puritans as I’ve been reading more history about them – they were terrible people, intent on making as many people as miserable as they were, imposing a religious tyranny on others. They left England because they couldn’t impose their religious tyranny there and so they left and imposed it elsewhere, ensuring that no one would be happy. By this standard, the cruelty was the point.

And that’s always been the point – tyranny, at it’s core, is always about cruelty. It’s always about misery. Because the people who are imposing the tyranny are at their core just plain miserable. And you know the old adage – misery loves company.

Adam Serwer, in his book, “The Cruelty is the Point” highlights this point very eloquently in a series of 13 compiled essays (and introductions to those essays) that he wrote throughout the last administration on how cruelty was always the point and goal.

I’m not going to do the usual thing and quote specific parts of this book – again, this isn’t a usual type of book. Instead, I want to point out specific sections, or rather topics, so you can see the themes that Serwer covers to get a better sense of what he is talking about.

In Chapter one, he talks about the backlash. Consider this the overall why of the cruelty. It’s a backlash. But it is rooted in much deeper things than recent history or policy debates.

Chapter two talks about the lost cause of the Confederacy and the myth of the kindly General Robert E Lee. Let’s just be really clear – Lee was a racist bastard.

Chapter three talks about the nationalist delusion – or the lies we tell ourselves. This has to do with race and immigration.

Chapter four is about reconciliation and civility. Chapter five is about the mob and cruelty. Chapter six is about nativism and its deep American roots, which is ironic consider that its a bunch of foreigners who adopt it and impose it. Which brings us to Chapter seven which talks about that very subject. Then we get to chapter eight which is about conspiracies, then chapter nine with is about exclusion, chapter ten which is about philo-semitism (you’ll have to read about that), chapter eleven which is about the cruelty of covid response or lack thereof. Then we get to chapter twelve and it gets really interesting and Serwer turns to police unions and the history of the police (a fascinating chapter). Chapter thirteen is about the former president and the new reconstruction. And lastly the conclusion is about the slow fall of authoritarian America.

Regardless of where Serwer is going with the book, his point is this – cruelty isn’t anything new in this country. It’s been a part of who we are for a long time – a nasty part of who we are. An ugly part. And we should come to terms with it so that we can move forward from it. So that we can heal from it. So that we can be better than it. So that we can grow from it. So that we can leave it behind. Because we are better than this. We’re better than being cruel people.

Serwer, Adam. The Cruelty is the Point. 2021. Random House.

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