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BOOK REVIEW: "How the Right Lost Its Mind" by Charles J. Sykes

St. Martin's Press
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BOOK REVIEW: How the Right Lost Its Mind by Charles J. Sykes (St. Martin’s Press) 2017

Author and radio talk-show host Charles J. Sykes is no newbie to conservative politics. Conservatism is the Wisconsin radio personality’s bread and butter. A political ideology and way of living  since the early days of the Reagan Revolution.

So, when Sykes – and other intellectually-honest conservatives out there – began to be troubled by the toxic brew of nativism, bigotry, dishonesty and immorality increasingly embraced by supporters of billionaire Donald Trump, during his presidential campaign and in the months since the inauguration, he concluded that the “conservatism” of the past 40 years had simply gone off the rails.

Or, more notably, in today’s political environment where winning is everything, many principled conservatives tossed those very principles aside so they could side with and support a winner – the dangerous and authoritarian Donald Trump.

And this is where Sykes’ important book comes in. Important in that this is a guy who has been well-respected over the years – hosting Wisconsin’s number one conservative radio talk show – and wrote this 200-plus page book out of love for country and concern about where Trumpism is taking America. And it’s an alarming and ugly place, concludes Sykes.

Writing in the introduction that it was “painful” to write this book, Sykes notes, with a hint of sadness, that the “conservative coalition” has essentially dissolved and that many “trusted leaders, spokesmen, and champions of the Right” have willingly betrayed their conservative principles in support of Trumpism, becoming “sycophantic propagandists” in the process.

I give Sykes credit for acknowledging that the Right has been steeped in a “fever swamp” of angry voters who have been fed a steady diet of equally angry, uncompromising Rightist entertainers like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Alex Jones. And Sykes admits he was right there, alongside it, becoming a participant in creating the monster he now loathes.

And then there were the “eccentric candidates” put forth as presidential timber, from Sarah Palin to Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich to Herman Cain.

Looking back decades, Sykes reminds his readers that it was conservative and public intellectual William F. Buckley who helped mold and form what would become the modern conservative movement of the 20th century and early 21st century.

Buckley was notorious for his rejection of crackpottery and nuttiness within the acceptable conservative and Republican movements, ousting the likes of the arch-conservative, anti-communist John Birch Society in the early 1960’s in a long-term effort to establish an acceptable and respectable conservative movement, leaving the paranoids and kooks on the wayside.

At that time, conservatism would, for instance, look upon politics “as the art of achieving the maximum amount of freedom for individuals that is consistent with the maintenance of social order.”

But it was during the 1990’s and the Clinton years when conspiracy theorists began circulating rumors about Clinton and other “liberals” and how they were out to destroy America and it all coming to a head with Clinton’s sex scandal involving intern Monica Lewinsky.

At that time, as Fox News was ascendant, the sex scandals of a sitting president seemed better for TV ratings and for the rising stars in the GOP, rather than “wonky policy proposals and entitlement reform,” as Sykes notes. It became a movement about personalities rather than ideas. And with the rise of social media, it only became more virulent.

This would only increase during the George W. Bush years and only increase during the years Barack Obama was president as the organic and populist Tea Party movement took hold, only to be replaced, at the dawn of the Trump era, with the much-feared and despised “Alt Right,” a movement nourished by activist/journalists associated with right-wing websites like Breitbart.com.

With that came increased support of right-wing nationalism and what Sykes called "an explosion of hate" emenating from Internet trolls, neo-Nazis and racists who found refuge in the Trump camp, a camp that has embraced a "culture of intimidation" and politics of personal destruction, a phrase the right-wing talking heads often used when attacking the Left.

Sykes laments how Trump has tossed aside core conservative values like separation of powers, limited government and family values and has given his supporters a more "strongman" approach they had always longed for. 

How the Right Lost Its Mind is a "dark night of the soul" journey with a man who has stayed true to his Reaganesque conservative values, only to find that he and a small core have been left behind by the steaming, belching Trump Train. One hopes that conservatives read his book with an open mind and accept the lessons he puts forth. 

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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