Friday, November 06, 2020

The Ruling Elite, Money, And The Illusion Of Progress...,

theamericanconservative  |  “It was part of a strategy to signal that Republicans intended to seriously contest the South for the first time in over a century,” he writes. “[Ronald] Reagan was fetched at the airport in Meridian by his state chairman, Congressman Trent Lott. Lott had been president of the fraternity that stockpiled a cache of weapons used to riot against the federal marshals protecting a black student seeking to enter the University of Mississippi.” Perlstein reports that it was Lott who urged the president: “If Reagan really wanted to win this crowd over, he need only fold a certain two-word phrase into his speech: states’ rights.”

Perlstein was once dismissively dubbed the “gonzo historian” by former New York Times book review editor and rival chronicler of conservatives Sam Tanenhaus. Indeed, Perlstein recalls the notorious Neshoba County Fair “states’ rights” speech and countless other anecdotes in his 1,100-page opus, Reaganland, in downright Thompsonian fashion. It is his fourth installment of mid-century, American conservative history and it is his best, besting the magisterial Nixonland. Perlstein, a hard lefty journo, might indeed take himself too seriously, but at least he usually affords the same treatment to the subjects of his histories.

Rather than a conventional denunciation of the medial event in Reagan’s use of “the Southern Strategy,” Perlstein actually does reporting. Perlstein reveals Reagan didn’t really believe in what he was saying. “The way he carried out Trent Lott’s suggestion doused the enthusiasm of a previously energetic crowd,” Perlstein says. “And it was hardly worth it. The backlash was immediate and caustic.”

But what did Reagan actually say? “I still believe the answer to any problem lies with the people,” Reagan told the crowd. “I believe in people doing as much as they can for themselves at the community level and at the private level, and I believe we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the Constitution to that federal establishment.” And Reagan said: “I believe in states’ rights.” It was considered by his critics as tantamount to Morse code to white supremacists. Perlstein dresses up the story pages before with paragraphs of dispatches on the dominance of racial vigilantism in the region in the years before Reagan’s speech. 

But after his address, in the inferno of an August afternoon in central Mississippi, Reagan won. Though reasonable points about black voter suppression can be raised, in November, Reagan won Neshoba County, he won Mississippi, and he won the United States Electoral College. And he did so against a Deep Southern, Democratic incumbent president, which was previously unthinkable. And the GOP hasn’t relinquished Mississippi since—not even when neighboring Arkansan Bill Clinton and Tennessean Al Gore dominated the Nineties.

Perlstein’s chronicle is about the 40th president but, of course, can’t escape the shadow of the 45th. Perlstein has called Donald Trump an heir to Reagan, only stripped of the sunny optimism. A generation of global leaders, usually liberal, championed democracy, only to see Palestine elect Hamas, Egypt elect the Muslim Brotherhood, Mississippi go to Reagan, Britain secede from Europe, and America annoit Trump.