Sexton’s first-person account is both candidly relatable and viscerally frightening. Self-deprecating scenes of drowning his sorrows at campaign-stop pubs juxtaposed against edge-of-darkness encounters with agitators sporting MAGA-logo garb create a you-are-there immediacy. Sexton’s seamless blending of his reporter’s objectivity with the personal evaluations of a voter who has skin in the game yields trenchant analysis. Although most of his ire is reserved for the mercurial and Machiavellian Trump organization, Sexton also takes a penetrating look at the other contentious campaigns—the fervency of the Bernie camp, the fecklessness of Clinton’s overconfident team, and even a foray into the Green Party hoopla—and counts himself among the myriad pundits who absolutely did not see the end result coming. Based upon its title, readers could be forgiven for thinking this is a tsunami survivor’s memoir. With the outrage, violence, and intolerance the 2016 campaign unleashed, it very nearly qualifies. But Sexton’s is a critical and important voice in helping readers understand the cultural and political sea change the election created.
Sexton’s preoccupation with his alcohol consumption is one of the recurring oddities in The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore, an impressionistic and often disturbing account of the 2016 presidential race ... Even if marred at times by Sexton’s uninspired political analysis and unceasing affirmation of his working-class credentials, this book reveals the incremental nature of public displays of hatred ... With some books, I care most what the writer thinks, and with others, what the writer knows. The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore falls in the latter category. Sexton’s dispatches are bracing; his after-the-fact analysis less so ... published quickly for a book on the 2016 campaign, though not so quickly as to excuse its typos and cliches...Worse yet, Sexton, who teaches creative writing, delivers markedly uncreative prose, in which waters are always muddied, coffers are always lined, dealings are always shady, breath is always bated, memory lanes are always strolled and forests are always missed among trees.
I just wish he had tried to get to the story that no one really covered: what the hell happened to a country radicalize it so much in eight years and what are the terms of assuaging it? His book is entertaining in the manner of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, in that it contains one man’s quirky observations. But that becomes its biggest flaw: it is so full of fear and loathing that Sexton missed the real story of what fueled American rage ... His descriptions of Trump supporters horrify the reader ... The sections on the progressive love affair with Bernie Sanders are less salacious and upsetting, but also problematic ... Sexton is among the new breed of pundits whose online presence leaves them a tweet away from getting launched into the national conversation. The internet has so bladed and graded the journalistic hierarchy that anyone with wi-fi and a snappy point of view can get into the conversation.