Righting the American Dream: How the Media Mainstreamed Reagan's Evangelical Vision (Hardcover)

Righting the American Dream: How the Media Mainstreamed Reagan's Evangelical Vision By Diane Winston Cover Image
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A provocative new history of how the news media facilitated the Reagan Revolution and the rise of the religious Right.
After two years in the White House, an aging and increasingly unpopular Ronald Reagan looked like a one-term president, but in 1983 something changed. Reagan spoke of his embattled agenda as a spiritual rather than a political project and cast his vision for limited government and market economics as the natural outworking of religious conviction. The news media broadcast this message with enthusiasm, and white evangelicals rallied to the president’s cause. With their support, Reagan won reelection and continued to dismantle the welfare state, unraveling a political consensus that stood for half a century.

In Righting the American Dream, Diane Winston reveals how support for Reagan emerged from a new religious vision of American identity circulating in the popular press. Through four key events—the “evil empire” speech, AIDS outbreak, invasion of Grenada, and rise in American poverty rates—Winston shows that many journalists uncritically adopted Reagan’s religious rhetoric and ultimately mainstreamed otherwise unpopular evangelical ideas about individual responsibility. The result is a provocative new account of how Reagan together with the press turned America to the right and initiated a social revolution that continues today.

About the Author

Diane Winston spent over a decade as a journalist and is now associate professor of journalism and Knight Chair in Media and Religion at the University of Southern California. She is the author or editor of several books, including Religion in Los Angeles: Religious Activism, Innovation, and Diversity in the Global City.

Praise For…

"Winston shows how the president harnessed the power of the news media to popularize a new ‘religious imaginary’ and thus to build support for his policies.”
— Jacobin

"A valuable analysis of the intertwining of faith and politics in America."
— Publishers Weekly

"Far from a study of religion in the Reagan presidency, the book considers the way Reagan recast presidential images and sound bites to appeal to a perceived sense of moral rightness and particularly to the reemerging Right, creating a social structure beneath his neoliberalism. . . . Careful readers will see in the methods and values explored in this volume the underpinnings of a less religious, more exploitative, and more recent presidential use of media."
— Choice

“Journalist Diane Winston examines the marriage of religious fervor and politics in the United States, tracing the mainstream version of this phenomenon back to President Ronald Reagan. When the then-struggling president began framing the country’s woes through a spiritual lens in 1983, he quickly garnered passionate support from white evangelicals. Winston offers a withering critique of the media and explains how journalists advanced Reagan’s black-and-white views on religion, economics, and society—perspectives that remain popular today.”
— Alta Journal

"Standard accounts of the Reagan era treat foreign policy, religious, and economic conservatism as separate spheres that rarely intersected, but Winston’s fascinating and well-argued account shows how the religious worldview championed by President Reagan reinforced the ideological transformation he sought in all three realms. Righting the American Dream will reshape studies of the media no less than our historical understanding of a pivotal era in the history of American religion.”
— E. J. Dionne Jr., author of 'Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism–From Goldwater to Trump and Beyond'

“Perhaps no figure is more responsible for the interplay of American media, religion, and politics today than Ronald Reagan. Righting the American Dream masterfully weaves the story of how Reagan created a seemingly organic, but actually entirely constructed, religious imaginary that continues to fundamentally shape the terrain of our most pressing cultural and moral debates.”
— Brie Loskota, Martin Marty Center for the Public Understanding of Religion at the University of Chicago

“Winston shows how Ronald Reagan had his cake and ate it too, perceiving the mainstream media as liberal while also using the press to promote and normalize his conservative agenda and a lived religion of American hyper-individualism and exceptionalism. A masterful critique, Righting the American Dream is key for anyone who wants to understand the impact of the Reagan era today.”
— Heather Hendershot, author of 'When the News Broke: Chicago 1968 and the Polarizing of America'

“Above and beyond the study of [the religious right,] Righting the American Dream is also an excellent and concise history of journalism in the United States. . . . A fascinating account of the birth and growth and present status of newspapers and electronic media.”
— Common Threads

"The familiar bond that connects con­servative economic ideology, traditional Christian values, and Republican party politics in the United States continues to shape electoral outcomes and bear schol­arly fruit. Diane Winston’s latest work . . . is rich in historical con­text, with relevant excursions into the ev­olution of the country’s media landscape, public opinion, and the relationship be­tween the two."
— Sociology of Religion

"[Winston] argues that the Regan Revolution was “as much a religious phenomenon as a political and economic one” and that the news media “normalized” this revolution by repeating and reporting Reagan’s worldview . . . [with] neither the means nor the capacity to present Reagan’s messaging with the deep, nuanced background information readers might have needed to understand or critique the president’s standpoint . . . Winston carries her argument about the lack of nuance into the present moment as well, using the epilogue to explore how Donald Trump’s ascent to the presidency in 2016 hinged on the same relationship between media and messenger, even after the “deathblow” to consensus media."
— American Journalism
Product Details
ISBN: 9780226824529
ISBN-10: 0226824527
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: July 28th, 2023
Pages: 256