What we are reading and watching: Richard Nixon and George Wallace instruct us about Trump

The first forty days of the Trump Presidency may seem like the apocalypse for some younger liberal activists but we’ve been here before – and it’s been much worse believe it or not.

The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics was a book recommended to me by a professor as my undergraduate Senior Colloquium at the University of Florida in 1995 right after it was released. Dan Carter paints the picture of the rage and anger that fueled the Wallace movement and the nakedly racist rhetoric used in Alabama as well as the coded more “respectable” language Wallace used nationally. It was a critical education for me in how race-baiting works and a big reason why I can see racism (or feel statements that are interpreted by some as racist but not by me)in coded language.




George Wallace (Two-Disc Special Edition) was a TV movie I taped on VHS over the two nights it aired in 1997. At the time as a student of southern politics, the Wallace movement was important to see and understand. This remains the case today and this movie by the legendary John Frankenheimer remains a timeliness classic and indispensable viewing.



Nixon by Oliver Stone is a must-watch if you can spare about four hours of time. Stone is often criticized buy this portrayal demonstrates Nixon’s paranoia, his flippant use of antisemitic remarks, his constant insecurities but also his political savvy and wise triangular foreign policy. The Directors Cut with restored scenes that were deleted demonstrates the danger of the CIA operating a shadow government. One of the restored scenes illustrates the demonstrations that were sweeping the country in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.  For these scenes, Stone’s commentary offered in the special features is critical to understanding the dangerous nature of longtime CIA Director Richard Helms.



Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America by Rick Perlstein was released soon after President Obama assumed office. It walks the reader through four election cycles where the politics of Richard Nixon defined the country – this isn’t a book about Nixon as much as it is about the country and the political climate at the time. The Vietnam War, Civil Rights movement and growth of the new right all contributed to create a transitional and unique climate bordering on tumult in the country. It’s an especially important read today.


  1. Mark Lynn · ·

    I get where your coming from, but Wallace & Trump were two very different sorta people. Wallace was a career politician, who accomplished a lot during his four terms as Alabama Guv (plus about 2 years with his first wife as Guv). Trump has spent the majority of his life as a celebrity accomplishing little other than the promotion of his own name. He knows nothing about how government operates, while Wallace was a master at that. Wallace was also a WWII combat veteran, while Trump was busy nursing his bone spurs or tennis elbow during Vietnam. Gov. Wallace gets a bad rap because of his racial rhetoric in the 60s, but if you look closely at his policies, he is today considered somewhat progressive in Alabama politics. Educators loved him because he heavily funded education, especially higher ed. I went to college in Alabama in the early 90s & the professors & administrators were still talking about it. They were so happy when he came back in 82, the Fob James years (1979-1983) were lean ones. Wallace & Trump may appeal to similar types of people, but I still believe that there are big differences between the two.


  2. Trump is a successful businessman, failures and all. Dems with their head scratching ivory tower mentality dont seem to get it. The people have spoken. God bless America and the Donald!


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