“Essential reading” —Booklist (starred)
“Kevin O’Leary tells this complex and alarming story brilliantly.” —Robert Kuttner
“O’Leary could not be more timely…” —Norman Ornstein
“This beautifully written book is a must-read…” —Erwin Chemerinsky
An eye-opening cultural history of the political revolution that has destroyed the Republican Party and unleashed an illiberal crusade against the ideals of the Founding Fathers.
The story of America is the struggle between our liberal ideal and illiberal resistance. Donald Trump catalyzed a reactionary revolution by tapping into the dark, shadowy side of American democracy that embraces exclusion and inequality. Throughout American history these alarming impulses have come to the forefront of our culture—during the Civil War, the era of the Robber Barons, and the Civil Rights Movement—but have now come to fruition in the presidency of Donald Trump.
Arguing that the contemporary Republican Party is waging a counterrevolution against the core beliefs of the nation, journalist and scholar Kevin C. O’Leary cracks open American history to reveal the essence of America’s liberal heritage by critiquing the reactionary illiberal currents that periodically threaten American democracy. American politics is no longer an ongoing debate between liberals and conservatives because the new Republican Party embraces the feudal values of the Old World. While there are millions of conservatives in the population, the elected leadership of the GOP is deeply reactionary.
Today’s marriage of white-identity Southerners and their northern allies to moneyed libertarians is no run-of-the-mill political partnership. Instead, it is extraordinarily dangerous. Clearly, conservatives have lost their party. And without conservatives debating liberals in an intellectual, respectful manner to address the nation’s problems, Madisonian democracy breaks down.
A stimulating reinterpretation of the American experience, Madison’s Sorrow exposes the intellectual and moral deficiencies of the illiberal right while offering a robust defense of the liberal tradition.
O'Leary (Saving Democracy), a political scientist at the University of California, Irvine, delivers a sharp-elbowed yet shallow polemic accusing modern right-wingers of attempting to dismantle the liberal democratic traditions of America's founding fathers. Donald Trump's presidency, O'Leary contends, is the culmination of two trends in American conservatism that emerged in the latter half of the 20th century: a white identity politics that expanded beyond its traditional Southern base in response to the civil rights movement, and a winner-take-all conceptualization of capitalism that has fostered rising inequality. O'Leary sees these ideas as antithetical to the founding father's vision for America, which drew from the meritocratic ideals of 17th-century philosopher John Locke, among other Enlightenment thinkers. O'Leary traces this moral vision from Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to Barack Obama, whose 2008 election appeared to usher in a new era of liberal consensus, yet failed to effectively channel public anger about the 2008 financial crisis. Though O'Leary makes a strong case about the relationship between Trumpism and white identity politics, he fails to fully explain how the president's protectionist trade policies and immigration restrictions fit with libertarian orthodoxies. Progressive readers will nod their heads in agreement that the "illiberal" wing of the Republican Party is bad for the country; those who need more convincing should look elsewhere.