What They Demand Is Victory. What We Get Is War.

Trumpism explained in Spencer Ackerman’s ‘Reign of Terror’

Tucker Lieberman
5 min readNov 23, 2022


A soldier dressed in tactical gear, partially obscured by a bright red cloud of gas. Detail from the cover image of Spencer Ackerman’s book REIGN OF TERROR
Detail from the book cover of “Reign of Terror”

“The post-9/11 era,” Spencer Ackerman says, is “nothing other than a reign of terror,” and it is “increasingly difficult to see America as anything more than its War on Terror.” That’s from his 2021 book, Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump.

Leading Into the ‘War on Terror’

Post-Cold War, U.S. conservatives liked to say that the United States had brought about the fall of the Soviet Union, and especially that conservatives “had achieved that victory despite the liberals,” who they represented as “lacking convictions of their own.”

But who would represent the enemy, now that the Soviet Union was gone?

Not white Christian USAmericans who just so happened to be domestic terrorists. In 1997, Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people with a bomb, had a lawyer and a jury trial. “There was no demand for McVeigh to be abused in prison, held incommunicado, or moved to military custody,” and no complaint that treating him in accordance with the law would “embolden his fellow white terrorists. White America could recognize the fundamental humanity of the ordinary boy.”

Someone else would be labeled the enemy.

In 2003, Rev. Richard Cizik, a vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, observed that “evangelicals have substituted Islam for the Soviet Union.”

The Cultural Fallout of Counterterrorism

In 2002, the Department of Homeland Security was created. The push was mostly Republican, but Democrats supported it too; though “House Democrats rejected DHS by wide margins,” Ackerman notes, “only nine Senate Democrats voted against it.”

In Ackerman’s assessment, the War on Terror promoted “the construction, institutionalization, and maintenance of surveillance at a scale unimaginable a generation earlier.” The NSA collected everyone’s communication records, domestic and international, telephone and internet, never mind that all such foreign interception was supposed to be done according to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.



Tucker Lieberman

Editor for Prism & Pen. Author of the novel "Most Famous Short Film of All Time." https://tuckerlieberman.com/