The background machinations—digital, financial, religious, and otherwise—that have enabled the American far right to ascend and wield increasing political power that is disproportionate to their numbers.
Nelson (International and Public Affairs/Columbia Univ.; Suzanne’s Children: A Daring Rescue in Nazi Paris, 2017, etc.), a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, spent years researching this account of the 1981 formation and burgeoning influence of the Council for National Policy, an ultraconservative (and once-secretive) group that opposes abortion and gay marriage and that advances the cause of fundamentalist Christianity in all aspects of American life. The author’s approach is chronological, analytical, and admonitory, as she fears the effects on our democracy of the deep divisions in our electorate, especially in the digital age. Nelson highlights some key moments in our history: the arrival of the Puritans, the Democrats’ loss of the once-solid South (occasioned by their support of civil rights legislation), and the presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and their successors of both parties. She describes the enormous power on public opinion of cable news and of the pervasive digital platforms. Most of all, the author follows the money, from the Koch brothers to the DeVos family and others (she does not neglect the left-wing money from George Soros). Countless millions have flowed from those sources to political organizations, individuals, and campaigns. Nelson observes that even though Barack Obama won two presidential elections, the opposition to him and his policies (especially health care) swelled among the CNP and their affiliates. She also deals substantially with Donald Trump, the moral compromises evangelicals employed to justify their support of him, and the purges of moderate Republicans from positions of authority. She recognizes, as well, how the internal battles of Democrats have been self-defeating.
Though partisan, the text nonetheless raises significant red flags that should alarm everyone who believes in democracy.