"Fake news" is all the rage today, but fake history may be even worse, especially when it comes to the history of the conservative movement, with which affiliates of the New York Times like to play.
In February 2009, Times editor Sam Tannenhaus wrote (in the New Republic) an article called "Conservatism is Dead," history that was so fake that by the time the book version appeared the corpse had revived, en route to winning the 2010 midterms, along with elections in 2014 and 2016. In this tradition, Rick Perlstein in the New York Times Magazine is here to say that Donald Trump is not the populist outsider imagined by many but the authentic voice of movement conservatism in all its toxicity.
William F. Buckley, the erudite gentleman; Barry Goldwater, the NAACP member; Ronald Reagan, the four-time FDR voter; were masks and diversions, to make us feel better. To understand Trump and the movement today, we must toss them aside, and look at "conservative history's political surrealists and intellectual embarrassments, its con artists and tribunes of white rage" who are the real story. "Consider...an essay published in 1926 by Hiram Evans, the imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, in the exceedingly mainstream North American Review.'
Consider him by all means if you feel that you have to. But real history tells us that many conservatives today used to be liberals, until the Democrats' behavior since 1968 drove them crazy; that Trump himself was a Democrat for fairly long periods, that Trump himself was even elected by Democrats — by Democrats who switched parties to vote in the primaries, by Obama voters in the upper Midwest who didn't trust Hillary, by union members and working class voters. They voted for him not because they read Hiram Evans or knew he existed, but because their jobs and communities had been disappearing and no one but Trump among all the others had seemed to notice or care.
It's a story for another day how and why two parties, three presidents, and nineteen other candidates somehow had seemed to have looked past this story, but look past it they did, and now it seems obvious that the first person who did not would find a huge market opening. It's not that Trump's voters were blind to his faults; many were shocked by his manners and thought him unqualified, but still found him preferable to the status quo ante and Hillary Clinton, which seemed to mean more of the same.
What explains them and their votes is not an article written in 1926 but one in 2016 in the Wall Street Journal, describing how the China Trade deal of 2000 decimated the town of Hickory, North Carolina, which lost half its manufacturing jobs in a decade, and saw its labor force shrink 13 percent. "In the 2000s, congressional districts where competition from Chinese imports was rapidly increasing became more politically polarized," the Journal reported.
"In this year's Republican presidential primaries, Mr. Trump won 89 of the 100 counties most affected by competition from China...These counties include Hickory's Catawba County," where, in the Republican primary, in a field of twelve candidates, Trump got 44 percent of the vote. Writing about the 2016 election in terms of a 1926 article without mentioning this is like describing the entry of the United States into World War II without mentioning the attack on Pearl Harbor, but giving attention to astrological patterns and the migrating habits of birds. This is the work of a hack, not a "historian," and the Times should know better. But don't hold your breath till it does.
Noemie Emery, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."