Rick Perlstein on Our "Law and Order" Presidents

Historians in the News
tags: conservatism, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, presidential history, Donald Trump

frank | What is your background and expertise in? 

Rick Perlstein | I'm a historian and a journalist. I'm best known for a series of books on the history of the conservative takeover over of the Republican Party, and their success in changing the ideological composition of the United States. It started with Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, then Nixonland, and then the Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan came out in 2014. In August my book to complete the series, Reaganland, comes out. 

My passion is informing people for critical citizenship, understanding how big public questions are asked and answered, and how those affect people's everyday lives.

The comparisons between Trump and Nixon as “Law and Order” presidents have never been more apparent. 

I've been very fortunate in choosing the right topic.


A lot of conservative ire is pointed at liberal media institutions. How do you think a moment like this is effectively covered? Is there a boundary to the “both sides” argument? The Tom Cotton piece in the New York Times feels like a good example of this.

This is the paradox. Pieces like that are done in the name of respecting conservatism, to show conservatives that they're heard, that their way of seeing the world is included. That, in itself, is a liberal value. In a lot of ways, conservative reactionary traditions revile pluralism. If you really respected the way conservatives saw the world, you wouldn't show your weakness by surrendering to them. No matter how much NPR or the New York Times bends over backwards to give so-called fair representation to conservatives, if there's a fascist takeover in America, they are still the first people who are going to be lined up against the wall and shot.

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