American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation Of How The Republican Party Went Crazy
By David Corn
Twelve; paperback, 416 pages; $19.99; available today, Tuesday, September 12th
David Corn is a veteran journalist and political commentator who is the Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine and an analyst for MSNBC. He is the author of three New York Times bestsellers, including Showdown: The Inside Story of How Obama Battled the GOP to Set Up the 2012 Election and Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, co-written with Michael Isikoff.
American Psychosis, now available in paperback, became an Instant New York Times Bestseller when it was released last year, and Corn tells the wild and harrowing tale of the Republican Party's decades-long relationship with far-right extremism, bigotry, and paranoia.
This story is as relevant as ever, with the Republicans on track to make former President Donald Trump their nominee in 2024. Corn delivers this fast-paced, boisterous, behind-the-scenes account of how the Republicans starting in the 1950s encouraged and exploited extremism, bigotry, and paranoia to gain power.
It is a deep dive into the netherworld of far-right irrationality and the Republican Party's dealings with the darkest forces in America. Corn reveals the hidden history of how the Party of Lincoln forged alliances with extremists, kooks, racists, and conspiracy-mongers to foster fear, anger and resentment to win elections.
This was what Trump used to win the 2016 presidential election and led him to transform the party into a personality cult around him that foments and bolsters the crazy and dangerous excesses of the right, including conspiracy theories on how the 2020 election, in which he lost to Joe Biden, was rigged.
To Corn, the insurrection on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, which Trump has been charged with inciting, was no aberration. It a continuation of the long and deep-rooted Republican practice of boosting and weaponizing the rage and derangement of the right wing.
This is chronicled in an evolution of Republican battles and known figures that became champions of the right. This starts with Senator Joseph McCarty and his Red Scare in the 1950s that became known as McCarthyism, to the libertarian and anti-communist John Birch Society to segregationists in the 1950s and '60s, to the New Right, which began with the 1964 Barry Goldwater presidential campaign, to the religious right, to radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, whose show ran from 1988 until his passing in 2021, to the militia movement to the rise of Fox News, which began in 1996 and held massive sway for the past two-plus decades, to 2008 GOP Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin to the Tea Party movement in 2010, when Barack Obama was President, to Trumpism.
Corn contends that Republicans have deliberately nurtured and exploited rightwing fear and loathing fueled by paranoia, grievance, and tribalism. They have harnessed the worst elements in politics to poison the nation's discourse and threaten American democracy.
In this excerpt, Corn writes of the fierce battle at the 1964 Republican convention: "Nelson Rockefeller stared into a sea of hate.
Standing at the podium of the Republican National Convention of 1964, the fifty-six-year-old patrician politician who symbolized dynastic American power and wealth was enveloped by waves of anger emanating from the party faithful. Delegates and activists assembled in the Cow Palace on the outskirts of San Francisco hurles boos and catcalls at the New York governor. He was the enemy. His crime: representing the liberal Republican establishment that, to the horror of many in the audience, had committed two unpardonable sins. First, in the aftermath of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal, these turncoat, weak-kneed Republicans had dared to acknowledge the need for big government programs to address the problems and challenges of an industrial and urbanized United States. Second, they had accepted the reality that the Cold War of the new nuclear age demanded a nuanced national security policy predicated on a carefully measured combination of confrontation and negotiation.
Worse, Rockefeller had to thwart the hero of the moment: Barry Goldwater, the archconservative senator from Arizona, the libertarian decrier of government, the tough-talking scolder of America's moral rot, and the hawkish proponent of military might who had advocated the limited use of nuclear arms. Rockefeller, a grandson of billionaire robber baron John D. Rockefeller, had competed for the presidential nomination against Goldwater, but his campaign had been subsumed by the right wing's takeover of the party. Still, at this late stage, on July 14, the second night of Goldwater's coronation, Rockefeller and other moderate Republican dead-enders were praying for a last-minute political miracle that would rescue their party from the conservative fringe - the kooks, as they were widely called. This evening they were taking one final stab at keeping those kooks at bay.
Clenching his square jaw, Rockefeller had hit the stage with an immediate task: to speak in favor of a proposed amendment to the Republican Party platform denouncing extremism, specifically that of the Communist Party, the Ku Klux Klan, and the ultraconservative, Red-baiting John Birch Society. The platform committee, controlled by Goldwater loyalists, had rejected this resolution. Yet the moderates hadn't given up. On the opening night of the convention, Governor Mark Hatfield of Oregon had declared, 'There are bigots in this nation who spew forth their venom of hate. They parade under hundreds of labels, including the Communist Party, the Ku Klux Klan, and the John Birch Society. They must be overcome.'
This was not the predominant sentiment within the Cow Palace. Hatfield was met with a barrage of hisses and boos. He later called the response 'frightening' and reflected, 'It spoke to me not merely of strong political disagreement, but of a spiteful kind of enmity waiting to be unleashed to destroy anyone seen as the enemy - domestic or foreign.'...
It was late in the evening when Rockefeller hit the rostrum for his allotted five minutes. As he had walked toward the stage, people threw paper at him. Senator Thurston Morton of Kentucky, the convention chair, claiming concern for Rockefeller's safety, asked him to postpone his remarks. Believing Morton was shoving him, Rockefeller snapped, 'You try to push me again, and I'll deck you right in front of this whole audience.'...
Rockefeller complained that he had been the victim of these 'extremist elements,' pointing out that he had received 'outright threats of personal violence.' A young Goldwater volunteer shouted, 'You goddamned Socialist!' Baseball legend Jackie Robinson, a Rockefeller supporter in the hall, called out, 'C'mon Rocky' - and nearly got into a fistfight with an Alabama delegate.
As veteran political correspondent Theodore White, who was present, later put it, Rockefeller 'was the man who called them kooks, and now, like kooks, they responded to prove his point,' and the 'kooks' were 'hating and screaming and reveling in their own frenzy.' A call for reasonableness, a plea to spurn the paranoid, irrational, and conspiratorial tenets of the far right - this was not what Goldwater's people wanted to hear. Some reporters feared Goldwater supporters were about to storm the stage and physically attack the governor.
Maintaining an wry and cocky smile, Rockefeller told the audience, 'This is still a free country, ladies and gentleman.' and he condemned the 'infiltration and takeover of established political parties by Communist and Nazi methods.' He added, 'Some of you don't like to hear it...but it's the truth.' He declared, 'The Republican Party must repudiate these people.'
The Republican Party - those then in control of it - thought otherwise. On a voice vote, the nays overwhelmed. 'God save the Union,' Senator Tom Kuchel, a moderate Republican, remarked."