Nicole Hemmer Reviews Martin and Burns's "This Will Not Pass"Historians in the News
tags: book reviews, political history, Democratic Party, journalism, Joe Biden, Donald Trump, 2020 Election
Nicole Hemmer is an associate research scholar at Columbia University and the author of Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics. She is a co-founder of The Washington Post’s daily historical analysis section, Made by History.
This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden, and the Battle for America’s Future
By Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns
Simon & Schuster. 466 pp. $29.99
A week after the 2020 election, an argument broke out among Democratic lawmakers over why the party had fallen so far short of expectations. Democrats had banked on capturing more than a dozen new House seats but instead lost 13. Moderates like Rep. Abigail Spanberger (Va.) and progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) engaged in a serious — and public — debate over the tactics and ideas that had dissipated support for Democrats. Press accounts portrayed the two sides, and the two women, as locked in battle, combatants in the opening salvo of a civil war in the Democratic Party.
Two months later, the women would live through a real battle. In early January, Spanberger called Ocasio-Cortez with a warning. In a few days, Congress would meet to certify the presidential election. But two months of lies emanating from the Trump White House were set to culminate in a protest headlined by the president, timed to coincide with the election certification. The routine electoral procedure had the potential to turn violent, which could be particularly dangerous for a high-profile legislator like Ocasio-Cortez. “You’re a very recognizable target,” Spanberger explained. “Wear sneakers, dress down — don’t look like you.” A few days later, both women would be caught up in the violence: Spanberger was trapped in the House chamber when rioters breached the Capitol, while Ocasio-Cortez barricaded herself in her office, terrified that she would be raped and killed by the mob.
These discordant stories — one about the everyday politics of the Democratic Party, the other about Donald Trump and the GOP’s extraordinary efforts to hold on to power — are the subject of “This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden, and the Battle for America’s Future” by New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns. The book spans two years, from the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States through the first year of Joe Biden’s presidency. Bouncing between rapidly radicalizing Republicans and business-as-usual Democrats, it tells a story of an unprecedented attack on democracy and a system distinctly unsuited to respond. The overriding message — that democracy is in as much danger today as it was when rioters smashed their way into the U.S. Capitol — comes through with startling clarity.
“This Will Not Pass” charts the path of two parties and two presidencies at a moment when the democratic system in the United States was becoming increasingly fragile — when, in fact, Trump and his allies in the Republican Party were increasingly committed to dismantling it. Martin and Burns divide that story into three parts: the pre-election period starting in March 2020, when Biden emerged as the Democratic nominee and the coronavirus pandemic upended the presidential race; the long election period, stretching from early November to the Jan. 6 insurrection; and the first year of Biden’s presidency, when the Democrats were challenged to put the country back together and the Republicans were challenged to do anything — anything at all — about the act of terror that marked the end of Trump’s presidency.
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