The Great Derangement

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-01-13
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

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Funny, smart, and a little bit heartbreaking, "The Great Derangement" is an audaciously reported, sobering, and illuminating portrait of America at the end of the Bush era.

Author Biography

MATT TAIBBI is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone and winner of the 2007 National Magazine Award for Columns and Commentary. He lives in New York City.



It's a Thursday afternoon in San Antonio and I'm in a rented room—creaky floorboards, peeling wallpaper, month to month, no lease, space heater only, the ultimate temporary lifestyle—and I can't find the right channel on the television. I rented this place, it seems, without making sure that it had ESPN. This realization throws the poverty of the room into relief for the first time.

Shit, it's cold in here, I think, aware of a draft all of a sudden. When I look back at the TV, it's on a gospel channel. A video preacher straight out of central casting is pointing a finger right at the screen—right at me—admonishing me to surrender to God. He's got swept-back white hair, gold wire-rimmed glasses, and a booming hellfire voice that makes the name "A-BRA-HAAM!" come spilling out of his mouth like a brand-new Mustang V-8 turning over for the first time.

"When you give up more than you deserve," he shouts, "God will give you more than you dreamed!" He pauses, letting the words settle in for effect. "I want you to write that down somewhere!"

I shrug and reach for a notebook.

"Write it down: When you give up more than you deserve," the preacher repeats, "God will give you more than you dreamed!"

I nod and write it down in block letters. Why not? I have no idea what the hell it means, but I didn't come to Texas to argue with people. But what exactly do I deserve?

The preacher continues on; his sermon is from Genesis 12, the story about Abraham coming to Egypt and instructing his beautiful wife, Sarah, to say that she's his sister, which in turn allows Abraham not only to avoid being killed but to trade her to Pharaoh in exchange for a mother lode of slaves, asses, and camels. But, as things like this always do in the Old Testament, this unlawful union brings a plague on Pharaoh, and when Pharaoh finds out the reason, he is pissed, screaming to Abraham, "Why saidst thou, 'She is my sister?'…Therefore behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way."

At which point Abraham and his people leave, and a few chapters later he gets to go into the tent of his wife's handmaiden Hagar and make a baby with her. This seems like a great deal for Abraham—avoid execution, get a great trade-in deal for your wife, then bang her handmaiden—but I'm not sure I see where the lesson about deserving and dreaming is here. No such problem for Pastor John Hagee.

"You see, it happened to A-BRA-HAAM, it can happen to you!" he shouts. "Nothing is impossible to those who have faith!"

Down at the bottom of the screen there's a notation. "PRAYER LINE: (210) 490-5100." I write that down, too, marking it with a smiley face.

The show ends shortly after that and another, less talented preacher—his Carrot Top-esque shtick is preaching seated at a desk—comes on and starts babbling about the Christian children in the Sudan being kidnapped at birth and forced to convert to Islam. Here in South Texas everyone for five hundred miles in every direction is a Christian, but they're constantly finding ways to think of themselves as a besieged minority. You hear a lot about our oppressed brothers and sisters in Africa, India, the Middle East. They're ideal objects of sympathy because they're helpless, they're poor, and it would take them at least twenty years to reach San Antonio even if they started swimming today.

Anyway, I hit the mute button, lean back in my chair, look around at my shitty room, and sigh.


It's December 2006 and I'm now on hiatus, after spending the whole fall covering the midterm elections for my depraved liberal magazine,Rolling Stone. I'm here in Texas to work out the answer to a question that has been germinating in my mind for some time, and which came to a head after the elections.

Excerpted from The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics, and Religion at the Twilight of the American Empire by Matt Taibbi
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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