Buckley excommunicated the John Birch Society, anti-Semites and supporters of the hyperindividualist Ayn Rand, and his cohort fused the diverse schools of conservative thinking — traditionalist philosophers, militant anti-Communists, libertarian economists — into a coherent ideology, one that eventually came to dominate American politics.
.. Goldwater’s loss, far from dooming the American right, inspired a new generation of conservative activists to redouble their efforts, paving the way for the Reagan revolution.
.. If Donald Trump is the latest chapter of conservatism’s story, might historians have been telling that story wrong?
.. Hofstadter was the leader of the “consensus” school of historians; the “consensus” being Americans’ supposed agreement upon moderate liberalism as the nation’s natural governing philosophy. He didn’t take the self-identified conservatives of his own time at all seriously.
.. He named this attitude “the paranoid style in American politics” and, in an article published a month before Barry Goldwater’s presidential defeat, asked, “When, in all our history, has anyone with ideas so bizarre, so archaic, so self-confounding, so remote from the basic American consensus, ever gone so far?”
.. she wrote, in an effort to address political concerns .. “liberal permissiveness” about matters like rising crime rates and the teaching of sex education in public schools.
.. historians of conservatism, like historians in general, tend to be liberal, and are prone to liberalism’s traditions of politesse. It’s no surprise that we are attracted to polite subjects like “colorblind conservatism” or William F. Buckley.
.. have found themselves increasingly uncomfortable, and finally deeply distressed,” watching a “moral breakdown” that was destroying a once-great nation.
.. control of much of our industry and commerce taken over by strangers, who stacked the cards of success and prosperity against us
.. The only thing that would make America great again, as it were, was “a return of power into the hands of everyday, not highly cultured, not overly intellectualized, but entirely unspoiled and not de-Americanized average citizens of old stock.”
.. support for public education, to weaken Catholic parochial schools
.. By reaching back to the reactionary traditions of the 1920s, we might better understand the alliance between the “alt-right” figures that emerged as fervent Trump supporters during last year’s election and the ascendant far-right nativist political parties in Europe.
.. But the Klan remained relevant far beyond the South. In 1936 a group called the Black Legion, active in the industrial Midwest, burst into public consciousness after members assassinated a Works Progress Administration official in Detroit.
The group, which considered itself a Klan enforcement arm
.. Coughlin’s magazine, Social Justice, began reprinting “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion,” a forged tract about a global Jewish conspiracy
.. Its members were among the most enthusiastic participants in a 1939 pro-Hitler rally that packed Madison Square Garden, where the leader of the German-American Bund spoke in front of an enormous portrait of George Washington flanked by swastikas.
.. Young Irish-Catholic men inspired by the Christian Front desecrated nearly every synagogue in Washington Heights.
The New York Catholic hierarchy, the mayor of Boston and the governor of Massachusetts largely looked the other way.
.. no less mainstream an organization than the American Legion, whose “National Commander” Alvin Owsley proclaimed in 1922, “the Fascisti are to Italy what the American Legion is to the United States.”
.. In 1927, 1,000 hooded Klansmen fought police in Queens in what The Times reported as a “free for all.” One of those arrested at the scene was the president’s father, Fred Trump.
.. The family settled with the Justice Department in the face of evidence that black applicants were told units were not available even as whites were welcomed with open arms.
.. at Kent State University in Ohio, a Gallup poll found that 58 percent of Americans blamed the students for their own deaths. (“If they didn’t do what the Guards told them, they should have been mowed down,” one parent of Kent State students told an interviewer.)
.. 76 percent of Americans “said they did not support the First Amendment right to assemble and dissent from government policies.”
.. In 1973, the reporter Gail Sheehy joined a group of blue-collar workers watching the Watergate hearings in a bar in Astoria, Queens. “If I was Nixon,” one of them said, “I’d shoot every one of them.”
.. “hard-hat populism” — an attitude, Rosenthal hypothesizes, that Trump learned working alongside the tradesmen in his father’s real estate empire.
.. the case itself also resonates deeply with narratives dating back to the first Ku Klux Klan of white womanhood defiled by dark savages. Trump’s public call for the supposed perpetrators’ hides, no matter the proof of guilt or innocence, mimics the rituals of Southern lynchings.
.. At the beginning of the 20th century, millions of impoverished immigrants, mostly Catholic and Jewish, entered an overwhelmingly Protestant country.
.. It was only when that demographic transformation was suspended by the 1924 Immigration Act that majorities of Americans proved willing to vote for many liberal policies. In 1965, Congress once more allowed large-scale immigration to the United States — and it is no accident that this date coincides with the increasing conservative backlash against liberalism itself, now that its spoils would be more widely distributed among nonwhites.
.. Shortly before announcing his 1980 presidential run, Reagan even boasted of his wish “to create, literally, a common market situation here in the Americas with an open border between ourselves and Mexico.”
.. what are we to make of the fact that he placed so many bankers and billionaires in his cabinet, and has relentlessly pursued so many 1-percent-friendly policies? More to the point, what are we to the make of the fact that his supporters don’t seem to mind?
.. The history of bait-and-switch between conservative electioneering and conservative governance is another rich seam that calls out for fresh scholarly excavation
.. when Reagan was re-elected in 1984, only 35 percent of voters favored significant cuts in social programs to reduce the deficit
.. It was business leaders, not the general public, who moved to the right, and they became increasingly aggressive and skilled in manipulating the political process behind the scenes.
.. the ads created a sense of Reagan as a certain kind of character: the kindly paterfamilias, a trustworthy and nonthreatening guardian of the white middle-class suburban enclave. Years later, the producers of “The Apprentice” carefully crafted a Trump character who was the quintessence of steely resolve and all-knowing mastery.
.. Consider the parallels since the 1970s between conservative activism and the traditional techniques of con men. Direct-mail pioneers like Richard Viguerie created hair-on-fire campaign-fund-raising letters about civilization on the verge of collapse.
.. Recipients of these alarming missives sent checks to battle phony crises, and what they got in return was very real tax cuts for the rich.
.. the more recent connection between Republican politics and “multilevel marketing” operations like Amway (Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is the wife of Amway’s former president and the daughter-in-law of its co-founder)
.. Mike Huckabee shilling for a “solution kit” to “reverse” diabetes
.. Trump himself taking on a short-lived nutritional-supplements multilevel marketing scheme in 2009
.. Future historians won’t find all that much of a foundation for Trumpism in the grim essays of William F. Buckley, the scrupulous constitutionalist principles of Barry Goldwater or the bright-eyed optimism of Ronald Reagan.
.. They’ll need instead to study conservative history’s political surrealists and intellectual embarrassments, its con artists and tribunes of white rage.
The root illness remains undiagnosed, but here it is: the baby boomers, that vast generation of Americans born in the first two decades after World War II. The body politic rests on the slab because boomers put it there, because decades of boomerism produced the problems and disaffection of which 2016 was merely the latest expression.
.. the unusual prevalence of sociopathy in an unusually large generation.
.. How does that disorder manifest? Improvidence is reflected in low levels of savings and high levels of bankruptcy. Deceit shows up as a distaste for facts, a subject on display in everything from Enron’s quarterly reports to daily press briefings. Interpersonal failures and unbridled hostility appeared in unusually high levels of divorce and crime from the 1970s to early 1990s. These problems expressed themselves at generationally unique levels in boomers, to a greater extent than in boomers’ parents or children at comparable ages.
.. They were the first generation to be raised permissively, the first reared on television and subject to its developmental harms, and the only living group raised in an era of seemingly effortless prosperity.
.. By 1994, boomers held a majority of House seats, a proportion that peaked at 79 percent in 2008 and remains a still formidable 69 percent. The rest of government went the same way: Boomers make up 86 percent of governors, about three-quarters of the proposed Cabinet, and much of the judiciary and bureaucracy. Except for youthful Silicon Valley, the private sector also fell into boomer hands decades ago and remains there.
.. Since it was politically untenable to locate blame in obvious places, other explanations were manufactured for the nation’s woes. (Immigrants!)
.. boomers who, despite their hippie reputation, are net Republican.
.. So what if Social Security faces partial insolvency after 2034, or that climate change has scientists and generals fretting for the world circa 2040? By then, the median boomer will be dead.
.. Nor do I assert that all of their co-generationalists are sociopaths. They aren’t. But I don’t shrink from arguing that an unusually large fraction of boomers behaves sociopathically, with the power to realize their agenda.
.. It explains why Reagan lowered taxes on income while raising them on capital gains (when boomers had salaries but not portfolios), why Bill Clinton lowered taxes on houses and stocks (when boomers owned those in quantity), and why Bush II cut taxes with unseemly attention lavished on the “death tax” (just as the boomers’ parents neared expiration)
.. Today’s seniors (boomers) are much wealthier relative to the present young than the seniors of the 1980s were to then-young boomers.
.. All those tax breaks, bailouts, easy money, deregulation, and the bubbles they spawned supported that boomer wealth accumulation while shifting the true costs to the future, to the young.
.. no amount of tax reallocation could keep the government together and goodies flowing, so boomers tolerated astounding debt expansion
.. BOOMERS show no appetite for maintaining the assets their parents accumulated. Public higher education, nearly free for boomers, has become dauntingly expensive. Infrastructure is neither built nor maintained
.. overconsumption, underinvestment, and appetite for risk
.. When problems grow large, boomers resort to deceit, and the huge degradation of truth suggests just how bad things have gotten. Whether it be misrepresentations by Worldcom, Lehman Brothers, Bill Clinton, Newt
.. The dubious draft deferments of the 1960s became the off-balance-sheet obligations of the 1990s, ginned-up weapons of mass destruction of the 2000s, and today’s phantom terrorism in Bowling Green and Sweden. “Alternative facts” are just the most recent consequences of the boomers’ declaration of epistemic bankruptcy.
.. If Trump has given America one gift, it’s a free hand to condemn the generation of which he is the impeachable id.