In 2004, Thomas Frank’s book “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” tried to explain why a once Democratic state had turned resolutely Republican. His eloquent review of the rhetoric of the age was instructive.
But the presidential election of 2016 sent the sharpest message yet. Working-class voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin opted for Trump, and apparently against their economic interests. Trump had succeeded in appealing to their anger and the Democrats were caught flat-footed.
Two new books, “The System,” by the former labor secretary Robert B. Reich, and “Break ’Em Up,” by the lawyer and activist Zephyr Teachout, a onetime candidate for New York State attorney general, are among the latest examples of an evolving set of explanations that try to make sense of the 2016 results.