‘Every four years the people of the United States of America choose the person they think most likely to keep them free and safe; and best placed to decide what their country’s interests are and how they should be pursued … ’ So begins Don Watson’s second Quarterly Essay, a barbed look at American politics in the time of Trump.
Watson's essay, titled 'Enemy Within', sees him return to America and examine the state of the union through the microcosm of the Midwest – Wisconsin is, in Watson's words, 'a model of American moral seriousness, Yankee patriotism, political pragmatism and steadfast values'. Watson, who is a former speechwriter for Paul Keating and the author of acclaimed books such as Recollections of a Bleeding Heart, American Journeys and The Bush, reflects on the 'thicket of unreality' that is the American media and suggests that the national malaise has more to do with the mindset of the people than the quality of the country's leadership.
There's no denying that 2016 has been a big year in politics, with major elections in the US and Australia. Yet it has also seen a crisis of confidence befall both countries. 'Enemy Within' looks at the evolution of leadership, and the level of disaffection and alienation that arises when leaders are more intent on making political points than expressing empathy. It is, for this reason and many more, essential reading.
Watson has been on tour discussing his fascinating essay on the presidential contest. Watch him here with Sarah Ferguson and Nick Feik at Melbourne Writers Festival 2016 or listen to his radio interview with Margaret Throsby here. Alternatively, read an extract from 'Enemy Within' on the Quarterly Essay website or check out Michael Gordon's take on the leadership malaise.
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