The comedy of errors called the Republican Primary is over, the actual major league baseball season has begun, and it is time to bank the fires and say farewell to the Hot Stove League for another year. I am at the cusp of a possible major new gig, one that will, if it comes to pass, allow me once more to try to make a difference in the world, as opposed to merely offering opinions. I cannot say more now, but quite possibly in the next two or three weeks I will be able to describe in some detail what I shall be doing.
Keep your fingers crossed.
Recently, I spoke with an old friend from Amherst, MA, whose occasional lunches with a circle of senior academics was, for me, a highlight of my rather low-key social life. He reported that at a recent lunch, those present, several of whom, like my friend, are professional historians, expressed the opinion that not in a hundred years had an American political party moved so far and in so determined a fashion to the right. That set me thinking, and I formulated two alternative and incompatible hypotheses to explain this movement, between which I am unable to choose. I shall sketch them here, and invite any interested readers to offer their judgment.
One hypothesis is that the reality-denying conspiratorial crazies have always been a subordinate element in American politics, that there really are not more of them now than at previous times in the memory of those as old as myself, but that for a variety of structural reasons these types, of whom there are, after all, some scores of millions in this large country, have managed to take control of the Republican Party. Their success is in part a consequence of a long stretch of redistricting exercises that has created unusually large numbers of safe seats, in which crazy views can survive; in part a consequence of the election of a Black president, which has driven them wild; and in part a consequence of the rise of alternative communications media in which an "echo chamber" of reality-denying bizarreries flourishes. In support of this hypothesis, one can cite Richard Hofstadter's famous essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," which was first a lecture at Oxford, then a 1963 Harper's Magazine essay, and then the title essay of a collection of essays.
The alternative hypothesis is that something genuinely new is taking place, something unlike what has gone before in American politics. A determined and deadly serious effort is under way to reverse three quarters of a century of social progress, to destroy the signature achievements of the New Deal, and to undo the successes of the Women's Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, and the LGBT Movement. This effort is bankrolled by wealthy corporate types who seek to protect what they have already stolen from the American economy and to facilitate future thefts; it is supported both by a large segment of the American population who have never accepted the consequences of the LIberation Movements; and it derives its especial passion from participants in yet another of America's periodic Great Revivals, born again Evangelical Christians, many of whom genuinely expect the imminent arrival of the Rapture and the End Times.
So, same old same old. or something really new. Which is it?