Skip to main content

Righting the American Dream

How the Media Mainstreamed Reagan’s Evangelical Vision

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.

256 pages | 26 halftones | 6 x 9

History: American History

Political Science: American Government and Politics

Religion: American Religions, Christianity


"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'

Table of Contents


Part One. Context: Media, Politics, and Religion
1. Faith in the Media
2. 1973: The Body Politic and the Religious Body
3. An American Religious Imaginary

Part Two. Reporting Reagan’s Imaginary
4. Evil Empires: Communism and AIDS
5. The “New Patriotism”: The Mission in Grenada
6. Scrooged: Moralizing Welfare and Racializing Poverty



Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press