Lunch Date: America's worsening political divide, with a side of corned beef

Once in a while, I take a new book with me to lunch and give it a half an hour or so to grab my attention. Lunch Date is my judgment on that speed-dating experience.

Who’s your date today? Arlie Russell Hochschild's Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right: A Journey to the Heart of Our Political Divide. This is the book we'll be discussing at our monthly Reading Through It Book Club at Seward Park Third Place Books this Wednesday. (It's free! Buy a drink in the bar and join us at 7 pm!)

Where’d you go? I visited Mean Sandwich, a new restaurant in Ballard. My friend Bethany Jean Clement's profile in the Seattle Times made it sound too delicious to pass up.

What’d you eat? I had the Mean Sandwich, which is corned beef, mustard, and cabbage on a roll.

How was the food? Oh my God. I take my sandwiches seriously, so I do not say this lightly: Mean Sandwich is one of Seattle's best sandwich places. Take a look at this:

I've never had a sandwich with giant cubes of corned beef like this, and in the wrong hands this kind of thing could be inedible. Instead, it was light and sunny. The beef wasn't too fatty or too watery, the cabbage was vinegary, and the maple syrup and sprigs of mint made everything taste fresher and more complex.

If I had to come up with one complaint, it would be that there as a little too much of the yellow mustard — and I say this as someone who loves mustard on a sandwich. But every ingredient on this sandwich was optimized to perfection. And you can tell someone knows their business when a sandwich doesn't fall apart while you're eating it. I've had plenty of corned beef sandwiches wind up a mess of wet bread and meat chunks on my placemat, but the Mean Sandwich held together perfectly. It's a masterpiece of culinary engineering.

What does your date say about itself? Here's a blurb from author Mark Danner:

If the great political question of our time can be summarized in the two words, ‘Donald Trump,’ the answer is to be found in Arlie Russell Hochschild’s brilliant new book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. Hochschild, an eminent sociologist with a novelist’s storytelling skill, has crafted an absorbing tale full of richly drawn, complicated characters who come bearing their own fascinating histories. Together, in Hochschild’s authoritative hands, they offer a compelling and lucid portrait of what had seemed a bewildering political moment. A powerful, imaginative, necessary book, arriving not a moment too soon

(And, yes, I'm aware of the irony of a "coastal elite" taking a book to a restaurant with a $12 sandwich in a city that chose to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour. The irony, in this case, is quite literally delicious.)

Is there a representative quote?

In the life of one man, Lee Sherman, I saw reflected both sides of the Great Paradox — the need for help and a principled refusal of it. As a victim of toxic exposure himself, a participant in polluting public waters, hating pollution, now proudly declaring himself as an environmentalist, why was he throwing in his lot with the anti-environmental Tea Party? Not because the Koch brothers were paying him to, at least directly. Lee was putting up Tea Party lawn signs for free. Still, his source of news was limited to Fox News and videos and blogs exchanged by right-wing friends, which placed him in an echo chamber of doubt about the EPA, the federal government, the president, and taxes.

Will you two end up in bed together? Well, obviously. I have to finish reading it by the book club on Wednesday!

But even if it wasn't homework, I'd definitely want to read more of this book. Hochschild is a gifted literary portraitist, and I like how aware she is of her own thesis throughout the book. My one concern with the early part of the book that I've read is that I hope Hochschild doesn't just offer one anecdote after another. I hope she widens her angle, looks at the data, and actually builds to a thesis about what happened and what we should do to end the divide. By Wednesday, I'll find out if my hopes for the book were fulfilled.