If one word could encapsulate the current environment in the United States, divided would be a strong contender. The gap between the wealthiest and the rest of the nation is the widest in a century; scapegoating of and attacks on marginalized groups such as African Americans, women, and immigrants are at fever pitch; and emboldened white supremacists and widespread distrust of the media all have evaporated the arguably post–World War II “liberal consensus.”

Yet these developments have not emerged solely by chance, as historian Nancy MacLean brilliantly demonstrates in Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America. The country’s extreme rightward turn and the dangerous divisions it has spawned are the result of a long-term strategic game plan by far-right actors, one based on redefining government, traditionally the country’s unifying force, as the enemy.

With its focus on economic conservatism, Democracy in Chains...

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