I’m currently reading the book.
None of this is news to me though. I’m going to review the book here since it is so relevant to the rise of illiberalism and the impending death of American democracy.
The death of the mainstream media which hushed so much of the country throughout the mid-20th century and late 20th century and made politics boring due to its monopoly on the distribution of information is being followed by the return of a more normal form of American democratic politics where you called your opponent a son of a bitch and gouged out his eyes. The rise of cable television, talk radio and podcasts, the internet and social media has put an end to the Great Hushing.
Far from dying, turnout in democratic elections is going up. More people are participating again in “our democracy” especially the Bad People who couldn’t get on television before. College dropouts like Joe Rogan can build their own huge platforms and compete with the Jake Tappers of the world.
Here’s an excerpt from John Grinspan’s book The Age of Acrimony: How Americans Fought To Fix Their Democracy, 1865-1915
“There, century-old objects told a forgotten drama, more heated than anything we’ve seen. Torches from midnight rallies. Uniforms from partisan street gangs. Ballots from stolen elections. Shifting between the fractious twenty-first century and those furious nineteenth-century objects started to feel like digging at opposite ends of the same tunnel, struggling to connect in the dark. In between lay the norms of political behavior that most of us grew up with, or imagine, from America’s more stable twentieth century. But the objects on the other end of that tunnel seemed to cry out: “Your normal was abnormal.”
In our arguments over democracy, we have missed out on the most vital, most urgent, most relevant period of American history. Twentieth-century America’s expectations of restrained public politics were a historical outlier. That civility was an invention, the end result of a brutal fight over the nature of democracy that raged across American life in the late 1800s. The objects in the Smithsonian are wreckage from that conflict; the diaries and letters stored elsewhere are battlefield reports.
We barely remember it, but this was the origin story of normal politics, the dirty tale of how democracy got clean …”
A couple of important things happened in the 20th century:
1. American politics and Christmas became much more private affairs. Both used to be much more rowdy and public in the past.
2. The PMC emerged as a social class and came to dominate both political parties.
3. New York became the hegemon over American culture.
4. The development of new technologies like film, radio and television concentrated cultural power in the hands of a tiny metropolitan elite.
5. The public became passive spectators of politics and culture. The former played out on a grand stage on television which had not existed in the past. The latter was beamed out from New York and Los Angeles.
That’s what used to be normal politics.