Okay, which American pontificator wrote this?

The modern right wing . . . feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialistic and communistic schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners as of old but major statesmen who are at the very centers of American power.

Paul Krugman? Andrew Sullivan? Steve Bannon?

Nope. Richard Hofstadter — not the Johnny Galecki character on Big Bang Theory (called Leonard Hofstadter), but the eminent Columbia University history professor and author of, among other priceless tomes, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. The above quote comes from his essay The Paranoid Style in American Politics — published in 1964.

Yup, it’s been with us that long, this right-wing conspiratorial thinking that’s completely detached from reality. Longer, in fact, as Hofstadter demonstrates. The modern iteration traces back to the McCarthyism of the early 1950s, when the alcoholic, paleo-conservative senator from Wisconsin spent years and millions of tax dollars trying to prove that Communists and their dupes — perhaps including President Eisenhower, who merely won the war against Nazi Germany — had infiltrated the US government. From there it split into a crude branch (the John Birch Society) and a genteel branch (William F. Buckley and National Review), united behind Barry Goldwater’s disastrous presidential bid of 1964, commenced building an alternate thought and media structure in the 1970s (as recommended by Lewis Powell, later rewarded with a Supreme Court appointment from Richard Nixon), and gained real power in 1980 with the rise of political evangelicalism and the election of Ronald Reagan.

The irony of American political life is that the party and politicians the paranoid right has vociferously backed these last forty years are the actual source of their current woes. It was under Reagan that America’s commitment to global capitalism became unconditional, indifferent to the fate of domestic industrial workers (and their unions). It was under Reagan that what Krugman calls Zombie Economics — empirically false ideas that refuse to die, such as the proposition that reducing taxes on the rich will benefit the poor — became national policy and led to the unconscionable wealth gap that has riven us since. And it was under Reagan that the federal government, which had done so much for middle- and lower-class Americans through Social Security, Medicare, and other health-and-welfare programs, was framed as an enemy of rather than a contributor to the public weal, an aspersion used over the next two decades to shrink the public safety net to the size and strength of an abandoned spider web.

And George W. Bush and Donald Trump were more extreme than Reagan.

The persistence of the paranoid style suggests there will be no reasoning with the millions of Americans certain that climate change is a hoax, that the coronavirus is a Chinese plot, that the 2020 election has been stolen from Trump, and that the world is run by Democrats and entertainers who subsist on the blood of children. Which suggests further that the Biden years may be only a respite until the next president in the Republican devolutionary line takes power and, in the name of such delusions, finishes off our democracy.

I am so glad I’m old.

Senator Joseph McCarthy and his chief counsel, Roy Cohn, who late in life provided legal representation and etiquette lessons to Donald Trump.

Former Risk Manager at UC Berkeley, author of four books, ectomorphic introvert.