The future of journalism, a potential buyout and asking Americans what they see in Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump are top of Waylon Choy’s mind as he takes two former Vancouver Sun newsroom colleagues on what he thinks will be a short spin in his restored 1965 AMC Ambassador 990 convertible across the border into the United States. While Choy likes his job as a features writer, newspapers across North America are shrinking or closing, he has been offered $150,000 to quit and wants to discuss career options with his friends, one of whom now teaches journalism and the other runs a public relations firm.
As well as discussing what to do with the last half of his working life and showing off the automotive fruit of three years labour, Choy has promised a small favour to an intriguing woman he just met. But the size and complexity of that favour quickly grows, requiring a team of reporter/investigators to uncover the truth about a very wealthy man who has surrounded himself with violent, right wing, white nationalist militia members, and the supposed suicide of Vancouver’s former police chief.
“American Spin is the origin story of the FAKE NEWS series,” said author Gary Engler, a long-time journalist at the Vancouver Sun. “It is about a journalist considering leaving the comfort of a good union job at a big city newspaper while chasing the best story of his career. Choy discovers a bravery and a love for investigative journalism that he never knew he possessed.”
The story is set at the beginning of the Donald Trump era, while he is running for president and the conventional wisdom of media punditsis that such a political novice has no chance against the more experienced Hillary Clinton.
“The idea for the story came to me while reading media reports of this thing they were calling the ‘alt-right’,” says Engler. “I read about ‘bikers for Trump’ and then really got into exploring the whole American far-right scene. I was blown away. For example, it shocked me to learn that there are armed, extreme right groups that specialize in trying to recruit police and military. It was like reading about the rise of Hitler and his Brownshirts during the German Weimar Republic.”
The parallels between the rise of fascism in the 1920s and 30s based on Italian, German and other nationalisms and American nationalism in the Donald Trump era are “spooky,” said Engler. “While ‘illegal immigrant’ has mostly replaced ‘Jew’ as the demonized other that threatens ‘our’ way of life, the game plan is still more or less the same: Create a large enough group of loyal followers who will stick with the ‘strong leader’ no matter what and then take advantage of an economic crisis to end whatever democracy still exists.”
“Many people think these religious white nationalists are nutcase extremists, but the truth is white nationalism was very mainstream, an official ideology really, of big parts of the United States until, at most, two generations ago.”
Engler points out that everywhere in the world a large proportion of the population votes the same way their grandparents did — whether based on religion, class or ideology — so how can it be surprising that a nationalism based on being “white” which was promoted in the USA for at least 200 years is still isan important factor in elections?
Trump was certainly not the first presidential candidate who won an election by employing what was euphemistically called a “southern strategy”. Democratic Party candidates used it for decades, then starting with Nixon it became a means to electoral victory for Republicans.
“If people want real change, they must understand and confront actual reality, not some mythological ‘America was once great’ version of the past and present,” says Engler. “It’s the job of journalists to uncover and help people understand the truth about the world around them.”
“I’ve tried to illustrate the work of good journalists — risking their lives to uncover the truth — in American Spin. I’ve tried to write something exciting, entertaining and informative.”