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These Truths: Book Review

These Truths: A History of the United States, Jill Lepore (2022). Introduction: The Question Stated. “We the people …” as a new start, an experiment in constitutional democracy. A Bill of Rights would state what Congress could not do. “Can a political society really be governed by reflection and election, by reason and truth?” (p. xiii). Who was a hero or villain? Attempting to divide history from faith. The past as an inheritance, a gift, and a burden.

Part One: The Idea, 1492-1799. Chapter 1: The Nature of the Past. “Nature takes one toll, malice another. History is the study of what remains” (p. 4). Columbus claimed possession of Hispaniola because the indigenous people “had no faith and no civil government and were therefore infidels and savages who could not rightfully own anything” (p. 13).

Columbus brought seeds and cuttings of wheat, chickpeas, melons, onions, radishes, greens, grapevines, and sugar cane, plus horses, pigs, cattle, chickens, sheep, and goats. Smallpox was viewed as: “the lord hath cleared our title to what we possess” (John Winthrop) (p. 20). All relationships are relations of hierarchy, according to Aristotle. Scholars to Spanish king: the natives did not own the land and were, by nature, slaves. The Spanish came to the New World as armies, seized and raped women, producing mixed race children.

Queen Elizabeth issued royal patents for New World settlements, passing on costs to others. Raleigh dropped off 104 male colonists, all of whom requested a return home when Drake showed up.

Chapter 2: The Rulers and the Ruled. England founded two dozen colonies on the coast and the Caribbean. New England had no charter, they fled the king. Edmund Coke (1552-1634), lawyer focused on Magna Carta as an “ancient constitution” which included the right to a jury trial. The judge decided the law, which became part of Common Law. Coke prepared a Petition of Rights to Charles I, who dissolved Parliament. Thousands fled to Massachusetts. A million Europeans migrated to British America 1600-1800.

Under Roman law, people are born free. Slaves are prisoners of war or sell themselves for debt. Aristotle insisted some people are born slaves. Brits and colonists accepted black slavery quickly. English civil war: divine right of kings versus sovereignty of the people. From that, freedoms of speech, religion, and press. The first printing press was in Boston in 1639; the Boston News-Letter started in 1704. Ben Franklin born in 1706 was apprenticed to his brother James at 16, which included the New-England Courant (an unlicensed newspaper). Ben ran away and settled in Philadelphia, printing the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729. Franklin printed “opinions of men,” presumably all sides.

Governors of colonies were appointed by the king and typically greedy and corrupt. William Cosby was appointed governor of New York in 1732 and political factors were for or against him. Hamilton represented printer John Zenger as a printer. Hamilton’s defense: what he printed was critical but true. Jury: not guilty.

Ben Franklin 1754 woodcut, Join or Die. Franklin’s point was the colonies needed to form a common defense against France, Spain, Indians, and slaves. At the Albany Congress of 1754 Ben proposed a Plan of Union under a President-General. It failed. Colonial governors and other elites did not want to give up power. Ben headed many civic-minded schemes like a lending library, was appointed postmaster, touring the colonies to inspect post roads.    

Unlike Spain, the British colonies saw only two colors, white and black, free and slave. Mixed-race marriages were outlawed. Children of slaves even with a white father were slaves (based on the race of the mother).

Chapter 3: Of Wars and Revolutions. In 1754 Washington led Virginia militiamen to an ambush of a French camp, then surrendered. The French & Indian War soon followed. Braddock was defeated and killed. The British troops plundered colonial homes and farms. After Montreal was captured, little fighting remained in North America. It helped unite the colonies when Britain expected colonial taxes to pay for the war. The British sent troops to the colonies. France ceded Canada and New France but kept their Caribbean colonies. The war left Britain with massive debt and a depression in the colonies; Britain then passed revenue acts beginning with the American Revenue Act (Sugar Act) in 1764. Adams and others argued against taxation without representation. The Sugar Act helped sugar (Caribbean) colonies prosper; replace by the 1765 Stamp Act with stamps on printed matter. Opponents became Sons of Liberty. John Adams and others called for the boycott of Caribbean goods.

Franklin visited a school for black children in 1763 and discovered they were intelligent. Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in 1766, then passed the Townshend Act which included several taxes including tea. British troops were sent to Boston to enforce the act.

The London-based East India Company faced bankruptcy because of famine in Bengal, military costs, a credit crunch, and the colonial boycott on tea. In 1773 Parliament passed the Tea Act reducing the tax on tea, then Bostonians dumped chests of tea into the harbor. Parliament passed the Coercive Act to punish Boston in 1774.

Madison analyzed why various colonies had different opinions on the tea tax. Northern colonies favored religious liberty, leading to political liberty. Then the Coercive Acts motivated the colonies, who met in Philadelphia for the first Continental Congress. All colonies were granted one vote; they urged colonies to muster militias and stockpile weapons and ban all trade with the West Indies.

April 19, 1775, Gage seized ammunition near Boston and marched on Lexington, met by 70 militiamen; 10 were killed; rebel forces laid siege on Boston, controlled by the British and most people fled (Loyalists stayed). Second Continental Congress met, voted to create a Continental army with Washington in charge, and he was sent to Massachusetts to take command. The Congress worked at war, raising and provisioning troops.

Lord Dunmore offered freedom to slaves joining the British. This was an act that encouraged American independence. About 20% of slaves fled to the British.

 George Mason wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights (which ignored slaves, women, and Indians). John Dickinson drafted the Articles of Confederation of what he called The United States of America. The Articles created a confederation of sovereign states.

Richard Henry Lee called for independence on June 7, 1776; a committee was created to draft a declaration with Jefferson taking the lead, mainly a list of grievances: standing army, no trial by jury, British taxes.

The British had 32,000 disciplined troops to Washington’s 19,000, and the new country had no capital and no banks. Howe captured Philadelphia in 1777, but Burgoyne was defeated at the Battle of Saratoga and France entered the war in 1778. As the colonies boycotted sugar, slaves starved. Clinton held New York City, then moved to the South, capturing Savannah in 1778. Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown October 19, 1781. Most Loyalists left, about 75,000 plus ex-slaves, about 15-20,000. The largest free black community was in Nova Scotia, about 1,500 families where they struggled to survive. Madison brought his personal slave Billey in Philadelphia. Short of cash he wanted to sell Billey, which he did as an indentured servant.

Chapter 4: The Constitution of a Nation. The Constitutional Convention started on May 14, 1787, in Philadelphia. Madison took notes. A constitution meant: “that assemblage of laws, institutions and customs, derived from certain fixed principles of reason … according to which the community has agreed to be governed” (p. 110). Various states wrote their own constitutions, including the one John Adams wrote for Massachusetts. Many had a declaration of rights similar to the preamble to the Declaration of Independence (like Pennsylvania). Most states allowed white men to vote who were property owners. Northern states started banning slavery.

Hamilton wrote a resolution to gather in Philadelphia to improve the Articles of Confederation. 75 men from 12 states were appointed to the convention, with 55 showing up and fewer on a day-to-day basis. Early arrivers decided to devise a national government. Madison wrote up the Virginia Plan. Washington was elected president. A major question was how representation was to be divided among the states: size, property value, population (white versus black and indigenous). The Connecticut compromise called for a House based on white population (plus 3/5 of black population) and a Senate with two senators from each state. A bill of rights was not included. The constitution was completed on September 17, 1787.

It had to be ratified by the states (9 was key). Hamilton, Madison, and Jay wrote the Federalist Papers supporting the Constitution. Anti-Federalists opposed (“a conspiracy against their liberties”). Five states passed it by early January; 9 states by June. Lots of people were in debtors’ prison, given the economy was in depression.

The first Congress convened on March 4, 1789, in New York City’s city hall (then Federal Hall). The proceedings were kept in the Congressional Record. Washington was inaugurated on April 30, the time needed to hold an election although he ran unopposed. Congress started to call for a cabinet: state, treasury, war (Jefferson, Hamilton, Knox), later an attorney general. Then the Bill of Rights, checking on the power of Congress (freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, gun rights and so on).

Hamilton proposed to take over state debts and establish a central bank, The Bank of the United States for a term of 20 years (arguing the “necessary and proper clause,” Article I, Section 8). Hamilton believed in manufacturing, spurring economic growth, then favored a tariff (customs duties) which favored manufacturing over agriculture.

Treasury assistant William Duer attempted to corner the stock of the Bank of the US, causing the Panic of 1792. A bankruptcy act was passed in 1800, replacing debtors’ prison. 

Jefferson and Madison formed the Democratic-Republican Party focusing on farmers, while the Federalists favored industry. Newspapers were partisan.

Part Two: The People: 1800-1865. Chapter 5: A Democracy of Numbers. “The ongoing argument between Adams and Jefferson was at once a rivalry between two ambitious men, bitter and petty, and a dispute about the nature of the American experiment. … In every society where property exists, there will ever be a struggle between rich and poor” (p. 155). There was consensus on executive, legislative, and judicial, with the best government balanced among them.

Chapter 1: Constitutional Convention: how is a president elected? Their solution: an electoral college—basically a concession to slave owners plus the 3/5th rule on counting slaves. 1790 census counted 3.9 million, including 700,000 slaves. 1800 election include party caucuses and no-holds-barred campaigning (mainly through newspapers). Voting was done in public (like “stand over there for Federalists”). Maryland started using paper ballots in 1799. About 600,000 men could vote, out of 5.2 million. Jefferson and Burr each received 73 votes. The 12th Amendment would separate president from vice-president for elections. (Jefferson only beat Adams because blacks counted as part of the population.)

Adams appointed John Marshall as chief justice, which initially did not have much power. Marshall assumed the power to say which laws were constitutional (beginning in 1803: Marbury v. Madison).

Chapter 2. Jefferson favored farming, but feared manufacturing (“neither independent nor virtuous”). [Apparently, slavery was.] Jefferson acquired the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803 for $15 million. Jefferson passed the Embargo Act in 1807, banning exports to remain neutral from European wars, but created a depression. The slave trade was banned in 1808.

Madison declared war in Britain in 1812, a war that went poorly. The number of free blacks did grow to over 100,000 by 1800. More free and slave states were created, while Republican versus Federalist split about slavery.

Slave holders stated that black people could not live as equals to white people and should not be emancipated. Harriet Hemming was the daughter of Sally Hemming, looked white, was freed by Jefferson, rode the stage to Philadelphia, passed for white and married a white guy. The Missouri Compromise allowed Missouri to be slave while admitting Maine, brokered by Henry Clay (“the Great Compromiser”).

Chapter 3: Andrew Jackson was the first populist president: closely directed by the majority. Jackson focused on his lack of education and experience to run, plus the first to campaign. New states were more democratic than the original 13. There were paper ballots, usually for an entire slate. Jefferson had to auction off his entire estate to pay his debts.

Chapter 6: The Soul and the machine. A religious revival called the Second Great Awakening started early in the 1800s as church members increased from 10% to 80%, emphasizing spiritual equality (and generating protests against slavery and inequality of women). Evangelicals recast the origins of the US as Christian.

One. Concerns of democracy versus the industrial age. Progress as invention versus democracy and suffrage. Then the issue of Indian removal east of the Mississippi. Jacquard’s automated loom with paper cards, then Charles Babbage used cards for computing. Francis Cabot Lowell and successors built the Lowell mills, then the Erie Canal moved freight and people. Wage workers became less skilled. Cotton production expanded and became the most valuable commodity, with demand from textile mills of Britain, then New England.

Two. Garrison established the Anti-Slavery Society. Women formed temperance societies, charitable aid, and abolition societies. The Panic of 1819 created the first industrial recession as banks failed. Jacksonian democracy versus industrial consolidation. Factory owners could use immigrants for cheaper labor.

Common schools were established in part became of German and Irish insularity, to assimilate a diverse population. Black families had their own schools, others integrated (like Massachusetts). Free schools spread literacy and newspapers. Whigs versus Democrats in 1833. The Penny (“free”) press encouraged facts over opinion for a broader audience.

Three. Andrew Jackson “pursued a policy of continental expansion, dismantled the national bank, and narrowly averted a constitutional crisis over the question of slavery” (p. 212). Jackson’s Indian removal (“Trail of Tears,” one in four died) meant the forcible removal of Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles. The Europeans claimed rights to land because the Indians had no “government.” In 1825 the Cherokee had 22,000 cattle, 7,600 horses, 4,600 pigs, 2,500 sheep, 725 looms, 2,488 spinning wheels, 172 wagons, 10,000 plows, 31 grist mills, 10 sawmills, 62 blacksmith shops, 8 cotton gins, 18 schools, 18 ferries, and 1,500 slaves (p. 214). But gold was discovered on Cherokee land. Congressional approval for removal was by section (South for removal, New England against). The Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional, but Jackson ignored it (“Let them enforce it”).

John Calhoun attempted to have South Carolina nullify a Congressional tariff in 1832. The South produced 2/3rds of US exports, but consumed only a tenth of the imports. What were the limits of states’ rights? Jackson said sovereignty is a complete government, not a league (p. 219).

Although counterfeiting was rampant, banks speculated and failed, Jackson vetoed the Second Bank of the US, creating the Panic of 1837 and depression. He favored farming over industry without thinking about the finance needs of farmers. The new president became “Martin Can Ruin.” New bankruptcy laws were created in 1841, eliminating debtors’ prison (after lots of bankruptcy filings the law was repealed but debtors’ prison was gone).

Americans crossed into Mexico when it won independence from Spain in 1821. They moved to the cotton country of Louisiana and Texas. Then they rebelled and won a war of independence.

Born in a mansion, William Henry Harrison won after his “log cabin” campaign, then promptly died. John Tyler became “His Accidency.” In 1844 Samuel Morse strung the first telegraph line. In 1844 Thoreau really lived in a long cabin and wrote about it in Walden. More goods meant “improved means to an unimproved end” (p. 231).

Chapter 7: Of Ships and Shipwrecks. John Tyler vetoed the charter of the national bank, his cabinet resigned, and the Whigs kicked him out of the party. Fearing for his life, he created a police force that became the Secret Service. He supported the annexation of Texas. There was talk of secession on both sides because of slavery in Texas. Democrat and ally of Jackson, James Polk became president. The US was soon at war with Mexico.

One. Marbury was the only time the Marshall court overturned a federal law. Polk wanted to annex Oregon, Florida, and Cuba. In 1843 some 800 Americans traveled the Oregon Trail. John Freemont mapped much of the West. War with Mexico started in 1846. The New York Sun set up a newsgathering network called the “wire service,” later the Associated Press. Polk would take over much of northern Mexico after the war was over in 1848, with many Mexicans staying.

Between 1830-60 over 100 violent incidents happened between congressmen; Southerners armed, Northerners not. The 1856 caning of Charles Sumner by Preston Brooks of South Carolina was the worst. So much for free speech.

Two. Frederick Douglas was the most photographed man of his time, published autobiographies, spoke in Europe, and became famous.

Three. Margaret Fuller was an activist, claiming no women had a fair chance. Marx was one voice that workers lost control of the means of production. Lincoln said: “slavery reduced a man to a blind horse upon a treadmill.” Southerners became more adamant that slavery was fundamental to prosperity and an ideology of racial superiority. Elizabeth Cady Stanton in Seneca Falls started a women’s rights movement.

Four. Gold was discovered in California leading to the gold rush and the 49ers.

The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 required turning over runaway slaves. Harriet Tubman helped build the Underground Railroad, making 13 trips into Maryland to rescue some 70 people beginning in 1850. The Kansas-Nebraska Act opened to slavery land previously closed to it, making the Democratic Party the party of slavery. Lincoln returned to politics, becoming a Republican (a new party formed in 1854 as a coalition of Whigs and others). “Bleeding Kansas” broke into war over slavery.

Judge Taney ruled the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional in Dred Scott, saying Congress had no power to limit slavery because Blacks were “beings of inferior order, and altogether unfit to associated with the white race” (p. 268). Five of the judges were slaveholders.

Chapter 8: The Face of Battle. One. Telegraph resulted in changes, like Chicago Board of Trade posting grain prices across the country. Lincoln and Douglas debated on slavery (Congress had a gag rule on slavery). Lincoln lost the senate race, but became a leader of the Republican Party. Lincoln was the 1860 presidential candidate, while the Democrats split north and south. Lincoln won every Northern state and the presidency. South Carolina quickly seceded, followed by the other southern states. The most ardent supporters were plantation owners. They claimed that poor whites were spared demeaning work.

Two. In the Confederacy each state was sovereign, based on blacks as slaves in their natural state: white supremacy. They suppressed free speech. Lincoln only campaigned that slavery should not be extended. Frederick Douglas said: “Slavery cannot tolerate free speech.” Georgia made dissent punishable by death. South Carolina fired on Fort Sumter April 12, 1861. The Confederacy had 15 states with 12 million people, including 4 million slaves. The Civil War involved 880,000 Southerners and 2.1 million northerners and over 200 battles. Lincoln spoke a mere 272 words at the Gettysburg battlefield.

Three. The Emancipation Proclamation was issued September 22, 1862, which Southern newspapers called the “most startling political crime, the most stupid political blunder, yet known in American history” (p. 297). Frederick Douglas began a recruiting trip for the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. Civil War government powers included a federal currency, income taxes, and welfare. An Internal Revenue Bureau was created. A Union veteran pension system was created after the war.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony gathered 400,000 signatures for the 13th Amendment to prohibit slavery, which was passed in Congress in 1864 and ratified at the end of 1865. The war ended at Appomattox.

Part Three: The State, 1866-1945. Chapter 9: Of Citizens, Persons, and People. What is a citizen? This was a problem when emancipation was given in 1866. No definition is in the Constitution. The US issued its first passport in 1782; most were issued by states. In 1856 the law required the secretary of state to issue passports and only to citizens. Are women citizens; if so, why can’t they vote? In 1896 the passport office required identity and an oath of loyalty. Given the importance of capitalism, corporations were considered persons. [Smart lawyers do that.]

One. After the Civil War black people were most interested in citizenship and property. They were assisted by the Freedmen’s Bureau. The South went under military rule, divided into five military districts. Black men started serving in state legislatures and local governments.

Johnson protected the South. Southern states passed “black codes” limiting black rights mainly with sharecropping and indentures. Then the Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1866, serving as armed militias. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act in 1866 which, along with the 14th and 15th Amendments defined citizenship which included black men.

Chinese immigrants arrived in the 1850s after the California gold rush, but facing limited rights. Frederick Douglas called for all people, men and women, having equality in a “composite nation.” The 15th Amendment passed in 1870 allowing citizens the right to vote.  This should have allowed women, but didn’t. Reconstruction failed, including fraud and underhanded dealing. Republican Rutherford B. Hayes essentially stole the 1876 presidential election from Samuel Tilden. The agreement was the end of the military occupation of the South. Jim Crow laws followed (beginning in 1881 in Tennessee), segregating blacks from whites.

Two. The political power of the West became increasingly important. The railroads got the best land and other big interests bought the land and fenced it in with barbed wire patented in 1874. Much of this was used for cattle with markets developing in Chicago and elsewhere. Railroad and land speculation created business cycles like the Panic of 1873. The Grange movement was founded in 1873, while big business created the Gilded Age.

The Dawes Act of 1887 granted indigenous people citizenship with agreement to live on allotted tribal land (Dawes assumed that meant “civilization”). It also meant greater takeover of tribal lands. Populist movements led to railroad and other labor strikes.

Three. Henry George proposed only a single land tax. There would be an incentive to build on all land. Voting included “party thugs” and buying votes with cash, pre-printed party tickets. Boss Tweed in New York City was among the most corrupt. Slowly the Australian secret ballot was introduced. In the early 1890s foreclosures meant bankers owned most farmland. The progressive income tax was another populist reform. William Jennings Bryan was a populist and fundamentalist. Populists were mainly opposed to corporations and the rich. Progressivism believed the state should intervene in income inequality and other social problems.

After Darwin, universities became more secular. The German model of universities used disciplines and departments and claims to scientific expertise. Columbia established the first school of political science in 1880. The concept of the “journalist” started in the 1880s, with a focus on facts. William Randolph Hearst started the New York Journal in 1895. Adolph Ochs took over the New York Times.

One view of government was to legislate in favor of the rich, which would benefit those below (trickle down). The Democrats favored legislation for the masses, assuming that would aid every class. Bryan gave his “cross of gold” speech, favoring a silver standard. Business guy William McKinley won as a Republican in 1896, receiving vast donations through manager Mark Hanna.

Four. Social sciences in universities relied on quantitative sciences to understand change, focusing on objectivity rather than the idea of mystery. Herman Hollerith conducted the 1890 census using tabulators with punch cards, founding the Tabulating Machine Company in 1896 (later called IBM).

Ida B Wells was a journalist and founder of the NAACP, publishing Free Speech as Exiled in New York City after a white mob burned down her Memphis newspaper. Homer Plessy was arrested for riding in a whites-only railroad car. The Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that Jim Crow (segregation) was legal. WEB Du Bois noted “One ever feels his two-ness” (p. 360).

Ten: Efficiency and the Masses. Walter Lippman: “Industrialism brought great, glittering wealth to a few, prosperity to the nation, cheaper goods to the middle class, and misery and want to the many” (p. 362). Fighting monopolies, protecting people, and conserving land, required a bigger federal government and new agencies. The 1910s brought the Federal Reserve, federal income taxes, direct election of senators, minimum wage, women’s suffrage, and Prohibition. But no progress on Jim Crow. 

One. Progressivism was the middle-class version of populism. Populists wanted less government, progressives more. William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer wanted the US to support Cuba against Spain. Then the USS Maine blew up in Havana and the papers pushed for war. Teddy Roosevelt became the most famous leader with his Rough Riders up San Juan Hill. The US got Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines from Spain.

Given lynching in the South, the Great Migration was the movement of millions of blacks to the North and West, with new communities. In 1909 WEB Du Bois helped found the NAACP. Progressives focused on whites, even about inequality.

Journalist muckraker Ida Tarbell went after the monopoly power of Standard Oil and Rockefeller became one of the most despised men in America. Teddy Roosevelt wrote on the winning of the West focusing on battles, while Woodrow Wilson’s American History was idea-oriented. Roosevelt as president made the government more professional and established scientific agencies like the Forest and Reclamation Services. He pushed anti-trust, regulated railroads, pure food and drug laws, and more. The 16th Amendment was passed by Taft as part of the progressive movement.

The earliest form of welfare was military-related assistance, but the Supreme Court ruled against much of this legislation. Early in the 20th century it was recognized that the US was the only industrial state without compulsory health insurance. Insurance companies and doctors called it Un-American, unfair, and socialistic. Rights for women proved difficult, but many laws protecting pensions, minimum wages were passed.

Engineer Frederick Taylor concentrated on manufacturing efficiency to speed production through “task management,” later called Scientific Management. Henry Ford and Walter Chrysler built giant auto assembly plants with cars cheap enough for everyone was a potential customer.

As president Wilson was both a progressive and a racist, “the first president since Emancipation who openly condoned and vindicated prejudice against the Negro” (p. 389).

Fundamentalism dissented from Protestantism beginning by rejecting Darwin, focusing on the Bible. Forget good works and social justice. William Jennings Bryan rejected social Darwinism that believed “in nothing more than the survival of the fittest, or what Bryan called ‘the law of hate—the merciless law by which the strong crowd out and kill the weak” (p. 391). That included eugenics. The slaughter of WWI was blamed on secularization.

Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in New York, to be convicted in 1917 for discussion of contraception.

Despite running against war, Wilson declared war to make the world “safe for democracy.” He established a propaganda department headed by George Creel, considered “herd psychology” and a sedition act, convicting some one thousand people. Income taxes were raised to a top rate of 77%. War caused millions of deaths, with nearly as many by the influenza pandemic of 1918, and left Europe in economic ruins. Wilson went to Europe, much resented for his League of Nations plan and accommodating peace proposals. Europe was balkanized with multiple new states, and Germany with crushing reparations. He suffered either a stroke or flu, limiting his effectiveness.


Two. Walter Lippman, part of Creel’s office of propaganda machine of WWI, wrote Public Opinion in 1922 on how easy people were to sway, because “the masses [were] asked to make decisions about matters far removed from their direct knowledge” (p. 401).  That is, “mass persuasion,” easily used for advertising. [Edward Burnays created “public relations.”]

In the corrupt Harding presidency, Andrew Mellon preached tax cuts as the answer to cheaper housing, lower prices, more jobs, and prosperity [long before Reagan and “trickle down economics”]. Herbert Hoover was Secretary of Commerce. He preached business and cooperation with other stakeholders. The US reduced world trade and immigration; that included race-based discrimination and introduced the term “illegal alien.” But no problem for Mexicans to enter the US, used mainly to pick fruits and vegetables, noting how well they worked. (They were non-white and ineligible for citizenship.) The Border Patrol was created in 1924.

Four. Henry Luce and Briton Hadden started Time in 1923, the news equivalent of Taylor’s task management. The New Yorker was started by Harold Ross in 1924. Barnays adding Freud’s theory of the unconscious to his war effort with Creel. Of course, for marketing, he claimed it was “good propaganda” for “social usefulness.”  

John Scopes was charged with teaching evolution in Tennessee in 1925. Fundamentalism became a populist movement about faith. The ACLU took up the case with Clarence Darrow the attorney, against Bryan—called the “idol of all morondom” by Darrow. Walter Lipman was interested in how people decide what’s true (faith or reason). What did this mean for democracy?

Eleven: A Constitution of the Air. Radio was important; the term broadcasting was coined in 1921. NBC started in 1926, CBS in 1928, the Federal Radio Act in 1927 (“for the public benefit”). The FCC adopted an equal time policy, because of its easy use for propaganda. The powers that be assumed that the economic prosperity of the 1920s would continue (obviously not giving much concern for failing farms and banks).

One. A depression in Europe started in 1928 and US stocks started down in 1929. Herbert Hoover, the master of emergencies, was president. He waited, not believing in government relief (“socialism and collectivism”)—just the wrong man for the time. Hoover made things worse by restricting foreign trade with the 1930 Tariff Act. The Great Depression reached its low point in 1932. Fascists took over in Germany and Italy. The ideas of democracy and rule of law were disappearing in much of Europe.

Franklin Roosevelt was governor of New York, spoke with intimacy on radio, with seeming knowledge and as a leader. Wife Eleanor noted that “it was his paralysis that taught him what suffering meant” (p. 428). The Republican president was known for “Hoovervilles” for the masses of unemployed. FDR promised a “New Deal;” that “justice shall rule the mighty as well as the weak.” Eleanor Roosevelt made a name for herself especially in women’s and civil rights. He won in a landslide.

Two. Joseph Goebbels head of Ministry of Propaganda, with broadcasting done by the state. Frances Perkins was Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor. She drafted the Social Security Act. FDR shut down the banks; only those considered sound were reopened. He explained what he was doing in fireside chats. Massive legislation was passed in the First Hundred Days, based on the idea that government planning was needed for recovery. Glass-Steagall established the FDIC, separating commercial from investment banks. The SEC was created to improve oversight through disclosure. The Public Works Administration employed millions for infrastructure projects. Workers were given greater rights with the National Labor Relations Act. Given that Southern Democrats were segregationists, no help was available for blacks. Multiple plans assisted farmers.

The House Un-American Activities Committee was established by Martin Dies in 1938 to investigate suspected communists. Much of this was harassment and intimidation, based in part on FBI surveillance, especially of blacks of the Harlem Renaissance.

Three. “Progressives, borrowing from populism, began attempting to reform laissez-faire capitalism by using the tools of collective action and appeals to the people adopted by populists; in the 1930s, these efforts came together as New Deal liberalism” (p. 444). Conservatives included businessmen opposed to government regulation and rural Americans objecting to government interference. The New Deal was socialism. Conservatives also were isolationists and often anti-Semitic.  

The NRA was founded in 1871 as a sporting and hunting association. Urban crime led to legislation in the 1930s, including the 1934 NS 1938 National Firearms Acts prohibiting machine guns, licensing handguns and permits.

Campaigns, Inc. was the first political consulting firm, founded by Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter in California in 1933; also known as the lie factory, since winning was everything, honor was not a consideration. 

Hearst papers dominated the news. “Page one was supposed to make a reader blurt out, ‘gee whiz! Page two: ‘holy moses … Hearst advanced his politics. …People Hearst thought were communists not infrequently thought Hearst was a fascist” (p. 448). Orson Wells made Citizen Kane, noting such people hate the public and have a low opinion of their mentality and moral character. Whitaker was trained by Hearst. Baxter was a writer.

Campaigns, Inc. ran political campaigns for businesses, especially monopolies. Upton Sinclair, writer of The Jungle, saw history as democracy versus business. Sinclair ran for governor of California in 1933. Republicans hired Campaigns to defeat him. They placed ads just quoting Sinclair’s fictional characters, just attributing the quote to Sinclair—who lost to the lie factory. Political consultants gained huge power and Whitaker and Baxter won virtually all their campaigns. They wrote an opposition plan for each campaign: “make it personal, never explain, pretend you are the voice of the people, attack, attack, attack, win the controversy” (p. 452). Mind bombing: Goebbels couldn’t be prouder. He was influenced by Bernays (a “professional poisoner” according to Felix Frankfurter). Goebbels broadcast Nazi propaganda in the US, which the newspapers called “fake news.” 

Then there was public opinion polling to predict election outcomes. The Literary Digest mailed our ballots as a publicity stunt in 1916, the Hearst papers reported poll results. The key point was a representative sample (usually a random sample worked). This was a particular problem for a phoning sample. First, people had to have a phone, be home, and agree to answer the question. George Gallop, well versed in psychology, became the most famous poll taker. FDR used the Gallop results to ensure he had popular support.

Four. For the 1936 election, FDR claimed the US had a “rendezvous with destiny.” He ignored Jim Crow. Blacks were about 10% of the population, but only 2% of the Gallup polls because of voter disenfranchisement. The New Deal introduced “redlining.”

Radio was great for propaganda. It created affiliation and division. It made fundamentalism a national movement. Bob Jones College was founded in 1926. Billy Graham was a graduate of Wheaton College. Father Coughlin started broadcasting in 1926 denouncing Wall Street and, in a bid for president, denounced FDR.  Huey Long, elected governor of Louisiana in 1928, had a radio following.

The Supreme Court had three liberals and four conservatives, meaning the remaining two decided New Deal constitutionality, resulting in 5-4 votes for or against. More than a dozen laws were ruled against in 18 months. Minimum wage and Social Security were declared constitutional.

In 1938 Hitler announced Anschluss, the unification of Germany and Austria and took it over with only limited opposition. Appeasement by Neville Chamberlain and others, Hitler took over Czechoslovakia. Then Kristallnacht in Germany, attacking Jewish businesses.

Chapter 12: The Brutality of Modernity. “The Second World War would bring the US out of depression, end American isolation, and forge a renewed spirit of civic nationalism. It would also call attention to the nation’s unfinished reckoning with race, reshape liberalism, and form the foundation for a conservative movement animated by opposition to state power” (p. 473).

One. Germany invaded Poland September 1, 1939, starting World War II. FDR used lend-lease to ship armaments to England and USSR, as the “arsenal of democracy.” Father Caughlin preached anti-Semitism, favored Hitler. Hitler favored the American Confederacy. American Nazis denounced the New Deal as the “Jew Deal.” Americans remained isolationists. Lindbergh was an “American firster.” Churchill became Prime Minister and gave his “we shall never surrender” speech.

Campaigns Inc was hired by Wendal Willkie, but he refused to agree to the most egregious parts and lost (honor over victory?). FDR gave his Four Freedoms speech.

Two. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy,” the key part of FDR’s seven-minute speech to declare war. Hitler declared war on the US. The military had been planning for war since the 1930s. Some 10 million would serve. “Between 1940 and 1945, Americans produced 300,000 military planes, 86,000 tanks, 3 million machine guns, and 71,000 naval ships. Farm production increased 25%” (p. 486).

Archibald MacLeish headed the new Office of Facts and Figures as a government information agency. “Democracy is always something that a nation must be doing.” He was interested more in education than propaganda. As Hitler said in Mein Kampf: [People] “are more likely to be poisoned than to be consciously and deliberately bad” (p. 489).

FDR wanted a new international organization to be called the United Nations. GIs thought they were fighting for home. Ernie Pyle wrote about ordinary soldiers.

US intelligence broke the Japanese ciphers and this helped defeat them at Midway. Then on to Guadalcanal. Unfortunately, FDR had Japanese-Americans imprisoned in relocation camps, not just those suspected of foul play by the FBI, some 112,000 (79,000 US citizens). WEB Du Bois encouraged blacks to fight and ignore segregation (in part, in hopes of dismantling segregation after the war). In factories the races were segregated as were military units. FDR would declare discrimination to stop in defense industries. Black soldiers refusing to give up their seats were beaten and imprisoned. They were treated as subversives rather than seeking civil rights.

The FBI blamed communists. In 1945 Dies reconvened the Un-American Activities Committee to investigate liberals as radicals, including Frances Perkins and Eleanor Roosevelt. Bretton Woods in 1944 established open markets, free trade, IMF, and the World Bank, with Keynes a major player. Freidrich Hayek attacked it as the Road to Serfdom, the start of economic conservatism—but not that different from Herbert Hoover.

Reinhold Niebuhr: “The rise of totalitarianism has prompted the democratic world to view all collective answers to our social problems with increased apprehension” (p. 507). Liberals split on “mass culture” like public schools, public libraries, and public TV.

Three. Despite the Big Three agreements, Stalin was taking over Eastern Europe, and assisting Mao’s takeover of China. Germany was divided into zones. Roosevelt died April 12, 1945. Nazi concentration camps were soon discovered. Dachau had the people Hitler picked out as opponents to Nazism. Of the first three camps discovered only about a third were Jews. Hitler committed suicide. The founding conference of the UN was on June 25 in San Francisco. FDR (quoting Emerson): “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”

Truman had to decide whether to use the atom bomb. Many scientists on the Manhattan Project signed a protest petition. The bomb was dropped on August 6 on Hiroshima and Nagasaki three days later. Japan surrendered soon after.

Part Four: The Machine, 1946-2016. Thirteen: A World of Knowledge. “Technological change wildly outpaced the human capacity for moral reckoning” (p. 522). 60 million people died in WWII. Edward R Murrow said: “Seldom if ever has a war ended leaving the victors with such a sense of uncertainty and fear” (p. 522).

ENIAC was the first electronic digital computer, produced by the military. The National Science Foundation was created to fund research. The military funded most university research. Liberalism started a focus on individual rights, conservatives on anti-communism. The GI Bill created veterans benefits including college education, used by 8 million, creating a new middle class. Women were not eligible nor were blacks. Factories converted to consumer goods.

Truman established a commission on civil rights. He wanted national health insurance funded by a payroll tax. This was defeated thanks to Campaigns funded by the AMA claiming socialized medicine: “political medicine is bad medicine.”

Two. George Kennon in 1946 sent his telegram on the Soviets battling for control of the world. Churchill stated there was an “iron curtain” across Europe. Political devastation followed economic devastation in Europe. Truman instituted the Marshall Plan for economic investment in Europe as the “Truman Doctrine.” The US would build a national security state. The Department of Defense was created. NATO was created in 1948 as a military alliance against the USSR. Military spending would be three-quarters of the federal budget in the 1950s.

Gallop and other polls predicted Truman would lose the 1948 election, but did not conduct a representative sample. It did not include black people, assuming Jim Crow would prevent them from voting (but some could). He relied on phone polls, but people had to have phones, answer them, and agree to answer questions.

The two political parties were similar in 1950. Election determinants were polls and consultants to segment the voters. The AMA turned to Campaigns, Inc to defeat Truman’s national health insurance, stressing Blue Cross/Blue Shield and the dangers of government regulated healthcare to “remain a free nation.”

Three. Alger Hiss was convicted of perjury for denying he had been a communist. Nixon based his future on the House Un-American Activities Committee focusing on Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss, claiming Hiss was a Soviet spy. Joe McCarthy went further, claiming a list of subversives working for the State Department. Nixon won his senate seat by claiming his opponent’s campaign was funded by communists. The State Dept. had purged several people for multiple issues (drunkenness, sexual perversion, financial issues, perhaps “eggheads”). Senator Margaret Chase Smith was one of the few criticizing McCarthy. The Supreme Court ruled that free speech did not extend to communists.

McCarthy was part of increasing conservatism, opposed to collectivism and centralized planning, while favoring free markets and personal freedom. (He just lied about his communist lists.) Hayek also claimed it was freedom or slavery. Conservatism focuses on order and classes, and people’s evil nature must be controlled. “McCarthyism: meanspirited, vulgar, and unhinged” (p. 557).

UNIVAC (the first commercial computer) was used by CBS to predict the 1952 election. It was used by corporations to sort markets for effective advertising. Ditto for political consultants. In addition to factory floors, offices have machine attendants.

Eisenhower was moderate, but used Whitaker and Baxter (Campaigns, Inc.) who had gained a dangerous amount of power. Polls drove the ads. They put Ike on TV, describing himself as “a dynamic conservative when it comes to money and liberal when it comes to human beings” (p. 560). The FCC established the ‘fairness doctrine” in 1949, requiring a reasonable balance of views on issues. Nixon swayed California delegates to Eisenhower (“the great train robbery”) making him the running mate. Nixon also had a slush fund, resulting in Nixon’s “Checkers speech” of self-pity. Walter Lippmann was disgusted, but the public liked it. Eisenhower won in a landslide and the election was called by Walter Cronkite before Univac. A key point: Eisenhower refused to denounce McCarthy, afraid to lose votes. The results again suggested that power elites controlled the system, not the public. McCarthy would be denounced later, during Army-McCarthy hearings (“do you have any decency”) and Edward R Murrow.

 Southern Baptist church membership grew thanks to Billy Graham and his war against evil, aka, communism. Not a fan of liberalism. Eisenhower became a Presbyterian and started prayer breakfasts.

Whitaker and Baker supported oil companies for more drilling, specifically a bill written by Standard Oil. A speech written by John Kenneth Galbraith referred “Nixonland as the land of slander and scare, sly innuendo, poison pen, anonymous phone calls, the land of smash and grab and anything to win” (p. 572); also Campaigns, Inc. Land. Republicans moved right, Democrats left, including civil rights. TV claimed viewers did not like bad news. The US CIA overthrew the president of Guatemala (Jacobo Arbenz Guzman) to protect bananas (that is, United Fruit). Ditto oil, eliminating the President of Iran, to be replaced by the Shah. Dissent became Un-American.

Four. Thoroughgood [actual name] Marshall started the NAACP legal and educational defense fund and argued cases to end Jim Crow. He favored integration over “equalizing.” The Great Migration meant large numbers of blacks could vote. He brought the case of Linda Brown in Topeka, Kansas to integrate schools, arguing the only way to defend Jim Crow is finding blacks inferior. Jim Crow was used for Soviet propaganda. Truman argued that Jim Crow undermined American foreign policy, emphasized by Secretary of State Dean Acheson. Eisenhower appointed Earl Warren chief justice of the Supreme Court, who took up Brown v. Board. The decision was unanimous banning segregation in US schools. Not all blacks wanted integration and Southern whites opposed and withdrew their kids. Many black teachers lost their jobs in segregated schools. It was a long process.

The next struggle was Rosa Parks arrested for sitting in a white seat on a bus (not the first such arrest, but the most famous). MLK led the bus boycott: “The great glory of American democracy is the right to protest for rights” (p. 583). In 1956 the Supreme Court ruled the Montgomery bus law unconstitutional. Eisenhower was not an enthusiastic supporter of Brown and he did not ask for a strong civil rights bill. In Little Rock black students had to be escorted by federal troops, then governor Faubus shut down Little Rock’s schools.

The USSR launched Sputnik in 1957. NASA was created in 1958 and the Defense Dept. set up the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) for research.

Fourteen: Rights and Wrongs. Nixon went to Moscow in 1959 with the result of the Kitchen Debate with Khrushchev. This was the era of the mixed economy and political pluralism, but conservatism was replacing New Deal liberalism. Hayek would convince multiple people that welfare led to serfdom. The public could be easily swayed. Results included the rise in economic inequality. Galbraith thought the prosperous society needed to improve healthcare, education, and infrastructure. Blacks focused on civil rights.

“Kennedy prevailed because he was the first packaged, market-tested president, liberalism for mass consumption” (p. 597). Computers sorted voters into 480 possible types: by location, urban-rural, religion, party, male-female, and race. There were issue clusters. Based on this, Kennedy added civil rights, then added LBJ to improve his chances in the South. Kennedy called King’s wife after he was arrested in Atlanta. Kennedy won, possibly with voter fraud in Illinois and Texas.

Two. JFK announced the Peace Corps. The US-supported forces were defeated at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba. Missiles were spotted in Cuba.

The Birmingham to Montgomery march ended with protesters attacked by mobs and police. Multiple black churches were bombed. The 1963 march to Washington resulted in MLK’s speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial: “I have a dream.”

France lost in Vietnam in 1954 and US troops started trickling in. John Birchers (who suggested Eisenhower might be a communist) detested Kennedy.

Three: Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963. LBJ started the Great Society (e.g., Food Stamps) and signed civil rights legislation. Goldwater ran for president in 1964, claiming “extremism in the name of liberty is no vice” and “in your heart you know he’s right.” Democrats countered: “in your guts you know he’s nuts.” LBJ won in a landslide. LBJ passed AFDC, Medicare, and Medicaid. Unfortunately, he kept expanded the war in Vietnam, apparently because he couldn’t “lose a war.”

Phyllis Schlafly was considered “one of the most influential women in the history of American politics” (p. 615).

Four.  Malcolm X was assassinated by the Nation of Islam. MLK march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, met by Alabama state troopers at the Pettus Bridge. LBJ launched his war on crime, sending huge numbers to jail over the next two decades, 59% Black and Latino. The Watts riots lasted 6 days with 34 killed and a thousand injured. Riots tended to start after police violence. Reagan claimed he brought the intensity of the Cold War to domestic politics. Reagan won, considered a victory of conservatism over liberals. He was ready to dismantle the New Deal and continued his rhetoric on law and order and denouncing free speech on campus. MLK was assassinated and riots broke out across America.

LBJ was all in on Vietnam, although it’s not clear if he was deluded that North Vietnam could be defeated. He claimed they were almost defeated until the Tet offensive in 1968.

Five. This was Nixon’s opportunity, emphasizing law and order and the power of hate. Strategist Kevin Phillips emphasized who hated whom, using the “Southern strategy” of emphasizing whites over blacks. There were protests at the Chicago Democratic Convention, with thousands of police and National Guard. Humphrey had not started his run. “After 1968, American politics would be driven once again by division, resentment, and malice” (p. 633). There was an American Indian Movement (AIM), Black Power movement, and Chicano activists. Vietnam mismanagement was studied. There was a “new coalition of the left, composed of the young, black, poor, well-educated, socially alienated, minority groups, and intellectuals. … The great majority of the voters were unyoung, unpoor, and unblack; they are middle-aged, middle-class, middle-minded” (p. 636). “Cold War presidents had used the CIA to conduct covert operations abroad, the FBI to spy on Americans, and the IRS to audit political opponents” (p. 639).

Daniel Ellsberg gave the Pentagon Papers to the Washington Post and New York Times on the real history of Vietnam, showing how bad the government lied and blundered. Haldeman noted the result: “You can’t trust the government; you can’t believe what they say; and you can’t rely on their judgment” (p. 640). Then the Watergate break-in in the Watergate in 1972. Nixon had won 61% of the popular vote and needed no illegal acts. Agnew resigned over tax evasion. Nixon fired the Watergate special counsel Archibald Cox, called the Saturday Night Massacre as Justice officials refused to fire him and resigned. Then Nixon turned over transcripts of his tapes, leading to his resignation in 1974.

Chapter 15: Battle Lines. The ERA, contraception, or abortion were not inherently politically partisan, but there were divisions that became partisan in the 1980s. Ditto gun ownership. Conservatives in particular wanted war on ideology.

One. Political consultants beginning with the Lie Factory and polling became billion-dollar industries that divided the electorate. Outrage meant showing up at the polls. The “women’s movement was three: radical feminism, liberal feminism, and conservative antifeminism. Ruth Bader Ginsburg made gains for liberal feminism, the concept of equal rights and access. Roe v Wade on abortion could be argued on liberty, equality, privacy, First Amendment, Ninth, Fourteenth, and Nineteenth grounds. The decision in 1973 used right-to-privacy to give a moderate ruling on abortion.

Schlafly was an anticommunist, Joe McCarthy supporter, Goldwater promoter, and anti-ERA. She combined ERA with abortion. Then anti-homosexual. The plan was to dismantle the New Deal. Bringing churches was part of it. The memories of Vietnam and Watergate increased government mistrust. The OPEC embargo happened in 1973.

Japanese car companies increased sales relative to Detroit. Stagflation with high inflation and low economic growth hit in the 1970s. The Heritage Foundation wanted to add evangelicals to conservatism. The package became opposition to gay rights, sexual freedom, women’s liberation, ERA, childcare, sex education, and abortion. Moderates, especially women were not happy. Mass marketing techniques increased political power. The polling industry was growing. “Most of what polls do is manufacture opinions” (p. 667). The question of ethics of reporting the news was part of considering reporting poll results. As news became a revenue source, ethics became less of an issue.

After his run as governor of California, Reagan ran for president saying “Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.” Not exactly a call for complex solutions to complex problems. In his perspective, that meant tax cuts, using Jack Kemp’s “supply-side economics,” cutting taxes would increase revenues. Reagan won, cut taxes and expenditures. Poor people lost food stamps and other benefits and budget deficits went up, tripling the national debt. One result of deregulation was the collapse of the savings-and-loan industry allowed to buy junk bonds and high-risk securities. That cost the government $132 billion (back when a billion was real money).

Guns and the second amendment became issues in the 1960s, with Republicans moving from gun safety to the right to carry guns. Both gun rights and reproduction rights “have weak constitutional foundations” (p. 676). That made them useful for partisan politics. Conservatives moved to support gun ownership and be anti-abortion. The Federalist Society was founded and focused on what they called “originalism.” Others called the idea of understanding founding fathers’ intentions ridiculous. So was Edwin Meese’s Justice Dept. under Reagan.  Then the NRA became increasingly political. Most changes were based on court cases, not legislation.

There were no federal immigration restrictions until the 1870s, then they became widespread and often racist. Until 1924, Mexico and the rest of the New World was exempt from quotas, until 1965, when the Bracero Program (1942-65) which brought Mexican workers in legally ended. The number of Mexican immigrants remained the same, but fewer were “legal.” This became a major border issue (“a military zone”) by the 1990s.   

Khomeini seized control of Iran in 1979 and took American hostages from the embassy.

Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962 on the effects of pollution on water, soil, and air. Nixon established the EPA in 1970, then the Clean Water Act. Conservatives claimed a liberal bias on science. Reagan dismantled the Fairness Doctrine for political opinions. He also worked on expanded courts with conservative judges, some 369 including Scalia.

The fall of communism liberated Eastern Europe. The Berlin Wall came down in 1989.

HIV was isolated in 1984, “God’s vengeance” according to the Christian Coalition.

Abortion rulings were based on “right to privacy,” while Ruth Bader Ginsburg wanted to focus on discrimination against women. Privacy was also potentially useful to promote gay rights.

Bork was nominated to the Supreme Court, favoring a narrow view of interpretation and supported by the Federalist Society. Ted Kennedy and others went after Bork as an extremist and he was voted down. The court became another battleground between right and left.

Three. Political fights developed over guns, abortion, religion, gay rights, and the environment. This included schools, courts, press, and universities. Continuing hatred? Feminism was a target, with a focus on Hillary Clinton. Democrats increasingly focused on women, minorities, and professionals. As industrial production declined, “knowledge work” became increasingly important especially in the form of technology firms. Democratic candidates did poorly (like Dukakis and Kerry). “The new Democratic understanding of the world was technocratic, meritocratic, and therapeutic” (p. 694).

Bill Clinton, philanderer and overpreparing Hillary Clinton: “the first working mother in the White House, the first unapologetic feminist, and arguably the most important woman in the world, she wants not just to have it all, but to do it all” (p. 698). Harry and Louise ads help torpedo health care. Clinton signs NAFTA and an assault weapons ban. He expanded the war on drugs which increased mass incarceration. He also abolished AFDC. He expanded investment banking which included merging of commercial and investment banks.

The Clintons were subject to investigations from the start (RIP: revelation, investigation, prosecution), beginning with Whitewater, then sexual harassment cases. The Monica Lewinsky affair started in 1995. The Drudge Report revealed the allegations in 1998. Fox started Special Report and moved Bill O’Reilly to prime time. 

Rush Limbaugh started in 1988. Roger Ailes helped Phil Gramm and Mitch McConnell. He noted that effective pitches were simple, instant, and emotional. CNN was launched in 1980 with 24-hour news, MSNBC in 1996. Fox News was funded by Rupert Murdoch and started by Ailes. When news was only the three networks (until 1980), polarization remained at low levels. It was pitched to the widest mass audience, although conservatives called it liberal. Cable news gave politicians endless airtime. Indictments against public officials rose to 1300 by 1994.

“The politics of mutually assured epistemological destruction: There was no truth, only innuendo, rumor, and bias. There was no reasonable explanation; there was only conspiracy” (p. 711). The Republicans became captured by their right wing.

Under Clinton, the economy was booming, but for those at the bottom, real wages were stagnant or falling. In 2000 it was Bush against Gore, with Florida the decider. The Supreme Court ruled against a continuing recount, giving the presidency to Bush.

Sixteen: America, Disrupted. The World Trade Center was toppled on 9/11/2001 by hijacked planes. Newspapers were being replace by social media, magnifying alternative political communities.

One.  Y2K bug of 1999 proved of no importance. “From NATO to NAFTA, relations between states had been regulated by pacts, free trade agreements, and restraint. Beginning in 2001, with the war on terror, the US undermined and even abdicated the very rules it had helped to establish” (p. 730). Disregarding rules against torture and invasions, eventually “by any means necessary” became policy for the “war on terror.”

The internet became a source for lawless and unregulated information. It started with ARPANET in the 1960s, Tim Berners-Lee World Wide Web, and browsers beginning with Mosaic (1993). The right wing became important including Gingrich and new regulations keeping the Internet away from government regulation. Bob Dole became the first presidential candidate to have a website. Clinton’s deregulation of communications in the 1990s would prove a disaster to truth and allow consolidation. Much of the technology depended on earlier government-sponsored research.  

Following Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” as new technology drives out old, Clayton Christensen noted (1997) that gradual innovation (sustaining) can be overrun by “disruptive innovations.” A casualty was the newspaper industry. Communications had consolidation like RCA and NBC acquired by GE. Google went public in 2004.

Bush pledged to destroy terrorism. The key was bin Laden who formed al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The CIA had a unit against al Qaeda, but they found refuge with the Taliban, radical fundamentalists. The US started a war in Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001. The problem was the war on terror was led from Washington by non-military people in the Middle East, of which they were not familiar.

Conservatives claimed liberal bias in the news (although not apparent in rigorous studies). Then the bias was applied across the board, including science (“corrupted” according to Rush Limbaugh). Fox News promoted the war, while Bush ignored advice from experts. The Patriot Act expanded government powers of surveillance, which would violate civil rights. Violations included Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and torture elsewhere. Bush invaded Iraq again, resulting in a complete catastrophe [interestingly, predicted by Molly Ivins]. 

Bush had a tax cut that benefited the high earners, which would push the deficit higher. Then global financial collapse with sub-prime loans and other investment bank greed. Washington spent billions (guaranteeing trillions) to save those at the top, while the suffering happened at the bottom.

Two. Obama attempted to reconcile irreconcilable differences. The Right “hijacked the moral ground with the language of family values and moral responsibility” (p. 752). He was the only black member of the Senate when elected. Obama projected reasonableness and equanimity. Obama defeated McCain, who had not mastered social media and other forms of political communications. He passed the Affordable Care Act (but watered down enough to make it less attractive). Then the right attacked it and demanded it’s repeal. The result was the Tea Party that stopped other Obama plans: return to original principles, not change. The Gini index of income inequality by 2013 reached .476, the highest in any developed democracy. With a Republican Congress, Obama had no luck with gun control: the massacre of children the price of freedom. Foreign policy after the disasters of Bush was ineffective, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Court cases made same-sex marriages legal. These were disasters according to much of the Christian right. Social media spread fanaticism of multiple kinds. The alt-right was part of that.


The Citizens United case meant essentially no limits on political spending and granting corporations unlimited free speech rights as “persons.” More money meant mainly more rage. Parties made big promises, failed to deliver, then blamed some conspiracy.

Three. Trump “railed”: at the government, when president at the press, Congress, immigrants. The world of wrestling: “Trump brought to politics” (p. 761). He was part of the birther conspiracy against Obama. “The election of 2016 was a product of technological disruption: the most significant form of political communication during the campaign was Donald Trump’s Twitter account It involved a crisis in the press” (p. 773). Plus Russian interference. It did not bode well for either party. Fox News covered Trump’s tweets. Polls became poorer predictors of elections largely because most people did not answer. “The more unreliable the polls became, the more the press and the parties relied on them” (p. 774). All the polls predicted a Clinton victory and Democrats did not campaign well in swing states.

Trump followed Schlafly in calling for an end to immigration and a border wall. Trump won big with Catholics and evangelicals. The rationale was puzzling. Ignoring information from the mainstream media was part of it. Calling Trump voters idiots did not help. Nor Clinton referring to the basket of deplorables. Plus the FBI, Wikileaks, and accommodating social media.

Epilogue: The Question Addressed. “Trump’s rhetoric was apocalyptic and absolute; the theme of his inaugural address was ‘American carnage’” (p. 786). Conservatives claimed success based on liberal failures, starting with replacing equality with identity. Liberals won in court while conservatives were elected. “A nation cannot choose its past; it can only choose its future” (p. 787).  


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