top of page

American Psychosis: Book Review

American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy, David Corn, 2022. America has a long history of disruptions of “us versus them.” Hanging 19 “witches” in Salem in 1619 may have been the worst. However, the US is supposed to be a melting pot, based on “a shining city on the hill,” “American exceptionalism,” and “manifest destiny.” Of course, with the focus on white males. Politics started with Federalists versus Anti-Federalist. It should have been a disagreement over ideas. There was the Civil War and strife after that. Now to Corn and his thesis.

The book starts with Nelson Rockefeller as the liberal enemy at the 1964 Republican Convention: turncoat, weak-kneed Republican claiming the need for big government to address economic and social problems. The answer was the hero, Barry Goldwater, the archconservative senator from Arizona, where big government only meant military might. One key to his support was the John Birch Society founded by Robert Welsh in 1958 and his brand of right-wing conspiratorial paranoia. According to Welsh, even Eisenhower was a Pinko-Commie.

On January 6, 2021, Trump “surveyed a crowd seething with rage and animated by paranoia. … His political allies had promoted assorted and overlapping conspiracy theories involving voting machine manufacturing, China, Venezuela, the CIA, Italian hackers, local Democratic and the media” (p. 4). There was birtherism, Obama born in Kenya, the Deep State was out to destroy him. There were white supremacists, Christian nationalist, neo-Nazis, Qanon, Satan-worshipping, and cannibalistic pedophiles. Historian Richard Hofstadter wrote of “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” in 1964, with the feeling of persecution and conspiracy theories.

Chapter 1: Backstory I: The Rise and Decline of the Grand Old Party. [Slavery was ancient, mainly captives. Early on, even slaves had rights under law codes including the Code of Hammurabi. Black slaves before the Civil War had no rights. They were considered property.] Given that 60% of slaves counted for population counts, this gave slaves states extra power. The Republican Party was created in 1854 on the issue of slavery not permitted in new territories and states. That would mean slavery was safe, but political power supporting slavery across the country would decline over time. The Kansas-Nebraska Act threatened to allow slavery in the west. Lincoln won the election and the war, then freed the slaves.

Tariffs remained as the primary funding for the federal government. This also encouraged industry to act as over-charging capitalists. Andrew Johnson limited the rights of former slaves. Democrats would be the political party of the South. Increased population needs was mainly ignored by Republicans more interested in supporting the wealthy.

Theodore Roosevelt changed the focus to regulate business and promote a “Square Deal” for the middle class. He favored anti-trust and passed the Meat Inspection Act of 1906. Democrat Woodrow Wilson took over in 1913. It was back to Republicans in the 1920s beginning with the corrupt administration of Warren G. Harding. Herbert Hoover was unfortunate enough to be the president during the Great Depression. Unfortunately, as a conservative, he did little to improve economic conditions; one result was Hoovervilles of shacks of the unemployed. The low taxes for the rich without helping the economy or people in need became the standard for the Republican Party.

Franklin Roosevelt became president in 1933, starting the “First Hundred Days” of action to kickstart the economy with public works, financial regulations, promoting organized labor, and social protections. The major downside was Southern Democrats were segregationists and promoted programs only for white people. One result was red lining in housing. FDR stuck around to be the war president during most of World War II. Truman became president upon FDR’s death.

Republicans took over both houses of Congress in 1948, beating back civil rights, weakened labor laws, and started the anti-Communist crusade with the House Un-American Activities Committees, hunting for subversives. Nixon was a member. The Whittaker Chambers, Alger Hiss debacle made Nixon a star. Republicans accused Democrats of being anti-American, or socialistic. Then Russia set off an atomic bomb and Chinese Communists were victorious, while the Nationalists fled to Taiwan. Klaus Fuchs was arrested as a British spy for the Soviet Union.

The worst result was the rise of Senator Joe McCarthy, claiming communist subversion and having a list of 205 names “known to the secretary of state as being members of the Communist Party.” Apparently, 205 actually referred to employees deemed unsuitable for permanent employment. That theme resonated although it was a lie. He demanded Secretary of State Dean Acheson provide a list of “bad security risks.” McCarthy named an era and established Republican Party paranoia as on-going. [Afraid of losing votes, Eisenhower refused to denounce McCarthy.]

Chapter 2: Backstory II. Fear and Loathing in America. Paranoia was not new to the US, but it was becoming more of a constant with one party. The Salem witch trials of the 1690s showed an early example of delusional panic. In the 1790s the Federalists favored royalist and orderly England against revolutionary France, while Jeffersonians favored France. Conspiracy centered around a “secret Masonic society” called the Illuminati seeking to overturn all governments and religions, blaming the Illuminati for the French Revolution and various American problems. Claims were made there were American members of the Illuminati. Presumably, this fear was a reason for the Alien and Sedition Acts of the 1790s.

The Freemasons were a common target of conspiracy theories. Various American elites were member including Washington and Franklin. Anti-Masonic sentiment spread later. America was industrializing, religion was changing, and rural areas becoming more isolated. Somebody had to take the blame. The Whig Party was in part formed from Anti-Masons. Political extremism was driven by conspiracies and bigotry against Catholics and immigrants. The Ku Klux Klan formed after the Civil War as a hate-filled terror organization, murdering blacks and white allies. Republicans championed Blacks, while Democrats favored whites. One result was a brutal caste system.

World War I brought anti-German hysteria, later any “un-American” elements including Jews, immigrants (especially Irish and Germans), and people considered radicals. J Edgar Hoover tracked down “enemy aliens and dissenters.” Then the first “Red Scare” when Bolshevism took over Russia. Women received the right to voter from the 19th Amendment. Alarm was triggered by labor activism. Anarchists mounted bombing attacks. Henry Ford was an extreme antisemite and conspiracy theorist starting in 1919, blaming bankers, Bolsheviks, and Jews. The KKK grew after The Birth of a Nation in 1915 and expanded their enemy list: white supremacy, fundamentalist Christianity, anti-Bolshevism. The KKK was a major block at the 1924 Republican convention as well as the Democrats. Even with the scandal of Teapot Dome, Republicans under Coolidge remained in power with the help of the KKK.

The Great Depression hit with the 1929 stock crash. Fascism was growing overseas. Political extremism flourished, with Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and other conspiracy pushers favoring fascism and opposing Jews and soviets. Franklin Roosevelt won the 1932 presidential election, his New Deal was called the “Jew Deal,” and GOP critics compared him to Hitler and a Red: his plan for government action was “socialism.” Then Republicans and others favored isolation at the start of World War II, comparing FDR to Jews, British capitalists, and more. Charles Lindbergh pushed these positions. After WWII Republicans led a Congressional inquiry that Pearl Harbor was an FDR plot.

Chapter 3: The General and the Scoundrel. “Dwight Eisenhower surrendered to Joe McCarthy and allowed the senator’s demagoguery of panic and paranoia to roll along” (p. 39). Eisenhower was campaigning for president in 1952, when much of the Republic Party favored McCarthy and his list of Commies in the State Department. There was economic prosperity, but the Democrats had been in charge. Right-wing extremism could be a revolt against the upper classes, the idea of enemies within, and rants against Democrats being traitors to America, which seemed effective against accusations of Commies—even the Marshall Plan assisting Europe. Eisenhower ripped McCarthy but only in private—no principled plan that meant losing millions of votes. A newspaper reported: “The general went far toward surrendering ethical and moral principles in a frenzied quest for votes” (p. 43).

McCarthy launched Senate investigations against government officials, courts ruled that the First Amendment did not cover communists. Hollywood enforced a blacklist and loyalty oaths were used. McCarthy accused anybody, even Eisenhower and the US Army. The Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954 led to the disgrace of McCarthy when Army lawyer Joseph Welch said: “You have done enough, have you no sense of decency, sir.” The Republicans lost big and the Senate voted to condemn McCarthy. McCarthy was more or less replaced by Richard Nixon using commie paranoia and deceit.

The commie ruse focused on resentments and frustrations, then to punish. “Communism was not the target but the weapon in a tribalistic and unprincipled wat against liberals, internationalists, and assorted elites that resonated with millions” (p. 49).

Chapter 4: No Good Birchers. Fred Koch and others advocated antisemitism, white supremacy met with candy manufacturer, a “deranged, paranoid conspiracy theorist” (p. 50). The focus was communism assumed using brainwashing to delude people. What was necessary according to Welch was an organization to struggle against subversion, which became the John Birch Society (JBS), named after the missionary killed by communists in China. They moved fringe conspiracies to mainstream conservative politics. Targets included foreign aid, the  civil rights movement, Federal Reserve, anti-gun control, housing programs, aid for farmers, the UN, WHO. Eisenhower was considered a communist agent, ditto John Foster and Allen Dulles, and most elites: fact-free paranoid extremism. There were not many avid followers, but they had political clout.

Barry Goldwater became an ally. The question was extremism for political gain. Goldwater was funded by JBS and HL Hunt, another JBS supporter. Goldwater promoted freedom over welfare. Welch was a funder of William Buckley’s National Review. Goldwater wanted the help of Buckley and JBS, plus benefiting from right-wing discontent and frustration—just no solutions except fear and anger. Racists and antisemites were welcome, also common among evangelicals—ordained by God.

Chapter 5: In Your Heart. Goldwater for 1964. Civil Rights was a communist plot. Liberal Republicans noted that Goldwater associated with the lunatic fringe. JBS was not extremist according to Goldwater. Phyllis Schlafly was a secret JBSer and lauded Goldwater. “Goldwater was fringe extremism in a cowboy hat. … Columnist Drew Pearson observed that the smell of fascism has been in the air. [Goldwater:] Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. …  in your heart, you know he’s right” (p. 69-70). LBJ ad: girl picking petals off daisy during a nuclear countdown, plus: “In your guts, you know he’s nuts.” Walter Knott of Knott’s Berry Farm supported JBS. Ronald Reagan also supported Goldwater but in a folksy way: “It established the smooth-talking Reagan as a start in the conservative firmament” (p. 74). LBJ won 61% of the popular vote, and 486 to 52 electoral collage votes, but extremism went mainstream.

Chapter 6: Keeping the Kooks Quiet. It was Reagan’s turn, beginning with a run for California governor against incumbent Pat Brown in 1966. Reagan was anti-communist and claimed social welfare put the US on track to totalitarianism. “Reagan developed a winning schtick that merged tales of his Hollywood days, praise of free enterprise, and criticism of big government programs, the gateway to dreaded socialism. … He claimed new federal healthcare programs would end freedom in America” (p. 78). “The Birchers were Birchers because of this drivel” (p. 82).

Protests exploded at UC Berkeley, which Reagan called cultural disorder. Then the Watts riots in LA. Reagan claimed law and order was the answer. The budget crisis? Cut state employees and eliminate programs. Slam mobs, students, protesters, free love, free speech, drugs, gays, beatniks, anarchists, and assorted radicals. Reagan entered the race, adding “upbeat sunniness.” His lack of knowledge was not a hindrance. Staff packaged his beliefs on index cards: focus on welfare, traditional values, law and order, and the white backlash. His soundbites and quips worked, adding to good humor and charm: “grit, grace, and glamour. … He laundered extremism” (p. 85).  Nixon had opposed the Birchers and lost key voters. Reagan was “Teflon” and won 58% of the vote. He captured the right-wingers plus blue-collar and union voters.  

Chapter 7: Bring Us Together. Nixon chased the presidency in 1968. Key problems included Vietnam, demonstrations, and cultural warfare over drugs, sex, etc. MLK and RFK were assassinated. Nixon had limited appeal. He focused on law and order and “justice.” The Democrats were disorganized and had a catastrophic convention in Chicago, complete with riots. Strategist Kevin Phillips stressed appealing to white voters. Nixon won with 43.4% of the vote.

Chapter 8: Ratf***ing America. Nixon governed as a centrist, but seeking “partisan advantage, seeking to gain from racial resentment and encouraging the tribalism growing within. … He would believe his own underhanded, and disloyal internal enemies—and it would drive him to ruin. Law and order. The Southern strategy. An us-versus-them America” (p. 101). “The GOP could construct a national electoral majority of resentment and rage by joining Southern whites opposed to civil rights with middle-class and ethnic Americans, especially Catholics in the North who were enraged by urban rioting, bitter about low-income Black Americans, and frightened by an increasingly militant civil rights movement” (p. 102). Liberals caused all bad things including permissiveness. Critics were “nattering nabobs of negativism” (p. 103). Nixon instituted Vietnamization to end the war, asking for support from the “silent majority.” Too bad about bombing Cambodia, then killing four at Kent State. Nixon had a dangerous coalition.  

Nixon did good things: Paris Peace Accords to end Vietnam War, increasing minimum wage and Social Security, summits with Brezhnev, establishing the EPA, opening a relationship with China.

Then the criminal operations: break-ins, illegal wiretapping, slush funds, blackmail, forgeries, laundered money, dirty tricks, IRS auditing political foes, breaking into Brookings Institute. The Pentagon Papers were published. Smearing McGovern. The key was the Watergate burglary in June 1972. Nixon won reelection with 61% of the vote, demonizing liberals worked. “Never forget, the press is the enemy.” Agnew resigned over bribery. Watergate schemes continued, sending several aids to jail. Nixon resigned in August 1974. Ford pardoned him, a bad outcome.

Chapter 9: Make Them Angry. Ford was not popular as a presidential candidate (“untrustworthy and incompetent”), but Reagan was not ready for prime time. He did show a far-right extremist could be popular. Conspiracy theories included internationalists like the Trilateral Commission were plotting for global dominance. Black people were genetically inferior. Direct mail became a money source for fundraising, plus tycoons like Joseph Coors and Richard Mellon Scaife. Right wing think tanks included the Heritage Foundation. The New Right advanced the “dark arts of negative campaigning: Diabolical evil liberals were out to destroy America.” TV networks were part of the vast conspiracy, as were the major institutions of government. Don’t forget universities. Anti-God, anti-American, tax money goes to Communists. Not good enough. Ford lost to Jimmie Carter.

Chapter 10: Onward Christian Soldier. Mormon lawyer Orin Hatch became a Utah senator. Hatch opposed abortion, the ERA, and unions, spending 42 years in the Senate, plus “harnessing traditional conservative extremism and blending it with the power of the New Right. An appeal to divisiveness, an embrace of hard-edged cultural politics, a cultivation of resentments, an adoption of sharp tactics and rhetoric” (p. 126). Newt Gingrich lost as a reform-minded, pro-environment Republican. In 1978 he went anti-tax, anti-welfare, lying about opponents, and won. Reagan claimed that the USSR would demand surrender or face nuclear attack, which was untrue. Opposition to the New Right was attacked as un-American and ungodly.

Proposition 13 in California limited property taxes and ability of local governments to raise funds. Then oil shortages after the Iranian revolution. Televangelist Jerry Falwell hammered gay rights, school prayer, abortion, and more to stress anger, forming the Moral Majority. Fundamentalists tended to be rigid and intolerant. They and Reagan believed in the end-time theology.

Chapter 11: Let’s Make America Great Again. Reagan blamed Carter for the Iranian Revolution, Communist encroachment, and crime. Falwell supported Reagan using the Moral Majority, as did Pat Robertson. “Basic strategy: scare the bejesus out of people. … The enemy? Militant gays, liberal educators, cruel atheists, and Godless politicians” (p. 138). The NRA pitched for Reagan. Slogan: “let’s make America great again.” Strategist Lee Atwater used racial resentment. GOP trinity: New Right, religious right, and Reaganism. Reagan picked Bush for running mate. Nelson Bunker Hunt, attempted to control the global silver market, was a Bircher and supported Reagan; others included Helms, Schlafy, Tom Landry, and Weyrich. Reagan opposed evolution and noted the Bible contained all the answers. Reagan pushed for arms race against USSR, asserted trees caused pollution, favored cutting taxes (claiming that would increase revenues and erase deficits), and increase military spending. Debate strategy: “There you go again.” Slogan: “Are you better off than you were four years ago.” Reagan won 51% of the popular vote and 44 states. Many Democratic incumbents were defeated. “As the likable frontman for the new generation of extremists, Reagan legitimatized these political forces, fortified their efforts, and gained mightily” (p. 145). There was an effort to “Christianize America.”

Chapter 12: Reaganland. “Reagan’s White House crew and cabinet were mostly men whom the conservatives sneered at as pragmatists and establishment Republicans. The ideologues were being kept out of the Gipper’s inner circle” (p. 146). James Baker was Chief of Staff. Reagan fired striking air traffic controllers, got a large tax cut, increased deregulation of business, and massively increased military spending. He put Sandra Day O’Conner on the Supreme Court. David Stockman was Budget Director, whose mission was budget-slashing—not good enough to restrain massive deficits.

Falwell called Harvard a “Godless and Marxist institution.” Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire.” Reagan supported the military in El Salvador and contra rebels in Nicaragua. Suicide bombing killed 241 in Beirut. The Christian right wanted to impose biblical law on America. Reagan had a “feel-good” sales campaign.

Chapter 13: Morning (and Nazis) in America. Reagan did not have a second-term vision beyond economic good news. The opponent Walter Mondale was called weak, subject to special interests, unprincipled, soft on freedom, and so on. Atwater included race, and claimed Democrats moved so far left, away from traditional values. Debate: “I will not exploit my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” Mangling facts didn’t matter. Reagan won with 59% of the vote.

A key problem was raising funds for the Contras, led by Oliver North. The Bitburg stop in Europe featured Nazi burials. Jack Anderson noted Nazi connections, which did not become a major issue. There was corruption with Reagan aids Ed Meese, Mike Deaver, and Lyn Nofziger. Reagan placed Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court and elevated William Rehnquist to chief justice. At Berlin there was “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Falwell sowed hatred and raised substantial money.

Pat Robertson ran for president, a former faith healer and speaker in tongues. He believed the second coming would happen from a nuclear holocaust. Then the Iran-contra scandal: selling weapons to Iran to fund the Contras. Investigations unveiled substantial corruption. Reagan claimed ignorance, then the stock market crashed in October 1987. It was hard to tell when Reagan’s dementia started.

Chapter 14: Not Kinder or Gentler. Pat Robertson had fundamentalists caucus for him for president in 1988; opponents were George Bush and Bob Dole. “Robertson was a bigoted kook, but a quarter of the GOP caucus-goers in the Hawkeye State wanted this bigoted kook to be president” (p. 168). Bush won in the primaries, but trailed Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis. “One had a pedigree, the other had a flowchart” (p. 170). Atwater produced opposition research. The focus was Willie Horton, who killed while on a prison furlough program. Adds worked with focus groups: “Dukakis furloughed killers. … One of the meanest and emptiest elections” (p. 171).

Bush did not have a vision. Ann Richards quipped: “Poor George, he can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth” (p. 172). His best line: “Read my lips: no new taxes.” But Dukakis was portrayed as an extreme liberal who would raise taxes. Robertson claimed he would turn America over to radical feminists, drug dealers, militant homosexuals, humanists, or world communists. Bush’s “kinder and gentler nation” was not going to happen. Dukakis with helmet in a tank did not help. It was policy versus values. Bush sidestepped scandals like Iran-Contra. Down-and-dirty won: Bush won 40 states with a seven million edge.

Chapter 15: Spiritual Warfare. Radio host Rush Limbaugh bashed the left as “commie, pinko liberals.” Reagan had killed the Fairness Doctrine for radio and TV. Limbaugh focused on hate and division, belittling liberals as dishonest. “He made obnoxiousness cool.” Gingrich waged war on House Speaker Jim Wright for violating ethics rules. Gingrich used optimistic words for the GOP: freedom, family, courage, liberty, truth, … The opponent list included traitors, radical, sick, anti-flag, betray, bizarre, incompetent, pathetic, lie …

Pat Roberson created the Christian Coalition in 1990 with Ralph Reed. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the anti-commie crusade collapsed. So, the focus was God against Satan. Secret Societies were again conspiracies: the Illuminati, Masons, then add the Fed, Rockefellers, Ford Foundation, Trilateral Commission, Henry Kissinger, Rothschilds, and international bankers. “A compendium of the lunatic fringe’s greatest hits” (p. 182). Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, they Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment.

Pat Buchanan ran for president, using dog whistles and claiming Bush served some new world order. Then Buckley accused Buchanan of antisemitism. Roger Ailes created Fox News for Rupert Murdoch. Limbaugh peaked at disinformation. Bill Clinton, despite his moral failings, ran for president. Conservatives attacked Hillary Clinton as a feminist undermining family values—a first for politics. Tom Brokaw noted that GOP message: “if you’re not white, heterosexual, Christian, antiabortion, anti-environment, you’re not welcome in the Republican Party.” “Columnist Molly Ivins quipped that Buchanen’s speech probably sounded better in the original German” (p. 187). Buchanen compared Head Start and food stamps to pillaging Vandals and Visigoths. Robertson compared the ERA to the work of a “socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians” (p. 188). For Clinton it was: “The economy, stupid.” That worked and Clinton won with 379 electoral votes, but only 43% of the vote (Ross Perot was also in the race).

Chapter 16: The Clinton Chronicles. Politicize the Vince Foster suicide, then Travelgate, Whitewater and Troopergate. This was a revenue source for Falwell, claiming a high Clinton body count and Clinton wanted perverts in high places, then laundering cocaine money, meaning an anti-Christian pagan nation. Democrats were equivalent to Hitler. Robertson claimed sending him money was the only was to avoid concentration camps for Christians. Meanwhile, Clinton had a productive first year signing NAFTA, family medical leave, a handgun waiting period and background checks. Ken Starr was appointed special council.

Gingrich came up with the Contract for America for tax cuts, requiring a balanced budget, and more. It was a landslide for Republicans.

Chapter 17: A Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. There were Ruby Ridge hearings, with the militia believing the government was the enemy. A bomb killed 168 people in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh, part of the “wacko factor.” There were 224 militias. Gingrich threatened a government shutdown unless Clinton repealed tax increases, accept spending cuts in Medicare and Medicaid. Also, he had to exit Airforce One from the back. Gingrich’s shutdown happened for a week and he got blamed for it.

Bob Dole was the 1996 GOP presidential candidate. He lacked a coherent message, did not communicate well, and was not extreme. He lost. Starr claimed a pattern of obstruction, but no evidence. Starr did find Monica Lewinski and staged a perjury trap for Clinton, which he fell into. Fox amplified the story. Hilary claimed a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” She was right, but was mocked as paranoid. The Starr report and video went into unnecessary sordid details, then Clinton was impeached, but not convicted. The public took it out on the Republicans and the House gained five seats; Gingrich resigned after ethics violation caused a $300,000 fine.

Chapter 18: Fortunate Son. George W. Bush won big despite a lack of experience, common sense, or interest in analysis. He did have a big ego; plus, a big bank account and establishment support. Strategist Karl Rove furnished the propaganda, aided by extremists. Bush gave a speech at Bob Jones University (“the citadel of extremist fundamentalism”). John McCain and Steve Forbes also ran for president in 2000. McCain called Robertson and Falwell agents of intolerance. But they were powerful as enemies. Bush favored intolerance folks. Following Reagan, he pushed himself as amiable and nonthreatening, picking Dick Cheney as his running mate.

Bush had a virtual tie with Al Gore, with Florida the critical state (and brother Jeb the governor). Recounts and lawsuits followed. Bush supporters intimidated poll workers to stop the recount—the threat of violence worked. Then the Supreme Court stopped the count and gave the election to Bush. Many evangelicals got government jobs, including science panels.

Chapter 19: What We Deserve. Al Qaeda terrorists flew into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Falwell and Robertson claimed the US deserved this, that liberals were enemies of God. Bush had received an intelligence report that Bin Ladin would attack. The public rallied around Bush, while Franklin Graham proclaimed Islam as evil. Islamophobia became daily fare on Fox News. US special forces chased al Qaeda and the Taliban from Afghanistan. Bush tried to democratize Afghanistan, reinvade Iran claiming Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and remake the Middle East. The occupation of Iraq was a disaster, while no weapons were found. Afghanistan was a 20-year morass.

Political strategists debated working on “persuadables” (independents and swing voters) versus motivating the base. A push was made for megachurch goers. John Kerry became the Democrat nominee in 2004. Kerry was “Swift Boated,” claims that he lied about his military record—no proof required. The Rove strategy was “attack your enemy’s strength.” Bush called Kerry a tax-and-spend, flip-flopping liberal, soft on national security, ignoring Kerry’s war record (Bush had his own problems avoiding service in the Air National Guard). Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert would later be imprisoned for molesting boys as a wrestling coach. Bush won with 50.7% of the popular vote. Bush appointed John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. The Bush administration then handled Hurricane Katrina incompetently. Bush tried to privatize Social Security, followed by several Republican scandals. The housing and financial scandals of 2007-8 followed by the Great Recession and trillion-dollar bailouts of big banks followed.

Chapter 20: Going Rogue. John McCain was the Republican nominee for president in 2008, honest, a war hero, and a maverick willing to vote against the Party (“going rogue”). Unfortunately, he faced the charismatic Barack Obama, while the country was in financial crisis—under Bush. McCain tried to charm the base with patriotism and dependability, including the religious right, which he was not good at. Obama promised hope and “change you can believe in.” In desperation he picked Sarah Palin as his running mate, right-wing, photogenic, but erratic and inexperienced. She proved to be incoherent. McCain did not understand the financial complications of big-bank bankruptcy. Trump and others claimed birtherism, that Obama was born in Kenya and accused to be a Muslim.

Palin called Obama a terrorist. “She was bringing to the fore a new form of presidential politics in which hatred, tribalism, and rage based on fearmongering, paranoia, and false accusation could be openly expressed as acceptable discourse” (p. 252). They even claimed that George Soros was behind Obama as a clandestine Muslim. As Obama said about the Republican Party: “xenophobia, anti-intellectualism, paranoid conspiracy theories, an antipathy toward Black and brown folks—were finding their way to center stage” (p. 254). Also, a socialist and anti-American. Obama won 53% of the popular vote. “Palinism” became: “a combination of smear politics, conspiracism, and know-nothingism” (p. 255). Obama would be compared to Hitler and Marx.

Chapter 21: Feed the Beast. For Obama it was hope over fear. Ryan, Gingrich, McCarthy, DeMint, and pollster Frank Luntz plotted how to block Obama, especially his stimulus plan. The stimulus passed. “Why help losers pay for their mortgage?” raged commentator Rick Santelli. Fox News promoted Tea Party protests. Then it was the Affordable Care Act, a clearinghouse for private insurance (the plan was proposed by the right-wing Heritage Foundation and implemented in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney). They claimed there were “death panels” and 30% of Americans believed it. Limbaugh called Obama an extremist tyrant. Glen Beck (Satan’s mentally challenged younger brother according to Stephen King) said Obama was appointing Communists, Socialist, Marxist, destroying America and creating a Muslim state. The Tea Party had great success in the 2010 Congressional elections with the issues repealing Obamacare, halt tax increases, and cut federal spending. The Republican Congress caused unnecessary crises, threatening a government shutdown and refusing to raise the debt ceiling, causing a bond rating downgrade.

Chapter 22: The Fever Doesn’t Break. Trump was in the mix in 2012 stressing birtherism getting airtime on Fox News. Lies increased on-air attention. In 2012 it was Mitt Romney’s turn, although having to beat Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain. Perry became known for “oops,” after he couldn’t remember the third federal department he wanted to abolish.

Romney accused Obama of not understanding the “nature of America,” declaring Obama wanted a European-style welfare state. Romney did seek and get Trump’s endorsement. He blamed Obama for the nation’s problems, claiming to be Mr. Fix-it. Obama noted Romney made a fortune Bain Capital, a private equity company. The Republicans hammered Obama and Hillary for the Benghazi, Libya attack. Romney claimed people should take personal responsibility, not government handouts. Obama won with 51% of the vote and added seats to Congress, but not enough for control. Rupert Murdoch claimed “our nation is ruined,” Trump claimed the election was “a total sham and a travesty.”

Republicans decided they needed to campaign to non-whites and women. Congress forced a two-week government shutdown and nearly a debt ceiling crisis. Hillary was investigated repeatedly on Benghazi. They discovered Clinton’s emails, creating another scandal. Republicans increased their Congressional seats in 2014.

Chapter 23: I Am Your Voice. Trump started his 2016 campaign gliding down the Trump Tower escalator claiming the country was in serious trouble. He called Mexican immigrants rapists, he would build a wall, and, following Reagan, make America great again. Trump “was an egomaniacal publicity hound with a sordid past of bankruptcies, mob ties, shady business deals, scandalous personal conduct, and racist and misogynistic comments—not to mention an inveterate liar and a champion braggart” (p. 289).

The GOP capitalized on anger, paranoia, and grievance. Political discourse was not Trump’s style nor was informed debate. He claimed John McCain was not a war hero. His debates meant “crude and rude.” He just stated he knew all the answers; he was a “genius” after all. He claimed Obama was a diabolical pretender and Hillary a crook. He praised Putin, did not understand the nuclear triad. Add his bad business deals, conflicts of interest, defrauding students at Trump University, refusal to pay bills, policy flip-flops, embracing Alex Jones, and so on. The result: he led in the polls. He claimed: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any votes.”

“Trump was turning violence into entertainment. … Nobody knows the system better than me. Which is why I alone can fix it” (p. 297-300). Hillary called half of Trump’s supporters “deplorables.” The other half were desperate for change. Insulting voters was not a good idea. Fake news sites claimed Clinton sold arms to ISIS, and many more. The Washington Post discovered Trump’s Access Hollywood tape. Then WikiLeaks released emails from John Podesta’s computer. FBI Director Jim Comey revived the Clinton email scandal, accusing her of being “extremely careless”—a public disclosure the FBI is never supposed to make. Clinton won the popular vote, but Trump won in the elector college.

Chapter 24: Very Fine People. White supremacists and Neo-Nazis marched through Charlottesville, with Trump noting “very fine people on both sides.” They gave him a Nazi salute and a “Hail Trump.” Trump claimed the US was a dystopian hellhole. He banned Muslim immigrants. Kellyanne Conway claimed “alternative facts.” Steve Bannon became chief strategist, with Stephen Miller, a believer in the “great replacement theory,” senior policy advisor. Michael Flynn as national security advisor. Flynn and Bannon were gone soon. Trump denied Putin intervened in the election. Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz joined the Trump bandwagon. He ended DACA, passed a tax cut favoring the rich, slapped tariffs on steel, aluminum, and many Chinese products. He praised Kim Jong-un.

Democrats won Congressional seats in 2018. Trump had a government shutdown over funding his wall. Bizarre Qanon conspiracy theories circulated including satanic elites who ate babies and trafficked children for sex, including Hillary, international bankers, and Hollywood powers. There was the Pizzagate conspiracy, and Deep State villains. Trump called Ukrainian president Zelenskyy to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden and claim Ukraine did the cyber break-in of Democrats. Russian expert Fiona Hill tried to shut this down, testifying to Congress.

Coronavirus from China hit, and Trump’s disruptive responses probably insured additional thousands of deaths after the virus hit the US. He claimed it was totally under control and a Democratic hoax, the “Kung flu.” “Trump’s narcissistic, disruptive, divisive, demonizing, confrontational politics—now fully normalized within the Republican Party—resulted in the preventable deaths of thousands of Americans” (p. 316). He dismissed mask wearing and testing because it would reveal more cases and harm him politically. Prudent public health meant Nazi Germany. He did promote vaccine development and economic relief, while also asking about injecting bleach. Deaths were higher in red states over blue.

Then the George Floyd murder, resulting in Black Lives Matter. Trump had Lafayette Square cleared out to march to a church with a Bible, claiming to be a “law and order” president.

Joe Biden was making headway for the Democratic nomination for 2020, to impose “radical socialism” according to Trump. Plus, the election would be stolen. He told the Proud Bays to “stand back and stand by,” also noting Qanon liked him. Supporters included Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene. Antifa (anti-fascists) were claimed to be funded by George Soros.

Chapter 25: The Aftermath. Biden won by 7 million votes, but Trump claimed a stolen election and on January 6 rioters stormed the Capitol, supported by Trump sycophants. Some Trump appointees quit in disgust. Afterword the Republican attitude changed and only nine Republicans joined Lynn Cheney to impeach Trump. McCarthy later claimed that Trump had no involvement and visited him at Mar-a-Lago. The House formed a bipartisan commission on the Capitol assault, but only Republicans Cheney and Adam Kinzinger served objectively. Trump lawyers including Giuliani and Sidney Powell went to court for Trump some 60 times and were rejected by each. Spurious claims and lawsuits were not facts. Propaganda convinced Republicans.

“Trump had transformed the Republican Party and virtually the entire conservative movement into a robot army of his authoritarian crusade” (p. 328). Trump to Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Secretary of State: “I just want you to find 11,780 votes.” Pence declined to join. Question: “why human beings believe conspiracy theories, hold fast to false premises, and are susceptible to tribalism and drawn to authoritarians” (p. 329). Republicans became more Trump-believing.

The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and Republicans passed abortion bans with little regard for rights of the mother. There was even pedophilia-baiting, plus destroying patriotism, capitalism, free speech, and the family. JD Vance claimed: “The professors are the enemy.” Then, “the bigotry and hate as an organizing principle.” Biden’s January 6, 2022, speech let loose on Trump and his web of lies to value power over principle.

Epilogue to the Trade Edition: The Fever Persists. The GOP put into motion Trump-endorsed candidates who would overturn an election. The Republicans barely took over the House in 2022, meaning the House barely function, even when McCarthy was elected speaker, with Gaetz and Boebert soon kicking him out. Tommy Tuberville accused Democrats of being pro-crime. “Wokeness” became a new noun as an all-purpose insult on liberals. Nikki Haley: “Wokeness is a virus more dangerous than any pandemic, hands down” (p. 337). Fox News was hit with a $1.6 billion defamation suit from voting machines. Alex Jones $1 billion. [Trump is accumulating indictments and the favorite Republican for 2024.]  


bottom of page