Rick Perlstein says Trump’s election confirms a paranoid trend in the GOPHistorians in the News
tags: election 2016, GOP, Trump
This January marks my 20th anniversary writing about the American right wing as a historian and a journalist. Wearing my historian’s hat, I’ve documented lunatic John Birch Society members convinced that President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a “conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy”; underground militias stockpiling guns against imminent Communist invasion, threatening death to congressmen who dared abet the evil socialist agenda; drunken louts in a Queens, New York, bar describing Richard Nixon’s impeachment as a liberal coup, opining, “If I was Nixon, that’s what I’d do—I’d shoot every one of them.” I stroked my chin, and explained how such maniacal, anti-democratic, and violently anarchic rage had always been part of the story, though really only at the margins of the American conservative movement.
At the same time, as a citizen and as a journalist, I documented that margin encroaching on the center, until, with Donald Trump’s apotheosis, it seems now to have to consumed the entire damned thing.
Let’s look at the score.
1994 was the year I started obsessing myself with conservatism. When I heard that G. Gordon Liddy had advised his radio listeners that when they fired upon agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, “Go for a head shot; they’re going to be wearing bulletproof vests,” I actually wasn’t surprised. I’d been listening to a lot of right-wing talk radio, where the notion that the federal government was a tyrannical occupying army had become a commonplace. Newt Gingrich’s revolutionaries took over Congress that year, trained by a memo called “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control,” to dehumanize their Democratic opponents by using words like “sick,” “pathetic,” and “decay” in reference to them. Two weeks later, gracious in victory, Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina—nicely enough on November 22, the anniversary of JFK’s assassination—said President Bill Clinton “better have a bodyguard” if he visited Helms’s state.
Clinton didn’t need more bodyguards. He needed better lawyers—to keep him from impeachment on the heels of his persecution by a power-mad, right-wing special prosecutor, and a Republican Congress determined to fight their 1996 loss of the presidency by any means necessary. ...