Here are some evocative quotations for Mr. Luce’s latest essay:
The question is whether that kind of paranoiac, which, polls suggest, describes the overwhelming majority of Republican voters, will drift into atomised resentment or be a political wrecking force.
The answer will shape the direction of American politics in the years ahead. Hofstadter’s observations point us in both reassuring and worrying directions. He developed his theory of “the paranoid style in American politics” having watched Joe McCarthy’s red scare, which convulsed US politics, media, academia and the entertainment industry for several years in the 1950s.
McCarthy’s fall shows that America’s bouts of paranoia do subside. From the scare over the Illuminati in the 1790s, to the Free Masons in the 19th century, to the resistance to Catholic immigration in the late 19th century, each wave crashes. But they are followed by more. Sometimes, as with McCarthyism, they evolve. The year after McCarthy’s death, Robert Welch, a wealthy candy manufacturer, founded the John Birch society, which seeded today’s US conservatism. Welch was an ardent fan of McCarthy. He believed Eisenhower was a “dedicated, conscious agent of the communist conspiracy”.
Today’s conspiracy theory is supercharged by being led by the US president. To be sure, Mr Trump will have to move out of the White House on January 20. But he is giving clear hints he plans to run again in 2024. Even if he does not, it will be in his interests to keep everyone guessing. That will maximise his leverage over the Republican party and his ability to add to the more than $200m he has raised since November 3.
It is entirely possible Mr Trump’s conspiracy theory will start to pall. It is also possible that his hold over the Republican party will solidify. One recent poll showed that Mr Trump was the party’s overwhelming favourite to be the 2024 nominee. Third place, behind vice-president Mike Pence, was Donald Trump Jr. There is one simple test of whether Mr Trump’s grip will loosen. Mr. Trump looks set to boycott Mr Biden’s inauguration next month. If senior Republicans follow his lead, the party will remain his. If they ignore him and show up, his spell will have broken.
A more historically accurate sketch of the post-war Republican Party might read like this:
The New Deal as a ‘Generation of Treason’, The Nixon/McCarthy/Mundt/McCarren Witch Hunt, Barry Goldwater: ‘a choice not an echo’. Nixon & his ‘Silent Majority’ & Southern Strategy, Rehnquist appointment, Watergate and Impeachment, Kissinger. Ronald Reagan: ‘Morning In America’ ‘I believe in States Rights’ & ‘Welfare Queens Driving Cadillacs’. Bush I: ‘A Thousand Points of Light’ & ‘No New Taxes’. Bush The Younger: ‘Compassionate Conservatism’, 9-11, Wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Abu Ghraib, CIA, NSA spying on American citizens. Read this as an alternative to Mr. Luce’s ‘History Made to Measure’, that ends like some maladroit pastiche of a fairy tale:
‘Mr. Trump looks set to boycott Mr Biden’s inauguration next month. If senior Republicans follow his lead, the party will remain his. If they ignore him and show up, his spell will have broken.’
Hofstadter’s ‘Paranoid Style’ was the cudgel of choice, for a generation of ‘Liberals’ before they capitulated, en masse, to the Neo-Liberal Clintons: I am thinking here of Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. , and his cadre at the ADA.