Cover image of "The MAGA Diaries," a memoir about Right-Wing politics

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

You might pick up Tina Nguyen’s memoir, The MAGA Diaries, expecting a confessional, a mea culpa. I did. But that’s not the book she wrote. As Nguyen makes clear at the outset, “I never became a true believer and cannot profess to be one.” She is a journalist, and her seven-year immersion in the bizarre world of Right-Wing politics began when her college boyfriend dragged her into it at age nineteen. And it came to an end only when she started a mainstream job at Vanity Fair—where, sure enough, she ended up reporting on the Right.

“Shuddering revulsion” for an old boyfriend

It was 2008, and they were students at Claremont McKenna College in the Los Angeles suburbs, the leading academic center of American “conservatism.” The relationship didn’t last, but the boyfriend’s career on the Right most certainly did. He eventually leapt off into the deep end of white nationalism, antisemitism, and conspiracy-mongering to such an extent that even Trump White House officials regarded him with a “shuddering revulsion.” But he was only the first of the repugnant activists Nguyen would deal with on a daily basis until she came up for air in 2015.

The MAGA Diaries: My Surreal Adventures Inside the Right-Wing (and How I Got Out) by Tina Nguyen (2024) 272 pages ★★★☆☆

Photo of Right-Wing extremists storming the US Capitol on January 6, 2021
Rioters scaling the wall of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, the fullest expression of the MAGA movement. Image: Jose Luis Magana – AP

An anthropological view of the Right

Neoconservatives. Libertarians. MAGA activists. White supremacists. Free-market conservatives. Neo-Nazis. Religious conservatives. QAnon. Anarcho-capitalists. Men’s rights activists. Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, and 3 Percenters. If you can work out how all these factions coexist in today’s Republican Party without shooting one another—after all, many of them support open-carry laws—then you’ve got a leg up on me. And Tina Nguyen won’t help you, either. There’s no analysis here. In The MAGA Diaries, Nguyen treats her account of seven years working with and for the likes of Tucker Carlson much like a travelogue. Wide-eyed, she seems to stumble from one job to another, gaga over the Right-Wing celebrities she meets along the way.

“Snackable bits of self-aggrandizing anecdotes” from Donald Trump

Here, for example, is Nguyen reflecting on one of Donald Trumps rallies. “I’d heard him speak at countless rallies and events before, and watched him ramble on television, and I’d always been impressed with his stamina: the man can go onstage without a single talking point or written script, and rattle out, for two exhausting hours straight, whatever culture war marbles are rattling his brain. There’s no internal structure inside it—no signposting, no classifications, nothing that I’d learned in oratory class in school—but it takes whoever listens to it on an adrenaline-juiced journey through the raging id of MAGA populism.” But Nguyen’s just getting started.

“Its incoherence is, oddly, compelling in its own way,” she continues, “and I noticed that it was perfect for the attention span of Gen Z. For one hour and forty minutes, he packaged up tiny, snackable bits of self-aggrandizing anecdotes and culture war outrages into miniature rants.” Sure enough. That’s the man we know. But why would any intelligent person believe all these lies? Nguyen offers no explanation.

The Far Right is winning because they’re better at politics

One thing above all is clear in The MAGA Diaries. Despite concluding that most of the people she met were bonkers, Tina Nguyen is absolutely convinced that they’re better at the game of politics than the Democrats. After leaving the Right-Wing movement, she took on a few assignments to interview progressive activists. Nguyen was shocked to discover the lack of cooperation and shared vision on the Left. For progressives, there is nothing like Grover Norquist‘s Wednesday Meeting, where more than 150 Right-Wing elected officials, political activists, and movement leaders gather on a weekly basis to share information. This is one of the reasons why it’s no accident to read or hear the same slogans and talking points from speakers across the spectrum of the Right. Instead, we stand around in a circle and shoot each other. It’s long past time for the Left to wake up.

About the author

Photo of Tina Nguyen, author of this memo about Right-Wing politics
Tina Nguyen. Image: Vanity Fair – The Student Life

According to Google Books’s biography for Tina Nguyen, “Her very first job was working for a little-known journalist named Tucker Carlson. She’s chugged Mountain Dews with the first Breitbart writers, poured over conspiracy theories from COVID-19 deniers, and visited the apocalyptic Patriot Church deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. The right is now a MAGA cult. And Tina Nguyen knows because she was raised by it, back when it wasn’t one.”

Nguyen’s author page at her publisher, Simon & Schuster, adds that she is “a national correspondent for Puck, covering the world of Donald Trump and the American right. Previously, Nguyen was a White House reporter for Politico, a staff reporter for Vanity Fair Hive, and an editor at Mediaite. A Brooklyn transplant, Nguyen graduated from Claremont McKenna College and lives in Washington.” The MAGA Diaries is her first book.

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