Richard North Patterson dissects the Trump ascendancy in ‘Fever Swamp’

Island resident and best-selling author Richard North Patterson.

Island resident Richard North Patterson, a New York Times bestselling author and an early and enthusiastic Trump basher, now brings us a look at the 2016 presidential race as it unfolded.

“Fever Swamp: A Journey Through the Strange Neverland of the 2016 Presidential Race” is complete with his assumptions and analysis, based on his weekly columns on the 2016 presidential campaigns for the Huffington Post.

Mr. Patterson combines lawyerly analysis, state and federal government service, and a novelist’s perspective, all of which would seem essential to write on a presidential campaign season unlike any other. The result is a zesty book that repackages his weekly columns with updated margin notes on what happened, why, and what the author got right and wrong as the Democratic and Republican dramas played out.

The title, “Fever Swamp,” refers not only to the real disease of swamp fever but also, according to the Urban Dictionary’s definition of fever swamp, “a website or mindset that is prone to wild accusations and is especially susceptible to conspiracy theories.”

Whether you are exultant or horrified by the Age of Trump, this book is an important read for an electorate scrambling to decide whether we elected sensible Alice or the Mad Hatter.

Mr. Patterson is an exuberant writer who uses drollery, outrage, and a prodigious vocabulary to chronicle the unfolding of a presidential campaign few Americans have ever seen, or likely ever expected to see.

Indeed, as Patterson pal and seasonal Island resident Jeff Greenfield muses in his introduction, “Why in God’s name would anyone want to revisit this train wreck of a campaign?” The answers go to the role of the press and decision-making by both parties during the process: the GOP for allowing itself to be hijacked once again to a place far from its traditional base, and for the Democrats “to clear the field for the ‘obvious’ nominee,” about whom there was such discontent that an oft-cranky 74-year-old Socialist nearly unseated her.

Part of the allure for me is reading opinions and predictions written in real time against margin notes that give perspective in the present. “Fever Swamp” is based on 48 columns from 2015 through the November 2016 election. The book is ordered in five parts, with an introduction from Mr. Greenfield and Mr. Patterson’s epilogue.

Now, this book will be rough going if you love President Trump. Mr. Patterson isn’t shy about sharing his opinion. But he is disciplined enough to lay his broadsword about on all parties who need a thrashing, in his opinion. So read it anyway.

There are hilarious passages, such as comparing the debates between nearly one dozen GOP hopefuls to the bar scene from “Star Wars,” full of tension and vituperation, as candidates self-immolated or were reduced to crispy critters by opposing candidates. Mr. Patterson sketched the eccentric natures of all, noting that Ohio Governor John Kasich and Jeb Bush were the only “adults in the room.”

There is intrigue related to Russians, emails, and the FBI, oh my. Can’t make this stuff up. I get the impression from reading this book that absolutely no one, not the GOP or the Dems, took Trump seriously; they thought he would self-immolate. The GOP figured they owned the legislative branch and that Hillary was an odds-on favorite, so what the hell.

The Dems smugly projected a well-oiled campaign juggernaut right up to election night, overlooking that they have been losing at the grassroots level for years, and failed to work the Midwest border states they needed. Both parties were wrong, as were the press, the polls, and the political cognoscenti.

Why did this happen? Mr. Patterson makes the point repeatedly that the fear and anger Americans have been stoking for years came a cropper on Nov. 8 — and everyone missed it. He noted in a column midway through the campaign that Trump voters “don’t want to think: They want to feel.”

Seemingly, Donald Trump was the only person in the national political apparatus who figured that out. Now It could also be that, like we said in these parts about former Red Sox player Manny Ramirez, Donald was just being Donald in the right place at the right time. But reading this book reminded me of candidate Donald Trump’s early comment that his supporters would still vote for him if he shot someone in broad daylight in midtown Manhattan. That comment seems prescient, and the value of “Fever Swamp” is that it allows me to process stuff I didn’t understand at the time.

If Mr. Patterson’s epilogue is correct, we’d better all figure it out. He predicted on Nov. 12 that women would be the big losers over the next four years, followed closely by immigrants and Muslims.

Mr. Patterson had a decent track record of prognostication in this campaign. He predicted early that Trump or Cruz would wear the GOP mantle after the shooting stopped. So a question he asks in his epilogue was a bit chilling for me: What happens if the lives of President Trump’s supporters don’t get better, but, in fact, get worse?

Fever Swamp: A Journey Through the Strange Neverland of the 2016 Presidential Race by Richard North Patterson. Quercus, New York and London, © 2016 by Richard North Patterson. Hardcover, $26.99. Available at Bunch of Grapes bookstore, Vineyard Haven, online, and at Island libraries.