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Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (2008)

– tekijä: Rick Perlstein

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1,1853212,388 (4.22)89
An account of the thirth-seventh presidency sets Nixon's administration against a backdrop of the tumultuous civil rights movement while offering insight into how key events in the 1960s set the stage for today's political divides.
  1. 20
    Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (tekijä: Rick Perlstein) (mattries37315)
    mattries37315: Perlstein's first and second books in his series studying the history of Conservatism and the Modern Right in American political history that began in the 1950s.
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Näyttää 1-5 (yhteensä 32) (seuraava | näytä kaikki)
Given the present day situation in the US, many are starting to look back, with some fondness, to the 60's. One hears of critics speaking of the 1960's as one of the golden ages of film, music, etc. However, this is not true in the daily civic life. Rick Perlstein has managed to capture some of the rage and anger of the period. This is the age of the civil rights movement, the start of the feminist movement and the student protest over the war in Vietnam. Into this maelstrom comes Richard Nixon. Nixon is not only a problem, we also see the rise of young staffers and individuals who, for better or worse, effect the course of American History in the early 21st century. This is a well written book that gives understanding to what happened and how those events are still with us today. ( )
  Steve_Walker | Sep 13, 2020 |
Very impressionistic history. You need to have some basic knowledge of the events, because Perlstein skips over many of them in favor of the little details. (For example, he won't generally say who won each election or primary.) He goes so far as to read through daily newspapers, page by page giving each story. You do get a certain sense for the time, although from a biased perspective. Perlstein has a strong thesis, but he often leaves it implicit, in the choice of topics he focuses on. I'd rather he always argued explicitly. ( )
  breic | Oct 9, 2019 |
Whew, what a tome! Nixonland is a factual, insightful book about the turbulent 1960's and the divisiveness that arose in the politics in the United States. I was fascinated by Nixon's political career, the way he was able to set an "us against them" tone to his rhetoric, how his lust for power led to the inevitable and infamous Watergate, and how he felt victimized throughout his presidency. A great read. ( )
  carliwi | Sep 23, 2019 |
Forty-four years ago this very month, as this review goes to press, Richard Nixon became the first American President to resign that office, on the heels of almost certain impeachment. Apologists then and now snort dismissively of a “second-rate burglary,” while more perspicacious observers might point out that Watergate was the least of what were certainly nothing less than high crimes and misdemeanors; that a brilliant yet amoral and often unstable Nixon brought the mechanics of a criminal syndicate to the Executive Branch, and—much worse than that—in an attempt to achieve some sort of personal glory selfishly extended a war he had long privately admitted was unwinnable, thereby needlessly sacrificing the lives of tens of thousands of American soldiers, as well as hundreds of thousands of Southeast Asian civilians and combatants. Forty-four years on, and some might argue that not only have the deep scars Nixon inflicted on the national landscape never healed, but that both his methods and his madness are currently enjoying a kind of renaissance that either signals a reverse to the remission that was once a cancer upon his Presidency, or an underscore that there is a deep well of malevolence in our national character that can never really be expunged. Of course, neither of these notions satisfies or reassures, which is precisely why we must never let Nixon’s legacy be overlooked: like it or not, Nixon forever altered America and put a terrible mark upon all of us that may have faded but will not go away.
I am reading Rick Perlstein backwards, which is less ironic than perversely logical, since the nation is itself tumbling rapidly backwards into the kind of hate and racism and division by any other name that Nixon championed so expertly in the era that he once commanded. My first read was Perlstein’s latest, from 2014: The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, his splendid analysis of how it was that after Nixon went up in flames, Reagan managed to emerge from the ashes and with a shrug and an “aw, shucks” declare that there really wasn’t any fire at all. Though Reagan had unrelentingly defended everything noxious that Nixon was about, after the ignominious fall virtually all of Nixon’s political capital clung to Reagan but none of his toxicity. But by that time, the political landscape, indeed the entire nation, had been irrevocably altered by the Nixon phenomenon that had turned politics into a zero-sum game, and divided Americans into distinct groups of us vs. them, good guys vs. bad guys, patriots vs. traitors, solid citizens vs. arrogant elites. It was hardly coincidental that Nixon surveyed the universe through a similar lens that only detected black and white, that ever filtered out any and all gray areas. And by the time Nixon had finished with America—or America had finished with him—he had forever after transformed it into “Nixonland.” That is the remarkable thesis of Perlstein’s brilliant study of the 1960s, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, first published in 2008.
Nixon endured a forbidding childhood beset by poverty, the death of a sibling, and ever grim, unyielding parents who enforced such a rigid religious fundamentalism that it bordered on abuse. An enthusiastic but mediocre athlete, Nixon instead scored academically and distinguished himself in debate, but at his hometown Whittier College he was snubbed by the “Franklins,” a prestigious literary society comprised of members from prominent families. He responded by leading the effort to forge a rival society of “Orthogonians” for those like himself who might not otherwise get a seat at the table with the elite. This was to prove a defining moment in the life of Richard Nixon that Perlstein argues set him on an unrelenting path that would carve a cleft in America that ever clings to us like a poisonous film on the flesh of the nation that simply will not wash off.
Nixon seems to have never gotten over his rebuff by the Franklins, and the wrath that was born of that rejection fueled a resentment that he wielded like a hammer for the rest of his life. It was not simply the “us vs. them” mentality—but that was certainly part of it—but it ran much deeper and was far more vicious, because it was at root about whether or not you were “like us” or “like them,” and if you were “like them,” it meant that you were “the other,” and therefore not worthy of the same rights or the same respect we might require for ourselves. Nixon was neither the first nor the last to turn his opponents into “the other,” but he was indeed the first to successfully take that into the White House and weaponize it on a mass scale. The clarion call to the “silent majority” to stand up for the America they loved was a dog whistle to the Orthogonian hard hats that bloodied Franklin hippies on the streets of New York in 1970.
Perlstein’s book is as much a masterful history of America in the tumultuous 1960s as it is a chronicle of Nixon and how he put that indelible mark upon it, a reminder of how much those days seem like a study of an entirely different country from the vantage point of the twenty-first century, a time of great violence and radicalism that—it should not be forgotten—barely touched the vast majority of Americans who simply went about their lives anonymously in what was also a postwar economic boom in the most powerful and prosperous nation in the world. I was a youth in that era, and the truth is that more Americans listened to Pat Boone than Jimi Hendrix. Nixon knew his audience—the former, of course—and he knew how to transform them into vehement foes of the latter.
It was Nixon’s genius that he could identify these two emerging America’s and exploit the divisions there that he could actively shape, and compartments that he could adeptly construct, that would admit no shades of anything that was not an “either” or an “or.” There were the patriotic Americans who had defied economic depression and world war for a better life—only to see it put in jeopardy by unwashed longhaired cowardly druggies manipulated by communists from abroad seeking to undermine our democratic institutions; and, lazy unmotivated welfare recipients who demanded entitlements without a willingness to put in a good day’s hard work; and, most especially, violent, radical blacks who refused to be grateful for all that was being done to assist them with their seemingly endless and relentless demands. And there was now more opportunity with these same black people! There was the Republican Party, the Party of Lincoln—which had long been the not-always-reliable-friend but a friend nonetheless to African Americans against the scourge of the Southern branch of segregationist unreconstructed Democrats—who now with Nixon’s Machiavellian sleight of hand could almost silently (with a swelling cohort added to his “Silent Majority”) exploit the national Democratic Party’s embrace of Civil Rights to actively turn Republican backs on blacks and instead entice the great white backlash of the South to join their ranks. (Reagan took this baton of this “southern strategy” and skillfully ran with it under the same barely disguised cover; Trump does not bother with even a token shellacking of the ulterior motives here. And Trump doesn't need batons: he has far more effective and not-so-subtle dog whistles. Neither Nixon nor Reagan would consort with Nazis; Trump finds good people among the crowd.)
Nixon was hardly the first politician to capitalize upon fear, upon hate, upon racism, upon xenophobia, upon a misguided fantastical nation that the very essence and identity of traditional values central to a national identity were under attack and needed to be actively defended before it was too late—but he was the first American figure of national prominence to successfully parlay this tactic into a kind of art form that drove a great and enduring and unrelenting wedge into the country that has never since been bridged, and perhaps never will be.
That Nixon wedge has long been exploited, by both Reagan and his descendants, but never so cruelly and with such baseness as it has been by Donald Trump, who not at all coincidentally was a student to all of the lessons Nixon taught, and who has associated with a lot of same villains that have been key to the rise of Nixon: Roy Cohn, Roger Ailes and Roger Stone among them. Much of the wreckage Nixon left behind was superficially paved over by Ronald Reagan, and there is no little irony to the fact that Reagan’s campaign slogan—"Let’s Make America Great Again”—has been disingenuously expropriated by Donald Trump. And Trump, it must not be forgotten, has like Nixon styled himself a great defender of “law and order,” even as it becomes increasingly clear that his administration may turn out to be the most criminally corrupt in American history.
The author wrote Nixonland nearly a decade before Trumpworld, but yet it seems to eerily presage it. Perlstein’s magisterial work may not only be the best book written about Nixon and the 1960s, but should also be required reading for anyone who wants to try to comprehend the madness that besets the nation today. Of course, Nixon was a far more clever fellow than Trump, and the Republican Party of his day was not the cult of personality of its current iteration, wagging a collective tail at the master of tax and tariff scams calculated to enrich a select plutocracy, and Nixon’s motives were more about leaving an enduring mark in the history books rather than the cheap Trumpist thrills of amassing trinkets and celebrity stardom, but nevertheless there is much of then that has come back to haunt us now. “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does thyme,” Mark Twain was once alleged to quip. We can only hope that the last stanza of that rhyme ends for Trump much as it did for Nixon, forty-four years ago this month … ( )
1 ääni Garp83 | Aug 28, 2018 |
Perlstein wrote this in 2008 but its instructive to read it in 2018 as a reminder that Donald Trump is not a one off, black swan, but in many ways the logical conclusion, or at least the love child of the culture wars that Nixon may not have started, but magnified from their Goldwater roots. Its Nixon after all who coined the phrase the "Silent Majority", Nixon who understood that the majority of the population craved for a quiet status quo without being challenged by the loud minority, Nixon (or at least Spiro Agnew) who started to tear at the neutrality of the press, who started to create and disseminate fake news, overall Nixon who tore down the post war consensus by appealing to the lowest common dominator and invoking the fear of aliens and fear of change.

"Nixonland is still with us" warns Perlstein, in the hazy glow of the election of Obama. "Does anyone doubt that half the population, given the slightest provocation, wouldn't willingly pick up a gun and shoot the other half". Well, not anymore we don't. At this distance, he looks remarkably prescient.

As for the history itself, Perlstein's account is lively, invigorating, intense (it took me 3 months to read) and not uncommonly, inaccurate - at least in the details. But not in the overall tone. The story of how Nixon, beautifully described as a "serial collector of grudges" went from unfashionable rural California to the White House, through a combination of a knack for political insight and a mastery of the black arts rose to be the most powerful person in the world is remarkable. Even now, the whole thing seems somewhat unlikely. Thankfully the story ends at his election for a second term, and before the humiliations of Watergate (such a small thing in his general program of "ratfucking" the opposition) and his alcoholic decline took the world nearer to nuclear war than at any time since the Cuban Missile Program till, well, now (I write this as US and Russia sabre rattle over Syria).

If there is a fault here, its that Perlstein doesn't give enough credit to Nixon's achievement, engagement with China in particular, but also the beginnings of detente with Russia. And compared to the Republican party of today, he comes across as socially centrist. He gives plenty of time - and rightly so - to Nixon's many failings and especially to the criminal policy of sabotaging the peace talks in Paris in 1968 and keeping the war going through the elections of 1972. Its not so much the blood on the hands of Nixon and Kissinger - extensive though that is - but the sheer cynicism. You can't expect Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian lives to mean much to them - but clearly, those of their own citizens didn't much either.

If there are two main themes of the book its Vietnam and Nixonian dirty tricks. But for me there's a third; the accurate portrayal of the 1960s. It wasn't a time of free love and flowers in the hair; it was a time of social change that many in society opposed passively or actively. For every civil rights activist, there are 2 people who would have African Americans know their place. For every hippie, there are 3 hard working joes. The image of hard hats and stockbrokers joining forces to beat up hippies in Manhattan is one of Perlstein's strongest. The 60s weren't about counter culture - its just that many of the counter culture were smart enough to later get jobs in media.

Recommended ( )
  Opinionated | Apr 14, 2018 |
Näyttää 1-5 (yhteensä 32) (seuraava | näytä kaikki)
Perlstein's Nixon is a cartoon figure, not in the mode of Herblock, whose caricatures, while vicious, were nonetheless original and uncomfortably recognizable to Nixon’s friends, but plastic, one-dimensional, and unrecognizable except to the most fervid of Nixon’s enemies. Relying largely on the psycho-babble of Fawn Brodie, the partisan fury of Leonard Lurie, and the genteel animus of Richard Reeves, Perlstein left no Nixonphobic screed untapped in the process of liming his portrait of Nixon as psychotic. And when he couldn’t find a previously published damning story to lift, he made it up, as in his phony reconstruction of Nixon’s meeting with the Southern Republican state chairmen in June of 1968.

A reader expecting to learn something new (or true) about the issues that roiled the public discourse in the 1960s is bound to be disappointed. Perlstein regurgitates the standard New Left line on the war in Vietnam . . . ; apes Todd Gitlin’s revisionist line on the history of the New Left . . . ; and concocts an elaborate Nixonian plot to thwart the integration of Southern schools as a payoff to Strom Thurmond while ignoring entirely the story (best told by Ray Price) of how those schools were, in fact, integrated without violence during Nixon’s first term. . . .

Nixonland is not history; it is polemics. Perlstein is out to poke Republicans (and conservatives) in the eye and “history” is his stick.

He shapes it to suit his purpose and wields it to achieve a political objective. No Perlstein “fact” can be relied upon as true, no event he relates can be assumed to be fairly discussed, and no grand idea advanced by him can be taken seriously.
 
But we could do worse than borrow Nixon's words on taking office in January 1969, when he said that his country suffered "from a fever of words; from inflated rhetoric that promises more than it can deliver; from angry rhetoric that fans discontents into hatreds; from bombastic rhetoric that postures instead of persuading."

Funnily enough, that sounds like a pretty good description of Perlstein's book.
 
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An account of the thirth-seventh presidency sets Nixon's administration against a backdrop of the tumultuous civil rights movement while offering insight into how key events in the 1960s set the stage for today's political divides.

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