Texas Author Ben Fountain: 'I Think We're Due For A Major Crisis In American Life'

Oct 26, 2018

Texas author Ben Fountain says his wife and a friend discouraged him from taking an assignment from The Guardian to cover the 2016 presidential campaign. He took the assignment anyway, and that writing forms the basis of his new book.
Credit Julia Reihs / KUT

Texas author Ben Fountain's latest work of nonfiction has a provocative title: Beautiful Country Burn Again. Does he think the country has "burned" before and is it due to burn again?

Fountain says he thinks the United States has "burned" and reinvented itself twice: during the Civil War and Emancipation, and during the Great Depression and New Deal.

Those first two burns were "existential crises for the United States," he says. "Those were two points where this country had to decide whether it was going to be a democracy only in name, or would it continue to aspire to be a ... country that genuinely aspired to make the equality principal the lived life of the country."

Fountain says his study of these events and time spent covering the 2016 presidential campaign has led him to conclude the United States is not burning again – yet.

"I certainly have the feeling there is a lot of dry tinder and drought conditions," he says.

Fountain says the financial crisis of 2008 drove the United States to the brink of burn No. 3. Because the conditions that prompted the crash have not really changed, he says, it could happen.

He says that lack of substantial, lasting reform in the banking industry and business as usual in the major political parties prompted voters to try something new and elect Donald Trump.

Beautiful Country Burn Again weaves in history, politics and cultural observations to map out how America got to where it is now and where it might be headed.

Listen to an extended interview with Ben Fountain: