“People need to realize that…with democracy, if we leave it now we may never get it back and then nothing can be done...Democracy is on the line."
Those are the words of historian and author Robert S. McElvaine on The Lean to the Left Podcast, where he discusses many of the key events of the 1960s and how they are influencing events today, especially the radicalization of the Republican Party and the growth of authoritarianism.
Looking forward to the November elections, he says voters should "instead of looking at the gas pump and the grocery store and inflation, realize that democracy is on the line.” Make a comparison of the direction of both political parties and candidates, he said. “Look at the choice, what these people are. The most important thing is that in 2022 democracy is on the line.”
While McElvaine believes Democrats will maintain control of the Senate and perhaps make some gains, “it doesn’t look good in the House, and if they lose control in the House, those people are not going to certify a Democratic winner in 2024.”
McElvaine is Elizabeth Chisholm Distinguished Professor of Arts & Letters and Professor of History at Millsaps College. He is the author of eight books and the editor of three others. His latest is "The Times They Were a-Changin' - 1964: The Year 'the Sixties' Arrived and the Battle Lines of Today Were Drawn."
The book argues that the current crisis in America centers on the right wing trying to reverse the revolutionary changes that began in 1964 and return our nation to a point where White men are in control.
McElvaine's first two books on the Depression era have become standards in the field, acclaimed by historians and general readers alike. Two of his books have been named among the “Notable Books of the Year” by the New York Times Book Review. Both have remained in print and continue to sell nearly four decades after their initial publication.
Here are some questions covered in our interview:
1. Your book is about 1964, which was 58 years ago. What can the past – particularly that year – teach us today?
2. I see that Bennie Thompson, chair of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Insurrection, has praised your book, saying, that it “presents vivid details and unapologetic truths that can help to thwart rightwing radicals’ plans to annihilate the progress we have made toward equality.” How does what you wrote about relate to the insurrection and attempted coup?
3. In your book, you reference how the fundamental ideals of the Republican and Democratic parties have changed over the course of American history. What are some examples?
4. You say in the book that the United States moved closer to the ideals of 1776 and became a full democracy for the first time in the “Long 1964.” How so?
5. You indicate in the book that the battle lines of today are about the revolutionary changes that began in 1964–whether to build upon them or reverse them. Please explain.
6. You say that what the right-wingers who have taken control of the Republican Party mean when they say, “Take America Back” is to repeal the 1960s and take America back to the way it was before 1964. How would America be different if Republicans succeeded in turning back the calendar to pre-1964?
7. How is all of this reflected in today’s Supreme Court with its 6-3 conservative majority engineered by Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump?
8. The recent primary elections showed substantial gains by far-right candidates who bow at the altar of Donald Trump. What are the implications of this should this trend continue in November?
9. You say in the book that the fundamental question across the span of American history has been whether it is to be a White man’s country or an inclusive, diverse democracy. How was that question central in 1964 and how is it central today?
Listen to the interview: