Presentation at a political study retreat in Monroe, New York, on 5 June 2011.
I'm going to try to give you an overview of right-wing movements in the U.S. and how they've developed over the past several decades. This is not going to be comprehensive. Instead, I'll focus on a few examples of specific movements and some of the kinds of issues and dynamics that I think are important for an overall understanding of the right. But before that, let me make a few general points about the right and how I approach it.
Rightward shift since the 1970s
The United States has seen a major upsurge of right-wing movements more or less continuously since the late 1970s -- from the so-called New Right and the Reagan Revolution of thirty years ago to the Tea Party and the anti-immigrant movement of today. Part of the impact of this upsurge is that it's helped to bring about a whole rightward shift in what people consider mainstream political discourse.
To help put this in perspective, here's a little exercise: Imagine a president who expands affirmative action, actively promotes school desegregation, enacts important new laws in social welfare, environmental protection, occupational health and safety, and consumer protection, supports comprehensive health insurance and a system of guaranteed income for all citizens, and whose Justice Department opposes the RICO Act on the grounds that it gives the government powers that are much too broad and sweeping for prosecuting criminals. In 2011, such a president would be considered far to left of Barack Obama and far to the left of almost everyone in Congress. Forty years ago, such a president was called Richard Nixon. That's the shift I'm talking about.