430: Introduction

History 430: United States, 1945-present, Spring 2021

Course Introduction

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One of Donald Trump’s last acts as president was to pardon Roger Stone, a political operative, convicted of lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstruction of justice. Stone, who describes himself as a “dirty trickster,” got his start in politics in 1972 in the re-election campaign of President Richard Nixon. His story is told in the Netflix documentary, “Get Roger Stone.” If there is one person whose life story reflects the zeitgeist of America during the period covered by this course, it might be Richard Nixon. We might even call the story of the United States of America since the end of World War II “Nixonland.”

Nixon dominated American politics from the 1940s, when he rose to prominence as a relentless communist-hunter, through his resignation in disgrace from the presidency in 1974 amid the Watergate scandal. A running joke every four years since then has been that Nixon, who had bounced back from several seemingly terminal defeats during his long political career, was “rested, tanned, and ready” to run for president yet again. The joke continues even after his death in 1994, and it reflects the way that his legacy hangs over American politics and to this day. To understand this legacy we will be reading excerpts from Rick Perlstein's acclaimed biography of America and it's 37th president, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America.

Nixon’s phoenix-like revival in the late Sixties and what followed—his election to the presidency in 1968, his handling of the Vietnam War and Political Protests, and his eventual resignation—put him at the pivot point of the American story of our times.

It’s no coincidence that Donald Trump hired the Nixon-tattooed Roger Stone to carry out behind-the-scenes maneuvers, or adopted the Nixon-coined phrase “Silent Majority” in his campaign speeches and literature. To a large degree, according to Perlstein, Nixon paved the way for Reagan and Trump and the rise of conservative populism within the Republican Party, a movement that culminated in the Capitol riot on Jan. 6—but which is by no means over.

Unfortunately, we don’t have time to read all 748 of Perlstein’s text-heavy pages. The agony of teaching this course every year is how little time we have to learn about the events and personalities, ideas and conflicts that got us to where we are today. My hope is that a combination of the broad-stroke brushes in the Yawp alongside occasional deep dives into some of the key moments portrayed in Nixonland, will leave you with a vivid sense of how we got to where we are today, and a desire to read the rest of the book over the summer.

Questions addressed in the course:

How did America go from social democratic to neoliberal? Or who killed the liberal New Deal consensus?

To what extent did the US become a multiracial democracy during these years?

How did the US win the old war, and was that a good thing?

How has US role in the world changed since the fall of the Soviet Union?

How did we become embroiled in forever culture war, and which side is winning? Or how did we become so polarized?

How can we spot the difference between truth, lies, and different perspectives in a democratic society.


Please read the "Course Requirements" page (policies on papers, class discussion, etc.)

Read the online syllabus to determine every day's assignment.

Readings to buy at the bookstore: The American Yawp (Yawp), Rick Perlstein, Nixonland.

Readings handed out in class at no charge: 430 Documents collection (Docs). You will need a three-ring binder to hold these.

ONLINE sources will occasionally be assigned.

Your job:

* Daily reading assignments and class participation. You will find the assignments posted on this site. Go to PAGE ONE of the syllabus here. The assignments appear on three different pages. See the page navigation menu at the top and bottom of every page.

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* Two short essays: either in-class or take-home.

* Quizzes/mini-essays: TBA

* Major research project. We'll spend about 13 class days on this. Detailed standards for the paper are posted on this website. We'll be doing our research during the first half of the term, so you may want to start thinking about choosing a topic. Try reading this.

For more on grading, rewrites, and other issues, please read Mr. Jordan's Course Requirements.

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