Let them Eat Tweets
How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality
A groundbreaking account of the dangerous marriage of plutocratic economic priorities and right-wing populist appeals—and how it threatens the pillars of American democracy.
The Republican Party appears to be divided between a tax-cutting old guard and a white-nationalist vanguard—and with Donald Trump’s ascendance, the upstarts seem to be winning. Yet how are we to explain that, under Trump, the plutocrats have gotten almost everything they want, including a huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthy, regulation-killing executive actions, and a legion of business-friendly federal judges? Does the GOP represent “forgotten” Americans? Or does it represent the superrich?
In Let Them Eat Tweets, best-selling political scientists Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson offer a definitive answer: the Republican Party serves its plutocratic masters to a degree without precedent in modern global history. Conservative parties, by their nature, almost always side with the rich. But when faced with popular resistance, they usually make concessions, allowing some policies that benefit the working and middle classes. After all, how can a political party maintain power in a democracy if it serves only the interests of a narrow and wealthy slice of society?
Today’s Republicans have shown the way, doubling down on a truly radical, elite-benefiting economic agenda while at the same time making increasingly incendiary racial and cultural appeals to their almost entirely white base. Telling a forty-year story, Hacker and Pierson demonstrate that since the early 1980s, when inequality started spiking, extreme tax cutting, union busting, and deregulation have gone hand in hand with extreme race-baiting, outrage stoking, and disinformation. Instead of responding to the real challenges facing voters, the Republican Party offers division and distraction—most prominently, in the racist, nativist bile of the president’s Twitter feed.
As Hacker and Pierson argue, Trump isn’t a break with the GOP’s recent past. On the contrary, he embodies its tightening embrace of plutocracy and right-wing extremism—a dynamic Hacker and Pierson call “plutocratic populism.” As Trump and his far-right allies spew hatred and lies, Republicans in Congress and in statehouses attack social programs and funnel more and more money to the top 0.1 percent of Americans. Far from being at war with each other, reactionary plutocrats and right-wing populists have become the two faces of a party that now actively undermines democracy to achieve its goals against the will of the majority of Americans.
Drawing on decades of research, Hacker and Pierson authoritatively explain the doom loop of tax cutting and fearmongering that characterizes our era—and reveal how we can fight back.
Praise For Let them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality…
— Franklin Foer
[Hacker and Pierson] offer a strong case that the Republican Party’s dependence on its top donors explains much of its trajectory in recent decades, culminating in the rise of Trump. . . . Their historical explanation of how the GOP became radicalized raises legitimate concerns that the party, its judicial appointees and its donor class will carry on 'fomenting tribalism, distorting elections, and subverting democratic institutions, procedures, and norms' regardless of the electoral outcome in November. Those who would resist this development should carefully consider the analysis that Hacker and Pierson lay out in such convincing and depressing detail.
— Geoffrey Kabaservice
If these two political scientists . . . are painting an accurate picture, we ought to see the same sort of political processes at play in other deeply unequal societies facing crises like pandemics. Turns out we do.
— Sam Pizzigati
Political scientists Hacker (Yale) and Pierson (Univ. of California, Berkeley) synthesize many scholarly studies and journalists’ reports to mount a compelling . . . argument that what they call ‘plutocratic populism’—reactionary economic priorities and right-wing cultural and racial appeals—dominates the Republican Party, undermining democracy. . . . A cogent and dispiriting contribution to the growing number of analyses of the ailing American democracy.
A standout among recent releases, timed for the 2020 presidential election cycle, that seek to help readers make sense of the often-confusing political climate.... The authors, both political scientists, find evidence to build their thesis by carefully analyzing recent history.... The answers the authors come up with are cogent and distressing—and convincing. Highly recommended.
— Gary Day, Booklist
This [is a] barbed and cogent account. . . . Hacker and Pierson pull disparate pieces into a lucid narrative that goes a long way toward explaining the current iteration of the Republican Party. Liberals will be equal parts enraged and edified by this deeply sourced polemic.
This essential book makes clear that American democracy is threatened less by Trump than by the extreme economic inequality that set the stage for his election. Growing plutocratic power preceded Trump, and will outlast him. Unless these larger forces are reckoned with, the authors warn, the United States may be locked in an escalating ‘doom loop.’
— Jane Mayer, New York Times bestselling author of Dark Money
Hacker and Pierson provide a persuasive and insightful explanation of the current extremes of American political polarization: it is the response to a fundamental and deep problem for conservatives, of how to enlist support for their self-interested economic policies in order to maintain a plutocratic society that benefits the few. Hacker and Pierson show that the conservative Republican Party's appeal to nativism and tribalism, while deep rooted in US history, is not inevitable. There is yet hope for American democracy. A must-read for anyone interested in understanding contemporary American politics.
— Joseph E. Stiglitz, 2011 Nobel Laureate, economic sciences
Let Them Eat Tweets is the perfect title for a wise and passionate book that distinguishes between a populism genuinely challenging to elites and the 'plutocratic populism' of Donald Trump whose purpose is to entrench the power of the already privileged. Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson have an admirable record of seeing around corners and their warnings about threats to majoritarian democracy—from the right and from the way our institutions are working—are telling and worrying. In the face of this danger, they offer realistic hope that democratic action can rescue democracy itself. An important book for our moment.
— E.J. Dionne Jr., author of Code Red: How Progressives and Moderates Can Unite to Save Our Country
Highly readable, historically grounded, analytically clear, and carefully argued, Let Them Eat Tweets exposes generations of Republican lawmakers who serve the narrow goals of the uber wealthy while cynically disregarding the needs of their own constituents. This book is for everyone who wants to move beyond a singular focus on the Trump presidency and gain a broader understanding of how we arrived at this political moment— and how we can move beyond it.
— Melissa Harris-Perry, the Maya Angelou Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Wake Forest University
A superb and much-needed work! It will be the coming season’s book.
— Andrew Hacker, author of Downfall: The Demise of a President and His Party and Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal
For almost twenty years respected scholars Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson have been ahead of the curve in diagnosing how the increasing concentration of wealth in America has diminished democratic accountability and threatened the underpinnings of our constitutional democracy. Now they have written a fantastic capstone volume tying together the essential elements of their story: plutocracy, asymmetric partisan polarization, counter-majoritarianism, and right-wing populism. It is a tour de force, embedded in sophisticated historical and comparative analysis yet immensely helpful in making sense of the daily headlines in these troubling times.
— Thomas E. Mann, coauthor of the New York Times bestseller It’s Even Worse Than It Looks
This book makes intelligible how the nightmare of our current politics has happened. With their usual acuity and verve, Hacker and Pierson confront us with an uncomfortable reality: extreme economic inequality has left America vulnerable to a right-wing extremism that has destroyed other countries' democracies in the past. Hacker and Pierson's message is not that democracy in America is doomed. But to save it, we need to come to grips with the underlying economic forces pulling it apart today.
— Daniel Ziblatt, Professor of Government at Harvard University and coauthor of the New York Times bestseller How Democracies Die
Democracy, or plutocracy enabled by dog whistle politics? Those are the heart-stopping stakes, according to the compelling volume in your hands. Read this book and get in the fight.
— Ian F. Haney López, author of Merge Left: Fusing Race and Class, Winning Elections, and Saving America
Liveright, 9781631496844, 288pp.
Publication Date: July 7, 2020
About the Author
Paul Pierson is a political scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, and the coauthor of three books, including the New York Times bestseller Winner-Take-All Politics. He lives in Berkeley, California.