American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy by David Corn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I've read the basis thesis of this book before--that over a period of decades, the Republican Party has slowly been drawn into the thrall of its extremists and kooks--but I haven't seen such a concise and well laid out timeline until now. David Corn is a respected journalist for Mother Jones magazine, and in this book he goes back to the roots of the Republican Party and how they have always turned to white supremacists, racists, and conspiracy fearmongers to gain power.
In going over this history, it's interesting (not in a good way) how nothing has changed. For instance, in talking about Barry Goldwater's presidential run from 60 years ago, the comment is made (p. 72):
They were, though, in the business of exploiting the anger of extremism. Russ Walton, a Goldwater ad man, described the campaign's strategy for reaching voters: "We just want to make them mad, make their stomach turn, take this latent anger and concern which now exists, built it up, and subtly turn and focus it."
And from p. 113/114, regarding the Nixon years:
Nixon's triumph was no salve for the grudges and malice that animated his politics. A few weeks after his triumph, he told his aides: "Never forget, the press is the enemy. The press is the enemy. The press is the enemy. The establishment is the enemy. Professors are the enemy. Write that on the blackboard 100 times and never forget it."
Sound familiar? A certain recent former President said similar things all the time.
Of course, this culminates in the terrible presidency of Donald Trump, who said out loud all the things the GOP had been insinuating for decades. But the case is made here that the problem was not so much Trump--though he certainly did his fair share of damage--but rather the base voters who succumbed to the mindset of resentment and grievance and the party apparatus that enabled and sucked up to them. From p. 331:
To be a Republican was to be a Trump devotee, and that meant accepting Trump's propaganda about the election. This became the party's loyalty oath. Trump would endorse only adherents of the Big Lie and those who shared his quest to undermine democracy. He vowed vengeance against those who would not carry this banner. The GOP candidates who parroted Trump's lies tended to win Republican primaries. Adhering to the truth often meant a death sentence in Trump's GOP. As Ruth Ben-Ghiat, an autocracy expert and history professor at New York University, observed, Trump had transformed the Republican Party: "He's changed the party to an authoritarian party culture. So not only do you go after external enemies, but you go after internal enemies. You're not allowed to have any dissent."
Perhaps the 2022 midterms dampened this Trump cult and its adherents a bit, but they're still out there, as we saw during the recent State of the Union address. I have no idea what it will take to solve this problem, but this is an engaging and absorbing account of what's gone wrong with the Republican Party.
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