A Clear-Eyed Look from the Inside–and the Outside

How the Right Lost Its Mind by Charlie Sykes, 2017, available in hardback and Kindle fomats.

This book is the third one I’ve read since last fall about our current political landscape. I wrote a post about the first one, Matt K. Lewis’s Too Dumb to Fail: How the GOP Betrayed the Reagan Revolution to Win Elections (and How It Can Reclaim Its Conservative Roots), in August of last year and have since read Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle by Sen. Jeff Flake. Both are excellent, both cover roughly the same territory, and now I’m adding this one to the list. I think that’ll do it for now.

Why post about a clearly political book on this non-political website? As I said when I wrote about Lewis’s book, part of the reason is simply that I try to write about a book every week, and this is the most recent one I’ve finished. Secondly, the writing is excellent. Thirdly, and most important, the book is a good eye-opener to some issues and ideas that not everyone may be familiar with. There’s no true happiness to be found in living in a false bubble, blindly trusting that everything is going along swimmingly. You may be fooled for awhile, but eventually them chickens will come home to roost. Much better to know the facts of the case as soon as possible. (See my post “No Ostriches Need Apply” from this past August.)

Charlie Sykes was a conservative radio talk-show host in Wisconsin from 1993 to 2016 and resigned just before the election last year. His refusal to back Donald Trump caused a huge drop in his show’s popularity, although he said in his resignation announcement that he had made the decision to retire back in 2015. Whatever the specific timing and reasoning, I think it’s fair to say that Sykes paid a heavy price for his stance. Whatever your own opinions may be, you have to hand it to someone who takes a hit for his beliefs. May Sykes’ tribe increase, I say.

While the book does cover some very familiar ground, notably the history of political conservatism from Reagan to the present day, Sykes weaves his personal history into the narrative. He began his political life as a liberal Democrat, following in the footsteps of his father. At some point he became disillusioned with the Left and made somewhat of an about-face, an action that led to his career in talk radio. So his early life follows much the same narrative, albeit within a much narrower arc, as that of Whittaker Chambers. (Don’t know who he is? Maybe I’ll write about him at some point. Another truly fascinating character.) Now, though, he feels estranged from both ends of the spectrum. What’s a conscientious conservative to do? Well, Sykes spends the last part of his book describing his new identity: as a “contrarian.” It’s a label that has a lot of appeal to me personally, by the way. I very much dislike the kind of partisan thinking that says, “If you’re for X, you must be against Y. There is no middle ground. If you’re not fur us, you’re agin us.” (This “he that is not with me is against me” is applicable only in the area of the absolute truth of the Gospel, folks—not in anything else!)

So no matter what your own political views may be, I think you’ll find this book to be a clear-eyed look into one of the most muddled, chaotic periods of our nation’s history. Sykes’ struggles are, or should be, our own: to figure out the truth, our response to that truth, and the consequences of that response. We owe our country, and our consciences, nothing less.

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