The Atlantic

Trump Isn't the Apotheosis of Conservatism

Writers like Rick Perlstein who find in 2016 evidence to validate their darkest views of Republicans miss the ways in which Trump’s rise is a story of discontinuity.
Source: Carlos Barria / Reuters

The words “I was wrong” do not often pass through the lips of Rick Perlstein, the famously pugnacious left-wing historian of American conservatism. It grabbed attention, then, when that confession headlined Perlstein’s contribution to The New York Times Magazine this week: “I thought I understood the American Right. Trump Proved Me Wrong.”

The content of the confession proved less repentant than the headline. Perlstein’s three books—about Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan—depicted an American right that was morally and intellectually repellent: reactionary, racist, and rapacious. The election of Donald Trump, however, forced Perlstein to rethink and to realize that he had dangerously understated the case, and that the truth was even more appalling than anything he had yet dared to think or write.

I quote intermittently and in some cases a little out of context, but the cumulative effect gives an idea:

  • "America’s anti-liberal traditions were far more deeply rooted in the past, and far angrier, than most historians would acknowledge.”
  • "By reaching back to the reactionary traditions of the 1920s, we might better understand the alliance between the “alt-right” figures that emerged

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