In 2008 I tried to understand, as best as I could, what drove the intense hatred during the presidential election from conservative Republicans toward Barack Obama. For a very large segment of the nation, the nomination and then election of the first Black American to the Oval Office was uplifting, reminding all about the national ideals as our better angels secured another victory.
But as I read and heard the voices from the far-right it became apparent to me that a sizable segment of the conservative movement could not at all compute how the nation had elevated a Black person to the highest office in the land. The intensity of the conservative reaction to President Obama taking over the levers of power in the White House was the result of decades of social advancements and policy moves in the United States that had the right-wing feeling—in their minds—somehow marginalized.
Fast forward to 2015 and the words from Donald Trump during an ABC News phone interview stating he did not owe Senator John McCain an apology for saying on-stage in Iowa the previous day that the former Vietnam War POW “is not a war hero … I like people that weren’t captured, OK?”
Coming from the home of a WWII veteran, having worked for many years in various political activities, and having watched decades of elections come and go made me most certain, due to those words, that Trump’s campaign for the White House was over. I wrote on this blog that “there is one thing that I feel most confident about and that is the fallout will take Donald Trump and flush him out of the presidential race”.
I could not imagine that all the sensibilities that had been wedded to the American mindset when it came to our politics would no longer apply. I could not imagine that the conservative values about our military members would just evaporate when it came to POWs. Boy, was I wrong! (I do not believe I have been so wrong about anything so fundamental in our nation before or since.)
So how does one explain what happened to the Republican Party and how did the conservative movement secure itself so strongly and willingly to racism, Trump’s Islamophobia, along with recent political attacks on transgender people, while embracing all-out conspiracy theories?
Since Inauguration Day 2017 I have been on a quest to better understand what happened to the Republican Party and how it morphed into what we witness today. The need to know is important as what is happening directly impacts our democracy.
I expressed my purpose online and was steered by a Facebook friend to read the works of Rick Perlstein. To know where we landed politically requires knowing how the conservative movement started. Before we can discuss the current claims that the 2020 presidential election was not ‘legitimate’, we need to traverse through the world of Nixon who unabashedly played on the resentments of white middle-class Americans. We need to step back from the travel bans during Trump’s administration and examine the racial chords being struck in 1968 during a heated presidential season. And again in 1980.
To see forward, we must know from whence we came. As a lover of history and well-researched and powerfully written narratives, I believe these books are nothing short of masterful. I have read two of the four, and today the first volume, Before the Storm landed on my front stoop. I await the journey into the pages.
With awards aplenty and critical acclaim from all points of the political spectrum, Perlstein writes dense and vivid accounts of the decades in American politics that have greatly impacted our nation. I can attest that one only needs a love of history to turn the pages.