With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Rick Perlstein: “Ronald Reagan absolved America almost in a priestly role not to have to contend with sin. The consequences are all around us today”

Rick Perlstein is one of America’s greatest chroniclers of the origins of the modern American right wing. In “Before the Storm,” about the rise of Barry Goldwater, and “Nixonland,” about the backlash politics that drove Nixon into the White House, Perlstein has captured, in big set pieces and small details, the forces that came together to move the nation’s ideological center of gravity. Now, with “The Invisible Bridge,” Perlstein tells the story of another important figure in that shift – Ronald Reagan.

The title refers to a statement from Nikita Khrushchev to Richard Nixon: “If the people believe there’s an imaginary river out there, you don’t tell them there’s no river there. You build an imaginary bridge over the imaginary river.” Nobody internalized this advice more than Reagan, who ignored American shortcomings like Vietnam or Watergate in favor of tightly wrapped fables, mesmerizing his audience with tales about a simpler time where America can never fail. It turned out, despite the enormous complications of the political moment, such stories were just what a large segment of the public wanted to hear. Reagan bridged the gulf between America’s perceptions and its reality, and transformed the terrain upon which we battle politically.

In an interview with Salon on the eve of the book’s release, Perlstein talks about the main themes of the book, how liberals underestimated Reagan, the similarities between reactions to Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Barack Obama in 2008, and the echoes of the impulse toward American exceptionalism in our present-day politics...

Read entire article at Salon