The Mast-Head: The Roots of Hate

A straight line can be drawn from the birth of the modern reactionary right in the 1980s to the ascendancy of similar thinking today

Laura Ingraham, the right-wing radio and television personality, is on a shortlist of people being considered as Donald Trump’s press secretary, at least that is what the news media said Monday. 

Ms. Ingraham and I were undergraduates at Dartmouth College at the same time, and, thinking back to those days, I believe a straight line can be drawn from the birth of the modern reactionary right in the 1980s to the ascendancy of similar thinking today. Ms. Ingraham, an early editor of The Dartmouth Review, a deliberately provocative campus newspaper, helped establish the movement.

I now wish I had saved copies of The Review, if only to see if my recollections verify the idea that Mr. Trump and his backers’ willingness to say anything to further their cause really has its roots in those times.

Perhaps the worst political change stemming from the period was a sense among the fringe right that simply having conservative views was not enough. Those around The Dartmouth Review in those days acted as if mean-spiritedness and ridicule were essential tools of a revolution. 

In my memory, this was exemplified most when a Review writer secretly tape-recorded a meeting among student members of a gay group and then published some of what was said. Ms. Ingraham was editor of the paper at the time. 

This followed other attacks in The Review’s pages on gay students and Jews, and a particularly racist take on affirmative action. This was groundbreaking stuff in the 1980s, but what with contemporary talk radio and the emergence of Stephen Bannon’s Breitbart News in the halls of power, it is no longer shocking.

Many of us can admit to having done stupid things in college. I was disciplined for my role in a student takeover of the Baker Library tower, which was a response to the sledgehammer smashing by right-wing students of an anti-apartheid shantytown on the campus green. I grew up, and think I moved past such things. Ms. Ingraham apparently did not, and it now appears that she was the smart one.

What was so baffling at Dartmouth then was that the leaders of the new right did not simply argue for their political and social views but wrapped them with so much ridicule of others.

Those of us who did not think abusing those with whom we disagreed was decent behavior mostly shook our heads, puzzled. But their divisive talk got them attention, which was the point, after all. Now, with Mr. Trump’s victory, these tactics have proven a winning strategy. It is only fitting that Ms. Ingraham, one of the hate-right’s earliest leaders, should be rewarded.