The President is an agent of international communism. Elites are surrendering American sovereignty to the United Nations. Foreign troops are massing in Mexico, and the Georgia swamps, prior to a takeover of the US.

Those rumours sound contemporary but they are not. They were circulating in the late 1950s, when Dwight Eisenhower, a military hero (and Republican) was the President, and persisted well into the 1960s when American democracy suffered one of its greatest trials. The 1960s were marked by three terrible assassinations (the two Kennedys and Martin Luther King), riots in major cities and huge political division.

A look back to the 1950s and 1960s can tell us quite a lot about the parlous state of American democracy today. The era demonstrated that it was perfectly possible to spread conspiracy theories, and foment social division, in a pre-internet age. It showed that democracy falters if one group believes rule by the other side to be “illegitimate”. And it revealed the problems that occur when a majority is asked (against its will) to cede ground to a persecuted minority. …


Philip Coggan

Economist columnist, opinions generally my own, typos always my fault. Author of Paper Promises, The Last Vote and The Money Machine

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