“The propagandist is his own first customer.”
—Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny, State of Terror (2021).
As Trump rode his America First brand of combative isolationism to the White House, the idea that nationalism is on the rise became commonplace. Commentators expressing this sentiment pointed to the great fictions of our moment: the conspiratorial emanations of Q, fear-mongering around the foreign origins of peoples and pandemics, and dire warnings about the threat of international terrorism, to name a few. Yet American nationalism has always been stoked by the stories that self-declared patriots tell and have told about the country, particularly the narrative of the United States as a heroic savior. Tales that bolster this messiah complex appear in the news and in popular culture alike as potent forms of soft power, woven as much by fiction writers as political figureheads—and, sometimes, by the two working together.
Over the past four years, Bill and Hillary Clinton have joined bestselling authors to write political thrillers. In 2018’s The President Is Missing, authored by Bill and James Patterson, the titular commander in chief goes rogue to personally take on a cyberterrorist group, Sons of Jihad. Last year, the two collaborated again on The President’s Daughter, an unrelated followup in which a different president saves his daughter following her capture by, once again, terrorists. In State of Terror, also published in 2021 and cowritten by Hillary and Louise Penny, the secretary of state thwarts a Pakistani arms dealer’s quest for nuclear proliferation (while handling stand-ins for Putin and Trump). Following memoirs, Masterclass seminars, and repeated stints in public service, these novels represent yet another means by which that most (in)famous of public duos have pushed their conceptions of this country after a quarter century of omnipresence in American life, elevating their own heroic personas, declaiming their political opinions and agendas, and projecting a Clintonian vision of America as gallant and unstoppable global power.
For Executive Fiction, the cultural critics and writers Richard Beck, Ari M. Brostoff, and Sean McCann will evaluate the forms of politics—and literature—operating in these novels, and untangle the various kinds of influence that they assert. Each participant will present on one of the three books, bringing their specific expertise to bear on the magnetic popular influence of the Clintons, the cultural impact of the war on terror, and the figure of the president in literature. How does the form of the thriller work to augment the Clintons’ agendas, and vice versa? How has the story of America changed in the past thirty years, in each Clinton’s telling? What might Louise Penny’s foreign policy resemble? And what are James Patterson’s presidential chances?
Executive Fiction is free and will be livestreamed. RSVPing is not mandatory, but we encourage you to register in advance in order to receive updates on the event and the link to the livestream. The event is part of a series that concludes Unknown States, an issue devoted to the fictions that make up nations and nationalities. The series also includes First World Order, with Ilana Harris-Babou and Yasmina Price, organized with Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI); Empires in the Sky, with Atossa Araxia Abrahamian and Rana Dasgupta; and Stopping Time, with Lou Cornum, Raven Chacon, and Audra Simpson.
COVID-19 Protocols, Seating, and Accessibility
All attendees are required to present proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 and to wear masks unless otherwise indicated. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis (even for those who have RSVP’d). The doors will open thirty minutes prior to the event and attendance will be limited, given safety concerns and the capacity of our venue.
Triple Canopy’s venue is located at 264 Canal Street, 3W, near several Canal Street subway stations. Our floor is accessible by elevator (63" × 60" car, 31" door) and stairway. Due to the age and other characteristics of the building, our bathrooms are not ADA-accessible, though several such bathrooms are located nearby. If you have questions about access, please contact email@example.com in advance of the event.
This public program was made possible through generous support from Jane Hait, a founding member of Triple Canopy Director’s Circle; the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; the National Endowment for the Arts; the New York State Council on the Arts; and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Research for Unknown States, Triple Canopy’s twenty-seventh issue, was made possible through a Craft Research Fund grant from the Center for Craft.
- Richard Beck is a senior writer at n+1 and the author of We Believe the Children (Public Books, 2015). His second book, a cultural history of the war on terror, is forthcoming from Crown.
- Ari M. Brostoff is a senior editor at Jewish Currents and the author of Missing Time (n+1 books, 2022).
- Sean McCann is a professor of English at Wesleyan University. He is the author of A Pinnacle of Feeling: American Literature and Presidential Government (Princeton University Press, 2008) and Gumshoe America: Hard-Boiled Crime Fiction and the Rise and Fall of New Deal Liberalism (Duke University Press, 2000). His essays have appeared in American Quarterly, the Common Review, ELH, Radical History Review, Twentieth-Century Literature, Studies in American Fiction, the Yale Journal of Criticism, and several edited volumes.