When American Politicos First Weaponized Conspiracy Theories

Outlandish Rumors Helped Elect Presidents Jackson and Van Buren and Have Been With Us Ever Since

From claims that NASA faked the moon landing to suspicions about the U.S. government’s complicity in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Americans love conspiracy theories. Conspiratorial rhetoric in presidential campaigns and its distracting impact on the body politic have been a fixture in American elections from the beginning. But the period when conspiracies really flourished was the 1820s and 1830s, when modern-day American political parties developed, and the expansion of white male suffrage increased the nation’s voting base. These new parties, which included the Democrats, the National Republicans, …

When the President’s Best and Brightest Were Also the Richest

The Practice of Tapping the Moneyed Elite Began with WWI—and Was Surprisingly Scandal-Free

From our earliest days we Americans have embraced leaders from among the ranks of the nation’s moneyed elite. Voters set the tone when they chose George Washington, the wealthiest …

Inaugurations Are More Than a Hail to the (New) Chief

How This Enduring Ritual Highlights the Strengths—and Tensions—that Define the American Presidency

On Jan. 20, tens of millions of people will watch the pomp and spectacle of a uniquely American tradition. The hushed politicos in the pews of prayer service, the …

From Samuel Adams to JFK, American Political Dynasties Have Floundered

Democracy’s Power Resides With the People, Not Elected Leaders’ Heirs

It’s been a dozen years since the publication of my friend and former colleague Seth Mnookin’s book Hard News: The Scandals at The New York Times and Their Meaning for …

The Swag—and Swagger—Behind American Presidential Campaigns

From a Coloring Book to a Painted Axe, Election Ephemera Remind Us of Hard-Fought Elections of Yore

America’s founding is rooted in the power of the people to select their own leader. Efforts to sway the vote—via gritty campaigns driven by emotion, piles of cash, and brutal, …

The Rhetorical Power of Always Being at War

American Presidents Both Overstate Constant Threat and Understate the Human Cost as a Way to Ensure Faith in Government

An essential goal of American presidential rhetoric is to keep the public thinking the nation is constantly under threat, and thus reliably deferential to their ostensibly protective government.

You can …