Rick Perlstein, author of the new book Reganland speaks with Walter Isaacson about how this sequence of events led to the current political climate in America. This interview is the best explanation of Trumpism came to be and what motivates it I have heard.
From the interview:
Pundits are always declaring, you know, conservatism a dead letter in American politics after liberals win and it never is. Right? It always comes back like the monster in a Godzilla movie you know. And the process I describe in all these books is the weaponization of the fear, the resentment and the anxiety about the social changes that are happening in America that eventually become excepted as part of American life. But when they are introduced to the scene like the idea that gays and lesbians should have the same rites as everyone else, they are terrified. And you can kind of use that terror to kind of frighten people into voting for candidates who come into office and do things like, you know, cut taxes for corporations. Thats a playbook that they have run again and again and again that reaches its modern apotheoses with Ronald Regan and is repeated again and again.
The Republicans refused to have a platform, they basically said our platform is supporting Donald Trump. So you know there is nothing wrong with being a conservative right? And there is nothing wrong with respecting the fears people have about social change. I think the challenge of leadership in a diverse and pluralist society is to respect the necessity of change but also kind of calm people’s fears about anxieties change brings.
And regarding the weaponization of resentment:
Thats the theme of my book Nixon Land, in which the figure at the center Nixon basically forms a social club for all the nerds at his college you know. Kind of weaponizes their resentment of the cool kids who are in the fancy fraternity. That becomes his political template. The nerds in his college fraternity become the silent majority in his famous speech of 1969. Its Sarah Palin talking about how these cosmopolitan intellectuals are trying to tell you that they are all more smart than you are - but really, you are the smart one. That sort of resentment at liberal culture elites. As opposed to the resentment the Democrats have traditionally mobilized for the working class and their resentment of their bosses - who are kind of telling what to do at the workplace is absolutely central to conservatism becoming a popular movement.
It all comes back to Nixon….
The best 20 minutes you will spend if you want to understand why we are where we are in the United States.