Movements are made up of individuals – each with fears, biases, relationships and beliefs. That’s why understanding – and if needed, countering – any movement requires a close and empathetic look at the individuals comprising it. Otherwise, it’s just too easy to fall into the paralyzing “those people are all insane” dismissiveness so many Americans seem to lean into these days when they think about those they disagree with. “They” can’t all be insane, though. So how can they possibly believe (fill in the blank)? And the more dangerous the movement, the more essential it is to grasp its appeal at a human level.
The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War, is the brilliant new book from best-selling author Jeff Sharlet that tries to do exactly that. Described in a glowing New York Times review as “an anguished quest to understand the rise of antidemocratic extremism,” The Undertow is a guided road trip across the country, both geographically and psychologically, with Jeff Sharlet – a leading investigator of the political religious right. And this week, Jeff is back on State of Belief, Interfaith Alliance’s weekly radio program and podcast, to share the stories he collected in an America that seems fractured, frightened, and angry with State of Belief host Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush.
Jeff is the best-selling author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, later a Netflix documentary series, and C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy. While Jeff tells some truly alarming stories in The Undertow, he also offers a substantial – and very hard-won – message of hope that everyone who values our union needs to hear.