Trumping America by Henry A. Giroux

08 July 2015 Truthout | News Analysis

Donald Trump is the face of a political system mired in corruption, an economic system that is as ruthless as it is authoritarian, and a culture that has lost its critical embrace of historical memory. (Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

Donald Trump lit up the mainstream media spectacle by stating in his presidential candidacy announcement, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” (1) The mainstream press could not let such an opportune racist outburst go unnoticed. After all, it was perfect fodder for fueling the corporate media’s never-ending spectacle of entertainment. Mouthed from one of America’s favorite billionaire buffoons, his racist and xenophobic statements have been defended as brave, dismissed as uncivil, or set aside  as the colorful discourse of a cantankerous, rich eccentric. Such commentary collapses into the realm of the personal by privatizing racism. That is, it ignores the deep seated contours of systemic racism and xenophobia and the conditions that promote it, instead focusing on the individual who spouts such poisonous racist language. Rather than viewing Trump’s comments as a political virus that has deep roots in nativist apoplexy and a long legacy of racism and state violence, his despicable remarks are reduced to an uncivil rant by a bullying member of the billionaire class with no reference to the unmarked status of white privilege and its underlying logic of white supremacy.  Such commentary at its core is superficial, duplicitous, and represents a flight from responsibility and a politics of denial.

Not only did mainstream media replay Trump’s statements over and over again, without any serious criticism, but also they filled the 24/7 news cycle with endless interviews in which Trump defended his remarks, proving the obvious about his arrogance and stupidity. Treated more as an indication of Trump’s no-holds-barred personality than as another example of the myth of the United States’ claim to the comfortable status of an alleged postracial society, Trump’s remarks were viewed as indiscrete and colorful rather than symptomatic of the racial hatred lying beneath the culture of dominant politics.

The real issue that needs to be examined is what kind of society produces a Donald Trump.

The racial cleansing machine was in full operating mode as the dominant media apparatuses rushed to interview a variety of faux commentators about how they felt about Trump’s remarks with little attempt to take the high ground and challenge many of the remarks that were made. On the contrary, the only truth or sense of injustice displayed by CNN, NBC, CBS and other major news outlets lies in the assumption that the meaning of any issue rests with making sure that the public is exposed to a narrow array of views in the interest of balance and journalistic objectivity.

According to this logic, balance – not morality, justice or evidence – is the ultimate arbiter of truth. Hence, Trump’s vicious, racist remarks enabled the mainstream media to let the American people hear from Sen. Ted Cruz who argued that he liked Donald Trump and was glad he was bringing attention to the issue of “illegal immigration.” (2) Former Sen. Rick Santorum joined Cruz in praising Trump for focusing on “illegal immigration,” absent of any serious criticism of his racist remarks. (3) Other conservative politicians such as Sen. Lindsey Graham and former Gov. Rick Perry condemned Trump’s remarks but nothing was said in the press about how they had played a key role in supporting legislation that was both vicious and racist. (4)

A Long History of Racist Political Candidates

Liberals denounced Trump but said little about the history of both major parties in which policies were developed that undermined the welfare system, created the racist incarceration state and supported a tough-on-crime drug war that decimated Black communities. For instance, Jonathan Chait seems less concerned about a Republican Party that has promoted a number of racist policies such as trying to disable the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and militarizing the southern border than he is about “conservative thought leaders [who] feel compelled to defend Trump’s nativist ramblings.” (5) Chait’s confusion is evident in the title of his article, “Why Are Conservatives Defending Donald Trump?” which should read “Should We Be Surprised That Conservatives Are Defending Donald Trump?”

Trump is the hyperventilating canary in the coal mine reminding us all that social death is a looming threat.

The mainstream media, conservatives and a number of liberal commentators seem to have allowed Trump’s ode to racial cleansing to cloud their sense of recent history. After all, it was only a few decades ago that Kirk Fordice, a right-wing Republican, ended his victorious campaign for governor – orchestrated largely as an attack on crime and welfare cheaters – with a still photograph of a Black woman and her baby. (6) Of course, this was just a few years after George H.W. Bush ran his famous Willie Horton ad and a year before Dan Quayle, in the 1992 presidential campaign, used the racially coded category of welfare to attack a sitcom character, Murphy Brown.

More recently, there is the incident in which the press revealed that then Texas Gov. Rick Perry was “hosting fellow lawmakers, friends and supporters at his family’s secluded West Texas hunting camp, a place known by the name painted in block letters across a large, flat rock standing upright at its gated entrance. ‘N*****head,’ it read.” And, of course, the racist invectives aimed at President Obama by a number of Republicans are legion. (7) Bob Herbert in 2009 cited a number of racist incidents aimed at President Obama. He writes:

When a gorilla escaped from a zoo in Columbia, S.C., a longtime Republican activist, Rusty DePass, described it on his Facebook page as one of Michelle Obama’s ancestors. Among the posters at [a] gathering of conservative protesters in Washington was one that said, ‘The zoo has an African lion and the White House has a lyin’ African.’ These are bits and pieces of an increasingly unrestrained manifestation of racism directed toward Mr. Obama that is being fed by hate-mongers on talk radio and is widely tolerated, if not encouraged, by Republican Party leaders. It’s disgusting, and it’s dangerous. But it’s the same old filthy racism that has been there all along and that has been exploited by the G.O.P. since the 1960s.

Frank Rich, at a different time, responded to what can be called the ever-present historical amnesia by politicians and media pundits about the overt racism displayed by the Republican Party in terms that are as apt today as they were when first written. He writes:

Tell that to George W. Bush, who beat John McCain in the 2000 South Carolina primary after what Newsweek called “a smear campaign” of leaflets, emails and telephone calls calling attention to the McCains’ “black child” (an adopted daughter from Bangladesh). Or to Sonny Perdue, the [former] Republican governor of Georgia, elected in part by demagoguing the sanctity of the Confederate flag. (8)

More insightful, liberal commentators such as Eugene Robinson called Trump a “farce to be reckoned with” while Juan Cole argued that Trump failed to use more discrete racial codes because “billionaires and fabulously wealthy people in general are surrounded by yes-men.” (9) While Robinson and Cole may be right, their commentary appears to miss the mark. Adding to the chorus of liberal denunciations were the public announcements by a number of corporations that they were cutting their business ties with Trump because of the offensive nature of his remarks. Largely praised in the media, such corporations were applauded for taking the high moral ground as most commentators conveniently forgot that these were the same corporations battling unions, polluting the environment, underpaying their workers and exercising an economic chokehold over the commanding institutions of American life.

What Kind of Society Produces Donald Trump?

In response to all of this fanfare over Trump’s remarks, I argue that the recent widespread public and media focus given to his display of racism, narcissism and arrogance misses the point. I think the real issue that needs to be examined is what kind of society produces a Donald Trump.

Trump is a cruder example of a social order that has always been deeply racist – given its legacy of settler colonialism, chattel slavery and its violently enforced xenophobia. Trump exemplifies a no-holds-barred form of xenophobia that shares the ideologies of hate that produced the extremism that resulted in the Oklahoma City bombing, the right-wing militias that ambush immigrants on the border and the hardcore survivalists who argue that immigrants are undermining the foundation of a white Christian nation. This racist and xenophobic ideology, which he articulates whenever he appears before the media, is testimony to the degree to which racism is at the core of a society in which democracy is in eclipse.

In addition, Trump provides a more direct and arrogant persona that produces the ugliness of a society ruled entirely by finance capital and savage market values – one that prides itself on the denigration of others, justice, compassion and equality. Trump is the hyperventilating yellow canary in the coal mine reminding us all that social death is a looming threat. He is emblematic of a kind of hypermasculinity that rules dead societies. He is the zombie with the blond wig holding a flamethrower behind his back. He is the perfect representation of the society of the spectacle with a perverse grin and the endless discourse of shock and humiliation. Trump’s hysterical rants are, as Frank Rich once argued, “another symptom of a political virus that can’t be quarantined and whose cure is as yet unknown.”

Trump is the unfiltered symbol of the new authoritarianism, emblematic of a kind of boots-on-your-face politics nurtured by an economic and cultural system that combines the endless search for capital with the unceasing production of violence. Trump is the living embodiment of the main character in the film American Psycho – a symbol of corporate domination on steroids, an out of control authoritarian parading and performing unknowingly as a clown and as a symbol of unchecked narcissism and a bearer of a suffocating culture of fear. He is the symbol of a failed sociality and a declining social order.

Trump is simply the infantile and offensive persona of a society dominated by financial barbarians.

What the US public needs is an ongoing analysis that connects Trump’s remarks with a long history in the Republican Party and the larger society in which instances of racism, anti-immigration venom and disdain for the poor have qualified as standard rhetoric, procedure and policy for more extremists elements in the Republican Party and its more recent Tea Party wing. Such an analysis would have to connect Trump’s remarks to the festering institutional and symbolic forms of racism and violence that have assumed the status of a low-intensity war in the United States, especially since the 1980s. This legacy of racism has been at the core of the American experience extending from slavery and Jim Crow to the murder of Emmett Till and the acts of racist violence, discourses and policies that marked the birth of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. After 1980, it was evoked in the language of color blindness and more recently in the Orwellian discourse of a postracial society. All the while, its economic, political and social underpinnings remained the same. Trump has simply discarded the euphemisms and retreated to the crude, older discourse of overt racism and xenophobia.

Trump is indicative of a society marked by the inordinate influence in the political and cultural realms of religious fundamentalists who insist that progressives undermine the legacy of the United States as a white, Christian nation, that social justice is part of a Marxist ideology and is anti-Christian, that government represents the anti-Christ, and that supporting the permanent warfare state is central to the mission of the Christian right. Chris Hedges captures the authoritarian and militaristic elements in this type of Christian-right-wing fundamentalism. He writes:

The cult of masculinity, as in all fascist movements, pervades the ideology of the Christian right. The movement uses religion to sanctify military and heroic “virtues,” glorify blind obedience and order over reason and conscience, and pander to the euphoria of collective emotions. Feminism and homosexuality, believers are told, have rendered the American male physically and spiritually impotent. Jesus, for the Christian right, is a man of action, casting out demons, battling the Antichrist, attacking hypocrites and ultimately slaying nonbelievers. This cult of masculinity, with its glorification of violence, is appealing to the powerless. It stokes the anger of many Americans, mostly white and economically disadvantaged, and encourages them to lash back at those who, they are told, seek to destroy them. The paranoia about the outside world is fostered by bizarre conspiracy theories, many of which are prominent in the rhetoric of those leading the government shutdown. Believers, especially now, are called to a perpetual state of war with the “secular humanist” state. The march, they believe, is irreversible. Global war, even nuclear war, is the joyful harbinger of the Second Coming. And leading the avenging armies is an angry, violent Messiah who dooms billions of apostates to death. (10)

Trump is just one egregious exemplar of the party of white men who see themselves under siege by people of color. It is also the party of buffoons and anti-intellectuals such as Rick Santorum and religious extremists who believe in apocalyptic prophecies and the Rapture. It is also the party of political fundamentalists who hate democracy, attack women’s rights, destroy or underfund health-care programs that benefit the poor, turn back hard fought for voting rights, especially for Black people, and believe governance is a tool of the financial elite.

Trump’s Party of Fundamentalists

Trump is simply the most outspoken member of a party of economic fundamentalists who believe that state power and corporate power are synonymous and that the forces of the market should govern all of social life. Trump is a more visible symbol of a party, if not social order, that produces massive inequality with policies that favor the rich and corporations and punish everyone else as well as those institutions that promote the common good.

Trump personifies perfectly a party of educational fundamentalists – that is, a party that makes ignorance a priority while viewing evidence-based arguments as a liability, only to be dismissed with disdain. This is the party that censors textbooks, imposes mindless pedagogies of memorization and test taking on students (along with the Democratic Party), denies climate change has anything to do with human activity, supports creationism and floods the mainstream media with a never-ending stream of civic illiteracy.

Trump’s candidacy offers the possibility for a new discourse of critique and hope.

Jeb Bush, considered a moderate politically, while governor of Florida signed a bill which declared that “American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed. That factual history, the law states, shall be viewed as knowable, teachable, and testable.” (11) For all intents and purposes, this bill did more than undermine any form of teaching that recognized history is subject to interpretation; it imposed a suffocating ideology on teachers and students by declaring that matters of debate and interpretation undermine the very process of teaching and learning. This is more than conceptual stupidity; it is an attack on reason itself, one that provides security for the apostles of state power who, as Noam Chomsky has argued, is intent on dismantling dissent in order to “protect themselves from the scrutiny of their own populations.” (12)

Richard Hofstadter once warned that anti-intellectualism was a strong undercurrent of American life. Not only was he right, but he would be shocked to discover that today anti-intellectualism has gone mainstream and not only has been normalized but validated by right-wing extremists governing the Republican Party, which Trump willingly embraces. For Trump, emotion vanquishes reason, understanding and thoughtfulness. Bullying and shock attacks now replace any viable notion of dialogue. Of course, Trump’s embrace of ignorance and his willingness to make stupidity a trademark of his identity points to a number of forces in American life that are not mentioned in the media when Trump is denounced as illiterate. As Susan Jacoby has argued, these would include:

fundamentalist forms of religion in current America … the abysmal level of public education … the widespread inability to distinguish between science and pseudoscience … the dumbing-down of the media and politics [and] the consequences of a culture of serious reading being replaced by a rapid-fire, short-attention-span-provoking, over-stimulating, largely visual, information-spewing environment. (13)

Trump is representative of a publicity-branding machine that funds and promotes conservative institutes that produce and legitimate anti-public intellectuals whose role is to snarl at the victims of poverty and other social problems, disdains public institutions in the service of the public good and does everything possible to promote a culture marked by a depoliticizing moral and political vacancy. Trump is simply the brash and strident clown leading a parade of politicians who are the ground troops for a new type of authoritarianism that rewards and revels in thoughtlessness and an updated revival of a survival-of-the-fittest ethic – celebrated in his reality TV game show, “The Apprentice.” Trump and his ilk of like-minded politicians are the brown shirts of our time dressed up in suits rather than menacing military uniforms. They are the brutes whose minds are unburdened by a complicated thought, choking on their own ignorance and moral and political certainties. They represent one register of neoliberalism and the army of hedge fund criminals who are aggressively attempting to destroy democracy in the United States.

Focusing exclusively on Trump’s excesses, buffoonery and incendiary remarks is welcomed fodder for the mainstream media spectacle in which news is replaced by entertainment, violence and idiocy parading as serious commentary. It is also a political and depoliticizing diversion, a kind of reality TV show engineered to misrepresent reality rather than engage it critically. What should be addressed when reporting about Trump is not how offensive he is politically, intellectually and morally, but how he has come to symbolize something dangerous in US society – a society increasingly haunted by the ghost of Pinochet and the legacy of other dictatorships – as it quickly moves toward becoming an unapologetic authoritarian state.

Donald Trump is the face of a political system mired in corruption, an economic system that is as ruthless as it is authoritarian, and a culture that has lost its critical embrace of historical memory, public values and moral compass that inspires and energizes. We live in the age of not only the corrupt but also the shameless. Trump is simply the infantile and offensive persona of a society dominated by financial barbarians who are more than willing to place most Americans in strangulating debt, relegate young people to low paying jobs, impose levels of inequality that destroy families, produce life-threatening abjection, and celebrate corporate criminogenic cultures and institutions. Under such circumstances, the rich commit crimes with impunity while the poor are put in jail in record numbers. Depravity and illegality feed each other as words, sustained arguments and any vestige of thoughtfulness are replaced by sound bites, one-liners and promotional announcements. Under such circumstances, as many of Trump’s interviews make clear, dialogue becomes a political liability and is replaced by the spectacle of bullying, shouting and unfettered arrogance.

Don’t Get Distracted by the Buffoonery

Rather than focusing on Trump’s idiotic statements, which offers him endless platforms in which to turn his buffoonery into a performance, there is a need to critically engage his performative displays within a broader context of political, economic and social corruption and the criminogenic policies and practices that sustain it and offer people points of identification. One important line of inquiry might focus on what cultural circuits, points of connection, internalized values, discourses and pedagogies of repression are responsible for both producing and legitimating the likes of Donald Trump. What does Trump’s celebrity status and the conditions that produce it say about his connection to the group of despicable patriotic fakers, who largely constitute the Republican Party, a party with a long legacy of racism recently made clear in the debate over the Confederate flag and the synergies of hate it inspires?

How might Trump’s sudden popularity among conservative constituencies be understood within a plethora of media platforms that serve to flatten consciousness, erase public memory and champion the thrills of the digital revolution at the expense of what Leon Wieseltier calls “the old pleasures of erudition and interpretation.” (14) What is the role between money in politics and Trump’s run for the Republican presidential nomination? What does Trump’s appearance within the current historical conjuncture suggest about the crisis of historical memory, agency and democracy? How might Trump’s campaign be used not in the service of the spectacle but as a serious starting point for analyzing the deadening economic policies, persistent racism and culture of cruelty that mark neoliberal capitalism? How might the historical transition from the high point of social democracy under Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson to the start of neoliberal rule under Ronald Reagan and its endpoint under the presidential nomination of Donald Trump be understood in political, economic and pedagogical terms?

Rather than despair or laugh over the spectacle of Trump’s media romp, a more promising beginning might be to recognize the utter intellectual, moral and political bankruptcy of the extremists now running the US government and economy of which Trump is symptomatic. This suggests the possibility of rethinking politics in the way the Black Lives Matter movement is doing, one that is connecting different groups under the banner not of isolated and short-lived protest demonstrations but calls for real ideological and structural change.

I believe that Trump’s candidacy offers the possibility for a new discourse of critique and hope, of sustained criticism and the possibility to imagine what the next decade could be like in the advent of a massive, innovative social and political formation willing to unite a fragmented left around a call for a radical democracy, rather than simply liberal reforms. The good news is that economic domination, which is what Trump personifies, cannot by itself maintain an oppressive social system. Ruptures and contradictions happen under neoliberalism but they must be seized as a matter of informed consciousness, as a detour through new framing mechanisms and as an investment in new concepts, ideas and thoughts that unsettle common sense, offer new alternatives and infuse the present with a sense of a future that is ripe with new possibilities.

Footnotes

1. As is well known, a number of studies repudiate Trump’s remarks. For example, see: Esther Yu-Hsi Lee, “An Undocumented Immigrant Killed An American. That Doesn’t Prove All Immigrants Are Criminals.” ThinkProgress (July 7, 2015). Online: http://thinkprogress.org/immigration/2015/07/07/3677443/san-francisco-killing-woman-immigrant/; Esther Yu-Hsi Lee, “Native-Born Americans More Likely To Commit Crimes Than Immigrants, Study Finds,” ThinkProgress (October 20, 2013). Online: http://thinkprogress.org/immigration/2013/10/20/2807051/native-born-commit-crime/; Steve Chapman, “Trump and the Myth of Immigrant Crime,” TownHall (July 5, 2015). Online: http://townhall.com/columnists/stevechapman/2015/07/05/trump-and-the-myth-of-immigrant-crime-n2020695/page/full

2. Ginger Gibson, “Donald Trump Immigration Statements Draw Criticism, Praise,” International Business Times (July 5, 2015). Online: http://www.ibtimes.com/donald-trump-immigration-statements-draw-criticism-praise-1996126

3. CBS News, “Santorum on Trump: ‘A unique individual’” CBS News (July 5, 2015). Online: http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/santorum-on-trump-a-unique-individual/

4. For a summary of the comments by Republican Party leaders in response to Trump’s incendiary remarks, see Esther Yu-Hsi Lee, “What Republican Leaders Have To Say About Donald Trump,” ThinkProgress (July 6, 2015). Online: http://thinkprogress.org/immigration/2015/07/06/3676622/donald-trump-republicans-stance/

5. Jonathan Chait, “Why Are Conservatives Defending Donald Trump?” New York (July 2, 2015). Online: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/07/why-are-conservatives-defending-donald-trump.html

6. Cited in David Roediger, Toward the Abolition of Whiteness (London: Verso Press, 1994), p. 8.

7. Chauncey Devega, “The GOP’s secret “n-word” politics: What their latest Obama outrage is really about – In the Age of Obama, conservatives continue their tradition of racial slurring – without actually saying the word,” Salon (June 24, 2015). Online: http://www.salon.com/2015/06/24/the_gop_is_still_the_party_of_the_n_word/

8. Frank Rich, “A Bonfire of the Vanities,” The New York Times (December 22, 2002), p. A35.

9. Eugene Robinson, “Trump: A Farce to Be Reckoned With,” Truthdig (July 3, 2015). Online: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/trump_a_farce_to_be_reckoned_with_20150703; Juan Cole, “For Donald Trump, Forgetting to Use Racial Code Words Was an Expensive Mistake,” Informed Comment (July 3, 2015). Online: http://www.juancole.com/2015/07/comments-expensive-mouthing.html

10. Chris Hedges, “The Radical Christian Right and the War on Government,” Truthdig (October 6, 2013). Online: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_radical_christian_right_and_the_war_on_government_20131006

11. Robert Jensen, “Florida’s Fear of History: New Law Undermines Critical Thinking,” CommonDreams.org (July 17, 2006), http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0717-22.htm

12. Noam Chomsky, “An Ignorant Public Is the Real Kind of Security Our Govt. Is After,” AlterNet (March 3, 2014). Online: http://www.alternet.org/chomsky-staggering-differences-between-how-people-and-powerful-define-security

13. Cited in Judith Shapiro, “Staying Smart in Dumbed-Down Times,” Inside Higher Ed (June 13, 2008). Online: http://insidehighered.com/views/2008/06/13/shapiro. See: Susan Jacoby, The Age of American Unreason (New York: Vintage, reprint, 2009).

14. Leon Wieseltier, “Among the Disrupted,” International New York Times (January 7, 2015). Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/18/books/review/among-the-disrupted.html?_r=0

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission of the author.

 

Henry A. Giroux

Henry A. Giroux currently holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department and the Paulo Freire Chair in Critical Pedagogy at The McMaster Institute for Innovation & Excellence in Teaching & Learning. He also is a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson University. His most recent books include Youth in Revolt: Reclaiming a Democratic Future (Paradigm 2013), America’s Educational Deficit and the War on Youth (Monthly Review Press, 2013), Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education (Haymarket Press, 2014), The Violence of Organized Forgetting: Thinking Beyond America’s Disimagination Machine (City Lights, 2014), Zombie Politics in the Age of Casino Capitalism, 2nd edition (Peter Lang 2014), Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of the Spectacle, co-authored with Brad Evans, (City Lights Books 2015), Dangerous Thinking in the Age of the New Authoritarianism (Paradigm Publisher 2015). The Toronto Star named Henry Giroux one of the 12 Canadians changing the way we think! Giroux is also a member of Truthout’s Board of Directors. His website is www.henryagiroux.com.

 

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Henry A. Giroux | Trumping America

Wednesday, 08 July 2015 00:00 By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout | News Analysis

 

Donald Trump is the face of a political system mired in corruption, an economic system that is as ruthless as it is authoritarian, and a culture that has lost its critical embrace of historical memory. (Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

Donald Trump lit up the mainstream media spectacle by stating in his presidential candidacy announcement, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” (1) The mainstream press could not let such an opportune racist outburst go unnoticed. After all, it was perfect fodder for fueling the corporate media’s never-ending spectacle of entertainment. Mouthed from one of America’s favorite billionaire buffoons, his racist and xenophobic statements have been defended as brave, dismissed as uncivil, or set aside  as the colorful discourse of a cantankerous, rich eccentric. Such commentary collapses into the realm of the personal by privatizing racism. That is, it ignores the deep seated contours of systemic racism and xenophobia and the conditions that promote it, instead focusing on the individual who spouts such poisonous racist language. Rather than viewing Trump’s comments as a political virus that has deep roots in nativist apoplexy and a long legacy of racism and state violence, his despicable remarks are reduced to an uncivil rant by a bullying member of the billionaire class with no reference to the unmarked status of white privilege and its underlying logic of white supremacy.  Such commentary at its core is superficial, duplicitous, and represents a flight from responsibility and a politics of denial.

Not only did mainstream media replay Trump’s statements over and over again, without any serious criticism, but also they filled the 24/7 news cycle with endless interviews in which Trump defended his remarks, proving the obvious about his arrogance and stupidity. Treated more as an indication of Trump’s no-holds-barred personality than as another example of the myth of the United States’ claim to the comfortable status of an alleged postracial society, Trump’s remarks were viewed as indiscrete and colorful rather than symptomatic of the racial hatred lying beneath the culture of dominant politics.

The real issue that needs to be examined is what kind of society produces a Donald Trump.

The racial cleansing machine was in full operating mode as the dominant media apparatuses rushed to interview a variety of faux commentators about how they felt about Trump’s remarks with little attempt to take the high ground and challenge many of the remarks that were made. On the contrary, the only truth or sense of injustice displayed by CNN, NBC, CBS and other major news outlets lies in the assumption that the meaning of any issue rests with making sure that the public is exposed to a narrow array of views in the interest of balance and journalistic objectivity.

According to this logic, balance – not morality, justice or evidence – is the ultimate arbiter of truth. Hence, Trump’s vicious, racist remarks enabled the mainstream media to let the American people hear from Sen. Ted Cruz who argued that he liked Donald Trump and was glad he was bringing attention to the issue of “illegal immigration.” (2) Former Sen. Rick Santorum joined Cruz in praising Trump for focusing on “illegal immigration,” absent of any serious criticism of his racist remarks. (3) Other conservative politicians such as Sen. Lindsey Graham and former Gov. Rick Perry condemned Trump’s remarks but nothing was said in the press about how they had played a key role in supporting legislation that was both vicious and racist. (4)

A Long History of Racist Political Candidates

Liberals denounced Trump but said little about the history of both major parties in which policies were developed that undermined the welfare system, created the racist incarceration state and supported a tough-on-crime drug war that decimated Black communities. For instance, Jonathan Chait seems less concerned about a Republican Party that has promoted a number of racist policies such as trying to disable the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and militarizing the southern border than he is about “conservative thought leaders [who] feel compelled to defend Trump’s nativist ramblings.” (5) Chait’s confusion is evident in the title of his article, “Why Are Conservatives Defending Donald Trump?” which should read “Should We Be Surprised That Conservatives Are Defending Donald Trump?”

Trump is the hyperventilating canary in the coal mine reminding us all that social death is a looming threat.

The mainstream media, conservatives and a number of liberal commentators seem to have allowed Trump’s ode to racial cleansing to cloud their sense of recent history. After all, it was only a few decades ago that Kirk Fordice, a right-wing Republican, ended his victorious campaign for governor – orchestrated largely as an attack on crime and welfare cheaters – with a still photograph of a Black woman and her baby. (6) Of course, this was just a few years after George H.W. Bush ran his famous Willie Horton ad and a year before Dan Quayle, in the 1992 presidential campaign, used the racially coded category of welfare to attack a sitcom character, Murphy Brown.

More recently, there is the incident in which the press revealed that then Texas Gov. Rick Perry was “hosting fellow lawmakers, friends and supporters at his family’s secluded West Texas hunting camp, a place known by the name painted in block letters across a large, flat rock standing upright at its gated entrance. ‘N*****head,’ it read.” And, of course, the racist invectives aimed at President Obama by a number of Republicans are legion. (7) Bob Herbert in 2009 cited a number of racist incidents aimed at President Obama. He writes:

When a gorilla escaped from a zoo in Columbia, S.C., a longtime Republican activist, Rusty DePass, described it on his Facebook page as one of Michelle Obama’s ancestors. Among the posters at [a] gathering of conservative protesters in Washington was one that said, ‘The zoo has an African lion and the White House has a lyin’ African.’ These are bits and pieces of an increasingly unrestrained manifestation of racism directed toward Mr. Obama that is being fed by hate-mongers on talk radio and is widely tolerated, if not encouraged, by Republican Party leaders. It’s disgusting, and it’s dangerous. But it’s the same old filthy racism that has been there all along and that has been exploited by the G.O.P. since the 1960s.

Frank Rich, at a different time, responded to what can be called the ever-present historical amnesia by politicians and media pundits about the overt racism displayed by the Republican Party in terms that are as apt today as they were when first written. He writes:

Tell that to George W. Bush, who beat John McCain in the 2000 South Carolina primary after what Newsweek called “a smear campaign” of leaflets, emails and telephone calls calling attention to the McCains’ “black child” (an adopted daughter from Bangladesh). Or to Sonny Perdue, the [former] Republican governor of Georgia, elected in part by demagoguing the sanctity of the Confederate flag. (8)

More insightful, liberal commentators such as Eugene Robinson called Trump a “farce to be reckoned with” while Juan Cole argued that Trump failed to use more discrete racial codes because “billionaires and fabulously wealthy people in general are surrounded by yes-men.” (9) While Robinson and Cole may be right, their commentary appears to miss the mark. Adding to the chorus of liberal denunciations were the public announcements by a number of corporations that they were cutting their business ties with Trump because of the offensive nature of his remarks. Largely praised in the media, such corporations were applauded for taking the high moral ground as most commentators conveniently forgot that these were the same corporations battling unions, polluting the environment, underpaying their workers and exercising an economic chokehold over the commanding institutions of American life.

What Kind of Society Produces Donald Trump?

In response to all of this fanfare over Trump’s remarks, I argue that the recent widespread public and media focus given to his display of racism, narcissism and arrogance misses the point. I think the real issue that needs to be examined is what kind of society produces a Donald Trump.

Trump is a cruder example of a social order that has always been deeply racist – given its legacy of settler colonialism, chattel slavery and its violently enforced xenophobia. Trump exemplifies a no-holds-barred form of xenophobia that shares the ideologies of hate that produced the extremism that resulted in the Oklahoma City bombing, the right-wing militias that ambush immigrants on the border and the hardcore survivalists who argue that immigrants are undermining the foundation of a white Christian nation. This racist and xenophobic ideology, which he articulates whenever he appears before the media, is testimony to the degree to which racism is at the core of a society in which democracy is in eclipse.

In addition, Trump provides a more direct and arrogant persona that produces the ugliness of a society ruled entirely by finance capital and savage market values – one that prides itself on the denigration of others, justice, compassion and equality. Trump is the hyperventilating yellow canary in the coal mine reminding us all that social death is a looming threat. He is emblematic of a kind of hypermasculinity that rules dead societies. He is the zombie with the blond wig holding a flamethrower behind his back. He is the perfect representation of the society of the spectacle with a perverse grin and the endless discourse of shock and humiliation. Trump’s hysterical rants are, as Frank Rich once argued, “another symptom of a political virus that can’t be quarantined and whose cure is as yet unknown.”

Trump is the unfiltered symbol of the new authoritarianism, emblematic of a kind of boots-on-your-face politics nurtured by an economic and cultural system that combines the endless search for capital with the unceasing production of violence. Trump is the living embodiment of the main character in the film American Psycho – a symbol of corporate domination on steroids, an out of control authoritarian parading and performing unknowingly as a clown and as a symbol of unchecked narcissism and a bearer of a suffocating culture of fear. He is the symbol of a failed sociality and a declining social order.

Trump is simply the infantile and offensive persona of a society dominated by financial barbarians.

What the US public needs is an ongoing analysis that connects Trump’s remarks with a long history in the Republican Party and the larger society in which instances of racism, anti-immigration venom and disdain for the poor have qualified as standard rhetoric, procedure and policy for more extremists elements in the Republican Party and its more recent Tea Party wing. Such an analysis would have to connect Trump’s remarks to the festering institutional and symbolic forms of racism and violence that have assumed the status of a low-intensity war in the United States, especially since the 1980s. This legacy of racism has been at the core of the American experience extending from slavery and Jim Crow to the murder of Emmett Till and the acts of racist violence, discourses and policies that marked the birth of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. After 1980, it was evoked in the language of color blindness and more recently in the Orwellian discourse of a postracial society. All the while, its economic, political and social underpinnings remained the same. Trump has simply discarded the euphemisms and retreated to the crude, older discourse of overt racism and xenophobia.

Trump is indicative of a society marked by the inordinate influence in the political and cultural realms of religious fundamentalists who insist that progressives undermine the legacy of the United States as a white, Christian nation, that social justice is part of a Marxist ideology and is anti-Christian, that government represents the anti-Christ, and that supporting the permanent warfare state is central to the mission of the Christian right. Chris Hedges captures the authoritarian and militaristic elements in this type of Christian-right-wing fundamentalism. He writes:

The cult of masculinity, as in all fascist movements, pervades the ideology of the Christian right. The movement uses religion to sanctify military and heroic “virtues,” glorify blind obedience and order over reason and conscience, and pander to the euphoria of collective emotions. Feminism and homosexuality, believers are told, have rendered the American male physically and spiritually impotent. Jesus, for the Christian right, is a man of action, casting out demons, battling the Antichrist, attacking hypocrites and ultimately slaying nonbelievers. This cult of masculinity, with its glorification of violence, is appealing to the powerless. It stokes the anger of many Americans, mostly white and economically disadvantaged, and encourages them to lash back at those who, they are told, seek to destroy them. The paranoia about the outside world is fostered by bizarre conspiracy theories, many of which are prominent in the rhetoric of those leading the government shutdown. Believers, especially now, are called to a perpetual state of war with the “secular humanist” state. The march, they believe, is irreversible. Global war, even nuclear war, is the joyful harbinger of the Second Coming. And leading the avenging armies is an angry, violent Messiah who dooms billions of apostates to death. (10)

Trump is just one egregious exemplar of the party of white men who see themselves under siege by people of color. It is also the party of buffoons and anti-intellectuals such as Rick Santorum and religious extremists who believe in apocalyptic prophecies and the Rapture. It is also the party of political fundamentalists who hate democracy, attack women’s rights, destroy or underfund health-care programs that benefit the poor, turn back hard fought for voting rights, especially for Black people, and believe governance is a tool of the financial elite.

Trump’s Party of Fundamentalists

Trump is simply the most outspoken member of a party of economic fundamentalists who believe that state power and corporate power are synonymous and that the forces of the market should govern all of social life. Trump is a more visible symbol of a party, if not social order, that produces massive inequality with policies that favor the rich and corporations and punish everyone else as well as those institutions that promote the common good.

Trump personifies perfectly a party of educational fundamentalists – that is, a party that makes ignorance a priority while viewing evidence-based arguments as a liability, only to be dismissed with disdain. This is the party that censors textbooks, imposes mindless pedagogies of memorization and test taking on students (along with the Democratic Party), denies climate change has anything to do with human activity, supports creationism and floods the mainstream media with a never-ending stream of civic illiteracy.

Trump’s candidacy offers the possibility for a new discourse of critique and hope.

Jeb Bush, considered a moderate politically, while governor of Florida signed a bill which declared that “American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed. That factual history, the law states, shall be viewed as knowable, teachable, and testable.” (11) For all intents and purposes, this bill did more than undermine any form of teaching that recognized history is subject to interpretation; it imposed a suffocating ideology on teachers and students by declaring that matters of debate and interpretation undermine the very process of teaching and learning. This is more than conceptual stupidity; it is an attack on reason itself, one that provides security for the apostles of state power who, as Noam Chomsky has argued, is intent on dismantling dissent in order to “protect themselves from the scrutiny of their own populations.” (12)

Richard Hofstadter once warned that anti-intellectualism was a strong undercurrent of American life. Not only was he right, but he would be shocked to discover that today anti-intellectualism has gone mainstream and not only has been normalized but validated by right-wing extremists governing the Republican Party, which Trump willingly embraces. For Trump, emotion vanquishes reason, understanding and thoughtfulness. Bullying and shock attacks now replace any viable notion of dialogue. Of course, Trump’s embrace of ignorance and his willingness to make stupidity a trademark of his identity points to a number of forces in American life that are not mentioned in the media when Trump is denounced as illiterate. As Susan Jacoby has argued, these would include:

fundamentalist forms of religion in current America … the abysmal level of public education … the widespread inability to distinguish between science and pseudoscience … the dumbing-down of the media and politics [and] the consequences of a culture of serious reading being replaced by a rapid-fire, short-attention-span-provoking, over-stimulating, largely visual, information-spewing environment. (13)

Trump is representative of a publicity-branding machine that funds and promotes conservative institutes that produce and legitimate anti-public intellectuals whose role is to snarl at the victims of poverty and other social problems, disdains public institutions in the service of the public good and does everything possible to promote a culture marked by a depoliticizing moral and political vacancy. Trump is simply the brash and strident clown leading a parade of politicians who are the ground troops for a new type of authoritarianism that rewards and revels in thoughtlessness and an updated revival of a survival-of-the-fittest ethic – celebrated in his reality TV game show, “The Apprentice.” Trump and his ilk of like-minded politicians are the brown shirts of our time dressed up in suits rather than menacing military uniforms. They are the brutes whose minds are unburdened by a complicated thought, choking on their own ignorance and moral and political certainties. They represent one register of neoliberalism and the army of hedge fund criminals who are aggressively attempting to destroy democracy in the United States.

Focusing exclusively on Trump’s excesses, buffoonery and incendiary remarks is welcomed fodder for the mainstream media spectacle in which news is replaced by entertainment, violence and idiocy parading as serious commentary. It is also a political and depoliticizing diversion, a kind of reality TV show engineered to misrepresent reality rather than engage it critically. What should be addressed when reporting about Trump is not how offensive he is politically, intellectually and morally, but how he has come to symbolize something dangerous in US society – a society increasingly haunted by the ghost of Pinochet and the legacy of other dictatorships – as it quickly moves toward becoming an unapologetic authoritarian state.

Donald Trump is the face of a political system mired in corruption, an economic system that is as ruthless as it is authoritarian, and a culture that has lost its critical embrace of historical memory, public values and moral compass that inspires and energizes. We live in the age of not only the corrupt but also the shameless. Trump is simply the infantile and offensive persona of a society dominated by financial barbarians who are more than willing to place most Americans in strangulating debt, relegate young people to low paying jobs, impose levels of inequality that destroy families, produce life-threatening abjection, and celebrate corporate criminogenic cultures and institutions. Under such circumstances, the rich commit crimes with impunity while the poor are put in jail in record numbers. Depravity and illegality feed each other as words, sustained arguments and any vestige of thoughtfulness are replaced by sound bites, one-liners and promotional announcements. Under such circumstances, as many of Trump’s interviews make clear, dialogue becomes a political liability and is replaced by the spectacle of bullying, shouting and unfettered arrogance.

Don’t Get Distracted by the Buffoonery

Rather than focusing on Trump’s idiotic statements, which offers him endless platforms in which to turn his buffoonery into a performance, there is a need to critically engage his performative displays within a broader context of political, economic and social corruption and the criminogenic policies and practices that sustain it and offer people points of identification. One important line of inquiry might focus on what cultural circuits, points of connection, internalized values, discourses and pedagogies of repression are responsible for both producing and legitimating the likes of Donald Trump. What does Trump’s celebrity status and the conditions that produce it say about his connection to the group of despicable patriotic fakers, who largely constitute the Republican Party, a party with a long legacy of racism recently made clear in the debate over the Confederate flag and the synergies of hate it inspires?

How might Trump’s sudden popularity among conservative constituencies be understood within a plethora of media platforms that serve to flatten consciousness, erase public memory and champion the thrills of the digital revolution at the expense of what Leon Wieseltier calls “the old pleasures of erudition and interpretation.” (14) What is the role between money in politics and Trump’s run for the Republican presidential nomination? What does Trump’s appearance within the current historical conjuncture suggest about the crisis of historical memory, agency and democracy? How might Trump’s campaign be used not in the service of the spectacle but as a serious starting point for analyzing the deadening economic policies, persistent racism and culture of cruelty that mark neoliberal capitalism? How might the historical transition from the high point of social democracy under Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson to the start of neoliberal rule under Ronald Reagan and its endpoint under the presidential nomination of Donald Trump be understood in political, economic and pedagogical terms?

Rather than despair or laugh over the spectacle of Trump’s media romp, a more promising beginning might be to recognize the utter intellectual, moral and political bankruptcy of the extremists now running the US government and economy of which Trump is symptomatic. This suggests the possibility of rethinking politics in the way the Black Lives Matter movement is doing, one that is connecting different groups under the banner not of isolated and short-lived protest demonstrations but calls for real ideological and structural change.

I believe that Trump’s candidacy offers the possibility for a new discourse of critique and hope, of sustained criticism and the possibility to imagine what the next decade could be like in the advent of a massive, innovative social and political formation willing to unite a fragmented left around a call for a radical democracy, rather than simply liberal reforms. The good news is that economic domination, which is what Trump personifies, cannot by itself maintain an oppressive social system. Ruptures and contradictions happen under neoliberalism but they must be seized as a matter of informed consciousness, as a detour through new framing mechanisms and as an investment in new concepts, ideas and thoughts that unsettle common sense, offer new alternatives and infuse the present with a sense of a future that is ripe with new possibilities.

Footnotes

1. As is well known, a number of studies repudiate Trump’s remarks. For example, see: Esther Yu-Hsi Lee, “An Undocumented Immigrant Killed An American. That Doesn’t Prove All Immigrants Are Criminals.” ThinkProgress (July 7, 2015). Online: http://thinkprogress.org/immigration/2015/07/07/3677443/san-francisco-killing-woman-immigrant/; Esther Yu-Hsi Lee, “Native-Born Americans More Likely To Commit Crimes Than Immigrants, Study Finds,” ThinkProgress (October 20, 2013). Online: http://thinkprogress.org/immigration/2013/10/20/2807051/native-born-commit-crime/; Steve Chapman, “Trump and the Myth of Immigrant Crime,” TownHall (July 5, 2015). Online: http://townhall.com/columnists/stevechapman/2015/07/05/trump-and-the-myth-of-immigrant-crime-n2020695/page/full

2. Ginger Gibson, “Donald Trump Immigration Statements Draw Criticism, Praise,” International Business Times (July 5, 2015). Online: http://www.ibtimes.com/donald-trump-immigration-statements-draw-criticism-praise-1996126

3. CBS News, “Santorum on Trump: ‘A unique individual’” CBS News (July 5, 2015). Online: http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/santorum-on-trump-a-unique-individual/

4. For a summary of the comments by Republican Party leaders in response to Trump’s incendiary remarks, see Esther Yu-Hsi Lee, “What Republican Leaders Have To Say About Donald Trump,” ThinkProgress (July 6, 2015). Online: http://thinkprogress.org/immigration/2015/07/06/3676622/donald-trump-republicans-stance/

5. Jonathan Chait, “Why Are Conservatives Defending Donald Trump?” New York (July 2, 2015). Online: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/07/why-are-conservatives-defending-donald-trump.html

6. Cited in David Roediger, Toward the Abolition of Whiteness (London: Verso Press, 1994), p. 8.

7. Chauncey Devega, “The GOP’s secret “n-word” politics: What their latest Obama outrage is really about – In the Age of Obama, conservatives continue their tradition of racial slurring – without actually saying the word,” Salon (June 24, 2015). Online: http://www.salon.com/2015/06/24/the_gop_is_still_the_party_of_the_n_word/

8. Frank Rich, “A Bonfire of the Vanities,” The New York Times (December 22, 2002), p. A35.

9. Eugene Robinson, “Trump: A Farce to Be Reckoned With,” Truthdig (July 3, 2015). Online: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/trump_a_farce_to_be_reckoned_with_20150703; Juan Cole, “For Donald Trump, Forgetting to Use Racial Code Words Was an Expensive Mistake,” Informed Comment (July 3, 2015). Online: http://www.juancole.com/2015/07/comments-expensive-mouthing.html

10. Chris Hedges, “The Radical Christian Right and the War on Government,” Truthdig (October 6, 2013). Online: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_radical_christian_right_and_the_war_on_government_20131006

11. Robert Jensen, “Florida’s Fear of History: New Law Undermines Critical Thinking,” CommonDreams.org (July 17, 2006), http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0717-22.htm

12. Noam Chomsky, “An Ignorant Public Is the Real Kind of Security Our Govt. Is After,” AlterNet (March 3, 2014). Online: http://www.alternet.org/chomsky-staggering-differences-between-how-people-and-powerful-define-security

13. Cited in Judith Shapiro, “Staying Smart in Dumbed-Down Times,” Inside Higher Ed (June 13, 2008). Online: http://insidehighered.com/views/2008/06/13/shapiro. See: Susan Jacoby, The Age of American Unreason (New York: Vintage, reprint, 2009).

14. Leon Wieseltier, “Among the Disrupted,” International New York Times (January 7, 2015). Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/18/books/review/among-the-disrupted.html?_r=0

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission of the author.

 

Henry A. Giroux

Henry A. Giroux currently holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department and the Paulo Freire Chair in Critical Pedagogy at The McMaster Institute for Innovation & Excellence in Teaching & Learning. He also is a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson University. His most recent books include Youth in Revolt: Reclaiming a Democratic Future (Paradigm 2013), America’s Educational Deficit and the War on Youth (Monthly Review Press, 2013), Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education (Haymarket Press, 2014), The Violence of Organized Forgetting: Thinking Beyond America’s Disimagination Machine (City Lights, 2014), Zombie Politics in the Age of Casino Capitalism, 2nd edition (Peter Lang 2014), Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of the Spectacle, co-authored with Brad Evans, (City Lights Books 2015), Dangerous Thinking in the Age of the New Authoritarianism (Paradigm Publisher 2015). The Toronto Star named Henry Giroux one of the 12 Canadians changing the way we think! Giroux is also a member of Truthout’s Board of Directors. His website is www.henryagiroux.com.

 

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“They Don’t Give a Damn about Governing” Conservative Media’s Influence on the Republican Party

by Jackie Calmes, Harvard University – Kennedy School of Government – shorensteincenter.org, July 27, 2015 – Excerpt:  A new paper by Jackie Calmes, Joan Shorenstein Fellow (Spring 2015) and national correspondent for The New York Times, examines the increasing influence of conservative media on the Republican Party’s agenda. Calmes traces the history of conservative media, from its founding after World War II to the present-day proliferation of talk radio and Internet personalities. She finds that beyond the big names and outlets such as Limbaugh and Fox, smaller local personalities also exert significant influence over listeners and politicians.

This influence is troubling to leaders in the Republican Party, who Calmes interviewed extensively for the paper. She argues that today’s conservative media now shapes the agenda of the party, pushing it to the far right – at the expense of its ability to govern and pick presidential nominees.

Overview

…late January 2015… Representative Charlie Dent, a six-term Pennsylvanian and one of the few surviving Republican moderates… emerged from a private party caucus in January to share with reporters waiting outside the complaint he had made to colleagues behind closed doors…

It was a humiliating debut for a party that had promised in the 2014 midterm elections that Republicans would show the nation how well they could govern, if only voters would put them completely in charge of Congressthe leaders of the Republican Party do not fully control its agenda.a sign that Republicans would be able to perform the bigger, essential governing tasks that loomed…

That other forces were shaping Republicans’ agenda was likewise evident on a parallel track, as their party began the long process of picking a 2016 presidential nominee. Here, too, the immigration issue was front-and-center, and not in the way that the Republican leadership had called for in its unsparing autopsy of the party’s 2012 election losses. That earlier analysis, commissioned by the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus…another litmus test in Republicans’ presidential race: the so-called Common Core education standards…. Common Core by 2013 had been redefined by hardline conservatives in media and activist groups as an attempted federal takeover of public school classrooms.

If leaders of the Republican Party are not setting its agenda, w If leaders of the Republican Party are not setting its agenda, who is?…

As many of them concede, it is conservative media – not just talk-show celebrities Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and Laura Ingraham, but also lesser-known talkers like Steve Deace, and an expanding web of “news” sites and social media outlets with financial and ideological alliances with far-right anti-government, anti-establishment groups like Heritage Action, Americans for Prosperity, Club for Growth and FreedomWorks. Once allied with but now increasingly hostile to the Republican hierarchy, conservative media is shaping the party’s agenda in ways that are impeding Republicans’ ability to govern and to win presidential elections. “These people, practically speaking, are preventing the Republican Party from governing, which means they’re really preventing it from becoming a presidential party as well,” said Geoffrey Kabaservice, author of Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, from Eisenhower to the Tea Party, and himself a Republican.

Twenty years ago, former radio shock-jock Rush Limbaugh was mostly alone, though soon to be joined by Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Channel in playing to conservative audiences and validating their biases. Since then – to an extent unimagined as recently as Barack Obama’s election – the combination of the Internet and social media, broadcast deregulation and technological advances like live-streaming and on-demand audio and video “products” have allowed these new voices and scribblers to proliferate, empowering figures who boast of being more conservative than Fox and “El Rushbo” to shape Republican politics.

“It’s not just talk radio, but the blogosphere, the Internet – they’re all intertwined now… the chorus is loudest in opposition to those actions that are fundamental to governing: meeting basic fiscal deadlines for funding the government and allowing it to borrow. …: “It’s so easy these days to go out there and become an Internet celebrity by saying some things, and who cares if it’s true or makes any sense. It’s a new frontier: How far to the right can you get? And there’s no incentive to ever really bother with reality.” Or to compromise: “There’s no money, ratings or clicks in everyone going along to get along.”

Asked whether he could offer examples of legislative outcomes affected by conservative media, this Republican all but snapped, “Sure. All of ‘em.” Does he worry more broadly then about the small-d democratic process? “Yeah, absolutely. Because the loudest voices drown out the sensible ones and there’s no real space to have serious discussions.”[6]

“One of the realities here is that these people have always existed,” said Norman J. Ornstein, a political scientist at the center-right American Enterprise Institute and co-author with Thomas E. Mann of the book It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, about what the authors see as the radicalization of the Republican Party. “But they were at the fringes, the John Birch Society types. Now, because of social media and because you have a culture of extremism that is not culled out more generally, they can move into the mainstream and actually hijack a major party. And that’s what’s going on here.[7]

Those in the maligned Republican Party establishment …are left to wonder whether the Republican Party is capable of governing…

 Conservative media, having helped push the party so far to the anti-government, anti-compromise ideological right, attacks Republican leaders for taking the smallest step toward the moderate middle.

Establishment Republicans say they aspire to push their party closer to society’s political center – on immigration, gay rights, climate change and more – much as Democrats slowly moderated from a leftist party in the 1970s to a left-of-center one by the Clinton era, or as Britain’s Labor Party similarly shifted under Tony Blair in the late 1990s. In that, these Republicans agree with Mann and Ornstein, who wrote in a 2013 afterword to their book: “After losing five of six presidential elections between 1968 and 1988, Democrats (thanks in large part to the Democratic Leadership Council and Bill Clinton) made a striking adjustment that put them in a position to nominate credible presidential candidates, develop center-left policies responsive to the interests of a majority of voters, and govern in a less ideological, more pragmatic, problem-solving mode. Nothing would contribute more to strengthening American democracy than Republicans going through that same experience.”

Yet even though it is now Republicans who have lost the popular vote for president in five of the last six elections, party leaders lament that Democrats’ late 20th century model for moderating is inoperative for Republicans in this 21st century Internet age. The problem, as they see it: Conservative media, having helped push the party so far to the anti-government, anti-compromise ideological right, attacks Republican leaders for taking the smallest step toward the moderate middle. “In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Democrats weren’t dealing with a media that has become the way the conservative media has become,” which is “much more powerful than John Boehner and Mitch McConnell,” said Matthew Dowd, a strategist in George W. Bush’s campaigns. Democratic leaders “didn’t have to deal with a quote-unquote liberal media out there that was going to confront them every time they took a turn.”

“If you stray the slightest from the far right,” said former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who continues to advise Republican congressional leaders, “you get hit by the conservative media.” David Price, a longtime Democratic congressman from North Carolina and a former political science professor, said, “One of the generalizations we all grew up with in political science is how candidates have to tend to the middle – that’s where the votes are. Republicans have changed that.” Weber, the former Republican congressman, complained that while elected representatives should reflect the views of their constituents, “the problem you have in the Republican Party is that people are adjusting farther than they really need to” – to avoid a primary challenge.

Conservative media indeed draws much of its power, Republicans say, from incumbents’ fear of a primary challenge. Not surprisingly, talk-show hosts and conservative pundits stoke that fear by inviting challengers to run against incumbents deemed too quick to compromise, and then encourage support for them, including financially…

Setting the agenda, however, is not the same as winning, whether in the congressional or presidential arenas…to provoke a confrontation in defense of what they see as conservative principles. And when the fight fails – well, that is Republican leaders’ fault for not fighting hard enough…

… while those in conservative media generally have not picked recent Republican nominees, they have defined the terms of debate. By backing the most conservative contenders and enforcing litmus tests, they have forced the ultimate nominee further right – weakening Romney and, before him, Senator John McCain among swing voters in the general election. Yet when the nominee loses, that is the fault of his campaign and the national party, in conservative media’s telling.

 “There’s not a platform in the Laura Ingraham-Sean Hannity wing of conservatism. There’s nothing that you can take to the country and hope to win the presidency on that they believe in…

As in recent quadrennials, conservative media is not united behind a candidate to favor, only the one to oppose: Jeb Bush… Bush himself has suggested, his candidacy will test whether a Republican can run without pandering to conservative media, and with mainly the November electorate in mind.

Media Pioneers of the Right: The “Responsible” and the “Kooks”

Conservative media as we know it evolved after World War II, though partisan newspapers were the norm from the dawn of the Republic through much of the 19th century. By the 20th century, however, journalism had evolved into an independent “fourth estate,” its practitioners aspiring generally to more objective standards in news coverage, even if most publishers were Republicans and reflected that bias in their political endorsements. When radio emerged in the 1920s, it was widely seen as a medium that could serve as a national town hall, airing programs exposing Americans to diverse points of view – a public service the government would try to enforce as part of its responsibility to regulate the limited airwaves. Stations had to meet a “public interest” standard and provide equal time for candidates and policy debates. “One of radio’s democratic promises was that it might help solve the problem of political ignorance and disengagement and consequent low voter turnout,” Roosevelt’s fireside chats  were exemplars of the new form of intimate, calm public address that radio had made possible.

Because established publishers, broadcasting networks and big advertisers largely avoided conservative voices as too controversial, the media figures on the right depended on the patronage of rich oilmen and industrialists…

Fewer than half of Americans had radios when Franklin D. Roosevelt took office, but his rural electrification program spurred ownership. Eleanor Roosevelt also took early to radio. So did some of the Roosevelts’ political enemies, including populist Senator Huey P. Long of Louisiana and the reactionary “radio priest” Father Charles E. Coughlin, who was something of a precursor of today’s conservative talkers. Still, educators and reformers clung to hopes that broadcasting would widely promote civic responsibility. Philosopher S.E. Frost, in a 1937 book Is American Radio Democratic? warned that if radio encouraged Americans to hold prejudices “not open to question or evaluation,” it would have failed to promote “intelligent action” in a democratic society. By the mid-1930s, each network had what were known as radio forums.

Many conservatives, however, saw radio programming, as well as newspapers and magazines, as uniformly left leaning, sympathetic to Roosevelt’s New Deal at home and interventionism abroad. After World War II, what media historian Nicole Hemmer calls the first generation of conservative media began taking shape to provide alternative views. These early magazines, book publishers, talk radio and TV programs were rarely financially stable. Because established publishers, broadcasting networks and big advertisers largely avoided conservative voices as too controversial, the media figures on the right depended on the patronage of rich oilmen and industrialists, including Fred Koch, the founder of Koch Industries whose sons Charles and David H. Koch decades later would be bankrolling the conservative movement to an extent the father could not have imagined. Through the 1970s, conservative media mainly operated on the periphery of a more moderate Republican Party, seeing its goal as educating and inspiring a conservative movement that would goad the party, and the country, rightward.

Hemmer, author of a book, Messengers of the Right: The Origins of Conservative Media, to be published in 2016, writes that in those pre-Reagan decades, “conservative media became the institutional and organizational nexus of the movement, transforming audiences into activists and activists into a reliable voting base.” These media “activists,” she adds, “established the idea of liberal media bias as a constitutive element of modern conservatism,” and turned like-minded Americans into consumers of such fare as William F. Buckley and William Rusher’s National Review magazine, rival Human Events, the books of Henry Regnery’s publishing house, and the weekly Manion Forum on radio and, for a time, TV.

Early conservative media figures included former New Deal Democrats and even former communists who were repelled by the size and power of the federal government that emerged from the Depression and war years. They were against international communism, America’s interventions abroad and the United Nations, and at home, against labor unions – all targets still, generally. Opposition to unions helped draw money from industry benefactors for the new media. (Yet then, as now, conservative media styled its anti-unionism not as a boon for big business but as a bid to free workers from labor bosses.)

The rhetoric of first-generation conservative media likewise echoes among the second generation and its audience, with alarms about lost freedoms, threats to liberty, betrayals of the Constitution and the Founders, and impending socialism. In 1961, both John F. Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower were moved to condemn what they saw as the divisive, extremist talk of self-styled super-patriots. The liberal magazine The Nation in 1964 drew wide notice for an article on conservative radio entitled “Hate Clubs of the Air.” And with the civil rights era, liberal and mainstream media pointed out the overtly racist programming of some conservative broadcasters, mainly in the South. But it was the extremism of the conspiracy-minded John Birch Society that by 1965 provoked even some within conservative media to speak out in a bit of self-policing. Buckley and National Review led a break from the Birchites, despite the predictable loss of conservative subscribers and advertisers, for fear that well-educated, “responsible” intellectuals like themselves would be tarred by association with “kooks.” Buckley was “the face of respectable hard-right conservatism,” said historian Heather Hendershot, who is writing a book on his long-lived “Firing Line” television show. Syndicators of Buckley’s show promoted it in publicity material as “a bare-knuckled intellectual brawl” with liberals, Hendershot said, “but when you watch, you’re like, ‘This is very civil compared to a lot of the Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh kind of thing.’” Buckley wanted his show to be broadly appealing, “a gateway drug to conservatism,” Hendershot added, and he “showed a humor that’s often missing today.”

Making such distinctions between responsible and irresponsible in conservative media is all but unknown these days.., few conservatives and no Republicans seeking the 2012 presidential nomination criticized the talk-show king…Limbaugh, both in good times and bad, illustrated just how different the second generation of conservative media activists were from the first: they were profitable, popular, and powerful, wielding influence that reached far beyond the conservative movement.”

But another similarity unites the two media generations. From the 1950s on, media figures generally did not see the grassroots conservative movement, which they sought to tutor and lead, as synonymous with the Republican Party establishment. Then as now, there was tension. … With the second generation of media activists this preference for purity became more pronounced, especially as Republican politicians began to attune themselves to right-wing media as proxies for the party’s base.”

By the time Ronald Reagan won office, the first generation activists had “lost their primacy,” she says, as they were “short on both cash and credibility” after Watergate. Most who remained active did come to support Reagan. But as much as current conservative media deifies him, its nostalgia is at odds with the first generation’s often critical contemporaneous accounts of the Gipper’s political career: From the late sixties to the 1980 Republican nomination race that Reagan won, many in conservative media were troubled by his age and liberal parts of his California record. Once Reagan was president, many railed at his perceived transgressions. “And there were an awful lot of indiscretions that could be laid at Reagan’s door,” author Kabaservice said in an interview. “But because they believed he was one of them, that he basically had the interests of the conservative movement at heart, and because he was so telegenic and charismatic, they were willing to give him a pass. And nowadays they won’t give anybody a pass….

The Second Generation: Listeners, Clicks, Dollars…and Blood

The second generation of conservative media took root late in Reagan’s presidency, helped by the government’s repeal of the Fairness Doctrine governing broadcasters in 1987 and by technological advances predating the Internet’s emergence, including toll-free national phone service allowing listeners nationwide to call in. Limbaugh, the former D.J. and college dropout, began airing his caustic conservatism nationally in 1988. Six years later, he would get some credit for Republicans’ takeover of Congress – the House for the first time in 40 years. Its grateful new majority made him an honorary member. Two years after that, Fox News debuted on Oct. 7, 1996. In 1998 came National Review Online, as a first-generation publication adapted to the Internet, and, in Hemmer’s words, “heralded a new era for conservative media activism, when the barriers to entry plummeted and innovation flourished.”

Erick Erickson, … one of the leading conservative voices on air and online –…captured best the contrast between the old and new generations by the mission statement for his RedState.com. In a twist of Buckley’s famous Eisenhower-era motto for National Review, the site declares, “RedState does not stand athwart history yelling stop. We yell ‘ready,’ ‘aim,’ and ‘fire,’ too.”

Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoman in the House Republican leadership and a former politics professor, said, “There’s a big difference between intellectual conservatism and what exists out there now. It’s much more populist in its orientation and much wider in its reach. This is not an elite opinion, a Bill Buckley sort of thing.” And in a nod to the new media’s greater profitability, Cole added, “While it’s conservative in its orientation, it’s a financially driven enterprise and market share matters. And playing to the prejudice of their audiences or reinforcing them – as opposed to engaging in enlightened and intellectual debate – is pretty widespread.” …..

On other issues as well – gay rights, insurance for contraceptives, climate change and budget policy, for examples – many Republican insiders say conservative media is on the wrong side of history, working with activist groups to hold the party to positions at odds with changing attitudes in society and, polls show, among a significant share of Republicans.National trends mean little to the majority of House Republicans, who represent constituents whose attitudes are shaped by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, not by Lindsey Graham, Speaker John Boehner, or former Florida governor Jeb Bush. Understandably, they worry more about primary challenges than the opinions of the House Republican leaders, much less national Republican icons,” Mann and Ornstein wrote in It’s Even Worse Than It Looks. The authors added, “The old conservative GOP has been transformed into a party beholden to ideological zealots.”

Whether conservative media is reflecting or driving opinion among hard-right Republicans comprising the party base, it has become increasingly antagonistic toward the Republican Party establishment in the 20 years since Limbaugh was made an honorary House Republican for his close party ties. Together, media figures and their audiences became disillusioned and angry in the Bush era, when Republicans controlled both the White House and Congress for six years and presided over record spending and deficits, ineptitude from Iraq to the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast, corruption, recession and financial collapse and, in turn, federal bailouts of banks and big business. But Obama’s election gave all factions on the right a new foe to unite against. His policies, in turn, gave rise in 2009 to the Tea Party, a development that conservative media “helped to orchestrate” by advertising and attending party rallies, and trumpeting its message. “The challenge of spreading and germinating the Tea Party idea was surmounted with impressive ease because a major sector of the U.S. media today is openly partisan – including Fox News Channel, the right-wing ‘blogosphere,’ and a nationwide network of right-wing talk radio programs,” Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson wrote in their 2012 book, The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism.

Tea Party voters in the midterm elections of 2010 made House Republicans a majority again… Congressional Republicans were repeatedly unable to fulfill their promises – over-promises, many concede – to stop Obama on health care, immigration and federal spending. Republicans were stymied not only by Obama’s veto and congressional Democrats’ united opposition, but by their own divisions, now exacerbated by the influx of uncompromising Tea Party lawmakers allied with conservative media and well-heeled activist groups who loathed establishment Republicans…

Establishment Republicans…claim to believe in smaller, limited government. Yet they vote repeatedly for omnibus spending bills, for continuing resolutions and debt ceiling increases….

…in 1995 as part of the Republican revolution led by soon-to-be Speaker Gingrich, Limbaugh’s radio punditry helpfully complemented his own campaign. But 20 years later, this Republican had a different view, reflecting the expansion of conservative media and its changed relationship with the party. “Conservative media is playing a larger and larger role, just by the mere fact that Fox is the number-one cable network and there are no liberal folks that appear on the channel for the most part. That tells you that it is driving a lot of folks to the right and it’s keeping them there,” he said. “What’s happened over the years is that you’ve seen guys like Limbaugh and Hannity and others get away from really espousing a philosophy to being salespeople. And they’re trying to generate enough revenue to justify the big salaries they’re making, in my mind,” and along the way, “making things up.”

The problem that this media pressure creates for governance has been most evident among House Republicans… so many people are going for the niche, for the red meat, and there are all these outlets where you can do that. It’s playing to the base, but the base doesn’t live in reality. And that’s the problem: It’s taken the party in a really self-destructive direction.”

Conservative media’s impact used to be relatively slow to gel, and limited. But now constituents’ reactions are often immediate, and media-generated backlashes are commonplace. Who came first to these hardline, no-compromise stands – conservative media or their audiences? They just feed off each other” in “a pact from hell,” the Senate aide said. “In a way we’re our own worst enemies, not the Democrats. It’s the conservative media pushing us to take these positions, these extremist positions. And of course there are those who are more than willing to take them because it gets them press. It’s a vicious cycle: The shows want ratings – they’re a business. The members want publicity. So it’s just this unholy alliance.”

“Conservative-Industrial Complex” – Might on the Right

… From the mid-1980s to the turn of this century, “talk radio was the way to get these people.” But as typical radio audiences are aging, new technology “has lessened the impact of talk radio and increased the impact of digital…

“It’s become more of a conservative media syndicate where the properties are integrated across all the different mediums,…more than just RedState now. You have Daily Signal, you have Townhall, there’s HotAir – a whole host of digital properties where these conversations are had.”

As a result, Madden said, “Increasingly, the shape of the party’s platforms and priorities comes from outside of Washington and is no longer delivered as a prescription from the top down, but instead created from the bottom up.” Yet for candidates, Madden said, “It’s important to resist the allure that conservative media provides – where the rhetoric of your campaign is centered upon this clash of civilizations, like ‘Us-versus-them’ – and instead make a case for how you represent your party, and also represent your party’s ability to win over independents and some Democrats.”[54]

But that balance between courting the base and maintaining broader appeal is a hard one to pull off, as Madden’s former bosses Romney and Boehner have found – especially as an expanded conservative media has become ideologically and financially entwined with the network of no-compromise advocacy groups financed by the Kochs and other right-wing patrons. Together, media and activist groups are part of “this conservative-industrial complex that has risen up….

Financial ties to conservative groups and investors have become significant for some media… While conservative broadcasting in the age of Limbaugh and Fox New has been far more profitable than the first-generation pioneers ever dreamed of, radio revenues and ratings have dipped considerably in recent years. Industry sources cite changing demographics and new technology as factors, as well as fallout from controversies that otherwise are the talkers’ stock in trade.

“The audience is slowly declining” for broadcasters…Smart phones have literally changed the game. People can now get access to whatever they want whenever they want it.” While that has allowed broadcasters to expand their reach through so-called audio products, “radio as a whole has still not really figured out how to monetize the off-air stuff, the streaming and the podcasting.”

…Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Mark Levin – their ratings are all terrible in the big markets.” In the smaller markets and mostly rural states that are home to mostly older and white populations – that is, the Republican Party’s base – radio is still popular and talk-show hosts, both local and nationally syndicated, are ubiquitous. …

Even before the Fluke storm [2012] , some syndicated radio hosts were taking sponsorship dollars from Tea Party-affiliated groups, including FreedomWorks, Heritage Action, Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, Tea Party Patriots and the Senate Conservatives Fund. That cemented the collaboration of media and advocacy groups in opposing the Republican leadership, and in demanding an ideologically pure agenda and discouraging compromise. … The talkers in turn promote the groups, their positions on issues and their favored candidates – candidates who often have been Tea Party challengers to Republican incumbents or, in open-seat races, to the establishment’s preferred candidates. they like to put down markers – that House Republican leaders should demand ‘X’ and they should stand firm, they should demand repeal of Obamacare. And if you notice, every time they do that, they send out an email to their list and they’ve got a big ‘donate’ button. They have found that they can stir up the grassroots and, most importantly, raise money off the idea that if only Republican leaders stood firm and chose to fight, they could win.” … it’s just about ratings and money.”

Political scientists also have noticed this alliance of media and advocacy groups…. Richard Meagher of Randolph-Macon College wrote in an article in New Political Science in December 2012, “The ‘Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy’: Media and Conservative Networks,” Conservative talk radio, print publications, television networks, and internet sites have numerous connections, both direct and indirect, with the think tanks, advocacy organizations, academic research centers, and foundations that develop and promote the Right’s policy agenda.”[62]

However frustrated Republican leaders are by this piling on from the far right, they have little choice but to pay heed: Media and advocacy groups together reach what political scientists like to call “attentive voters” – the ones who actually vote, as well as volunteer, donate and influence others. …Attentive voters tend to have strong opinions, are more likely to contact elected officials about pending legislation, and are more willing to withdraw their support for legislators who deviate from their preferences.”

…Fox News shapes members’ beliefs about constituent preferences, whether by merely altering the media landscape that members rely upon to assess voter sentiments or by actually motivating attentive constituents.”

… it’s made it very difficult for them to make the compromises that are necessary in the American system of government, where you’ve got institutions that have a lot of veto players.” Feehery, the longtime Republican strategist, put it simply: “They intimidate members of Congress.”

 

Messengers of the Left: Liberal Media Doesn’t Compare

Nielsen puts America’s news/talk radio audience in 2015 at 50 million. … of those for which a political slant was evident, 84 percent were conservative and just over 10 percent were progressive..

… left-wing media do not come near conservative media in terms of the number of outlets, size of audience and political influence… Pressure on Democratic politicians like him, Price said, comes less from left-leaning media than from liberal advocacy organizations like labor unions, environmental groups and women’s and minority rights organizations.

The explanation for conservative media’s relative success comes down to audience: The right has one, and the left not so much, partly owing to the news-consuming habits of conservative Americans that formed over decades. MSNBC’s audience is a fraction of Fox’s. …

“Conservative talk radio just reaches so many more people…The hosts are very good at rallying the base and fomenting feelings of antipathy toward government…The right always owned talk radio. The left failed at that… Conservative media – and the habit of consuming conservative media that is so central to conservative political identity – have been something that has a half-century of history. And liberals don’t have that same history. To the extent that liberalism has a base, it doesn’t come out of media, it comes out of organizations – like labor unions, or groups like MoveOn….

Whatever the relative balance of partisan media, Americans in the Internet age can choose from more sources than ever before for their news and analysis, and from across the political spectrum. Scholars are left to puzzle over what those choices mean for the nation’s political agenda, partisanship and election outcomes. “When it comes to getting news about politics and government, liberals and conservatives inhabit different worlds. There is little overlap in the news sources they turn to and trust…

More than any other group, Pew found, many “consistent conservatives” cited a single source for their information about government and politics: 47 percent named Fox News. These consistent conservatives…88 percent of them expressed trust in Fox…Consistent liberals,” by contrast, consume a varied mix of media and trust more sources, Pew reported. But 81 percent said they distrust Fox News – nearly the mirror image of conservatives who said the opposite.

Pew argued that the findings are significant, and troublesome, despite the fact that consistently conservative and liberal Americans together account for only about 20 percent of the public. The ideologues, Pew said, “have a greater impact on the political process than do those with more mixed ideological views. They are the most likely to vote, donate to campaigns and participate directly in politics.”[76]

Setting the Agenda: “Ugly” Debut of the Republican Congress

In years past when a party captured control of Congress – Republicans in 1994, say, or Democrats in 2006 – its majorities arrived for the January opening with an immediate agenda of at least a few popular legislative items that could be enacted quickly, demonstrating the party’s unity and governing acumen. In 2015, Republicans broke with that practice, and demonstrated the opposite. And the talkers and scribblers in conservative media, local and national, were central players in the drama – not at Republican leaders’ invitation, as Limbaugh had been in 1995, but instead arrayed against them, egging on the hardliners among both lawmakers and their constituents, and in turn forcing less militant Republicans to fall in line as the safest course….

the anger has built with each disappointment. “Of course” the Republican leaders over-promised on immigration, just as on Obamacare… “I always felt that the major goal the day after the election last November should have been to lower expectations because, really, there was this sort of notion that somehow they were running Washington, which is nuts. It’s not true.”

…. You can’t reason with people. And so you get politicians and candidates who know what the radio host wants to hear and they give it to him. It’s that simple…coarse locker-room talk so common in male-dominated talk radio, even from evangelical Christians like himself…..

Facebook has evolved into a significant conduit for conservative media figures to communicate with their audiences and to spur them to actions like contacting their representatives in Congress… Fox and throughout the ardently pro-Israel conservative media condemned negotiations with Iran by six nations, including the United States, that were intended to prevent it from making nuclear arms…

there’s a group of people out there for whom everything is immediate. It isn’t necessarily verified as being true; there’s a lot of opinion stated as fact…

… many in that media – in their zeal for audience share – willfully ignore the realities of a legislative process designed by the Founders to require deliberation, checks and balances, and compromise…They don’t give a damn about governing…

Setting the Agenda: Common Core, from Bipartisan to Litmus Test

Public education, from elementary school through college, has long been a priority issue for conservatives and conservative media, begging as it does the fundamental question of how big a role government – and in particular the federal government – should have in Americans’ lives…

“This idea of liberal control of education, whether it’s at the primary school level or the university level, has always been one of those central hot-button issues” for conservative media and the conservative movement more broadly, said Hemmer, the historian, in an interview. “It’s about control of family, control of home, local control, brain-washing. It hits all of the right buttons.”… Among the earliest media foes was Glenn Beck, who warned apocalyptically in March 2013, “If you don’t stop it, American history is over as you know it.” As is often true with such political controversies, even those caught in the middle are hard-pressed to discern which came first – opposition from conservative media or agitation from grassroots groups in the states, like home-schoolers in this case. But the two, media and activists, seemed to go hand-in-hand ….Common Core, along with “religious liberty,” “captures so much of people’s passion level …

Common Core,…And now there is actual evidence of the phrase’s toxicity in the face of the repeated criticism in conservative mediaa broad consensus remains with respect to national standards, despite the fact that public debate over the Common Core has begun to polarize the public along partisan lines.” …

..Refusal to answer will be taken as surrender. Generic talking points answers will be taken as negotiating the terms of surrender. Only specifics will do when your very way of life is at stake

Diagnosis: “Epistemic Closure” – “Untethered from Reality”?

In her coming history of conservative media, Hemmer writes, “In the 1950s, conservative media outlets were neither numerous nor powerful enough to create an entirely alternate media ecosystemfor like-minded Americans.[125] Sixty years later, apparently they are. And the Republican Party is grappling with the implications.

… the expansion and success of conservative media had created a closed information circle harmful to conservatism. Conservatives, he said, could pick from so many sources to buttress their biases that they could dismiss as false any contrary information from outside that circle. He called this “epistemic closure,” borrowing from a term in philosophy (and perhaps ensuring that the highfalutin phrase did not catch on beyond the intelligentsia). For many conservatives, “Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross-promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines and of course, Fox News,” Sanchez wrote in the first of several online essays.  “Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted.”

As a matter of practical politics some establishment Republicans worry that the party is left talking to itself, in effect, and consequently failing to reach some independents and persuadable Democrats.

conservative media’s logic had become “worryingly untethered from reality as the impetus to satisfy the demand for red meat overtakes any motivation to report accurately… “This closed media world is not allowing conservatives to see the world as it is… David Frum, formerly a speechwriter for George W. Bush, also has written of conservatives’ “alternative knowledge system,” saying in one instance, “We used to say, ‘You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts.’ Now we are all entitled to our own facts and conservative media use this right to immerse their audience in a total environment of pseudo-facts and pretend information.” Even comedians have noted the phenomenon. Stephen Colbert coined the word “truthiness” – now blessed by Merriam-Webster – to describe gut-level, fact-free political statements of the sort he uttered as the conservative blowhard character he played on cable TV.

As Pew has found, the most conservative Americans consume conservative media almost exclusively and distrust the rest, while other Americans generally trust and select a variety of sources…

The unanimity among establishment Republicans – many of them conservatives by the definition of anyone but purists – that rightwing media has become a big problem for the party, and their readiness to talk about it, was something of a surprise to this reporter of three decades’ experience in Washington…You have to have national leaders emerge that are willing to have a confrontation, a real confrontation,” …Conservative media is poised to fight back….Ronald Reagan would be subject to the same skepticism that you’re seeing today.”……..

Full text at http://shorensteincenter.org/conservative-media-influence-on-republican-party-jackie-calmes/

Articles, excerpts June, July 2015

Creative thinking

Facebook and the Decline of Ideas By Kevin Drum, Mother Jones, Aug. 14, 2011 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2011/08/facebook-and-decline-ideas Neal Gabler writes today that we no longer care much about big, exciting ideas, the kind that we used to hear from Albert Einstein, Reinhold Niebuhr, Daniel Bell, Betty Friedan, Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould. “We are living in an increasingly post-idea world — a world in which big, thought-provoking ideas that can’t instantly be monetized are of so little intrinsic value that fewer people are generating them and fewer outlets are disseminating them, the Internet notwithstanding. Bold ideas are almost passé.”

Environment

Pope Francis Gets the Moral Framing Right: Global Warming Is Where the Practical and the Moral Meet By George Lakoff, Huffington Post, 06/25/2015  environmental issues are moral issues.

On Climate, Humanity Must Rise Up Against ‘Collective Shrug of Fatalism’ By Jon Queally, staff writer, Common Dreams, March 06, 2015… the movement we need is already in the streets; in the courts; in the classrooms; even in the halls of power – we just need to find each other. One way or another, everything is going to change. And for a brief time, the nature of that change, is still up to us.”

Civilization

Extreme-Right Is Keeping American in Dark Ages: Michael Moore “the policies in this country have been driven by the Christian right. They took over and they turned this country into the dark ages and we’re so far behind now with science, education, health care, everything.” 10/28/14 http://www.greenvillegazette.com/famous-director-extreme-right-is-keeping-american-in-dark-ages/

Culture

Neil Gabler on How Pop Culture Influences Political Expectations, by Neal Gabler, Bill Moyers.com,February 24, 2012

 Capitalism

Chris Hedges Explains How Mega Corporations and Banks Have Obliterated Capitalism, video — CSPAN Miami Book Fair, July 8, 2015 It’s no mistake, it did not happen by accident, that our economic and environmental livelihoods are in turmoil. It is a direct result of an economy and a culture that turns everything into a commodity which can be bought, sold and destroyed for the right price.      

Economic justice – labor

How Unions Improve the Lives of Every Worker by Laura Reyes, Secretary-Treasurer, AFSCME, Huffington Post.com

Reason

A Quick Puzzle to Test Your Problem SolvingConfirmation Bias and YOU By DAVID LEONHARDT, New York Times JULY 2, 2015 … what psychologists and economists call confirmation bias. Not only are people more likely to believe information that fits their pre-existing beliefs, but they’re also more likely to go looking for such information. This experiment is a version of one that the English psychologist Peter Cathcart Wason used in a seminal 1960 paper on confirmation bias. (He used the even simpler 2, 4 and 6, rather than our 2, 4 and 8.) …Most of us can quickly come up with other forms of confirmation bias — and yet the examples we prefer tend to be, themselves, examples of confirmation bias. If you’re politically liberal, maybe you’re thinking of the way that many conservatives ignore strong evidence of global warming and its consequences and instead glom onto weaker contrary evidence. Liberals are less likely to recall the many incorrect predictions over the decades, often strident and often from the left, that population growth would create widespread food shortages. It hasn’t….

Democracy

What the Declaration of Independence Really Claimed By Randy Barnett, Washington Post, July 4, 2015

Politics

Donald Trump And Bernie Sanders Are The Souls Of Their Parties By Akira Watts, reverbpress.com July 2015  … Sanders is an independent and Trump is an opportunist. Still each manages to epitomize, respectively, the Democratic and Republican parties Sanders, I would argue, represents what the Democratic Party once was and what it could once more become. His populist rhetoric hearkens back to FDR’s New Deal and the optimism of JFK.  His seemingly radical and “socialist” ideas are widely supported by American voters: …Donald Trump is the raging narcissistic id of the Republican Party. Sanders, I would argue, represents what the Democratic Party once was and what it could once more become. His populist rhetoric hearkens back to FDR’s New Deal and the optimism of JFK.  His seemingly radical and “socialist” ideas are widely supported by American voters:…

As Democrats Move Left, Republicans Have Moved Dangerously To The Extreme Right Ryan Denson, June 28, 2015

America’s story

Elizabeth Warren tells progressives, ‘Our values are America’s values’ by Ned Resnikoff @resnikof,   AlJazeera.com, July 17, 2015

What the Declaration of Independence Really Claimed By Randy Barnett, Washington Post, July 4, 2015

Moral politics

The Supreme Court Just Gave American Evangelicals a Gift, by Ed Cyzewski, June 26, 2015 / Evangelicals are tenacious, persistent, and driven when they want to fight for a cause. The problem is that American evangelicals have been swept up in fighting for the wrong cause for a long time…. I see Jesus pointing us toward the issues that pertain to the most basic aspects of human dignity: food, shelter, clothing, justice, and sickness:… we [Evangelicals] have always had financial resources, competent charities, and passionate workers who are more than willing to travel to the ends of the earth to fulfill the very words of Jesus. If we collectively gave these most basic causes just a fraction of the time and energy that we had devoted to fighting same sex marriage, who knows how many thousands or millions of lives could have been saved….We aren’t called to fight against someone. We aren’t called to litigation. We are called to fight for everyone—especially those suffering in the most basic ways. The longer we engage in legal fights against same sex marriage, the more apparent it becomes that we’d rather throw ourselves into any losing cause than obey the most basic commands of Jesus. Let’s take our tenacity, energy, and resources and throw them into serving the people who are suffering the most in this world.

Elizabeth Warren tells progressives, ‘Our values are America’s values’ by Ned Resnikoff @resnikof,   AlJazeera.com, July 17, 2015

Pope Francis Gets the Moral Framing Right: Global Warming Is Where the Practical and the Moral Meet By George Lakoff, Huffington Post, 06/25/2015 3:40 pm EDT environmental issues are moral issues.